An unexpected journey: part three.

Hyde Park at sunset
Hyde Park at sunset

LUNCH in London, cheap? If you know where to find it. Lunch in Covent Garden? No chance. We were in Covent Garden, and we were too tired to go elsewhere. We settled with the lower bar of The Punch and Judy in the Central Market. The place was cold, the food was overpriced, the toilets were flooded. Draw your own conclusions.

Ian, in his infinite wisdom (and I mean it this time), had managed to get us press tickets for the London Transport Museum too. Strangely enough, Ian and Rebekah weren’t too interested in this particular attraction and stay outside in the warmth.

I headed inside and briefly looked around one of the many halls there – the one I visited featured a number of old buses, taxis and tube trains. It also included two tube driving cabs of tube trains – one from 1938, another from 1992 – which were later turned out to be simulators. I spent far too long in both, playing trains beneath a virtual London. I also came across the front end of a bus, where visitors were encouraged to sit the driver’s seat. I did so, it was comfier than my seat on the coach there. Typical.

On returning outside, I found Rebekah and Ian sat on the pavement, unwilling to move. I joined them, I could see the attraction, but we had to go – there was still plenty to see. We explored a couple of the plentiful markets around Covent Garden – Rebekah managed to get a huge punnet of strawberries for a pound, I’m not a huge eater of strawberries, but I’m told that this is some kind of big deal.  Next: Piccadilly Circus, home of the M&M store that Ian wanted to see.

I think it would be fair to say that the M&M store is not the most exciting place I’ve ever been (I know, bit rich coming from the only one of the group that went to the transport museum…) – it’s essentially a giant shop full of M&M merchandise in a plethora of colours that would make Joseph and his Technicolor dream coat wince. There are, I suppose, a few things worth seeing there:

First is the various giant M&M characters posing as various different characters from London, past and present. Second is the pick ’n’ mix wall – literally an entire wall, floor to ceiling, of M&M dispensers full of sweets in nearly every shade imaginable. There’s probably more, there was a whole floor we didn’t explore, but the place was mobbed.

We then tubed it back to St James’ park. We’d been there earlier, cutting across it to reach the palace, but this time we’d come to relax. The sun was shining, the sky was blue, it was very pleasant. I tweeted something very similar to this, in reply to which Rebekah told me: “that is one of the corniest things I’ve ever read.” It was, there’s no denying it. In fact, I reckon she was being kind, it was so cheesy you could smell it.

Despite this being lovely, we couldn’t sit there for the hours we wished we could have. There were more pressing issues afoot, like dinner. We took a stroll through the immaculate gardens – you could tell they were owned by the Royal family: everything was pristine, even the pond water was crystal clear.

Crossing Whitehall, past Mr Cameron’s flat, we found a “Little Frankie’s” just off Trafalgar Square. The prices were pretty exorbitant, but at least the staff were attentive. We ordered pretty much the cheapest items on the menu, “okay,” said the waiter in a somewhat despondent tone. Oh well, there went the attentive service.

After this, Rebekah had arranged to meet an old friend in Hyde Park. Hyde Park, if you’re interested, is much like Edinburgh’s meadows…but larger, better-kept, properly maintained paths, and the like. Whilst we waited, it occurred to me that I had no chance of surviving my shift in the pub the following morning: I was due to work at 10am. I was knackered now, having had a full day in London on foot – how bad would I be after a fitful night’s sleep on the coach? I phoned work and got a very sympathetic manager on the other end, who swapped my shift for one at 5pm – what a hero!

We hung around there until sunset, when Rebekah’s pal arrived. Myself and Ian went to Sainsbury’s for supplies for the journey back. We both decided, wisely, against buying alcohol for the trip home. I nearly bought a bottle of lager, whilst Ian put his tinned cocktail back on the shelf.

Meeting Rebekah outside, we got the tube for the last time, back to Victoria rail station, where it should have been a short walk back to the coach station. However, the arrivals and departures sections of the coach station are in separate buildings on different sides of the street, with half the departure gates being separated by the road out of the station.

Unlike last night, it didn’t look like we were going to be first on the coach – the small departure gate (think of an airport’s, then shrink it by a factor of five and add dirt) was jammed with weary looking people. Outside were row upon row of identical white coaches, a lonely red and blue French iDBus brightening a scene that could have otherwise easily been a black and white photograph.

Tonight the excitement was gone, but the anxiety was there, but for different reasons. Would we manage to get seats together? Would we stuck with a snorer (or worse) next to us? Somehow, on a coach that turned out to be practically full, we got decent seats by ourselves…for a while, anyway. One of our fellow passengers decided to leave the pair of seats he had to himself, and sat next to Ian instead.

The rest of the journey is a bit of a blur, I passed out for the majority of it – the others weren’t so lucky, although they claim they managed a fair amount more sleep than the night before. Yet again, we visited Woodall, this time I skipped the McDonalds, and I chose to stretch my legs instead. I even managed a bit of photography – given that the coach was responsible for so much of our misery (tiredness), it seemed fitting that I at least get a photo of the monster. For a long exposure taken at 3am, it didn’t turn out too badly.

I slept most of the way north from there, too – waking up in random locations in Border country (and I’m impressed I figured out where I was) namely outside Alnwick, and Torness just south of Dunbar.

I’d been slumped in my seat for over five hours when someone prodded me awake, luckily, it was Rebekah, and not Ian’s new friend. “We’re in Edinburgh.” We were, and I’ve never been so glad to be there.

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