So I leave our Piccadilly Circus hotel after a bit of a stodgy breakfast to soak up the alcohol consumed the previous day (lunch and dinner in the same restaurant without leaving!) and decide that as it’s a lovely day, I’ll walk to Blackfriars Train Station. J and I had decided to go our own separate ways – she heading for the Oxford Street shops (surprise, surprise) and me heading for Gatwick airport so I could find a bar and watch the FA Cup Final.
As I walked down through the Piccadilly streets, I had time to look at the beautiful architecture before I hit Pall Mall and then Trafalgar Square. Tourists were everywhere taking advantage of the sunshine and as I passed Downing Street, it was almost impossible to move. Next door, the poor Household Cavalry guards, ‘standing’ on duty on their horses outside their barracks were a model of patience as kids and adults alike got a bit too close to the horses and had their pictures taken despite the prominent signs – ‘these horses can kick’!
I looked to the right and there were the Houses of Parliament which were unfortunately being externally cleaned which was a pity for the tourists as they bent and crouched trying to take pictures which didn’t include the acres of scaffolding defacing the magnificent building. Turn left onto Embankment and wander along the riverside. The London Aquarium and The London Eye were crowded as was the whole of the South Bank. On my side, the boats were plying their trade on the River and I stopped to look at the Obelisk and the Sphinxes which had been damaged by a bomb dropped during the war. At that point, I took a moment and thought that I had been very lucky to work in London for some 26 years. It truly was a terrific city, much more compact in terms of the major tourist ‘hotspots’ – in the previous 30 minutes, I’d walked past most of London’s major attractions.
As I neared Blackfriars after a walk of about an hour I saw the dreaded wooden boardings. It did not look good. I crossed the road and tried to find my way into the station. Nothing! No posters saying the station was closed, no directions to where you could get a train – nothing!
Thankfully, my years in the City gave me a good understanding of where the stations are located so I walked the ten minutes or so to the City Thameslink. Closed – well actually it wasn’t. I saw a security guy sitting inside and I pushed the door . He was amazed when the door opened as he’d been thinking it was locked and then all sorts of alarms went off. As he tried to work out what the hell had happened he said I should go to Faringdon Station. Third time lucky?
Another 15 minutes with my heavy bag and I reached Faringdon where they had a notice - they actually had a billboard saying that there were no trains leaving for Gatwick Airport. Luckily the tube trains were still running so I hopped on one and managed to get myself to St Pancras International. It was the first time I’d been in it since it reopened and I stood and stared at the truly stunning arched ceiling, painted in its sky blue colour. People were thronging the champagne and lobster bar and the concourse was heaving with travelers – there’d been a problem with the Channel Tunnel that morning and thousands of people were delayed.
It’s an enormous station and it took me about 15 minutes to find a porter who replied to my question about a train to Gatwick with, ‘they’re not running mate – you need to go to London Bridge’. I nearly had a hissy fit. I did swear a bit but my issue was with the authorities, the train companies and the council who had not thought fit to put any notices on the first two stations about the fact that with major refurbishment programmes happening, the trains were actually starting their journey to Gatwick from south of the river.
It was at that point that I thought London was the pits. Thousands of people, just like me would be heading either north to Luton Airport or south to Gatwick and there was absolutely no information telling people what to do when they got to their chosen stations.
Luckily I had plenty of time but how many people missed their flights?
London’s a great city but they don’t half treat people like shit!