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

Legoland or bust

This was something of an eventful day. Quite apart from being our last day in Europe, it was to be a day of plans, problems, revised plans, revised plan problems, revised-revised plans, revised-revised plan problems… and so on.

The first bit went reasonably smoothly: We said goodbye to Uncle Hew (since he was going to work early) and finished our packing. Then we called a minicab and locked up his house and caught the cab to the station.

Minicabs are something of a curiosity to someone like me who comes from a city where all the cabs are pretty well regulated. Minicabs basically consist a person and their car. You ring them, or go to their office, they drive you somewhere, you give them money. Simple as that.

Well, this minicab was a slightly grumpy old bloke with an ageing Ford, which was well-kept, apart from the rust and the fact that the whole car was overwhelmingly crappy. He got us to East Croydon station for a couple of pounds less than a normal cab, but by golly I think next time I’ll spend the extra money.

So, from East Croydon station, it was on to plan A.

Plan A:

Catch a Thameslink train into London Farringdon, then the tube to Paddington station. See if we could con the Heathrow Express people into accepting our Britrail SouthEast passes, or otherwise buy tickets. Check-in our luggage at Paddington. Then catch a train to Windsor, go to Legoland, come back to Paddington, have some dinner with Josh and Cathy, then catch the Heathrow Express to… you guessed it, Heathrow! Get on board our 10pm-ish flight, and head home.

Problem with Plan A:

We got to Farringdon around 10am, and being the eagle-eyed person that I am, I noticed a scribbled message written on the noticeboard. Something about an incident at Paddington, and that there were no trains, though the tube was running normally. I found an Underground man, who told me two trains had collided near Paddington. "There’s one person dead and hundreds injured." And no other trains running.

[The sobering headline on our last night in England. Click for enlargement]
The sobering headline on our last night in England. Click for enlargement.

We would find out later that it was considerably more than one person dead. We had missed by about two hours, stumbling into what would become known as the Paddington disaster to most; or the Ladbroke Grove incident to the rail officials.

Thankful that we were only inconvenienced by it, and not involved in it, we started to formulate plan B.

Plan B:

Catch the tube to Heathrow. Check-in our baggage there, then catch a cab to Legoland, and one back that evening for our flight.

So we caught a tube one stop to Kings Cross, and changed to the Piccadilly line to go to Heathrow. When we got there, we lugged our luggage up to the correct terminal. 

Problem with Plan B:

It was now about midday. But for our flight, we couldn’t check-in until 4pm.

Plan C:

Put our bags in Left Luggage at Heathrow. Easy peasy. Then we could go and get a cab to Legoland.

Problem with Plan C:

We got to the cab rank, and found a sign with estimates on how much various destinations might cost. Windsor estimate: £35. Add the trip back (another £35) plus the admission to Legoland (another £46.50), and it was starting to look like an awfully expensive outing for what would probably be only about four hours worth (if we were lucky) looking around the park. Work it out in Australian dollars… go on, I dare you.

Plan D:

Catch a bus to Windsor instead. The price should be more reasonable at least.

Problem with Plan D:

(a) The buses were only every hour. (b) Time is still running out to have £46.50 worth of fun. (c) We have absolutely no idea where we’re going. It’s all too hard.

Jeremy enjoys another ride on the tube

View from the park in Hounslow – yet another plane goes in to land at Heathrow

Heading home at last

Plan E:

Kill time, find a park for the kids to play in, and relax, like you’re meant to do when on holiday. Call Josh and Cathy and arrange dinner somewhere on the Piccadilly line (well, not in a train or station, but somewhere not too far from one). Promise the kids we’ll go to Legoland as the number one priority when we next come to England. And when we get home, buy the kids some Lego with just a fraction of the money we would have spent getting there today under Plan C.

The success of Plan E

Plan E worked a treat. We caught the tube back towards London, and spotted a suitable park in Hounslow. The kids had a play with some of the local Londoner kids in the playground there, and we relaxed, munched on chocolate, read the papers, and watched the planes going into land at Heathrow flying right over our heads every minute or two.

We also phoned Josh and arranged for him and Cathy to meet us in Earl’s Court for Italian, which they did some hours later. We drank a couple of bottles of wine, chatted happily, and in the end Josh kindly offered to pay, since he said we earned Australian dollars, which in comparison to the English pound, "aren’t worth pissing on". And fair enough too.

We promised them a meal next time they were in Melbourne, then got back on the tube, collected our luggage, checked-in, got on the plane, and headed for home. We hadn’t done what we’d started out expecting to do, but we’d had a fairly hectic day.

And as the plane jetted off heading back towards Asia, and ultimately, Australia, I sipped on a glass of water, and as the others slept, put my glass down, and slowly drifted off too.

I woke several hours later with damp jeans. I thought for a few seconds I’d embarrassed myself, but it was just the glass – it had toppled over, and water was soaking into my lap. 

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.