I have been in the UK, visiting mother....for the first time since I moved to France, she has not been well enough to visit me, so the mountain went to Mahommet, and, surprisingly, enjoyed the whole trip. I might want to lie down for a few days to recover from it, but I enjoyed it.
Firstly, I didn't have to take a French train. Kind friends took me to the little one horse airport whence Ryanair flies to Stansted, whose cafe seems to attract a lot of local lunchtime custom, and left me to my own devices.
Noting the cost of checked baggage when I booked online, I took only hand luggage, and did not book priority boarding. I was flexible about dates and got a super cheap fare...so far, all positives. At the airport, I was processed without having to queue, the staff were far from draconian about the hand luggage regulations, security was fast and efficient and there were so few people who had booked priority boarding that it would have been a meaningless expense.
The 'plane was on time and I enjoyed the freedom of being able to board at either end of the plane, unlike the regular airlines' practice of making cattle class customers board through the first class and business class section, where I am forced to observe people on expense accounts lolling at their ease with free newspapers, while I struggle through to the lairage at the back. Why, when we have video conferencing, do these people need to travel the world? Why does no one seem to realise that we, customers, citizens, mugs, are paying for their comfort, whether through our taxes or in the price of the products their firms produce? Never mind taking the drinks trolley round....wheel on the portable guillotine and let the cabin crew have some fun for once. It would perk up the flight watching that being trundled down to the first class section. I'd even take up knitting if necessary.
Still, on my short flight the cabin staff were pleasant and efficient, and although they were constantly trying to sell me something it did not bother me as I go deaf in 'planes , nor would it have done if I had retained my hearing as I have also retained the power to decline what I don't want. Ryanair has a bad press, but it was all right by me.
Friends met me at Stansted and took me home for a super evening of good food, many laughs and a chance to investigate the Italian wines they were starting to import.....then on the next day they took me to the station....to get a real train! One which didn't have steps up into the carriage from the platform. One I could board without fear of splitting my tights. Carriages with proper luggage racks so that I could keep an eye on my baggage.
When I was last in the U.K., everything was still British Rail, so the new company names took me aback, but the trains themselves were reassuringly tatty, even if the London terminals had been alarmingly tarted up. When did Liverpool Street stop being a pit of stygian gloom? I could actually see the other passengers as I walked down the platform...most disconcerting. In the good old days of Liverpool Street I think you could have walked about naked and no one would have been able to spot your Lady Godiva apparel, so dark was the station concourse.
The Underground was unchanged...apart from having ticket machines which took all sorts of money and gave change...clanking and rattling through the bowels of London, and, inevitably, on the return journey, when time was of the essence for catching the 'plane, the Bakerloo Line was paralysed by a signal failure at Baker Street. Ah, the nostalgia! Alternative routes on trains already so packed that you needed Japanese station attendants to shove passengers into the ambulant Black Hole of Calcutta within. Trained on the Boy Scouts' jumble sales in the church hall in the days of my youth, I used my elbows to good effect and was borne away triumphant. It has to be like riding a bicycle, the technique for getting into a rush hour Tube train - you never forget.
Buses, both in London and the provinces, that you enter at pavement height....buses that indicate the next stop so that you are not borne on into the wilds, despairingly looking for the first stop after Kensal Rise station...buses with flat fares so that there are no arguments with the driver when you do overshoot your destination.....absolute bliss!
The whole thing, from start to finish was, to quote Flanders and Swann, a transport of delight. And mother wasn't too bad, either.