Wednesday, 7 November 2012

Let's all have a lovely time in London

Time for that routine miserable experience, the one that transports Woman from Shires to Central London, the one called train travel.

Of course we miss the educational workshop. The one I'd booked for at the National Portrait Gallery in Central London, going on right now for home ed kids learning about the history and art of slavery.

On realising the London Midland trains are cancelled cancelled cancelled  I remain firm. I am not a Woman of the Shires who simply gives up on her Big Trip Into Town! I bundle the kids in the car, don't make time for the fuel tank, and race down the M1 on a doomed cannonball run, given that the speed restrictions are still in force and everyone else is doing the same so there's a queue at Junction 14.

But the indomitable spirit in Woman of the Shires is never crushed! Well, until an empty fuel tank and a digital car clock beating a merciless way onward both combine forces. When 12.30 finally pings at me in what I take is a mocking sort of way, since the workshop starts at 1pm, I finally concede defeat. The only way I can realistically make it is to turn the earth backwards on its axis and fill up with fuel before I start.

I briefly consider the logistics.

Then I ring the organiser from this layby. It is somewhere outside Stanmore. Here it is, the site of my ignominious withdrawal. I am still trying to hold back the tears.



I apologise about the angle. Blame my head, leaning on the window.

But how the spirit remains! Even though the body gives up! In the face of monstrous experience, I have just booked another one. Another home educating workshop in Central London.

I can do the only thing I ever do, when I know a train must sensibly be involved - one that will transport me and my brood to an exact place and a time - I must cross my fingers and hope. Hope that the trains run, that there are no signalling failures, no engineering works, no breakdowns, no points failures, no queues at Watford; that there exist supplies of rolling stock and staff to drive them, that the right type of non-slipping tracks with the right sort of rain, leaf, snow, hail can be enjoyed, and that on the day of travel no-one wants to end it all, yes, and someone at the ticket office too, someone who looks like they give a toss.

I hate the way I am made to do all this, of course, by London Midland and all the train operators, the lords of which I bet travel everywhere by chauffeur-driven car. While they sit back and enjoy the view, I stand on a cold platform and watch my knuckles grow white. The journey they give me is only one of hope - hope trains will turn up, hope it will all work, and hope things don't break down.

Hope is the very worst ride of all. Hope is worse than despair. Hope is a more extreme pain than despair. Hope means there is no plan, no strategy, and no way out.

But we redeem the day, of course we do, because we are Grit, and gritlets. We have steel for blood, brass for neck, and personally speaking, a fine selection of teeth made of metal. Faced with disaster, I pluck triumph, and I drive to Hampton Court instead.

Here the gritlets are firmly on Cloud Nine. We may have not made it to the art that is slavery, but we have the Members Rooms of Hampton Court.

How we are charmed by the staff in the Members Room, and by the rooms of the Members Rooms! How wonderful are the Members Rooms! They become the only topic of conversation for the next eight hours. How welcoming are the staff! How lovely it is they have hot chocolate! How brilliant it is there are books! And seats! A sofa! Tables! It is like having your own front room at Hampton Court! Let's all go and live in the Members Rooms!

So to the staff in the Members Room at Hampton Court, a big heartfelt thank you for turning a day round from the Badlands of the Hopeless to the Elysian Fields of Rapture.

 Satisfied customer, not moving anytime soon.

Now, to London Midland, no thanks at all.

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