Yesterday was one of those barely-planned days out, which are always at least memorable. The original plan was to see that rather splendid-looking exhibition at the British Library, ‘Taking Liberties’. But then a couple of chums whom I very rarely see announced that they were coming down to have a look at the new steam locomotive, Tornado, which was visiting that day, and we decided to meet up.
The Northern Line wasn’t running from my part of London, so I took an alternative route via Wimbledon, Vauxhall and the Victoria Line to Kings Cross. The photo that appears either below or to the left, depending on whether I’ve got the hang of this whole “formatting” thing, is of a sign I saw on the bus. I can’t be the only person who hates any variant of “Smile! You’re on CCTV!” I mean, I hate the amount of CCTV monitoring in general, but it’s the smugness that really gets me. This one goes a step further with the line, “You are being monitored NOW by cameras fitted to this bus. So just sit back and smile!” with the unspoken addition, ”And never forget – we’re doing you a favour by transporting you, so just behave yourselves like good little citizens!” Complete with the shit-eating grin of the yellow chap on the left.
Vauxhall is a place I feel I should explore more. This photo, I must admit, does not show the place at its best. But hey, if you want windswept, you’ll not find a better place in the West.
Tornado is quite significant, being as it is the first new main line steam locomotive constructed in Britain since 1960. Not, I should emphasise, the first steam locomotive constructed since then – there have been plenty – just the first capable of hauling a train on a regular railway. Put even more simply, the first big engine.
The platform was absolutely packed, and despite nearly falling off, we managed to get a not-too-bad view.
This here is the Tornado, on the right. Officially, flash photography is banned on Kings Cross station, but as you can see, most people were content to ignore that.
We went our separate ways after a brief pause for refreshment. I found myself struck with the desire to stay out. I just felt like making a night of it. Fortunately, I’d heard tell of a party in Soho that sounded rather good.
There was time to kill, so I did a bit of that aimless strolling around the city. I thought I’d explore Fitzrovia, which is one of those no-tube-stop places like Bloomsbury and Soho, a network of random streets. It’s named after the Fitzroy Tavern, a haunt of various artistic types. As a pretentious boho-wannabe, I felt right at home.
Random photos taken around Fitzrovia. I particularly like the pub with the turret.
The BT Tower. Interesting fact – before 1993, this building didn’t officially exist. Strange but true. Despite the fact that it’s one of the most noticeable landmarks in London, visible on a clear day from as far as Egham Hill, and the fact that it used to have a restaurant open to the public, it didn’t appear on any maps. So if you were one of those filthy Commie types planning on causing trouble, I suppose the idea was that you’d think you were hallucinating or something, I don’t know.
And so on to Soho. Soho is one of those places that I have slightly mixed feelings about. It does have some excellent bars, but by day it tends to be pretty grubby. Actually, it tends to be pretty grubby by night as well – if you can cross it alone without a stranger trying to convince you that visiting a clip joint would be a great idea that would in no way result in your being robbed and/or beaten up, well, you’re… a person who has a different experience of the place to my own. Soho used to be fields on the edge of London, and the name was originally a hunting cry – apparently something to do with the Duke of Monmouth.
The party I was due to attend was at a place called 22 Below. I normally avoid bars with a number in their name, particularly if that number is also their address. As a general rule, such bars tend to feature toilet attendants, groovy lighting and an almost total absence of anything sold in pints. Still, a party’s a party. The theme was hats, and so I decided that I’d wear a crown. It’s basically the ultimate hat. As expected, I did get asked about it quite a lot, and my stories ranged from “I mugged the King of Sweden” to “I was at this party last night, and Rowan Williams was there, and you know that guy – one sniff of the barmaid’s apron and he’s away. He just got completely trashed, and started crowning random people left, right and centre. It was a pretty mellow crowd, though, so I don’t think we’ll have a civil war.”
I left around midnight, being bored, and stumbled back to the delightful village of Colliers Wood for to sleep. If anyone can tell me what happened between the hours of 10.30 and 12.00, I would be most grateful.