Wednesday, 26 May 2010

Expensive lesson

I was up in London yesterday, as I usually am on a Tuesday.  Well, they expect me to turn up at the office, seeing that they pay me and all.  The train journey was surprisingly pleasant, the air conditioning has been working during the last few days of "warm spell" weather, so it's been comfortable*.

As an aside, I overheard two of the train staff chatting the other day.  One of them was telling the other: "When it's too cold, everything breaks.  When it's too hot, everything breaks.  Just accept it." 

Anyhoo.  I managed to get half an hour of not-too-interrupted snoozing, so was in a good mood when I got to Waterloo.  I strolled down the platform, and on impulse decided to get a cab to the office.  It was a nice day, the Tube was bound to be stinky, stuffy and hellish, and I couldn't be arsed to walk.  I had a new pair of sandals on and was keen not to get blisters early in the day**.

There was an unusually long queue at the taxi rank.  I joined it, waiting for it to be my turn to do the "Which number do I stand next to?" dance.  I love that.  People who are unfamiliar with the system stand stupidly at the head of the queue, glaring at those who walk past them to the numbers further along the rank, completely missing the fact that they ought to be doing the same thing.  Fools.

Anyway.  My turn came, I hopped into a cab with a nice young cabbie, and we set off for Victoria.  It's about a mile and a half, and usually takes about 10 minutes in a taxi, and costs about £6.  Now that I am bringing my lunch to work I feel that paying for a taxi is allowable, as I am not spending the equivalent of Ghana's GDP in Marks and Spencer on sandwiches, socks and cardigans***.

Now, apart from it being one of my In The Office days, what else was happening on Tuesday?  Hmm?  That's right.  The State Opening of Parliament, one of our many rich, ancient traditions, beloved by all.

Beloved by all, except taxi drivers.  And bus drivers.  And anyone trying to drive around South London, actually. 

The police had closed Westminster Bridge, so the cabbie apologised and said he'd go via Lambeth Bridge.  American readers (in fact, anyone who doesn't know that part of London) may wish to get a map and draw a thick red line along the route we took, possibly using a crayon. 

We inched painfully along the south bank of the Thames, nose to tail in a dreadful traffic jam.  Eventually we got to the roundabout at Lambeth Bridge.  The cabbie was looking anxious, and as we drove onto the roundabout he said "I don't fucking believe it!"

Me:  What?

Cabbie:  I'm really sorry about the language, love, but they've closed the fucking bridge!

Me:  Fuck!

Cabbie:  I know!  Fuck it!

Me:  So where can we go?

Cabbie:  Hmmmm, I could try getting along to Vauxhall Bridge...what do you think?

Me:  I have no idea....I'm not very familiar with London.  (Which is why I am paying you to get me where I want to go, Cockney poltroon.) 

That last bit in brackets was in my head, by the way. 

We crept along another half a mile, still nose to tail in the traffic, sucking up thick clouds of bus fumes, cyclists and scooters weaving in and out around us.  I watched the meter glumly.  It clicked past the £10 mark and we were still a loooooooong way from Victoria.  If I'd had any kind of idea where we were I would probably have hopped out and taken my chances walking the rest of the way, but I know what I am like.  I'd have been lost, lost, hopelessly lost within moments.  And probably either fallen in the Thames or down a hole in the road, never to be seen again. 

I wish I was kidding.

The cabbie swore fluently and quietly under his breath, in between engaging me in cheerful chat about how shocking the traffic was.  We made it to Vauxhall Bridge, sweeping across it at 5 miles an hour, then headed into the quieter roads heading up to Victoria Street.  There were, of course, roadworks on several of the routes we took, making the cabbie perform U-turns and unexpected diversions.  He apologised each time, suggesting that I might in fact prefer to go back to Waterloo and just go home. 

Reader, I was tempted.

We eventually got to Rochester Row, and as he turned the cab into the street, he had to stop to allow two shaven-headed men to saunter across the road.  Neither of them made any effort to speed up, or get out of the way, or even acknowledge that they were holding up traffic.  I know pedestrians have right of way, but the were deliberately being dicks.  And they got dickier.

The cabbie shouted, "Don't worry mate, I'll just drive on the pavement, shall I?"

I thought it was a mildly amusing bit of banter.    I expected a similar riposte from the two road-crossing guys, maybe a V-sign, or similar.  But no.

The older of the two stopped dead in front of the cab and yelled at the top of his voice: "Get out of that fucking cab!  Get out here right now!  Fucking get out of that fucking cab!  Come on!"  His mate stood beside him, also red-faced and belligerent, obviously enjoying being part of the unfolding drama. 

The driver declined.

We drove around the purple-faced yelling nutcase and his simian companion and continued on our way, somewhat chagrined.  Finally, after what felt like about a week, I spotted Victoria Street away in the distance, the other side of yet another building-site roadblock, and asked the driver to drop me off so I could walk the rest of the way.  He agreed, although I did see him check the mirrors to make sure the mad shouty man wasn't running after us before he stopped. 

He apologised again and again for the time it had taken to get almost to where I wanted to go.  I said it was alright, he'd done his best.  The cabbie suggested that the State Opening of Parliament should be a Bank Holiday.  I nodded politely, but secretly thought that might be a bit excessive for everyone who isn't affected by the traffic chaos.  Which would be everyone NOT in South London. 

Anyway.  I paid the taxi fare.  £28.  Twenty Eight Pounds.  It had taken 55 minutes and cost me the price of a nice Chinese, but I had made it to work.  Nearly.  Plus I was almost involved in a huge fight. 

When I got to my desk, half an hour late, people asked me how my journey had been.  "Oh, fine," I lied. 

Other news:  I have lost another pound.  It is slow, but mostly steady, and I have had several people at work say "You look nice today!" and then "Have you lost some weight?" which is very encouraging.

Mr WithaY is being supportive, in his own manner.  I mentioned to him that I was wearing new knickers, a size smaller than my other ones.  He looked at me fondly and said  "Oh?  I wondered what that squeaking noise was." 

*As comfortable as it ever is on the Sardine Express

**Also, I am lazy

***You know how it is.  You pop in for some lunch and come out with an outfit.  And lunch.


@eloh said...

You did get an excellent blog entry out of it.

Anonymous said...

£28? Robbing gits.

I can get a 300(ish) mile return train ticket for £33. Granted, this doesn't help your situation...but it's madness.

Makes good blog fodder though!

Isabella Golightly said...

Still laughing at the vision of the road-crossing guys and the cabbie having a punch-up, being adjudicated by you in your new sandals....

livesbythewoods said...

eloh, thank you. It felt like a journey from Lord of the Rings.

cynicalscribble, I was expecting it to be about £100, and to have to sell one of my kidneys to be allowed out of the cab.

Isabella, I was planning tactical approaches. I was going to use my (heavy) work bag as a weapon and then stomp on them in my new shoes. Bastards.