As I smugly sink into a sofa in the luxuriant 1st class passenger lounge and connect my netbook to the WiFi the smart and professional receptionist asks to see my tickets, to prove that I am “the right sort of person”. After all we wouldn’t want those “other” types getting in here would we? It turns out that I am one of the other types because my advance 1st class tickets don’t qualify for the lounge unless I pay an extra £5. My train is in 10 minutes so I turn my back at the pug faced battle axe and strop outside to mix with MY people. It was crap in there anyway – full of yattery business types dictating to their PAs. And the sofa was no great shakes.
Platform announcements may be more audible than of yesteryear but they make no more sense. The news that the 9:01 to London St Pancras is imminent and that first class travellers should make their way to the rear of the train is less than helpful since they don’t mention which direction the train is approaching from. I happen to know that it arrives from the left – the opposite end of the platform to the 1st class business lounge – and that it always will do, raising questions about the recently redesigned platform layout.
Once aboard I’m please to see that suited corporates are sparse (presumably they took earlier trains to the capital) and that there are “proper” people aboard which makes for better people watching, and less obnoxious conversations to earwig.
A date with Jimmy Hill (ugh!)
My lack of itinerary for the weekend is a front. I have ideas. After booking the hotel I decided that I was going to see some football. There are a dozen or so London clubs so there should be plenty of games to chose from over the weekend. Except this is FA cup weekend and all the local teams have been knocked out except Chelsea whose tickets are not on general sale, leaving just Fulham who play Notts County on Sunday.
Yes I can book a ticket online but I am checked into my classy Oxford Street cupboard by 11am so decide to tube it over to Putney Bridge & collect one in person. Craven Cottage is a proper old fashioned cantilever stadium that sits between Victorian Terraces and the Thames. I approach it along the Thames footpath when it starts to rain and I’m glad that I packed an umbrella but less chuffed that it is currently sitting in my hotel room. Fulham looks interesting but I’m getting wet so ticket in hand it’s a quick hop back on the tube to Covent Garden and…
A moving experience
…the London Transport Museum. It sits bang next to Covent Garden and I have walked past it on numerous occasions without venturing in, so today is the day. It’s unsurprisingly full of London transport paraphernalia.
I’m not too bothered about the “kit” so much – although there are some interesting old horse drawn trams, underground carriages and buses of a certain vintage – but the social history is compelling. Particularly striking is the realisation that so called modern themes relating to the drag of the suburban commute through to the environmental impact of the transport infrastructure were very hot topics as early as the 19th century. Three hours well spent.
I’m a sucker for Mussels and Belgian beer so hunger pangs in the Covent Garden vicinity can only result in a trip to Belgo, next door to the Donmar Warehouse. My advice if you haven’t been there is to go even if you hate mussels. Situated in a large celler with oodles of copper, stainless steel, naked flames, beer to die for and the sort of comforting food to counteract the anticipated hangover this venue has an undeniably fine ambience. Efficient and engaging staff steer you to a trestle table next to fellow diners where there are plenty of people to observe and snippets to overhear. The waiters dress as monks but that’s their only bad habit. Doh!
I enjoy an entrée of 5% Cristal lager – one of the weakest beers on offer, followed by a yummy 7% Affligem Brune with a darker palour. There are many stronger beers served by the bottle – Chimay, Roquefort, Leffe, Steenbrugge, not to mention the 12% Bush Scaldis, but it’s 6:45pm and the line must be drawn somewhere.
Food for thought
Since I’m sat here in a Belgian restaurant I order some mussels in a Thai broth. In fairness they are very nice but nothing I couldn’t do myself. That said, it’s the whole package of food, beer, venue and clientele that makes this a worthy visit.
Time for a brief mozy around the Seven Dials area which always draws me in with its designer stores, independents and quirky coffee & nibble outlets followed by a pleasant stroll through the increasingly populous streets to Leicester Square and onto Chinatown. Sunday is Chinese New Year and this year it’s the turn of the Tiger. See my previous blog entry for your prospects this year if you must.
The lanterns are out and there is a tangible buzz. It’s a shame that the major celebrations here are taking place on the following weekend because they would be a wonderful sight to behold with fireworks and street processions led by human dragons. I console myself by joining a queue of people at a street stall in the belief that they must know something good lies at the other end. The zen navigation technique pays off handsomely with a thing probably best described as a pork dumpling in chilli sauce. A terrific treat for the taste buds. Perhaps I will return here on Sunday. Surely something festive will be going on, unless the Valentines crowd render the evening a write-off.
Things can only go downhill from here so I head back to the hotel cupboard. It may be early but there’s a few miles in my legs today.