Friday, 30 December 2016

Getting Mugged in That There London

We do like a seasonal trip up to "The Smoke" - well I do, Herself humours me - but like to stay in the thick of it.  Caravan sites are therefore out of the question (did that years ago so speaking from experience).

Black Friday saw me spending some time on the Travelodge website making the most of their 25% off deal to book a night's accommodation in the capital.

Wednesday 28 December

With Christmas out of the way, and yesterday spent sprucing up Vera using the new valet products that Ronnie had gifted me for Christmas we are up bright and early - well early at least - and on the road by 8.30am in a sparkly clean Vera heading for "The Smoke".

I've also pre-paid for parking in the car park just 5 mins walk from the hotel so not too far to cart overnight bags on arrival.

Traffic is good for the length of the M4 and we stop briefly as Reading Services to take in the unmistakable stench of stale pee and pineapple chunks before pressing on eastwards.

Excitement builds as we hurtle along the M4 towards London as the jumbo jets line up overhead on their final approach to Heathrow.  We're getting very chatty as the M4 winds it's elevated way through the Chiswick glass fronted high end car dealerships and herself starts to brace herself for me in London traffic as we drop down into Hammersmith.

We;d done well time wise until now, but on the West Way traffic grinds to a halt and we are stop start from there all the way to Euston.

We take a left off Euston Rd and follow an armada of taxis below ground to the taxi rank and car park entrance.  Only in London car a car park be deeper than it is higher, and we wind our way down the levels until we find an empty spot to abandon Vera for 24 Hrs (by this time I'm pretty sure there are Tube lines closer to the surface than us!)

Feeling like Chilean miners we emerged into the bright lights of Euston's concourse and the noise of Central London.  Having been mugged for £10 to check in early to our already available rooms we stop long enough to unpack and marvel at the view that our bedroom window affords.

You just don't get a view like this when slumming it in a caravan.  Nor do you get a window coated with diesel soot (on the inside mind), filthy net curtains, a shower that won't drain, an extractor fan that won't extract because it's clogged with slime, a door that won't shut on it's closer and windows screwed shut.  But I try not to be picky!

First task is to secure tickets for a show this evening.  We jump into a cab (Herself does not do the underground and I can't work out London buses) to Leicester Square where we join the end of an impossibly slow moving queue at one of the ticket booths.  I feel like bumping a few off in front of us just so that we can get served a bit sooner.

After an eternity it's our turn to speak to the man behind the plate glass.  It soon become apparent that most musicals are sold out for the evening, but tickets are available for the matinee performances.  We are tempted, but not only do we have plans for this afternoon, but going to an afternoon show doesn't really equate to a "night out" up west.

We persevere and establish that tickets are available for Jersey Boys, so I retrieve my wallet from my pocket before putting my West Walian negotiating skills into practice.  Just before he gives up the will to live we agree on a price and I'm clutching a fistful of heavily discounted tickets for the 7.30pm performance.

With that ordeal out of the way Herself announces that she'd like a drink.  We make the short walk towards China Town and dive into the first pub we see.  Waxy's Little Sister is quite quiet.  Herself and TF bag us some stools in the corner while Roids and I deal with the barman who appears to be recovering from recent surgery to have a bypass operation done on his charisma!

They appear to have an offer on here - pay the price of two drinks and get just the one - and Mr Charisma Bypass didn't appear to appreciate the joke.  We settle down with our drinks and watch the world go by outside the window.

Refreshed, we set off to walk through China Town before hailing a cab to take us to north London and Camden Town.  We've never been before and the closest I've ever got to Camden was watching the Madness movie "Take it or Leave it" on VHS in the 1980s.

We are dropped off in Camden High St outside the market and all of our senses are assaulted at once.  The place is bouncing.  rammed with people, colour everywhere, music blasting from every doorway and the smells of street food filling the air.

First off we browse the rows and rows of knock off and counterfeit goods in the outdoor market before making our way up the High St.  I'm loving it and it much reminds me of what Carnaby St used to be like in the early 80s before it got all posh.

We get to Camden Lock and the old stables.  Here we move from yard to yard browsing the many arts and crafts stalls. We then take a seat at a balcony table under a halogen heater at the Lockside Bar that overlooks the yard containing all the street food stalls.

We watch the world go by and myself and Roids are getting very hungry as the fumes drift up towards us from the vendors below.

We wander back down the High St, stopping off at Vans to pick up a gift for Ronnie who is working and unable to join us.  A taxi is hailed and we are dropped off outside The Royal George in Euston for a meal and a drink (again they seem to have one of these offers on) before retiring for an hour of personal contemplation in the Hotel.

I had a paddle in the shower and threw on some decent clothes while Herself made herself even more beautiful for a night out in London's west end.  There seemed to be some confusion as the taxi dropped us off outside Paul Raymond's Revue bar.  I was all for it, but Herself rejected the idea of a pre theatre drink there, instead muttering something about perverts as she stomped off!

The Piccadilly Theatre was just round the corner, and with an alarming lack of security we are ushered in, where Herself makes straight to the bar.

Mugged we were, mugged, and I'm crying inside as I hand over £27 for two small bottles of Lager, a glass of wine and a Pepsi.

"Do you want to pre order your drinks for the interval?" the young girl cheerfully asked.  I think my sneer was enough and I didn't need to answer.

We spend 20 mins or so being barged by various nationalities before Herself suggests that I pre order some drinks for the interval, to save me queuing!  With my tail between my legs I approach the  bar to part with yet more folding before we make our way into the stalls.  Some git tries to sell Herself a programme, but I gave Herself the "You dare" look, so she politely declined.  Herself is no fool, and when the choice is a glass of wine or a programme, the wine wins every time!

The show was good in all fairness and after a very enjoyable few hours we are spewed back out into the bright lights of Soho.

Soaking up the atmosphere we head off in search of somewhere to eat some supper.  Somehow we end up back in China Town - where better to eat a Chinese? - and settle on Gerrards Corner.  The food was OK, but there again you can't really go wrong with rice or noodles.  We felt a bit rushed though as they were clearing the plates off the table almost before you'd put down the chopsticks.

Time to get mugged again.  A 12.5% service charge was added to an unitemised bill, and to add insult to injury, the bill is presented to you on a silver tray with a piece of paper sellotaped to it saying "Tips Please".

It remained empty.

During the cab ride back we were entertained by an Aston Martin Vantage opening up to full throttle between the lights as we trailed in his wake up Shaftsbury Ave.

We returned to the hotel at around midnight, absolutely shattered after a full on day.

Thursday 29 December

Didn't really sleep very well last night. Our first floor room was immediately adjacent to the cross roads outside Euston terminus.  I'm deaf and our windows are screwed shut, but the 24hr buses disturbed even me -  well that and the security light on the building opposite that shone straight through the gap in the grimy curtains casting a lazer light onto my pillow.

I get up at 8.30am and jump straight into the shower for a luke warm paddle.  I've just lathered up and the fire alarm starts screaming.  I pause waiting for it to stop, but it doesn't.  Herself already has her coat on over her PJs as I'm towelling off the suds and attempting to pull on clothes over my soaking wet body.  I'm hopping down the corridor desperately trying to pull on my Timberlands playing pinball with the walls when it stops and people start coming back in after what was a false alarm.

We then discovered that Roids had left his room key in his now locked room, so a trip down to reception to explain to the non English speaking Easter European  staff was necessary to get a replacement.  Oh the joys.

After that excitement it was time to get a move on.  Finished getting dressed, pack up and check out.  I'd prepaid for my parking, and the e mail that Travelodge had sent me explained that I should get my ticket validated at reception on checking out so that I could exit the car park.

Sound easy doesn't it?  Well it would have been if reception knew anything about it.  They don't have the means to validate any parking tickets.  A heated discussion and showing them e mails from Travelodge get us nowhere, so with a "Thanks for bugger all!" we made tracks to Vera. Herself and TF went down into the depths to check if Vera was still there while Roids and I went off to seek the nice little man that lives in the underground hut buy the barriers.

Eventually we are spiralling our way to ground level and emerge into the bright sunlight of central London.  Herself has chickened out and lets Roids ride shotgun as we head south of the river to Lambeth.  Here Vera is abandoned in the car park under Waterloo station as we hail a cab up through Westminster to the Wellington Barracks.

The pavement is like an ice rink as we join the throngs of people doing baby giraffe impressions while watching a rather shouty Sargent Major bully some squaddies and adjust their belts for show.

We cross the road to the pavement that has seen some sun and make for Chez Buck to watch the changing of the guard.  It would appear that Westminster Council's austerity measures extend to cutting back on rocksalt as the pavements outside the palace were more slippery than the rink in Hyde Park.

We soak up all the pomp and ceremony as troops marched back and forth from the Palace to the Barracks, escorted by armed rozzers.

More entertaining however was one of those joking coppers who had been put in charge of the crossing point.  She ruled it with an iron fist and woe betide anyone who either tried to cross without her say so or strayed outside the stud lines on the road!  Forget your Special Forces and MI6, if you want to keep the country safe, put it in her hands.  ISIS would crumble.

Next up we stroll down through St James Park.  Roids and I join the queue to get mugged for the price of  a few hot chocolate while Herself and TF get accused of being paedophiles for sitting on the wrong side of the fence without having  any kids with them!

Herself then fishes out a bag of nuts that we've brought with us especially for this and spends the next delightful hour feeding the squirrels from her hand.

These creatures are so human friendly it is unbelievable.

Once out of nuts we hail a cab to head west.  We get dropped off outside the front doors of the Knightsbridge branch of Lidl and I'm warned that I'm not allowed to swear when I see the price of things inside.  We ride the Egyptian Escalator to the top floor where TF is on a mission to go to Shoe Heaven.  I have to admit to feeling a little out of place up there trudging around in my Timberlands.

Herself and I don't really do shops, but begrudgingly admit that Al Fayad's corner shop is somewhat impressive.  A coffee stop is called for but we stop in our tracks at the entrance to the one on the 4th floor.  We didn't get to see the price of the coffee but the offer of £13.50 for a slice of cheese on toast was enough for us to turn on our heels.

Outside, we cross the road and grab an outside table at Cafe Concerto.  I get mugged (after a slight misunderstanding on paying the bill) for far too much for a thimble of Prossecco and a pot of tea.

While we wait for Roids and TF we watch the procession of Bentleys, Rollers, Aston Martins .......... crawl by in the heavy traffic.

By 4pm we've had enough and it's time to head west, and I mean proper west, to the other end of the M4.

We love London and the buzz, but wouldn't want to live there.

Monday, 12 December 2016

Bloody Shopping Trip

Herself and I hate shopping with a passion - except that is for caravan shops.  Unfortunately, this time of year it is an unavoidable chore, and the only way we can motivate ourselves to do any of it is to make a bit of a trip of it.

Back in 2012, when I was guesting as a blogger for the Caravan Club having won the loan of an X Trail for a week and 7 night's free sites, we stumbled upon the Cheshire Oaks Designer Outlet just outside Chester quite by accident on our return to South Wales from Yorkshire.

We have an outlet like this back home but in all honesty it's about 1/3 of the size with less selection.  Add to this all the other retail outlets in one place and it fits the bill very well indeed.

Since 2012 we've been back every year.  We don't drag the caravan all the way up just for one night stay, instead opting for a stop in the very conveniently located Travelodge.

The hotel was booked in their Black Friday sale, so we had 25% off the room rate as a head start.

Thursday 8th December

An early start today, Herself has a treatment session booked in WWG Hospital for 8.45am, so in the damp darkness I throw our overnight bag into Vera and make tracks to Carmarthen.  On parking up I note that Dick Turpin is doing his rounds in the car park so have no option than to stump up the £1 parking fee.

Herself trots off towards the UV cubicles whilst I settle down in COSTA with a pot of tea.  I also had a pastry for breakfast and did an excellent job of covering my tracks by returning the plate to the counter as soon as I'd finished it.

Herself returns and I'm waiting for the thanks for also getting her a takeout americano when she chirps up "Did you enjoy the pastry?"  I look all innocent and put on my best "hurt feelings" face for show.

I say "How ........" but am cut short.  Herself says "We've been married nearly 25 years, I know you better than you think."

There followed an awkward silence before she added "Well that, and you've got icing sugar all over your goatie!!"


With the rain easing and the clouds starting to part we hit the mid Wales A roads and by the time we've skirted Llandod the sun is burning the grass.

We're just south of Newtown and Herself suggests stopping off for some bacon rolls.  After some very severe arm twisting I agree and in no time we're chomping down on some pig in rolls whilst observing the strange comings and goings in the public toilets opposite.

There appear to be many lone male travellers, all desperate for a pee, but all scared to go into the toilets alone, instead waiting for another to arrive, give each other the nod then go in 30 seconds apart, only to come out 10 mins later, again 30 seconds apart!

By noon we are parking up at the mahoosive M&S flagship store in Elsmere Port.  Within 90 mins we have shopped for the olds and had a drink in the filthy cafe there.  With it still being too early to check in we pop over to Asda in EP to pick up some refreshments for the room this evening and some pastries for breakfast in the morning.

With still more time to spare we park up outside Sports Direct and do some junk shopping before checking into the Travelodge at just gone 3pm.

Travelodges are great at what they do, but my only complaint is that they do not provide anywhere comfy to sit in the room.  This means that you always end up lying down on the bed, which inevitably leads to falling asleep.

A few hours flew by before I'm woken by my own snoring, and from the wet patch on my pillow you'd be forgiven for thinking that I'd been subjected to a waterboarding session in my sleep off Bear Grylls!

After a quick scrub up with some Dettol and a wire brush some decent clothes are thrown on and we head off out for dinner.  We always eat at Coal up here, and it didn't disappoint. We had a superb evening out.

Some time later we waddle the few yards back to the hotel and crash for the night.

Friday 9 December

After a great night's kip (me only as Herself was disturbed by the bottle bins being filled below at 3.30am) we're up and showered and checking out by 8.45am ready to hit the shops.

First off we call into the visitor's centre and present our Travelodge room card, in return we are given a privilege card that entitles us to 10% off all purchases.

I'm dragged around shop after shop after shop, each one adding to the pile of bags I was humping.  At one point I remarked that there were Sherpa's working the lower slopes of Mt Everest carrying less than me !

Aside from the rather painful experience of parting with so much money very quickly, the morning was quite easy, but the closer we got to lunchtime the harder it got, with more and more shoppers arriving.  By the time we're nearly finished I tell Herself that if one more person bumps in to me they're going to cop an unfortunate one!

My wallet breaths a sigh of relief at 1pm when Herself announces that we are finished and I waste no time in hurling the bags into Vera's boot and point her nose south.

The traffic is heavy but some aggressive driving ensures that progress is rapid.  With a few miles under my belt I start to relax and the pain of open wallet surgery starts to subside.

My relief is shortlived though, as we approach Welshpool and  Herself directs me to the car park of The Old Station which has been converted into a retail outlet!

I'm crying inside as we traipse around and Herself seems to have forgotten the £000's that we've just spent op north as she fills the basket like we're just starting out!

Usually the spin back down through Mid Wales is quite enjoyable what with it being a bit scenic, but by the time we're hitting Newtown it's dark and wet.  Driving conditions are poor and the next 3 hrs present me with a throbbing headache by the time we're pulling up outside Travels in our Caravan Towers in the early evening.

A very hectic couple of days.  Would we do it again?  You bet.