England for a while
|30/05/2011||Filled under England, family, London|
Kate sits munching on a croissant, while waiting for the train which will transport us to London, the first visit for several years. We have business there, our home for three years prior to retirement is being sold and we have come to collect the remainder of our belongings, but we go there on sufferance only, not through choice. The pace of big city life does not attract us; in fact we cannot stand it for long at all!
The journey is a fast one, a bus ride from the Wee Toon into Glasgow (with entertainment provided by the driver’s commentary accompanied by some pretty bad jokes) then intercity train which zips along at amazing speed through the countryside, stations passing faster than we can read their names, the whole of a good novel being devoured before Euston. It is here that the pleasure ends, abruptly, as we descend the escalators into the crushing underworld of the underground. The Tube, an apt description that brings to mind lengths of toothpaste being squeezed through a narrow nozzle, is stuffed full of a million or so sweaty bodies most of whom have not just stepped out of the Kintyre countryside but instead have struggled through a day of work in the humidity of the city. We have to change trains onto the DLR but just before Bank station we decipher a garbled announcement which tells us that our train will not be stopping there – the station is over-crowded. We thrust our luggage-burdened bodies out of the carriage onto the platform to immediately hear, “Bank station is now open. I repeat: Bank station is now open”, so have to squeeze ourselves back on board the next train, which is equally full. Fighting our way along miles of underground passages like termites the doors of the driverless Docklands Light Railway train finally appear in front of us and we haul our luggage on board. What a relief it is to arrive at Limehouse Basin, a place that was once our winter home on board Cirrus, a place where familiar boats still float quietly as we walk along pathways we remember so well and cross the lock gates to a welcome in the Cruising Association’s London HQ. This place is an island of peace in the mad city, a place where sanity rules once more.
We are not done yet though, for in the morning we venture forth for more craziness, this time on London’s roads in a brand new car hired from a dealership in the shadow of Tower Bridge. Terrified of scratching this powerful beast’s shiny new paint we pilot through the stop-start maelstrom that is the capital’s full-time traffic jam. Buses loom over us, motorcycle messengers flick into view from behind, taxis U-turn directly in front of our bonnet and death-wish cyclists weave in and out of everything. The philosophy here is: To give an inch is to surrender – never surrender! There are rules here, but not those in any Highway Code. They are unwritten, hardwired into the genes of every Londoner but a terrifying mystery to all outsiders.
The London skyline triggers old memories but there is a newcomer here, a thousand foot shape is emerging from the ground, improbable and unfinished, it will soon dominate the skyline, taking over from lesser landmarks like the Gherkin and Big Ben. This is The Shard – where do they think of these names? – still some way short of its full height but rising higher every day. This is just another hotel and office block really, and thank goodness someone had the sense to put it here and not on Kintyre!
The hired car is a has an acre of load space and twin turbochargers tucked away under the bonnet which give it the long legs we need to transport us and our belongings around the country. Once we have escaped London we begin to observe the finer points of the countryside we are passing through. To our eyes, which are accustomed to a lush green vista, the land seems impoverished and dry. The grass is pale brown where it is cropped close to the hard earth, trees are in full leaf but look tired from straining hard to find water and weeds have rushed through their lifecycle to produce seed quickly with what little energy they have left. The south-east of England which has seen little rain now for over a month. My mother grumbles about the state of her flower bed when we visit her down in Ticehurst. This corner of the country seems to have become more arid in recent years and her flower portfolio may need to change too if she wants to avoid constant watering to sustain life. But having said this, the colourful spread she does produce is still the envy of all her neighbours.
Our journey continued around the homes of some of our scattered family as we wrench our son Mike away from his computer to take him out for a birthday meal. It is also an opportunity to window-shop, to feast our eyes on exotic goods not found in shops close to home, to experience the novelty of being able to buy, well, anything we could possibly want and even more that we never will.
Our hire car takes the journey back to Scotland in its stride, only a deep rumble giving away the fact that the engine is even switched on. We run into showers somewhere north of Birmingham, strong winds across the Lake District then right on the Scottish border the sun pops out from behind a cloud and we know we are home. The ocean off the west of Kintyre sparkles for us, masses of white combed waves rolling up the golden beaches. Take away the million shades of green exhibited by the conifers and the bracken, the dazzling waterfalls bursting out of roadside crags, the sharp contrast of black rocks thrusting out of verdant mountainsides, remove the lochs and the mountain streams, wring out most of the water and take away all the road traffic and it could just be the southeast of England. Or maybe not.