Sunday, 29 December 2013

Erich and her Spanner in the Works

We'd had this trip planned for a little while, though the finer details have changed quite a bit.  The plan was to tow up to London, stop 2 nights and take in a West End musical.  The club's Crystal Palace site was full so we'd reserved a pitch at Wyatt's Covert just outside Greater London. I'd kept an eye on the CC website every day, and my perseverance paid off when on the 20th a pitch became free at Crystal a Palace for our stay.

In the run up to Xmas the UK took a battering from the storms. I was sat in Miranda at a Half Way lights on Xmas Eve and she was being rocked by the winds. @DerekTheWeather has promised that it will   be like this on Boxing Night and on 27th.  Not exactly ideal towing weather.

Friday 27 December

I wake and peak out of the blinds. It had been a rough night and the street is. Strewn with blue recycling bags.  We get ourselves together and are on the road by 10 am, weaving in and out of the debris as we make our way through the village towards J48.

We accelerate up the slip road and are slammed sideways by a gust as we cross the estuary, and that little episode set the tone for the 200 mile journey.  The elevated section of the M4 through Port Talbot was down to a 30 mph limit as was the Kenfig section, but herself remarked on how well Miranda was coping with the tow in the horrendous driving conditions. I told herself to turn round and take a good look, which she did before asking "Where is the bloody caravan?"

I'd chickened out of the tow on Xmas Eve when I'd checked the forecast and seen that Erich was lurking off the west coast of Spud Chucking Land, and was coming our way. So with a Travelodge booked in the City we pressed on. The Severn crossing was lively and the rain by Bath slowed the traffic to a near standstill. Once we hit the Shires the weather opened up and we were accompanied by bright sunshine for most of the remainder of our journey.

The winds were still gusting strongly though, and we had a few heart in the mouth moments. The best of which was when a Megabus went sideways over 2 lanes just 100 yards in front of us.

As we passed Windsor jets filled the sky and a glance to the right confirmed that she was in residence with the flag being flown at full mast. I'm talking about 'Our Kathy' here mind and not HRH!

I always get a buzz driving into the capital as the M4 winds its way through Greater London, elevated through Chiswick carrying traffic three floors up, and then on to the Hammersmith Flyover and passed B&M Bargains in Knightsbridge (sorry .... Harrods).

This is where our journey through the capital got a bit more interesting.  TomTom decides it can't find any satellites and I'm on my own to find my way to the NCP car park in London's city district.  Our route takes us along side Hyde Park, through the road tunnel to Piccadilly and onto Piccadilly Circus, past Trafalgar Square and The Barbican before the car park looms into view.

Chalkie comes out of his booth and while he's asking us how long we want to park for, his head is in herself's window casing the car for valuables.

He tells us to reverse Miranda into the lift and press the button the the fourth level.  I say "say what?" And he repeats the instructions like as if it's a normal thing to do.  I reverse into the lift, and up we go, grinning at each other like Cheshire cats!

When parked up, everything is cwtched away out of sight before we take the same lift back down and start off on the 1/2 mile walk to the hotel ....... In the wrong direction!  Just 1 1/2 miles later we arrive and check in fast track on the machines in reception before heading to our room which has a view over City Road. Travelodges have come a long way, this one just having had a makeover, and is very comfortable indeed.

No point wasting any time in the room, so after a quick cuppa we're straight out to take in some of the capital.  Travel in London gets expensive for us.  Herself refuses point blank to travel on the underground and I can't work out the bus routes and timetables, so anything further than a walk involves us entrusting our future financial viability in the hands of a London Taxi driver!

A reasonably short, but quite expensive can ride later sees us hopping out somewhere between The Barbican and Covent Garden.  We stroll along taking in the sights, until Covent Garden comes into view, actually we could hear it before we could see it.  We spent some time browsing the market and watching street entertainers before moving on to try and find somewhere to eat.

You'd think that wouldn't be too difficult, wouldn't you?  But herself had been suffering from a stomach bug, and when herself suffers, I suffer!  Time is now getting on and we walked the streets of Covent Garden, on up to Leicester Square, on through China Town, along Shaftsbury Avenue and up into Soho, until Herself eventually found somewhere that was suitable for us to dine.

The place's web site proudly proclaims.......

Bill’s Soho restaurant has become a very popular destination in the heart of this hip area of London. Parquet floors, leather club chairs, chandeliers, vintage mirrors, and plenty of other signature Bill’s features, give it a real sparkle.

In fact, Bills did not disappoint.  The food was lovely, the ambiance was spot on, and the waitresses were very attentive.  Any thought that Herself had of leaving a tip were soon dispensed with as I checked the bill which included a 12.5% service charge!

We settled up and made our way down through Soho back towards Leicester Square.  I try my best to persuade Herself to let us take in one of the neon lit establishments, but she was having none of it.  I cannot think why!

Back in the square we take a seat by the winter fair and spend some time people watching as the thousands pass by on their way to take in a film or a show, go for a meal or find themselves a prostitute!

It's been a lovely evening walking hand in hand with herself through the West end, but we're quite tired now after the journey and the expedition to find a suitable restaurant, so take another expensive cab back to the hotel.  Once in the room we settle down, open a few bottles of wine and relax on the  very comfortable bed.

It strikes us how lucky we've been with our room allocation and don't bother to close one set of the curtains.  From our bed we can look straight onto City Road with all it's hustle and bustle!

Saturday 28 December

We had planned to get up nice and early today, but did not wake until gone 9.30am.  It was 11am before we were out on the street and flagging a cab down for another expensive ride west.  About £16 later we pull up on The Mall just a few hundred yards from The Palace.  Our driver this time hails from Garnant, a shit hole around 10 miles from where we live.  I'd always thought that Amman Valley people were robbing barstewards!

My heart sinks further as we look to The Palace and it's jam packed, we cannot get near it but crowds seem to be congregating around the Victoria Memorial and on either side as the road forks to both Constitution Hill and Birdcage Walk.

We had wanted to see changing of the guard ceremony, but our lie in ensured we did not.  We settled in against the barriers and battled to keep our place.  And some battle that was.  Some bloke had the nerve to ask me if he could come to the front with his child! I allowed his kid to stand in front of me but he was told to sling his hook!

We saw enough as it happened.  The guards and the band marched straight past us on their way to and from The Palace and it was quite special to be that close to it.

We then walked down through St James' park, stopping briefly for a coffee where the wild life was rather brave, one squirrel being confident enough to climb onto out picnic bench and onto Herself's lap looking for goodies.  We strolled through the park down to Horse guards Parade where a lone armed rozzer stood guard over the back of Downing Street.

Through the arches we continued into the throngs of Japanese tourists trying to get a photo taken with the guards and the horses.  I willed one of the guards to take action as an over exuberant tourist disrespectfully pretended to punch the guard in a photo opportunity.  Don't think he'd look quite so brave impaled on the end of a bayonet!

Turning right we made our way past The War Rooms on Whitehall towards the front of Downing Street where the Met's finest has screamed to a halt where a BMW was stranded having broken down - they get a bit twitchy about stationary cars in these parts.

The front of Downing St is guarded a little better than the back, and if I were minded to launch an attack it would be over the wall and through the back door.

We round the corner in the shadows of Big Ben and it's rammed solid outside Westminster Abbey.  Time is now getting on.  we've not eaten yet today and our show tickets are for 3pm.  We flag down a cab for a ride back up to the West End and get dropped off at Leicester Square.  Herself is feeling better today and thankfully does not take long to find somewhere suitable for lunch.

Before too long we are sat at a table in the snug Il Padrino Italian restaurant just off the square.  Trip adviser does not rate this place, but I have to say that both our meals were very tasty, served hot and the table service was very attentive again.  But again a 12.5% service charge was added to the bill so the money left in the dish allowed for no change.

With full bellies we set off up Charring Cross Rd to the Theatre.  With a bit of time to spare before doors opened we had another drink, this time in the Back Stage bar over the road.  Actually when I say in I actually mean outside on the benches.  We were not alone, although we were the only non smokers!  After some time people watching we finished our drinks and headed for the Theatre.

I am a cheapskate so our seats were some way up.  By the time we've climbed the stairs to The Grand Circle I am a gasping and sweating mess in my coat, though not quite as bad as some poor unfortunate who was sat down on the stairs with a lot of worried looking staff running around clutching glasses of water for her!

I nearly need CPR as herself announces she wants glass of wine to take into the auditorium.  Bloody £8.80 they want and I tell herself she'd better make it last.

As I said, I'm a cheapskate, I know this, but if you are selling tickets with a 'slightly restricted view' you need to define the term slightly.  We take our seats and herself scowls as she turns to me and says "Where's the bloody stage?"  I don't say anything, as now would be a bad time to anything at all and pretend to read the programme.

A rough estimate of mine establishes we can see about 60% of the stage front - but how deep is the stage?  Just as the show is about to start the 3 pints I've thrown down my neck in the last hour and a half are having a nasty affect on me and my bladder is screaming.  I climb the steps to the back of the auditorium to use the bogs trying hard not to blast the glaze off the porcelain.  As I came back through the curtain it strikes me how much better the view is from up here on the walk way.  Do I stay here to view and pretend to herself that I've had bad guts?  No, I sheepishly take my seat next to my beloved in our shielded seats, taking dirty looks and digs in the ribs in my stride.

Herself is getting i bit pissed off with the lady next to her (who also does not have a great view - although better than ours) who keeps asking Herself if Robbie Coltrane is starring in the show and keeps complaining that she can't follow it because  of the Oirish accents and is also deeply offended by the swearing.

Things are not going too good!

It's a good job we've both seen the film a few times and were able to follow the plot!  The interval arrives and herself announces she wants another wine. I start to protest but to no avail.  It is pointed out that I can spend the money I saved by purchasing shit tickets for the show. I know she's right and toddle off with my tail between my legs.

Curtains up for part 2.

I've got a bit of a cough at the moment and have consumed a packet of Lockets and a few pints of water to try and keep it at bay.  I restrict the coughing fits to when there are loud musical sections of the show and during the narrative parts I make for the bogs to open the release valve to off loaf some of the previously consumed fluids, pausing to take in some of the show before returning to our seats

The show is very good actually -even with our restricted view- and the finale has the audience on their feet and dancing in the aisles!

Once outside we fought our way through the packed streets and flagged a cab down for another rather expensive ride back to the Hotel where the intention was to relax for a few hours before going back out.
It really was a struggle as we'd both been drinking on and off since 1pm, but if we didn't make a move we would have fallen asleep by 8pm and gone nowhere!

The area we are staying in is in the middle of London's financial district, and outside of Monday to Friday it is really quite quiet.  Most of the bars locally are shut until the NewYear and those that are open are struggling for custom.  Having spent enough these last few days on taxi rides I had no intention of throwing another £35 in their direction so conducted a bit of internet research for somewhere to go within walking distance.

Showered and changed we left the Hotel and turned right up City Road towards Moorgate Tube Station.  We crossed the busy road and herself starts to make remarks about how she's not too impressed with the area we are walking through.  I assumed she was talking about the few shabby looking shops that were open!

After a short walk we find the place I am looking for.  Herself is not quite convinced but I want to give it a go.

We take the stairs down into the below ground Bavarian Beerhouse.  We take our seats after being ordered by the rather hard looking black bouncer to WAIT HERE, and order some beers.  I am asked if I want a stein or a pint.  I scowl at the waiter and he says "A stein it is then!"

It's very noisy.  There's a stag do on the next bench, and while the city slickers are not doing much drinking they are doing a lot of clashing of glasses and shouting.  Lightweights probably only had about 1 1/2 steins each!!!

We order our traditional Bavarian dishes.  Herself has a pork scallop in some sort of mushroom sauce and I go for the spicy sausage medley with mash and sour kraut.  Very nice it was too.  We could so easily have stayed for longer, but with the beers at £10 a throw that was never going to happen because I can pot a few and it wouldn't have stopped at 2 or 3 or 4 steins! The 12.5% service charge ensures that we pay the bill with the exact amount of cash before leaving.

We climb the stairs back to street level and turn right for the 1/2 mile walk back to the hotel.  Herself starts again to tut and moan about the area that we are walking through.  I start to take a bit more notice of my surroundings and notice quite a few young ladies of eastern European origin wearing short skirts and rather a lot of makeup.

We retreat to our room where we have a bottle of wine and some cans of beer chilling nicely between the panes of double glazing.  With London buses passing our window at around every 30 seconds the time flies as I people watch on the street below before we both turn in absolutely knackered just after mid night.

Sunday 29 December

We both wake early this morning and are up, packed, dressed and checked out of the Hotel by 9.30am.  We now know our way round a bit so the walk to the car park was somewhat shorter than when we arrived on Friday.  Chalkie was there waiting for us, all teeth, and took £36 off my card before allowing us to be reunited with Miranda.

Thankfully we step out of the lift to see her still where we parked her with her side not stoved in and all her windows un smashed!

I had planned to take a different route out of London, but any thoughts of driving out past Buckingham palace and up Constitution Hill were swiftly kicked into touch as we emerged from Admiralty Arch to see that The Mall was closed off to traffic from Horseguards Rd on wards.  A swift U turn was required and we then retraced our steps from Friday in reverse to find Piccadilly, Knightbridge and The Great west road towards the promised land!

Traffic was quite heavy for the length of the M4 but we kept moving all the time.  I must say though that Miranda has impressed me this trip.  We've not done a long motorway journey in her solo yet.  All other long journeys have been done with the caravan hitched to the back.  When towing we only get 24 mpg and running around locally struggle to get 27 mpg.

This trip, we travelled to London and back on 3/4 of a tank at a steady 70 mph to 80 mph.  For the trip (440 miles) she has returned a very healthy 36 mpg.  That's not bad going for a beast that weight close on 2 tonne that has a 2.7 litre engine and is in full time 4wd!

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