Another Week of Madness

(Yet more gig going stupidity and crazy travel tales)

Tuesday 19th June, 2007

As I got on my bike to head down to London, I allowed myself a small smile. Over the next week, I was going to be travelling like crazy, which might usually cause me some concern about all the things that might go wrong. But this time was different, as for once I wasn't going to be alone on my travels. I was going with Max, the cute Kiwi girl I had met when Bruce Dickinson had flown us to an Iron Maiden gig in Belgrade.

I was also taking her to two of the most romantic cities on the planet, a couple of Iron Maiden gigs, and a wedding. If the two of us weren't an item by the end of the trip, then I may as well give up completely!

But first I had to get down to London to meet her, which meant firing up my bike for the journey. I had upgraded my trusty steed since the last adventure, having decided that it had taken just that little bit too much punishment for one machine, and so I had put that one out to pasture and brought a much bigger and much better bike to replace it. Unlike the last time, I wasn't envisioning any problems with the journey down south.

Leaving Manchester at lunch-time on Tuesday, I made good time on my way down to London. I had arranged to leave my bike at Paul and Amanda's place while I was away, so knew it would be safe for the duration of my travels. By 3pm I was down in Holland Park, a trip I had already taken a couple of times by then, and sat down to have a coffee and wait for Max to answer the message I had sent her so we could arrange to meet up at wherever it was in London that she was staying so we could get together for dinner.

The message soon came back that she was actually staying in High Wycombe, which annoyed me somewhat as I had passed by there around 40 minutes previously on my way down. Stupid me had actually thought that when she told me she was living in London that she may have actually meant that she was living, well, IN London, as opposed to 30 miles or so outside.

Never trust a woman when it comes to directions!

So I climbed back on my bike and headed back up the road towards High Wycombe, and 10 minutes later was really wishing that I had put my bike pants back on for the journey, as I suddenly found myself in the middle of a ferocious thunderstorm.

Had I been on my old bike, I would have been forced to pull off the road in those conditions, but my new bike lapped up the miles with nary a thought for the nasty conditions out there. I was feeling wet and miserable in seconds, even more so as this could have all been avoided if Max had actually told me where she was staying in the first place, and thus saved me the silly round trip that I was now taking.

After a short while though, I arrived in High Wycombe, and gave Max a call to ask for directions to where she was staying. She gave me the required information, and ten minutes later I pulled up outside her door doing my best drowned rat expression. Despite my bedraggled appearance, she seemed to be genuinely pleased to see me, and before too much time had expired I had gotten changed into a spare pair of jeans, thanks to my bag still being stored in the seat of my bike, and my sodden pair were in the airing cupboard drying out.

Max was staying with some friends, and the four of us went out to a local bar for dinner. We had a pleasant meal, and Max and I caught up a little bit as this was the first time we had seen each other since meeting on the Belgrade flight, although we had spoken several times on the phone to arrange this little soiree abroad between us.

By 10pm it was time for me to head back into London, having first picked up my now dry pair of jeans, and for Max to have a go at an early night. We were meeting each other at the bus station at 5am for a bus to the airport, and she had arranged for her friends to drop her off. As for me, because I hadn't been sure what the night had in store for me, I had only made arrangements to leave my bike at Paul and Amanda's.

I was going to have to find a way to entertain myself until it was time to get the bus.

Still, this was London. Surely it shouldn't be too much trouble to find somewhere that I could have a few drinks until it was time for me to meet Max? Well, actually, it turned out to be impossible for me to find anywhere for a drink. I even flagged down a taxi in the hope that he would be able to recommend somewhere, and somehow managed to get the only cab driver in the world that didn't know of any pubs that were open late!

I ended up spending an uncomfortable night on a bench near the bus station, feeling the cold seeping into my bones as the minutes slowly but surely ticked away and became hours. I had arrived back in London at 11pm, and by the time I had made it to the bus station it was a little after midnight.

But five hours is a long time when you are sat there with nothing to do. I had books in my bag, but not enough light with which to see them to read. I sat there and thought about other times I have found myself stranded overnight, and how often just a simple thing like having a waiting room open can make such a difference for people.

Of course, I understood that companies didn't want to offer free accommodation for vagrants, but surely there should be some way to police it. Anyone that had a ticket for a bus the next morning, for example, surely they should be allowed to sit in the warm waiting room, rather than hang around on the street all night.

The good news was that it was June. I would hate to think what it would have been like to have been stood there all night in December. No doubt other people have found themselves stranded like that at that time of year in London, and if so I really do feel sorry for you. I have never had a particularly high opinion of London, and that night just reminded me of why, exactly, I disliked it so much.

In Manchester there would be no shortage of places to go for a drink, and the train station kept its doors open all night. Yes, there were regular police patrols to make sure that there was nobody inside the station that might be termed as unwelcome by the powers that be, but if I was stuck there late at night I would have no problem going inside and sitting there with a book and reading for a while if I so felt like it.

Of course, I was never likely to be stuck in Manchester, because I lived there, and even if I didn't there were plenty of places to go for a drink until the cafe's started opening around 6am. No, I definitely preferred Manchester. It was a much more civilized city than London!

Finally, the clock rolled around to 5am, and it was time to meet Max. I stood at the main entrance to the bus station, wondering where she was. Meanwhile, she had come into the station via the other entrance, and was stood there trying to persuade the bus driver not to leave without me as we both frantically tried to call one another to see where we were and why neither of us seemed to be where we were supposed to be!

Contact was made in the nick of time though, and I raced back into the bus station and jumped aboard the bus. It was a forty minute bus ride to Gatwick, and I fully intended to sleep for the duration of the journey. I had a suspicion I might not get much opportunity to sleep for the rest of the day!