Thursday 13 October 2022

Adaptable Travel Plans

More Strike Dodging in London

800 Years of the Franciscan Third Order 

I had long been committed to a day in London on Saturday 8th October. It was the nearest weekend date to St Francis' Day, 4th October, in the year that the Third Order of the Society of St Francis is marking eight centuries since St Francis founded an order for those who wanted to follow his principles of Christian living while living an ordinary family and working life. Each year members of the order renew their lifetime pledge on or near 4th October, and for this special year it was decided that where possible we would meet for this purpose in larger numbers at four national venues rather than in our local groups and areas. For me, the most convenient cathedral was Southwark, on the South Bank of the River Thames near London Bridge.

Grandparent Duty

Before I'd had a chance to buy train tickets for a day in London, my wife and I were recruited by our son to look after our grandchildren in London while he and his wife went abroad for a short holiday, and our time in London would include my day at Southwark - and the children would go to a concert with Granny and her sister that day. It all fitted perfectly, and on the weekdays when the children were at school, we would have time to explore London, again.

Before booking our tickets I was at a Franciscan meeting and booked tickets on behalf of five other members of the order who would be travelling from Kettering on 8th October, and within ten minutes of paying for the tickets the news came through that the next rail strike had been called for that day ... here we go again!

Nevertheless ...

I advised my Franciscan brothers and sisters that there was no need to cancel their travel plans yet and as soon as East Midlands Railway came up with their strike day timetable it was clear that the day could go ahead, albeit with slightly altered timing. For ourselves I was also confident that we could travel, although there was also a strike planned for the day we were to arrive in London and collect the grandchildren from school after their parents' departure, but to give the whole family peace of mind we arranged to travel a day early and check into a nearby hotel so that our presence was guaranteed. On the Saturday my sister-in-law was able to travel to London early enough with Thameslink and return on her planned LNER service after the concert and lunch with the children. 

After All That, A Great Few Days in London!

We set off from Stamford on the 17:55 Cross Country train to Peterborough which connected neatly into the 18:30 train for London Kings Cross. Having booked it on the day I booked Standard Class this time, which, normally being able to book well in advance, I seldom do. Standard Class on LNER's "Azuma" trains is very comfortable in my opinion: the main thing is that there is plenty of legroom. A corollary of the extra space is that the seats are rather thinner than anything before and some say that this makes them too hard, but I have not found them so myself.

We decided to try out the "Eat at Your Seat" service, even though I could actually see the buffet counter from where I was sitting, and we ordered a can of Hop on Board ale and two glasses. It's quite a complex system but it works very well: orders obviously go to a central point somewhere and are then relayed to the buffet counter on the train where a member of staff prepares the items and then brings them along. The train was not especially busy (even on the eve of a strike day) and the hostess who brought us the drink was able to chat with us. When she heard about the difficult day we'd had (don't ask ... it's enough to know that a luggage collection for a forthcoming long journey never happened in spite of a day of frantic phone calls), she disappeared into the First Class section for a moment and returned with a gift of more ale and some crisps and cake - the refreshments we would normally have had when travelling First Class. How very kind, and typical, I might add, of LNER staff.

We arrived on time at Kings Cross, and having had to travel so late (because of the phantom luggage collection!) we took the Underground straight to dinner with the family and then went along later to our nearby hotel for the night before our duties began. We were staying at a brand-new Premier Inn at Hammersmith, very handy and the usual Premier Inn standard, although the air-conditioning in our room was not working properly when we arrived and although the staff kindly fixed it, it was a while before our room was cool enough. Nevertheless, we'd recommend this place for anyone needing a room in west London. We did not have breakfast here, but waited until we knew the children had been taken to school and then went on to our son's home and had breakfast there, saying farewell to them and leaving our luggage as we set off for our first London day. The idea had been to leave them in peace to say goodbye to their children, then we would meet the children from school later - just as we'd have done if we had travelled on the day.

Although staying in west London, much of our expected activity was to be in east London, and we began on the Wednesday with a visit to the newly renovated and extended Museum of the Home, formerly known at the Geffrye Museum, at Hoxton. We took the Hammersmith & City Underground line to Liverpool Street and a bus from there which took us almost to the front gate - although unfortunately the front gates were closed because high winds made the trees on the garden a bit of a risk, so we had to retrace our steps and then go round to the rear entrance, which is actually now the main entrance anyway. First we had coffee (naturally, we were well into the morning by now!) and then visited the museum at some length: there is much more here now than there was, although the "rooms through time" exhibit showing the changing lifestyles of middle class families through the furnishing and decor of their living space remains central, and fascinating. To me as a non-Londoner the stories of various different modern immigrant families were probably the most interesting aspect of this museum, especially in the context of a museum accommodated within a building financed in large part by the slave trade. I like the way it makes no secret of that foundation and seems to have found a way of coming to terms with it: we cannot change the past no matter how evil some things have been.

It's All About the Bagels

The next day we visited the Museum of London, travelling again by Underground as far as Barbican this time. We have been there several times before but wanted to return one more time before it closes for a while for its move to new, larger and historic premises at Smithfield, where it re-opens in 2026. There was not a lot to see that we had not seen before, although these places always change a bit over time and memories fade so return visits are always a good thing, and there was also a display about the forthcoming move which was worth seeing. Lunch was a short Underground ride and a walk away in Brick Lane, Bethnal Green, at one of two beigel shops just a few doors away from each other. I had always wondered why my mother-in-law, brought up in Bethnal Green, persisted in calling bagels "beigels" and now I knew why: it appears to be a quasi-official East End word for bagel. Anyway, today we had ours from The Beigel Shop which claims to be Britains first and best, one salt beef with mustard and gherkin and one soft cheese and smoked salmon. 

On Friday we visited shops in Oxford Street seeking a black suit for me (I seem to go to a lot of funerals these days ...) but I am going to have to order it on line, I think. We arrived by Central Line at Tottenham Court Road station and left at lunch time on the new Elizabeth Line from the same station, changing at Whitechapel to the London Overground (this stretch is the former East London Section of the Metropolitan Line) to Shoreditch High Street in order to return to Brick Lane - now that we knew whereabouts in Brick Lane we needed to be - to try bagels from the other shop, Beigel Bake. The queue was even longer than the previous day at The Beigel Shop. Both shops have queues at mealtimes, and both open every day, all day, without exception (presumably as takeaway food shops they even remained open during the lockdowns, but I imagine the queues at 2 metre spacings must have occupied the whole street!). We bought the same types of beigels as from the other shop so as to compare them, but forewent the mustard on the salt beef this time. After lunch we strolled through Bethnal Green and popped into St Matthew's Church, completely rebuilt after being destroyed by the extensive bombing of the area in the Second World War, then travelled back west by Underground Central Line from Bethnal Green as far as Holborn from where we walked to Covent Garden to buy some gifts from the London Transport Museum Shop and then off to collect the grandchildren for their dinner.

Saturday was my day at Southwark Cathedral. I met my sister-in-law from her on-time Thameslink train at Kings Cross and brought her back "home" and then we all set out together via Hammersmith on the District Line, with the children, Granny and great aunt getting off at Sloane Square for their concert at Cadogan Hall while I stayed on the train to Monument from where it was a short walk across London Bridge to the Cathedral. The highlight of the day for me was a talk from Thomas Vellacot, CEO of WWF in Switzerland, on the urgent need to be more aware of the environmental catastrophe currently overtaking the world. He had come by train from his home in Zurich, aware that flying was a major contributor to that catastrophe. There are many little things we can do to contribute to conserving the world, but it is useless to do these unless we attend to the big things, notably burning far less fossil fuel and destroying far fewer habitats: washing hotel towels less often is fine, but in itself far, far too little! At lunchtime I went to the famous Borough Market to buy something to eat and ... one stall without much of a queue was, believe it or not, a Brick Lane Beigel stall! So for the third day in a row I had a Brick Lane Beigel for lunch, soft cheese and smoked salmon this time. I do not need another bagel now for a very long time.

There was a bit of an issue with signalling on the District Line in the afternoon as I was going home to west London, affecting all the sub-surface network and therefore also affecting Granny and the children going home from escorting auntie to Kings Cross. With no District trains shown in the departures display at Monument I took the first Circle train with a view to changing at Edgware Road where, if my hunch was correct, I'd have to wait a while and finish up on the train carrying the rest of the family. That is more-or less how it worked out, although I had not anticipated that their train would be diverted onto the Circle Line and we'd all be waiting there together for the next Hammersmith and City train home. All a bit of an adventure, really! I never mind that sort of delay when there is a work-round. It is when I do not know how long the delay will be and do not have the information to inform a decision about what to do that I begin to be concerned. 

On Sunday I walked to church while the grandchildren baked biscuits with Granny and then Mum and Dad arrived from their holiday and we all had lunch together at a new pub-restaurant, The Broadcaster, at Wood Lane, adjacent to the former BBC Television Centre. Then we picked up our luggage and booked Standard Class LNER tickets using the excellent smartphone app and set off for Kings Cross. LNER delivered us to Peterborough with their customary efficiency, and the train for Stamford was also running to time on this occasion and we were soon home and unpacked. The next, rather more exciting, adventure would not be far into the future, though!

No comments:

Post a Comment