Monday 19 July 2021

The Best Laid Plans

Summer Sunday Trip to London 

With the gradual easing of lockdown restrictions we have been able to see many of our family whom we had not seen for several months, but our son and his household in London, with no garden, we had seen least, and so some arrangements were made for this summer and we set off yesterday, Sunday, the eve of "Freedom Day" when the remaining legal restrictions were due to be lifted, to visit them. But it did not quite work out as planned, even though the plans were only a few days old. Our daughter-in-law had a cough and was awaiting the result of a Covid test, so it was uncertain whether we could visit at all, but on the morning of the visit her negative result arrived. In the meantime, however, their younger child's nursery had told them that the little girl must isolate as a contact at nursery had tested positive ... so we only met our son and the older child for a picnic, not being able to go to the house.

This has been the problem with unlocking - is it actually saving the economy and bringing some certainty to business when infection levels are so high that random self-isolations are making it hard to plan anything at all, even as minor as Sunday lunch with Granny and Grandpa?

As far as travel was concerned,  getting out of Stamford on a Sunday morning always means driving because the rail service starts very late on Sundays. This particular weekend was when the line between Stamford and Peterborough was closed while engineers built the new junction at Werrington to connect the new "dive under" to the Stamford Line tracks, so there was no rail service at all on our local line. So we drove to Peterborough, a trip short enough for our plug-in hybrid car not to need any petrol, being within range of the battery. We also got to play with the new (to us) car park payment system at Peterborough station! At the barrier on the way in we did not have to do anything but pause while the Automatic Number Plate Recognition system read our car number plate then opened the barrier. Parking on a Sunday morning in the pandemic was a piece of cake, and then I made sure I read the notices about payment so that I knew what to do when we came back later on! There were several options, but it seemed to me that the simplest in our circumstances was to use my credit card contactless on the way out. There was no ticket to lose, no faff at ticket machines. no need to remember our own number plate (and having bought the car at the start of the first lockdown we are not really familiar with it yet!), and, most important to me, no need to use a smartphone app - although the LNER app is one option for those who prefer it. If you think buying a train ticket is complicated, to me as a very occasional driver and parker of cars paying for parking these days seems far more complex than paying for train tickets. The app you need varies from car park to car park and the ticket machines are complicated and do not often use the same English that I do. And if you think that is complicated, you should try electric car charging ... but that is another story.

We had allowed bags of time to get to Peterborough because you never know what sort of hold-ups there might be (none in this case) and how much time might be soaked up parking the car and fighting the ticket machine (minimal and zero respectively, see above), so we had some time to wait for our booked LNER train, time we occupied with our usual Sunday routine of the Sunday Times General Knowledge Crossword puzzle. We were booked on a specific train in order to take advantage of low-price Advance First Class tickets in each direction. Our trains both ways were LNER's "Azuma" class inter-city express trains and on the morning trip to London we were treated to coffee and the weekend breakfast menu, although having already had breakfast I just topped up with a pain au chocolat with my coffee and a bottle of water for the sweltering day which lay ahead. Our booked seats turned out to be the pair with no window, but there was no-one in the table seats immediately in front of them and no further station calls for this train, so we consulted the First Class host and moved into those seats, still well-enough distanced from other passengers, and we were all wearing face-coverings, of course.

We knew in advance that from Kings Cross the Hammersmith & City Line was not operating, and that several other lines were suffering from sudden closures because of unexpected self-isolating staff, so we took a bus to our chosen rendezvous point, which was Kensington High Street. Buses are not quick, although perhaps they are not so slow on Sundays, but we do get to see a lot. We actually travelled by bus only as far as Hyde Park Corner and then walked along the South Carriage Ride of Hyde Park and along the souther edge of Kensington Gardens to reach our destination. This part of London is just a joy to visit on a summer day and there were lots of people, walking, sitting and cycling. We met our son and senior grandchild and then bought the components of a picnic from the Whole Foods Market in what had formerly been Barkers department store, opposite St Mary Abbots church, and returned to Kensington Gardens together for our picnic, followed by coffee in a side street café where the crowds were much thinner. Altogether it was fairly easy to keep a safe distance from others, with just a little care, and we were very happy throughout.

We accompanied the others back to their front door but could not enter, of course, and then spotted that although the Hammersmith & City Line was not operating, the Circle Line apparently was, because we saw trains passing and the local station open. that would do: we went to the station  and took the next train to Kings Cross St Pancras. There was plenty of space to start with and although mask wearing (still compulsory) was patchy we were OK for a while. Someone sat opposite us and kept taking his mask off and on but there was nowhere else to move where everyone was masked so we were reliant on our vaccinations and our own masks. Gradually the train filled up and our neighbour left his mask on, as did most others - interesting. Transport for London will be requiring face coverings even after the legal requirement is lifted because London's transport does get crowded and there are parts of London where vaccination take-up has been poor (not where we had just been, though).

We now had an hour to spare at Kings Cross and we spent it in the First Class lounge and enjoyed a salad we had bought at the Waitrose beneath it, before making our way to the train when it was ready to board, using the bridge over the platforms once more - this had been closed on our recent trips. Again we had our socially-distance reserved seats but this time a pair facing each other across a small table, our favourite arrangement. The complimentary refreshments on offer included wine (which I have never known at a weekend before, but I remembered that I would have to drive home so I declined that and accepted the cheese and pickle sandwich and another bottle of water.

The car park at Peterborough worked beautifully: I did ensure that I had my credit card to hand and at the barrier simply "showed" it to the card reader and drove out. We took a scenic route back to Stamford and arrived home to plug the car in ready for duty the following morning having used no petrol and emitted no exhaust.

It was a good day out. In spite of the difficulties a summer day in west London is never going to be bad, and neither is day with children and grandchildren, even in reduced numbers, and, I have to say, a trip in First Class with LNER is almost a guaranteed joy as well! Just as well, as we have quite a few more coming up, including Edinburgh in a few weeks' time when I am hoping that the catering will be better still. It is already so much better than last summer when we all lived in fear of getting near other people and touching anything that someone else may have touched. Looking forward to next month's trips, and just hoping that plans do not have to change too much!

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