The open road

toadMost of the passengers are already aboard when the driver arrives to silently count heads. This he does several times: up and down the aisle, seemingly confused although he says nothing before leaving the coach and disappearing. At five o clock he re-embarks with news of a diversion. ‘Well, they’ve said we’ve got to go to Ammersmif now. Ammersmif! Apparently there’s a party waiting at Ammersmif. If yoove got a bag on the seat yood better move it cos there’s not going to be any room for bags when we get to Ammersmif.’ The driver starts his engine and we rumble out of Victoria and resume reading our free copies of the Evening Standard.

‘My name’s Pauwl’, shouts Paul. ‘If you want anyfing yoo can shout Pauwl or geezer or oi. Now I’m doing the safety stuff. I’ll have to do it again when we get to Ammersmif for the next party but we aint there yet so I’m doing it now. At the back of the coach is an emergency exit. That’s the back door. At the front is anover one and that’s the front door. Opposite the back door is a box. That’s the toilet. In the roof are some over exits. Those are the windows. There are seat belts. Yoor sposed to wear em. Yoo want to know anyfing else shout Pauwl. Right, next stop Ammersmif. Ok?’

‘Ok’, we all agree in unison. The young man in the seat across the aisle from me is giving someone instructions on the phone. They seem to involve Ammersmif where we arrive in no time at all. The young man gets off the coach to have a word with Pauwl. He wants him to wait for his friend who is on the way to the coach stop.

‘He’s nearly here’, says the young man. The Ammersmif party have already boarded and Pauwl is anxious to get a move on.

‘Where is e then’ he demands? ‘Yoor mate, where is e?’ Pauwl goes round the front of the coach, steps into a stream of traffic and looks back down the road. ‘Is e that geezer running down the central reservation?’

The geezer running down the central reservation is indeed the missing passenger. ‘Good effort mate’, says Pauwl as we set off again. ‘Right’, shouts Pauwl, ‘next stop Wingwood, awright?’

‘Yes’, we all agree in unison. We know what’s coming next.

‘Right, for the benefit of the party wot got on at Ammersmif, I’m doing the safety announcement. I’ve done it once but now it’s got to be done again because we ad to stop at Ammersmif. At the back of the coach is an emergency exit. It’s called the back door…’

We leave London by some tedious route. The traffic is vile but eventually, like Mr Toad, we find ourselves on the more or less open road. An unpleasant smell pervades our area towards the front of the coach. We look around to see who might be the cause but there are no obvious suspects. The horrid smell is getting worse. It seems impossible that it can be emanating from a single person. I leave my seat and stumble forward to inform the driver.

‘Driver’, I say. No response. ‘Pauwl’, I shout and Pauwl swerves across two lanes narrowly avoiding becoming the cause of a major traffic incident. ‘There’s a nasty smell’. I begin.

‘Yoo wot’, he replies in a state of some confusion.

‘Your coach stinks’, I shout, whereupon, to my surprise, everyone else aboard shouts ‘yes, your coach stinks’. Everyone’s always waiting for someone to make the first move.

‘Is it the toilet’, shouts Pauwl? ‘Is it blocked?’

‘I don’t know and I’m not going to look’, I inform him.

‘Can yoo open the windows in the roof’, he asks? ‘Or shall I stop only we need to get to Wingwood?’

‘No, don’t stop’, we all shout together; ‘we want to get to Wingwood.’  I don’t like the sound of opening the windows in the roof. Weren’t they the emergency exits? A man in the front seat comes to my aid and together we open the roof window. Having been alerted to the fact that others were suffering from the nasty smell, I shout down to the back of the coach: ‘can you smell it down there?’

‘Yes’, they all agree and the man from the front seat traverses the length of the aisle to release the rear roof window. We continue.

‘Is it any better now’, shouts Pauwl? ‘I mean, I don’t know oos been driving this coach all day. I only took it on at Victoria and nobody told me about the toilets. Do yoo want me to stop or shall I look in them at Wingwood?’

‘It’s much better’, we all agree.

‘Next stop Wingwood then. Awright?’

‘Awright’, we respond in unison.


London calling

tubeUnderground, the dragon’s blinding eyes appear around the bend, wider and wider as the beast exits the tunnel with a frightening screech and intense roaring at such velocity to make it impossible to believe it will ever stop……………..which it does SUDDENLY


And we rocked on to Electric Avenue not knowing that it really existed and was where all life passes amongst stalls flowing with exotic dresses and robes and accessories for the voluminous hair which can be purchased in the hair shop next door to those that compete to see which can provide the strangest looking fish and the freshest meat in the world and who can pile the highest pyramid of colourful fruits and vegetables accompanied by the loudest reggae music for those wearing the most outrageous costumes and the biggest hats to protect the widest hairstyles and the longest dreadlocks whilst dancing the oddest dance on the corner of other worlds


I go to the loo in the Morpeth Arms at Millbank and, despite having yet to take the first alcohol of this day, find myself all at sea. Inside, the wooden floorboards become decking planks as I sway with the movement of the boat. I exit the loo, looking over my shoulder at the trick I might have missed. Back in the bar, I enquire whether the place is haunted and am pointed in the direction of a large television screen on the wall. It shows a picture of an empty stone cellar below my feet where, back in the day, chained convicts were housed whilst awaiting deportation to Australia. Today and every day the cellar is locked for safety. It houses a permanent live webcam to record the comings and goings of waterlogged ghosts.

mutual friend

The shudder was gone, and his gaze, which had come back to the boat for a moment, travelled away again. Wheresoever the strong tide met with an impediment, his gaze paused for an instant. At every mooring-chain and rope, at every stationery boat or barge that split the current into a broad-arrowhead, at the offsets from the piers of Southwark Bridge, at the paddles of the river steamboats as they beat the filthy water, at the floating logs of timber lashed together lying off certain wharves, his shining eyes darted a hungry look. After a darkening hour or so, suddenly the rudder-lines tightened in his hold, and he steered hard towards the Surrey shore. (Dickens: Our Mutual Friend)

We take a gentle journey from Millbank to Embankment. A speeding police boat overtakes us on its way to some unknown watery crime and once the waves and stomachs have settled, we overtake Symphony – a boat replete with suited and booted business types on a leisurely cocktail cruise. They are all men with the exception of one female at the rear who Leonie says is probably the stripper. Changing vessels at Embankment, we head off, once past Traitors’ Gate, at a speed to equal the underground dragons:


WHOOSH past Butlers’ Wharf and all the other east end wharves that probably now house butlers in their expensive apartments with riverside views, salubrious shops and bijou brasseries; and WHOOSH past the never-again Dickension Limehouse now boasting a marvellous marina; and WHOOSH past the business, banking and communications centre of Canary Wharf; and WHOOSH past the places so exclusive that – only those who reside within know their names.


Until, there on the right, the palatial maritime buildings of Greenwich are heralded by the masts of the Cutty Sark rising from its glass display cabinet like a life-sized ship in a bottle.

On the over-ground train to Kingston, our cosmopolitan carriage is full of noisy international students on a day trip to see our heritage: they are visiting Primark.


And Leonie proudly takes mother to see the sights of what is now her city. There on her new doorstep are the Houses of Parliament whilst just round the corner is the Supreme Court where, fortuitously, today is a free entry open-day.


On to the grandeur of the Foreign and Commonwealth offices, a wave at Horseguards’ Parade, a ridiculously priced bottle of water in St James Park and a wander up to Buck House where news of the infant has already been removed being, as it is, old news.