A cheery goodbye from Steve and down to the station, still seemed deserted, went back into large but eerie reception area and, comfortingly, the screen showed my train. Heard a rustle and saw the crouched back of a small man behind a bench; rustling became louder, man vanished, even louder rustling so tried to get a glimpse from a distance. Man in rather battered brown coat was kneeling on the floor surrounded by bags he was searching through. Saw someone on the platform went over, he seemed perfectly normal and the feeling that I was on some strange film set vanished. Yes, there would be a train he said, in fact, one of the mostly highly subsidised train in Wales. The winner was a train which ran down from the North Wales coast which the Government were going to axe until two MPs from North Wales pointed out they would not be able to get down to the Parliament in Cardiff in time without the train.
Brown coated man appeared with several bags, a selection of pieces of printed paper and a very worried expression. He explained with a southern Irish accent that he had lost his ticket and tried to persuade us to look at the papers from the travel agent and let him know whether they would let him on the train. I used the “I’m a stranger here myself” and the other passenger was non committal.
Another passenger arrived who was being seen off by a friend. When the train arrived, the driver got out of the train, vanished for a moment, went in at the other end and the three of us sat down and we left going, very slowly until we emerged from a forest of Buddleia, the rampant flowering branches having been scraping along the side of the train. The rest of the journey went perfectly and, after a couple of changes, I arrived in Paddington.
The previous afternoon there had been what had been thought to be a terrorist attack near the Houses of Parliament and the road had been closed. If the cycle path to the main path along the Embankment was closed, the obvious alternative was along the dedicated cycle path which went two thirds of the way along the Mall, then leaving me with the imagined perils of Trafalgar Square and Northumberland Avenue. I could leave the decision until Hyde Park Corner. Meanwhile, I started down the North Carriage Way of Hyde Park. The sun was shining and the wind was behind my back and I obtained a good momentum, aided by my bell to warn the wandering tourists. When I arrived at the lights I came up alongside what I think of as a “Mad London Cyclist” and asked her advice. She said she always went up to Trafalgar Square, it was quicker, and she was going that way.
There are many types of London cyclists: the tourists on rented bikes, the guided groups, the cautious and the Mad London Cyclists. The latter are usually on stripped down bikes, go everywhere at speed in and out of traffic and set off like dervishes at the traffic lights. As the lights changed she shot off and I charged after her. She arrived at the next traffic lights and I drew up alongside her and she gave me a rough idea of the route and eventually set off at speed again afterwards. I am not sure how welcome my presence alongside her again at the next lights was but she then gave me full details of the lanes round the Trafalgar Square roundabout and how a cycle lane appeared halfway down Northumberland Avenue and then turned into a cycle-only filter on the Embankment. When I arrived at the next roundabout on Trafalgar Square I tucked in behind her and followed her into the Avenue which she quickly disappeared down.
With the following wind, and efforts to keep up with my Guide, I found myself heading towards my turn off up the quiet, but slow, streets to Liverpool Street Station much sooner than expected. The problem I had was the train to Braintree left after 4.30pm. Although I did not have to book to take my bike on it, I could not do so in the rush hour which started at 4.30. I was hoping that I could surreptitiously get through the barrier but what if I continued down to the A3 turn and took on the heavy traffic which went up the A3 and up Gracechurch Street and Bishopsgate to the front of Liverpool Street Station and try to get an earlier train? My adrenaline was already running so off I went. Soon discovered there were frequent traffic lights and lots of buses. I tried creeping up the pavement, impossible and dangerous as there was very little room and you were at the mercy of buses pulling in and any vehicles turning left. I tried staying in the bus lane but you were as slow as a bus and it was unnerving squeezed between buses who seemed unhappy at your presence and pulled up to your rear mudguard. I then noticed the Mad London Cyclists and decided to join them and had one of the most exhilarating 10 minutes cycling outside of a race. The system was to charge up the middle of the road overtaking the slow moving traffic until, at the traffic lights you could slide into the cycle box at the front of the vehicular traffic, get right to the front of the box, fix the point in the next part of the street you wanted to arrive at and shoot off the front as soon as you could sense the lights were changing after the crossing traffic had ceased. By that means I was able to catch a Witham train shortly before half past and catch the Braintree train when it arrived. Home is a 10 minute ride away.
What a wealth of experience there has been in the last 8 days. Now for Ireland!