Europe 1999 ???????????

The dragon and the volcano

We caught the train into London Blackfriars – an interesting name for a station, though I didn’t spot any black friars walking around it. It was pretty quiet, being Sunday morning, and we strolled along the Embankment, which is a rather less interesting name for what is undeniably, an embankment.

One of London Transport’s youngest drivers, Isaac.

We walked through the Strand, past all the Australian icons – the Qantas office, Australia House etc, to Covent Garden. Our prime goal for the morning was to visit the truly wonderful London Transport Museum. I raved on about it the last time I visited, and it’s still just as good, the ideal spot for kids of all ages etc etc etc and all that usual hype. The kids loved it of course, and we all had a good nose around through the exhibits.

After a spot of lunch we roamed around the rest of Covent Garden. By that time it was much busier – crowds of people milling around the shops, munching on food and watching buskers of varying degrees of talent. A truly awesome rock band had set up outside the museum, and was blowing away the crowds, while inside the main shopping building there was a more refined form of music, a string quartet.

A few streets away, wandering through China Town we came across a dragon, accompanied by noisy fireworks and an honour guard of martial arts people, moving from shop to shop as Chinese dragons often do, blessing each in turn. It reminded me of home in Melbourne during Chinese New Year, in fact.

From there we walked down Charing Cross Road to Trafalgar Square, and Isaac, showing a rare burst of energy, had a good run around chasing the pigeons. We dipped into the Underground station toilets at one point, and I noticed that they had a sign up proclaiming that they had been "Loo of the Year 1996/97". Maybe they’d let their standards slip a little since then – it didn’t look all that outstanding to me. Or perhaps the competition was really shitty?

Down Whitehall towards the river we went. I’d been telling L about how big Big Ben is. It’s a Grand Canyon-type scenario – no matter how many photos you see, you’re never really quite ready to see it in person. It’s big. Hence the name. L seemed a bit doubting, until we came around the corner and she looked up and – "Holey shit!"

We found a park next to the adjoining Westminster, and Isaac and Jeremy had a good run around. Then we caught the tube back to Victoria. Everyone was hungry, so we went into the shopping centre above the station to look for dinner, and discovered that despite the silly name, "Spud-u-like" aren’t bad, as far as potatoes go.

Somewhere on the train between Victoria and East Croydon, one of our Travelcards went AWOL. Thankfully it was only the tail end of a Weekend Travelcard, but it was annoying nonetheless. We put on our "poor tourists don’t know what we’re doing" faces at East Croydon station and the ticket collector let us through the gate. 

There were a few groceries we needed to get on the way back to Hew’s, but we figured we could probably get them at the Safeway near the station. Nope: closed. Another convenience of home, that all big supermarkets are open until midnight every day of the week, obviously didn’t apply. While L went to look around for any open shops, I popped in to an Internet Caf� next to the station.

The computer they gave me was mindnumblingly slow. After ten minutes I’d only managed to read two e-mails, and I gave up after fifteen minutes. As I paid up my £1.50, I asked "Is that computer always that slow?"

"That one on the end is a bit slow, yes."

"I wish you’d have told me that fifteen minutes ago", I replied, and stormed out, silently vowing never to return, a vow I was to break a few days later.

L hadn’t been able to find a single open shop. This was a dire situation: what we needed was baby wipes and nappies. When you’re stuck in a strange land as guests of someone with no little kids, with a toddler who let’s face it – like all little kids – can erupt like Mount Vesuvius in the bottom zone, you definitely need nappies.

We got on the bus (the right bus this time) anyway, and asked the driver if there would be anywhere open. He spotted a late-night supermarket and let us off. Thankfully, they had the necessary provisions, and it was only a short walk to Hew’s place from there.

So if you’re reading, the bloke driving the 466 that night when some Aussie pleaded with you to find a late-night supermarket or chemist, I just want to say thank you Mr Bus Driver, thank you. You probably saved a fellow Englishman’s house from a devastating eruption.

By Daniel Bowen

Transport blogger / campaigner and spokesperson for the Public Transport Users Association / professional geek.
Bunurong land, Melbourne, Australia.
Opinions on this blog are all mine.