As befits a man of middle years I got up about three times in the night and each time reminded myself that I was in London. It was to stop myself from having a Patrick MaGoohan moment. However, one look out of the window would show me I wasn’t in a village I couldn’t recognised, with some over-grown balloon chasing me through the streets. Besides, I hadn’t resigned from my job as yet. Finally, at just after 9am, I got out of bed for the final time. Although I was up several time during the night the bed was surprisingly comfortable. I felt I could have slept on another couple of hours. I finished off the orange juice I bought last night, and decided to have as shower. It’d been a hot night. By the time I was dried and dressed I’d mapped out what I was going to do until my return train left at 2.27pm. One of the most important things was to get breakfast. It wasn’t included in the stay so I needed to find somewhere to eat. Yesterday, on the way to the hotel I’d spotted quite a few places to eat although most were mid-day and evening meals, so I wasn’t sure where I was going to have the breakfast or what I wanted, although the full English did cross my mind several times. One of the other things was to walk to Paddington at a reasonable pace so that I could have a good look round; I wasn’t sure when I’d get the opportunity to come to London again. I’d been to that part of London but it was some years ago, and I believe it was a booze-hound trip with Blameworthy. By about 2pm on such trips I’d be hard pressed to work out where I’d been all morning and be barely sober long enough to remember much about the evening with any geographical clarity… Ah, those were the days…The 1980s… It was the feeling of size that always went through my mind, the amount of floors the house had, the very width of them. Kensington High Streethad been no exception when I walked it yesterday. The there was the noise, the smell of car fumes and lots and lots of people. It’s always been a place I like to visit but I wouldn’t ever want to live there. It was 10.30am and my time was up in the hotel, time to check out and leave. As before I walked down half a dozen flights of steps, due to my phobia about lifts. I always felt they would get trapped between floors, which would be bad enough if they did, but going in a lift with someone you know… Well, friends tend to view me in slightly different light. It’s probably down to the way I stand in the corner of the lift, eyes two inches from the wall and whimpering incessantly throughout the ride…
It was a bright but cool morning and I decided I would get breakfast at the first place that took my fancy; somewhere not too busy. I set the iPhone to show me the most direct route and headed towards Paddington. I stopped a few times to take some pictures. Of course the ‘spoil-a-picture-taskforce’ was on hand to get in the way, so the potential for a decent photo was reduced to a bare minimum. I only managed a couple of shots of pubs in Kensington High Street, before I turned off to go through Hyde Park to Paddington. I did managed to get some decent pictures as I went through there, along with some of the Albert Memorial. Despite feeling hungry, it was approaching twelve midday and I still hadn’t eaten. Most of the places I passed either didn’t look open for business, just cleaning themselves after the previous night’s activities. I ended up in Paddington before I made my choice. There was an Angus Steakhouse, and for a while I toyed with the idea of combining breakfast and dinner. But on looking at the prices of the steak I settled for the full English. It seemed reasonable at around eight quid. I found a seat, although not by a window, gave me a view of the bright sunny outside world. Not overly picturesque, but certainly better than staring at a wall. I ordered the full English and an orange juice, then pulled out the old Kindle and downloaded the Sunday edition of the Independent. Thought I might as well catch up on what was happening in the world. There weren’t many people in the Steakhouse. There was a chap near to the door at a window seat. He was quite fidgety, and gripped a knife and fork in each hand, seemingly ready to tuck in as soon as the plate was shoved in front of him. He seemed to have that sort of look, the one you see in the eyes of monkeys at a zoo when they realise there’s humans outside with food. He made me feel I was glad I wasn’t the waiter; I would be in fear of losing part of my arm as soon as I put down the plate, if I didn’t move it back quickly enough. Of course, having an overactive imagination it also went through my mind that he was some sort of terrorist and had planted a bomb nearby and was just waiting for it to go off, just to see the results of his actions. Hence why he was so nervous. There were two others a few tables up from the nervy bloke. They were caught up in a really animated conversation. They made me think of the Eric Sykes film Rhubarb, Rhubarb, where all the people seem to be saying was, well, rhubarb. Except it was just noises I could hear, not really anything that sounded like words I could understand. I began to think the old lugs might need their regular rebore… The orange juice arrived, then ten minutes later the full English. I have to say it wasn’t as good as the breakfasts the Pink Lady and I have at Brooks in Highworth, but it wasn’t bad. Two hash browns, mushrooms, beans – in their own side dish -, egg, half a good sized tomato, sausage, short but fat and bacon, topped off with two slices of white bread toast. The bacon was quite thick and the sausage was really good. The Pink Lady, I believe, would have approved of the sausage; and believe me she’s fussy about the type of sausage that passes her lips! It was pleasant, a nice respite and with the sun shining I felt rather good. It made me wonder why I didn’t do things like this more often. I also reflected it would have been rather good if the Pink Lady could have come along. We could have extended both Saturday and Sunday; that is book an earlier train for arrival and a later train for departure.
Unfortunately, the Pink Lady is not a fan of The Persuaders!Still, nobody’s perfect, so I’d made the arrangements without including her. The breakfast filled the gap rather well and I ordered an Americano afterwards. The coffee being rather good, I took my time over it and in between reading The Independent and watching the world go by. By now the nervy bloke had been served with his steak and was tucking into it as though it was his first meal in ages. Such gusto and enthusiasm must have served as a good advert for the Steakhouse. Although I’d been in there for around half an hour, the other animated blokes still hadn’t been served with food; still working their way through what looked like a couple of mineral waters; either that or half a bottle of vodka each… Of course, had they ate like they talked then must people around them and the windows would have been given a share in their meals. I paid up, the final bill coming to £13.25. It wasn’t bad, I thought as I packed up my things and left, not for London. Outside I checked my watch and found I had just under two hours to go before my train would leave. I decided to walk round, work off the breakfast and take some pub photos to take back to show Blameworthy…
The pattern was very much like earlier, every time I tried to take a photo cars or vans got in the way. Bloody things; damn well think they own the roads! Still, I suppose, if the quality turns out ok then a little messing about in Photoshop might correct the problem. One photo, the one of the Dickens Tavern, I rather caught a young woman by surprise. Probably who the old fart was with the camera; either that or frightened she’d just got herself a stalker…
As it came up to 1pm, I realised I’d been on my feet – with a half hour exception in the Angus steakhouse – for about three hours. I needed to find somewhere to sit, especially as it’d clouded over and was beginning to spit with rain. I found a spot quite quickly and sat down. From a shop on the way I bought a thin notebook and wrote up a little about this weekend. I should have brought the iPad with me for making notes on but I didn’t want to leave it unattended in the hotel. While I was there a touch of mischief descended on me and I bought a stamp and a postcard. I found a post box, wrote out a message to the Pink Lady and sent it. I felt it might amuse.
It began to rain, and didn’t stop for about twenty minutes. Luckily bench I was on was under a tree; I kept quite dry. I completed some blog notes and about fifteen minutes later the clouds moved away and the sun was out again. It was about twenty minutes after this I was in Paddington station. Not as clouded as yesterday but crowded enough. As I checked the train times I decided I needed a coffee, which was a little bit of a mistake because I then saw food; hunger suddenly echoed in the old brain box, although probably a fake hunger and I succumbed to an Italian meat ball sub, coated with a tomato and herb sauce. The departure boards told me that the train was now ready for boarding and I went to find my seat… It was time to go home. I told myself I should make a trip to London more often…
I’ve been studying my English Yearbook to see if there’s an event worth commemorating with a session over the next few days. Had we gone today, as planned, we could have celebrated Holy Innocent’s Day. Bath, during the school holidays, would have been an ideal location to mark the slaughtering of all the young children by King Herod. On Friday we may have to settle for the passing of the old year. The weather forecast looks a bit iffy, though. I shall expect you to plan at least one day out each month during 2012, in your new capacity as cheerleader. Naturally, I shall accompany you on each one, as Sam Weller to your Mr. Pickwick.
Tomorrow afternoon brings another repeat of the final episode of Inspector Morse: ‘Ensanguining the skies, how heavily it dies’, LEEW-WIIISS!
One hesitates to say it, but I suppose the Friday session could celebrate the end ofthe old year (which has been one of the worst I can recall) and the commencement of the New, which I am resolved to with hedonistic if not actually glad heart. I am going to cast off my gloomy mantle and LIVE! I will be full of Dickensian good cheer, having made Pascal’s wager. I will, in short, be intolerable. Nevertheless. . .
If I can shake off this sore throat by tomorrow, then Friday would suit me fine. It only remains to decide what to call the session if it really is no longer Christmas. Let’s remember that in another distant universe two characters vaguely resembling us were seen clambering atop something vaguely resembling the Worcestershire Beacon on Christmas Day. I doubt if the Fitrambler buffs exist in any of the other universes, though. I consider it too much of a coincidence that they might inhabit the same one as the versions of us who managed to summon up the required enthusiasm to do anything other than stay where they were put.
It is, I’m saying, no longer Christmas in the strictest sense, nor in the looser sense which includes Boxing Day, nor yet the yet looser sense which ncludes yesterday’s somewhat inexplicable Bank Holiday. Only if you accept the season as running from Christmas Eve to epiphany can it still be Christmas. That would be the frankly lax sense, of course. In which case, we have missed our chance at a properly festive session for another year (sigh!). Phiip Larkin wrote ‘Eyeless are days without letters’. Well, legless are Christmases without sessions. I wouldn’t mind joining you for a drink in Bath if you do decide to go, though I might prefer Friday to Thursday. It could afford an excellent opportunity to debate when Christmas actually is. Meantime, we must take consolation from the fact that thr regular readers to whom we often address ourselves may have held one another or all of the session dates and locations we ourselves have abandoned. I like to think of some tweedy Fitrambler buffs vainly scanning the Worcestershire Beacon for signs of our festively cavorting selves.
Never mind shouting LEEW-WIIISS! I’m already suffering from a mild throat infection, due to having been standing in the cold and damp on Boxing Day shouting ‘HEE’SS BEE-HIIND YOOOU! at the mummer’s play. That, and the prohibitive cost of transport, has caused me to put the Winchester outing on hold for the remainder of the year. I may still go to Bath tomorrow or Friday, though.
I enjoyed the first instalment of Great Expectations but I can’t help feeling that Magwitch, instead of glooping his way through the Essex marshes, should have made good his escape by following the road to Colchester and hiding out in the new branch of Caffe Nero in the High Street. The hounds would have proved incapable of picking out his scent over the appalling stench of espresso coffee.
ERRATA: My last comment should have concluded with the words ‘than mine’, of course.
Oh, come on Blameworthy, you only want to go to Lewes in order to stride about the streets bellowing ‘LEW-ES!’ in a John Thaw style. I received a Christmas missive from Mr Lewisbooks, by the way: he is now a Labour councillor!
I have just watched the first episode of the new BBC production of Dickens’ Great Expectorations. No story better anatomises snobbery.
But you were always going to stay where put, GloomLaden. I would have staked my winter fuel allowance on it. Just like those nags you backed were always going to lose. In a similar vein I’ve been trying to convince Mrs. Blameworthy that we should have a couple of nights away around my birthday in January. I’ve been rather fancying a stay in Lewes, East Sussex. Nice hotel, just up the road from Harvey’s Brewery; beautiful little town with a neat brick and flint High Street and lots of little individual shops; pleasant walks by the River Ouse. I’ll pay; I’ll drive. Oh dear, no, she says. Weather could turn nasty next month; roads could be icy; it’s too far to travel; low lying land – possible flooding; the bogey man might be hiding under the four-poster. Enjoy the rest of your Christmas break, Gloomers. Things will doubtless get worse for you in 2012; you’ll make sure they do.
I hope you enjoy Windcheater or whatever it’s called. Ghastly place, by all accounts, miles from both anywhere and everywhere. Having had a rotten Christmas – funerals, dementia, not a single winner on either day of horse racing – I am going to stay where put, after all. I shall raise a glass of port to you on Thursday, reflecting upon the overness of those days as the sedate music of Gerald Finzi tinkles in the background like an English stream. Doesn’t sound too bad when I write it, does it? Like most things, it’s worse lived.