Oh, and it was a caper. I was in London the other day and if anything could go wrong, it generally did. I managed to sleep in, missing my train and necessitating buying another ticket, thankfully still at the cheaper price. Getting back to Euston, intending on going for something to eat before the train home, I discovered that there were no trains running due to a fatality. Within fifteen minutes, I was on a Virgin East Coast train out of King’s Cross to Edinburgh, which ended up into Edinburgh late. I went for the train to Glasgow and it was 25 minutes late due to some folk fighting on an earlier service, meaning I had to run (and I mean sprint) for the last train home from Glasgow Central. I left London at 5.30 and arrived back at my house in Glasgow just after midnight. Fun and games.
Rather than focus on the negatives, let’s go for the positives.
- I went to the British Museum and it was busy but manageable.
- I had two good long walks, exploring more of London at my own pace and in my own way
- Hibs won against Rangers while I was in London
- I managed to travel on both sides of the country on the same day
- A London Underground ticket machine took my Scottish tenner
- The Elizabeth Tower of the Palace of Westminster (the bit that houses Big Ben) looks like something out of a futuristic movie all daubed in scaffolding.
- I learned about Dreamland
- The Virgin East Coast train was excellent, quiet and with very friendly staff
- Durham Cathedral lit up at night is glorious
- The Thames was choppy and actually had waves
- Wading merrily through a puddle in a tunnel somewhere in Southwark as the southerners queued and walked gingerly through
- Walking by the Thames is good
- The very cheery busker with his guitar by the Thames
- Westminster is vastly improved by Big Ben not chiming
Thirteen is not bad. I arrived at Euston just after 12. My game plan was to go to the British Museum and see where I got to after that. There were protesters outside Euston gathering for the big demonstration to protect the NHS and some of them offered passers-by placards and leaflets. They shouted about privatisation and Richard Branson, which I broadly agree with, though since I live in Scotland where the NHS has thankfully evaded most of the privatisation and bad stuff that the English NHS has, I decided against joining them, despite joining a protest being one of the 30 things I should do before I’m 30. There was a significant police presence cutting about too. I walked through Bloomsbury and into the British Museum through the back way.
The British Museum is one of my favourite places on the planet. It is also incredibly busy and I had to work around the hordes to see anything. I spent a good two hours going around some of my favourite bits of the museum, not even seeing the Elgin Marbles or any of the Assyrian stuff. I got to see all the stuff I really like, including the Lewis Chessmen, which I still refrained from taking home to Scotland where they belong, as well as the life and death bit with its artefacts from the Pacific islands and Australia, including an amazing abstract painting created by Australian aborigines which tells the story of seven sisters making their way across the desert only to be followed by an unwanted, lascivious man. The women jumped from a hill into the sky, forming the Seven Sisters constellation. I was particularly interested this visit by the stories and artefacts of native peoples in North America and Australia, also by getting a few minutes to look at the Codex Zouche-Nuttall in the Mesoamerica gallery, a beautifully illustrated pictorial book depicting the life of a Mixtec ruler, Eight Deer Jaguar-Claw. I always think it looks like a Where’s Wally? book.
After a couple of hours, I was beginning to lose concentration. I decided to get the Underground over town to the Science Museum. I walked down to Holborn and got on the Piccadilly line to South Kensington. South Ken was mobbed with lots of young people dressed for some reason in animal costumes or other elaborate fancy dress. Not sure why. There were more around Westminster later too. I walked along towards the museums though there were long queues outside the Natural History Museum and the V and A. Though the Science Museum didn’t have a queue, I decided against another busy museum experience and since the rain was a drizzle, barely registering on the Glasgow rain scale, I decided to walk instead. I walked up past Imperial College and by the Jamaican High Commission towards the Royal Albert Hall, a building I’ve always liked. I decided to head up towards Hyde Park, maybe towards the city centre that way, though I ended up crossing into the Park. I had never been in it and admired the fine wrought gates. I walked up towards the Serpentine, a place I knew because of the Christmas swims that happen there, and then I had a whole path to myself as I got towards Bayswater Road. Having been amongst thousands at the BM not so long before, being on my own in the heart of one of the biggest cities in the world was weird, though a nice weird.
I reached Marble Arch, which is fine and quite like the Arc de Triomphe in Paris. I had to turn to the map to find Speaker’s Corner, a place in the Park where people can stand up to make speeches, though it was disappointingly empty. I had a notion to walk by the Thames on the south bank and I boarded the Tube at Marble Arch, onto the Central line to St. Paul’s. I had been resisting the urge to check the Hibs score but succumbed in the lee of St. Paul’s Cathedral. They were 1 up at Ibrox and thus I wandered around the side of the stunning Sir Christopher Wren designed Cathedral absolutely overjoyed and singing ‘It’s A Grand Old Team To Play For’. St. Paul’s is a stunning looking church and at some point I’ll have to go in. I walked down towards the Millennium Bridge and across the Thames, stopping at regular intervals to get photos up and down the river. It was busy and a big tour group had stopped right in the middle of the bridge, blocking anyone from getting past. I always feel comfortable by water and even by a great big dirty river like the Thames. As I walked I also imagined the not-in-the-book bit of one of the Harry Potter films where the Death Eaters flew through London and knocked the bridge down as they went.
I walked along the south bank from Tate Modern to Westminster. It was busy though I was comfortable, stopping at regular intervals to check the football score and look up and down the river at the skyline. I got to Westminster and got on the Tube, bound for Euston, taking the Circle line one stop to Embankment and then the Northern line to Euston. On one of those Tube trains I was sitting in the carriage and enjoying just being where I was, in the moment. I was on the Charing Cross branch of the Northern line and I was tickled to hear the announcements that the next stop was Mornington Crescent. As a fan of old radio comedy and I’m Sorry I Haven’t A Clue in particular, Mornington Crescent has a particular resonance. I was interrupted by my reverie by some quick-thinking to get me home.
I tend to visit London on weekdays so it shouldn’t have been a big surprise that it would be busier in the museums on a Saturday. Everywhere is busier on a Saturday. It was good to be in the British Museum, though, to wander and graze around the place and I also really enjoyed just walking in London, seeing places I had only heard about or just looking up. I was walking along High Holborn towards Holborn tube and I could have been sidetracked on a derive, just looking up at the buildings, their architecture and ghost signs. The freewheeling side of this day trip made it work, as did some swift thinking to get round the train issues. Still I got home, I had a good time and the Hibs won. It was quite a day.