LDN strikes back…

When the initial plans for this London trip were made, Thursday was meant to be a day of leisure with the Tube used to whizz around the capital as a means of saving feet and saving time.

Yeah, right!

After breakfast and check-out of Imperial College (I gave it 10 on my booking.com review), I wandered up the road and onwards to Kensington High Street. The reason? I seem to remember that there was a National Geographic shop there. I’d tried doing the usual internet search before the trip and had found that the shop’s page wasn’t playing ball, something I put down to technical gremlins rather than anything else.

But it wasn’t to be. All I found of interest on the High Street was Ellis Brigham and that was it. Still, I’d stretched my legs as a way of compensating for the big breakfast and ended up back by The Royal Albert Hall and the collection of bus stops on the other side of the road.

And guess what? They were all full and not stopping because of the Tube strike. After about half an hour, I did manage to get on one of the crowded buses, but it stopped way short of its destination because of congestion and road works, so it was time to get off just before Trafalgar Square and then find somewhere to check out how much credit was left on my Oyster Card. That turned out to be a fairly quiet Charing Cross Station.

As it was about time for a mid-morning drink, I went off in search of same. Big mistake as everywhere was busy, so I headed into a Tesco Metro, got a litre of strawberry milk and slowly, but surely polished it off before heading towards Covent Garden once more.

Yes, it was busy, but not as busy as I’ve seen it before. Stanfords beckoned with books on the agenda and whilst there was a good selection of Rough Guides and Lonely Planets on offer, nothing caught my attention. Unlike the small representation of a Peruvian immigrant sporting a jaunty hat and a blue duffle coat (but no red wellies). With no marmalade sandwiches in sight, it was time to move on, and on, and on…

Now I knew that there was a recently opened branch of Rohan in the area and whilst I could have easily found their old site in Henrietta Street with ease, I’d left the address of this new store on the desk at home (D’oh!) so the on foot exploration continued until I eventually found myself on the familiar territory of Charing Cross Road.

Which is undergoing some changes (and then some). The demolition crews have been in thanks to Cross Rail and the reconstruction of the area as a result of the work being done to create this new way of getting around London. Oxford Street was a surprise though as a few of the places I used to visit have now gone the journey and whilst it was interesting to see a branch of Lush on Oxford Street, Caroline and I had just done some shopping in their Leeds branch, so there was nothing that we needed.

Lunch ended up being in the thoroughly exciting surroundings of McD‘s. I don’t use them much at home, but quick service times and cheap for London prices meant that it was a place to go and eat rather than savour. Then it hit me. I was flagging and despite the words of Dr Johnson springing to mind, the long day on Wednesday was catching up with me and I was getting a little weary of the capital.

The buses on Oxford Street were as busy as one expected on this strike day, but a wander onto Tottenham Court Road brought some enlightenment. Yes, it was tempting to go to the cinema to while away a few hours, but the only film I might have been tempted to see was Mission: Impossible 5. And that was a problem as I hadn’t seen numbers 3 or 4, so I probably had lost the plot in the continuing story of Ethan Hunt. Oh, and the daytime admission prices were a bit of a laugh… allegedly!

Still, all was not lost as they say in clicheworld. An almost empty bus with the words King’s Cross came along and I headed to said station. Yes, there were six hours to kill before the train home, but I had some money for coffee and snack and a well charged/well stocked Kindle so it wasn’t going to be too much of a problem. Or was it?

Loads of people everywhere had taken up the seats in the station concourse. The cafes were all full and taking a look at Platform 9 3/4 and the adjacent Harry Potter themed shop doesn’t take up that long. So I hit the pub and had a very fine pint of Beachcomber and then made a pint of cola last an hour whilst resting/snoozing on a very comfortable sofa in the station themed bar I was in.

When hunger started to rush in, choices had to be made. The pub prices were interesting, the cafes were still full and McD‘s across the road was also busy. It was tempting to buy something from the food market outside of Kings Cross but with a sausage roll costing £4.50 and a scotch egg coming in at £5, someone was having a giraffe as they say in the semi-local parlance… The bakers up the road from Wisepacking Towers charges 75p for a sausage roll while Co-Op charges £1.15 for two scotch eggs…

And then it happened. I remembered about the pub in St. Pancreas, found it, ordered some very good comfort food – sausage and mash – and a pint and waited for the food to arrive. It came, it was eaten and was very, very good too.

After that, it was back to Kings Cross for some people watching, reading and observing the number of bikes being wheeled or carried into the station. If I had a £100 for the number of Brompton folding bikes only that I saw over the next couple of hours, it would have ensured that my travel money pot would be rather full for a couple of years.

When the chosen train came up on the boards as being ready to get on, it was time to have a bit of luxury, some ‘free’ coffee and a chance to reflect on a day in London when there was no Tube service. Hectic was the word of choice before I dozed off for an hour and woke when the coffee and biscuits were served once more.

Will there be another visit to London this year? Quite probably, but it won’t be a solo on next time – plenty more to show Caroline when we head down there together (and hopefully there won’t be a Tube strike!).

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About Keith Rickaby

Fiftysomething writer and occasional photographer who has worked in both the tailoring trade and the outdoor/travel clothing, equipment and footwear game. Past lives include working as an outdoor instructor, managing three bands and doing PR work through an agency or my own contacts. Was a student in the mid-90s and whilst I'm originally from the North East, I'm now firmly based in't Yorkshire...
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