Talk about a good, solid welcome back to Britain! Apart from the cold (loverrrrrrly), thunderstorm (scarrrrrrry) and lack of pollution, public transport has more than adequately said g’day.
I went to work this morning (ignoring any thoughts of jet lag) and I should have known things were going to be tricky when the train sat outside Waterloo for ten minutes because of congestion. But then I was soothed into a false sense of security as my two Tube trains linked up very well and delivered me in very good time at South Kensington.
Work was good with a lot of chat about the pollution (which I painstakingly explained to Nick at work was not SMOG), the various sights, the food and, of course, the lack of junks.
(In fact, I saw three junks – two wooden models and a watercolour painting. I have to say, I was quite disappointed.)
I popped over to the V&A for lunch only to find that their latest exhibition is about Chinese painting! One of the pieces is a massive installation in the courtyard, which is beautiful and has to be seen to be believed.
Just after lunch, the heavens opened up, the sky became very dark and we were attacked by great peals of thunder and bright flashes of lightning. It was yet another example of a British welcome home.
After work, I was off to the flat to retrieve Mirinda’s eReader and, fortunately, the rain had almost stopped. I noticed, as I walked by, that the underpass entrance to South Kensington tube station was locked. This is very unusual. It was the same further down, by the Natural History Museum.
Approaching the main station entrance, it was clear there was something seriously wrong. A huge crowd of people, sheltering under a thickening crop of (mostly) black umbrellas, was jostling outside the locked gates, looking damp and desperate. I joined them, trying to see what the problem was. I gave up and sought shelter to find out from my phone.
I reckon the Transport for London website was hopelessly trying to cope with a massive onslaught because it was hopeless trying to get into it. I thought I’d try a bus.
Masses of very annoyed Friday evening commuters were crowding the nearby bus stops. I decided to give it a miss and walked towards the next closest Tube station, fingers firmly crossed. I wasn’t alone.
My heart almost jumped for joy when I saw the blazing lights and wide open and welcoming entrance to Gloucester Street tube. And the trains were running eastbound on the District line (just what I wanted) and there wasn’t too many people (just what I prefer).
The problem with South Kensington was broadcast to us all. Firstly someone had gone under a train at Stepney but then, more worrisome, a train had caught fire at South Kensington on the east bound District/Circle line track.
I saw it as we passed slowly through. It was all rather eerie with police and fire people wandering up and down the platform, and an empty train with all its doors open.
We chugged along, picking up more and more passengers until I left the train at Monument to get the DLR to the flat.
Everything was fine for this last bit and I arrived at the flat at 5:30, a bit damp and in need of a rejuvenating cup of coffee.
It was soon time to set off for home. I entered the concourse for the Canary Wharf tube station and stopped. There was a crowd of, what appeared to be, thousands of Friday commuters standing confused at the gates to the platforms.
There’d been a signal failure and the platforms were already full so the staff were holding everyone at the gates until things were flowing again. I must have been one of the last few through because the big metal shutters were closed quickly after me, leaving other commuters locked out completely.
The announcements weren’t encouraging so I decided to take the ferry, leaving up the big escalator. Outside the station entrance, thousands more were crowding around, confused and increasingly irate. Good luck to them, I thought as I braved the drizzly rain that accompanied me down to the wharf.
And guess what? I wasn’t the only one with this thought of alternate transportation. I’ve never seen so many people queued up along the dock. We were all queuing for tickets in the cold and wet.
We watched as the ferry left for Central London and joined the new queue for the next one, half an hour away. At least I was at the front of this queue.
Cold and miserable, we all managed to get on the last ferry and were soon chugging up to the lights of the city. And I have to say, the river looks beautiful at night. Tower Bridge, especially, with all of its lights.
Eventually I walked onto the Waterloo concourse, dreading what the indicator boards would no doubt tell me. But, miracle of miracles…all the trains were fine. South West Trains, for a change, was running perfectly.
And so, I walked into the house at 9:30, having left work at 3:45. A bit of a marathon. The welcome I received from the poodles was a wonderful antidote for my travel woes, though, and we eventually managed to have dinner.
Welcome home, Gaz.