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The London Trip - Day 1 - Getting to Redhill
7th February 2003
I was bored. Hadn't been anywhere for a few months. Getting itchy feet. Hadn't done anything new since the Geek Cruise. Then Peter emailed me with the news that he was getting married. Any excuse is a good excuse. But it wasn't just an excuse. I've known Peter for a very long time, probably about 25 years. I've seen him once in the last 15 years when he visited us in Sydney about 7 or 8 years ago. He's getting married in the UK, far away from home and family, so he needs someone there from his past for the sake of continuity. I checked my vacation time, checked my finances and said "I'm going to the wedding." Anne wanted to come too, and normally we would have gone together, but Anne's off to Australia shortly and that was stretching things a bit far. So I was going alone.
I've only been to the UK once before, passing through it briefly in 1998. I didn't get any chance to sightsee then, so this time I was determined to be a tourist.
I left on a Thursday evening. This is good. I get to sleep Thursday night on the plane, and arrive in the UK next morning, bright-eyed and bushy tailed and ready for action. Airline travel in the USA sucked as bad as ever. It's really become crappy in the last few years with futile security checks. I think Norfolk has all their devices set to maximum sensitivity, probably because of the military in the area, because I set the metal detectors off again. No matter how little metal I have on me, I set the damn things. This time it was my buckle and my watch. And they thought it best I put my shoes with my backpack through the X-ray machines. It's a good thing I get to the airport two hours early, because all the security crap chews up a lot of time.
The little plane to Washington was little, as usual. These are the ones where you can't stand up straight in the corridor. I slept in crushed position during the flight. Took time to unkink when we landed in Washington. When I left Norfolk, the weather was fine. Washington was snowing, but not really cold. As per usual, I arrived at the furthest gate, and had to leave at the furthest gate, so there was a lot of walking. It must be airline rule that when they see my name on any flight, they reschedule the gates so I have to walk the maximum possible distance.
The flight to London was a jumbo, a big, comfy plane if it's not full. We were full, so it was a sardine can. Next time, I promise myself I will upgrade to business class. When we boarded, the snow outside was heavy. It got heavier. We were sealed in, and the plane started to overheat. It got like a sauna. We boarded at 9:30pm but didn't leave till about 11pm. The machinery for de-icing the plane hadn't arrived or wasn't working or something, so we sat and sweated. Finally the machinery arrived, the plane was cleared of snow, and we left.
The flight was quiet and uneventful, but too warm. It would have been nice if it was cooler. I read, did a survey to win a free international flight, dozed a bit, watched a silent movie, watched the map, did the landing card, and passed the time. We landed late, about 10am. Going through customs was easy, no problems, just "Why are you here? When are you going back? Where do you live? Enjoy yourself." My luggage arrived early, with nothing to declare so I was out into the open quickly. Inside the airport was excessively warm, and I found that was common in London. I am sure that I smelled a bit after the hot trip and the hot waiting, so I was really glad to get outside and into the open air where it was cold and crisp and felt great. I walked around a bit, enjoying the cool air. It was about 50, warmer than Virginia when I left. By the time I was cleared through immigration and customs and got outside, it was about midday. That was much longer than I expected it to take, so I was running late. I had plans on being at the Bed and Breakfast by this time, and ready for a bit of tourism. Those plans were soon dashed. I changed a bit of money, enough to get me to the B&B, and from my calculations I was raped. This was going to be a problem.
Okay, I had to get to Redhill, and I had no idea where that was. I had some instructions, and my general plan was to get to near Gatwick. That's when the pain started. I couldn't find the shuttle to Gatwick, so I took the train to Green Park, and changed to Waterloo. I struggled at Waterloo to make sense. The ticket office didn't know Redhill. I phoned Shree for help. She said to get to East Croydon. Back to the ticket office, and they had no clue. I was having trouble with the woman's accent, filtered through a crappy microphone from her protected box, and played on a tinny speaker in a huge noisy room. Damn my ears. Eventually I worked out that she was saying "Upstairs" repeatedly, so I obeyed and went upstairs. Aha. There was a big railway station upstairs. I got a ticket to East Croydon but couldn't find any train. Instead I found Travel Information and asked there. Got a new ticket to Redhill and knew enough to get to Clapham Junction, then change to Redhill. Where the hell is Redhill anyway? I had maps, but couldn't find it on any of them.
The trains were all older trains this time. To get out, I had to open the window, stick out my hand and open the door from the outside. Cute. I dutifully changed at Clapham Junction into a very cramped train. Stood up the whole way, tired, footsore, and dehydrated. I had no idea Redhill was so far from London. Eventually, the train arrived at Redhill and I escaped. I left the station and phoned Shree. She walked down and met me, with Amy. I recognised Shree, and she me. There was a momentary awkwardness. I'm an Australian with a severe case of body-shyness. What do I do? Shake hands, shrug, air-kiss, nod at each other? Shree wasn't sure either, so I said "What do we do?" and she laughed and took pity on me and gave me a hug.
I was expecting a little dogbox, but I got a huge room with two beds, and a washbasin and even a little shower. It was big and light and airy. Lots of artwork on the walls. Communal toilet, but that's fine. I was very happy with the room, and with the B&B. I had chat with Brian about the state of Britain. He's a great guy, friendly, chatty and eager to help.
I unpacked, showered the stink of travel off me, and then dozed till 5pm. Woke up and it was dark and I was a bit chilled. Time to do the social stuff. I phoned Peter and he came over picked me up and drove me back to his place, and we sat and chatted till Shree finished work. Then we fought over where to go for dinner. I wanted Indian, but Peter resisted mightily and we went to a pub.
Oh well. It's a chance to try pub food again. I had tried pub food in London when I came through in 1998, and I fondly remember huge meals with great salads. We drove to The Greyhound for dinner. My needs have changed since 1998, and now I'm vegetarian and eat smaller meals. The Greyhound had one menu item for me - the vegetarian pie with corn and peas and chips. A bit bland, but it filled me up and served its purpose. I was eager to try the local beers, but that was a little sparse. I ended up with a Guinness and a warm Abbots Ale. That wasn't too exciting. So we sat and ate and chatted, and then it was back to the B&B for me. The wedding was next day, but I was doing some business and tourism first and an early night was called for.