An exciting day!
This day, by accident, we have been planning for months; Jools was going with Jen to the West End to see a couple of Strictly Come Dancing on stage, and I had booked tickets for Norwich’s game against QPR in West London. We could travel up together, spit up, then meet again in the evening for a meal in Soho. Brilliant, but could we pull it off?
That, was the question.
Well, we would do our best.
With us not needing to be in London until midday, we could have a relaxing start, lazing around, drinking coffee and eating bacon butties. Which seemed by the far the most sensible thing to do. However, as always, time slipped through our fingers as we both got distracted with our respective hobbies and/or the cats.
Soon enough Jen had been dropped off by Tony, and we had just over ten minutes to drive down the hill to Martin Mill and get our ticket. Thankfully there was no trouble in getting over the Deal road, and at the station there was plenty of parking still. So, we got our stuff out and went to wait on the station where the sunlight shone through gaps in the trees. Despite being sunny, it was very cool so the warmth from the low sun was very welcome.
It was surprising to find the train over half full already, I suppose we had not traveled up mid-morning before, so there were more families on board, and there was a hum of conversation in the carriage where we found seats. Once we arrived at Dover, some got off enabling us to claim four seats round a table, and lining up with a window so I could have the best views on the way. And thinking about it, I had not used the High Speed service for about a month now, so was able to check on the work at Shakespeare Beach.
By the time we left Folkestone, it was just about standing only, and after leaving Ebbsfleet the train had people standing the full length of the carriage, so when the time came to get off at Stratford, we had to squeeze our way through people, and the person who took my seat insisted he picked up his cans of beer in a paper bag to shave on the table for the remainder of the seven minutes of the journey into St Pancras.
Sitting on the train for the hour, we had not seen a guard, so we had no tickets. I knew we could buy them up on the concourse, so we joined the queue for the escalator then went up to ground level. There was the place to buy tickets, but the person was busy with a line of people, and the barriers were open. I waited for what seemed the right amount of time, but with no prospect of paying, we walked through the barriers having traveled up for free. Normally, this would have been a cause for celebration, but the madness of the UK ticketing on the railways means that the return part of a ticket is just 5 pence, and when we came to buy our singles home that evening, it cost is that 5 pence less than the full return. Madness.
It was here we split up, as Jools and Jen wanted a coffee, and I had an appointment with friends in a pub.
I walked to the main station to catch a Circle Line to Bank, then up the steps into the City, past the Bank of England and up Cornhill. Out of habit and being an optimist, I tried the door of St Peter, not expecting it to be unlocked, so I wasn’t disappointed to find it indeed locked.
I walked round the corner to The Crosse Keys, a former bank now a pub. And sitting at a table near the door were my friends. And more Norwich fans too. I used the ancient Norfolk greeting, "Wassgorn on?" and it was line we had just met up again after a few hours, not the eighteen months it actually had been since the play off final. Soon we were making jokes at each other’s expense, as old friends do, and having a good old time.
Sadly, our old friend time said it was time to walk back to the station and catch a westbound train to White City, where the BBC used to be based, and where a large athletics stadium used to stand. Both are now long gone, but left is the home ground of Queens Park Rangers (QPR), their tight ground surrounded on all sides by houses, and so really community based.
The ground, Loftus Road, is old and now really unsuitable for modern football. The two tiered stands have angles of rake and so close to the pitch, that from our seats the goal near to us was all but invisible, hidden by other supporters. As we took our seats, the players had already come out and were now running to their respective ends, ready for the game to start. And within a minutes, City had had a player sent off and had conceded a penalty. What happened? NO bloody idea as the goal in front of us was hidden.
The penalty was missed, but QPR still scored twice in a 1st half where Norwich were chasing shadows. I will make some excuses in that one of the central defenders had been sent off, but it was much about how poor QPR that they did not score more. And in the second half, City were more on the front foot, but only pulled on back in the final ten minutes. And even after striking the bar, City fell short of the point maybe their rearguard action deserved. But four defeats on the bounce, and a clear lack of self belief coupled with poor substitutions made it almost inevitable that we would not win. Again.
Then at the final whistle, we had to wait 20 minutes to file out of the ground, down the endless steps then along through the houses to the tube station, to file again through the turnstiles and onto the platform. Imagine my surprise to find that I managed to get a carriage with few other passengers in, and as we went eat, the QPR supports left and were replaced with shoppers from Notting hill and Bond Street.
I got out at Oxford Circus, and went out onto the street into the middle of a throng of people. People were thronging on both sides of the streets, and to the left on either side of Regent Street as well.
I try to walk down the centre of both streets to find space to get shots. And in that I did succeed, there were other photographers about, with a range of gear, but most with i phones. I make my way to Regent Street, then down it to the start of Carnaby Street, cutting down there to snap the lights there, doubling back and forth as I worked my way down to Piccadilly.
Near to the restaurant, rain began to fall, and not wanting to get too wet, and wanting to get out of the crowds of people. So I go in to see if Jools and Jen had arrived: they hadn’t but I could welcome in the bar.
OK, I go down and am showed to the bar, huge and plush, and not for the likes of me dressed in my most torn Aliens T Shirt and slightly perspiring from having to wear a rain coat. I order a mai tai and try to look lke I belonged. By the time I had drained the glass I had long stopped caring. I also had a small bowl of salted popcorn to crunch on, and was very happy.
Jools and Jen arrived so we were shown to our table, a booth big enough for eight people. We order Danish steaks, friens and various vegetables and a bottle of wine. The food came quickly, so quick Jen and I wish we hadn’t ordered another cocktail, but we would just have to drink them.
The food was great, and the service superb, I loved it, good food, friends, wifey and drink. Makes all the work and travel worthwhile when sometimes we can feel like a million dollars from time to time.
Back on the street, we flag a taxi down to take us back to St Pancras; it has to negotiate the narrow streets of Soho and Chinatown, looking from the open cab window it was wonderful; all reflected neon and the mix of people out at the end of a hard day’s shopping or beginning a good night out. All were out, some stressed looking at maps or phones, others like me snapping the lights and sights.
Soon we were out of Soho, hurtling up Tottenham Court Road, past less swanky places, but all lit with neon, and most with many customers.
We were dropped off at St Pancras, enough time to get tickets and for Jen to have a dirty tab outside. Then we join the other boarding the train, hoping to get a seat on a train home. It is pretty crowded again, and as the first autumn storm was due over night, and the wind already picking up, speeds off HS1 were limited to 50 mph, so we would be late.
We snoozed whilst the Spurs fans opposite talked of their team’s late fightback to claim a win against West Ham. Kent slipped by, we passed through Ashford, Folkestone and Dover. By now the train was all but empty; the train climed out of Dover and up to the entrance to Guston Tunnel, inside the darkness was more complete of that of the night.
We get off the train, cross over to the car park, take Jen back home to Whitfield before doubling back to St Maggies, along roads almost empty, and being lashed by heavy rain. Inside there were three very hungry cats, so we feed them, have a brew before we call it a day with the wind howling outside.
Another one of them good days.
Tagged: , Oxford Street , LOndon , Christmas , Jelltex , Jelltecks