This year we have the dubious pleasure of being joined by Roids and TF - I say dubious because whilst we will enjoy their company, my wallet is going to empty at twice the rate. Ronnie is working so us unable to join us, but has his own little trip organised for himself and FG in a few weeks.
Sunday 27 December
An early start sees us loading up Vera in light rain and hitting the road by 8:15am. Traffic is surprisingly heavy and making any sort of rapid progress with all the spray off the road is hair raising stuff.
It eases up as we put into Reading services for a pee, before the final push to the start of the M4 and on into Central London. As always, the excitement builds as we approach Chiswick and the motorway threads it's was along the elevated section through the office blocks and expensive car franchises.
Herself is starting to twitch in her seat as the traffic clogs up Cromwell Rd as we pass the queue for the sale at B&M's Knightbridge store, then through the tunnel and past The Ritz on Picadilly. Butt cheeks are clenched as we drive through Picadilly Circus and up Shaftsbury Ave.
What with the cloud cover and high rise buildings, my TomTom has a brain fart and we are left high and dry trying to find out car park. Two circuits later and we find the entrance with collective sighs of relief. I'd done some research on line and was somewhat taken aback seeing the sign saying £60 for 24 hrs. The attendant, sensing the danger and not wanting to resort to calling 999 cheerfully points out that that rate is for special events and we just have to pay £40!
Oh, that's OK then, just the £40 I sneered, before he imparted that crucial piece of information that prevented me from throttling him. Apparently when we check out we need to obtain another card that will halve the cost of parking up.
We go to check in at the Covent Garden Travelodge. Check in isn't until 3pm, but I feel like chancing my arm at 12 noon. It turns out that our rooms are available and we can check in early. Hooray! But ugly will cost us an additional £10 per room. Booooo!
Biting the bullet I cough the dosh. We stop long enough to throw our bags into the rooms before jumping in a cab for the mile of so ride to Covent Garden itself. Before we left Roids and TF knock on our door and we enjoy a few swift drinks from our stash before Roids announced he's going to use our en suite. I ask him what's wrong with his own? Apparently he didn't want to stink his out!!!
Covent Garden is bouncing. Street entertainers every couple of yards and that buzz that you only find in London.
After being poked in the eye several times by selfie sticks we stopped to watch a Canadian juggler, who just happened to have a Welsh volunteer to assist him. He starts ripping into the taffy, and then goes on about the film "Twin Town" thanking Wales for the public information film about Wales!
We then jumped in another cab to Leicester Square. First we have to secure theatre tickets for tonight and we hop from ticket booth to ticket booth seeking out a bargain. Once we've decided on a booth and a show I get out my plastic, flash it, and then drag out my West Walian negotiating skills, safe in the knowledge that he now knows I'm serious about buying tickets.
Some phone calls to the Theatre secures us a row of 4 tickets in the stalls, one isle seat and an unrestricted view of the stage for less than half the price the same booth was selling them for on line just an hour earlier.
We then walk around the square and the fairground that lives there at this time of the year. There are selfie sticks everywhere and Herself feels the need to extract me from the situation before another hits me and I'm forced to snap the bloody thing.
The M&M shop provides refuge, but I don't like going in there much as the sweets are so expensive compared to what you can but them for in the Tesco Metro just two spits away.
Result! We exit without my wallet having to be extracted from the safety of my jeans front pocket.
From there we walk up towards China Town, with a plan hatched in my head to stop for a meal, however, 250 yards in and Herself is starting to feel a little queasy and both Roids and TF and giving me questioning looks. Apparently they are a little put off by the poultry hanging in the windows (complete with heads dangling).
We weave our way back through the streets to Regent St before turning right to pick up Carnaby St, pausing briefly for a couple of glasses of mulled cider on the way.
Carnaby has changed over the years. It's not how I'd remembered it. Gone is all the tackiness in the effort to go up market, but it's still a very vibrant atmosphere. All the bars in the area are rammed, so any ideas I had of having a swift half are kicked into touch.
We make for Regent St where Roids wants to take a look in Hamleys. Herself and I cannot face the heat and crowds so wait outside and people watch.
Roids and TF weren't in there long, even they couldn't stick it in there. Roids looks at his watch, suggests that we should be thinking about food and leads the way. We mischievously head towards one of those rickshaw things. The rider shits himself while taking in our collective bulk and we wink as we hail a cab back towards Covent Garden.
An old school friend of mine had recommended a pub on Drury Lane, so we made straight for The White Hart. I was gasping for a pint and the first pint was gone before we'd browsed the menu. After the crowds of The West End it was nice to have a bit of space. There was a great selection of beers at reasonable prices and the food was good no nonsense pub food, again at very reasonable prices for London.
With just enough time to shower and freshen up, we're back out in our glad rags walking the short distance to The Shaftsbury Theatre where we have seats in the stalls to see The Illusionists.
They're ushering punters in as we arrive. We find our seats and I'm dispatched straight to the bar where I am mugged for the privilege of purchasing a wine, beer, Disarano, and two cokes.
I don't like magicians as I generally dislike being conned, however even with my trust issues I settle in and enjoy the show, annoying Herself by asking how they did that after every trick or illusion.
With the show over by 9:30 none of us much feel like going back to the hotel quite yet so hail a cab to go back to Leicester Square with the intention of having a few drinks but while walking around a nice little Italian eatery catches our eye, L'ulivo just off the square.
Now I know you shouldn't eat in tourist traps, but this will surprise many that know me or follow this blog, the bill was worth every penny (except the service charge) to be able to site outside at 10.30pm at the end of December and enjoy a meal alfresco as the crowds passed by.
Knackered after a long day and our night out in London's West End we hail a cab back to the hotel and partake in a few late drinkies before crashing out.
Monday 28 December
After a great night's kip I'm woken by a notification on my phone from Roids. he's discovered you can see the TV from the comfort of the toilet seat - his morning is sorted.
I get out of bed and throw open the curtains to take in the view from our hotel room now it's light.
We check out and retrieve Vera from the expensive NCP place and head down through London to the south of the river to a cheaper car park we know of in Lambeth.
We're planning on doing the tourist thing today and catch a cab up to Trafalgar Square. On arrival we are greeted to the the sight the Met's finest arresting a black bloke. Now I don't know who he was or what he'd done, but the rozzers were taking no chances.
There are loads of people about, and as I've come to learn these last few days, where there's people there are selfie sticks. I avoid being assaulted by one as we sit and enjoy the atmosphere - well Herself and TF did. Myself and Roids went on a little expedition of our own trying to find somewhere to but a tube grip bandage and some pain killers for Herself.
By the time we return people are getting hungry so we walk the short distance back up to Leicester Square and bag a window seat on the first floor over looking the square while we fill our faces.
With full bellies we walk back down through the square to catch a cab to Buckingham Palace.
Now those Welsh among you may appreciate this a little more than the others, especially if you've see the movie "Twin Town"
The conversation with the cabbie went along the lines of ........
"So where you lot from then?"
"Oh we're from South Wales."
"There's lovveeellly!" in the worst out on Welsh Accent I ever heard.
*I bite my tongue*
"No we're from the coast, a village not far from Swansea.
"Ere, you lot aren't going to break out in song back there are you? You all sing you lot do."
I pause ........ "No, we're all tired, we've been up the fields picking leeks all effing morning!"
He didn't sat much else.
Anyway, we pull up outside Chez Buck and despite her and Phil The Greek's promises that they'd be in for cuppa, just the two guards on sentry duty tells us they've buggered off. Mind you, the three armed rozzers on the entrance to the apartments to the left (belonging to either Prince Andrew or Edward) is a tell tale that they were occupied. The sight of the machine guns sent any thoughts of a game of knock and run racing straight to the back of my mind.
From there we wandered down The Mall before cutting through St James' park towards Horseguards Parade.
Again armed rozzers guarding the back garden of 10 Downing St are a stark reminder of our current level of security threat.
We walk through the arches and I'm amazed to see armed police guarding the guards!
Out onto Whitehsall into the throngs of tourists, again every other one waving a bloody selfie stick in the air. More armed rozzers guarding more guards.
We make our way down Whitehall pausing briefly at the gates of downing street to take a few photos of the plebs on guard. It would appear that the horses are more important than our Dave, as the armed rozzers here mostly only have pistols whereas the horses get a machine gun each.
The crowds are getting beyond now and we're having trouble making progress under the shadows of Big Ben and people are still waving bloody selfie sticks about without a care in the world, and one smacks Herself right on her bandaged hand!! Words were said, though I doubt the little Japanese woman understood a word of it!
We make our way across Westminster Bridge towards the south bank, but are forced to walk on the road, the whole pavement being taken up by Turkish con men with fists of £20 noted and three cups with a marble. They're attracting a lot of attention and I'm amazed at how people are being drawn in.
We have brief respite watching a lone piper murder a tune before descending the steps onto the south bank and into the throng of selfie sticks.
We make it as far as The London Eye, sitting in it's shadow by the ice rink to take stock.
We've now had enough, we are Londoned out and decide to make tracks for home, so walk back to the car park on Upper Marsh, under the arches of Waterloo station. Traffic is heavy as we cross over Westminster Bridge, up Birdcage and passed the back garden of the palace and up towards Knightsbridge. This is where it got really interesting, and Herself's fingernails are firmly embedded in Vera's dash.
Traffic remained heavy for the entire length of the M4, but at least it kept moving.
Until next time.