The grit of not having an oyster... and a glass of white wine for the lady
I spent a most enjoyable afternoon this weekend with Mike on Lady A. It wasn't what I'd planned to do. Back in December, a small group of old Birkbeck cronies, some of whom had moved on to other places, met up for lunch, and we agreed that we'd enjoyed it so much that we'd do it again in February. A date was set, and I dutifully purchased my advance train ticket. Then a couple of days beforehand, one of our number asked, was it really happening, only he'd have to leave at two (I was due to arrive at St Pancras at 1.30), then another said 'My fault! I was supposed to be organising it. But I have so much work to do I'd rather not now.' So, that could have been a waste of £64.
Fortunately, however, I'd already been trying to sort out meeting up with Mike (Mike, some of you will recall, sold me my first narrow boat, the gorgeous little Andante - TEN years ago! He also gave me my first ever narrow boat steering lesson, and we've kept in touch ever since, as he has made the move from web designer to trip boat supremo, and I from darling 32' R&D to brutal 72' H&W). It had looked a bit tricky, but suddenly all was possible. He was leaving City Road at two, having dropped off his morning's party, so we could meet up practically as soon as I got to London. Once on the train, I realised that I only know the way to City Road basin by canal, and as there's no towpath through Islington tunnel, that's not very helpful. So we agreed that he'd pick me up once through the tunnel and that's what happened.
Pretty soon we were at St Pancras lock, and Mike correctly intuited that I couldn't wait to get my hands on a windlass. The Camden locks were all against us so I got a fair bit of gate heaving practice. A steady chilly drizzle fell throughout, but I was enjoying myself much more than I think I would have done in a nice warm restaurant.
On returning to Lady A's mooring in Little Venice, we repaired to Zizzi in Paddington Basin for a quick tea before I had to head back to St Pancras. Something happened there that I haven't experienced for a long time. The waiter came for our orders, and to drink, I asked for a small Peroni, while Mike ordered a large glass of white wine. On bringing the drinks, the waiter had great trouble comprehending that the beer was for me and the wine for Mike. The irony, of course, was that the wine probably had twice as much alcohol in it!
I had to give myself a seriously good kicking though - ever since I stopped working in London, this is the first time that I have returned without remembering to bring my Oyster card. Just having one is a sort of badge of honour. But I'd left it behind this time and (not, thankfully, having a contactless debit card) had to queue up with the tourists (not that thick on the ground on a wet February evening in Paddington) for a single ticket. £4.80! That'll teach me.
Still, I made it back to St Pancras in plenty of time and found that my train was one of those relatively old ones I like (someone tell me what they're called and just how old they are). It was a slow one though (Market Harborough, Alfreton, etc), and delayed to boot, but I was delighted on arriving in Sheffield to catch the penultimate 51 bus of the night, from whose empty top deck I could observe the scantily clad revellers on West Street.