Now, a lot of people complain about London for various reasons. They say it’s too crowded, it’s polluted, it’s unfriendly, it’s too big, blah blah blah. I think it’s therefore important that we address the flipside – namely the fact that outside of London is a terrifying place where awful things happen.
This was brought home to me yesterday, when I went to the wedding of a couple of very good friends in Slough. The reception was a remarkable event, involving copious quantities of food, alcohol and dancing. I could go on about it for ages, but I suspect anyone who would be interested in hearing was there anyway.
So anyway, Slough. It’s a town that’s mostly famous for the fact that John Betjeman hated it, and for being the setting of The Office. Frankly it’s a place I’d be happy never to visit were it not for the fact that the aforementioned friends live there. The journey is never less than difficult.
The wedding itself was being held in Farnham Royal, an actually rather pleasant area of Slough with a distinctively villagey atmosphere. I knew the No. 74 bus went there, but looking at the timetable I could see that the No. 78 also went part of the way. As neither one listed Farnham Royal, when a 78 arrived I asked the driver if he was going there. Yes, he assured me. And so off we went. We didn’t pass through anywhere that looked like Farnham Royal and indeed, at one point we seemed to be going in the opposite direction. In Britwell I was told the bus had reached the end of its route. Confused, I asked the driver if we had gone past Farnham Royal. “Farnham Royal? I thought you said Farnham Road!” After eating him and taking two further bus trips, I somehow managed to get to the wedding venue in good time – I had figured that something was bound to go wrong.
The wedding went well despite some last-minute hiccups, and we even narrowly avoided the rain (har har take that, the elements). The reception was held at a golf club about a mile and a half from Taplow. I studied the route and the train timetables and figured out that if I left at about a quarter to midnight, I could get there in good time for the last train.
And then came the big mistake. You see, where I should have turned right out of the club, I turned left. And so instead of an easy stroll into town, I had a much longer walk into the middle of nowhere.
The road is shown left. Now, for me, being in the middle of nowhere is an alien concept. No street lights, cars rare, only light coming from my phone. I must have been walking for about two miles before I realised that something was badly wrong. I stopped outside an upmarket gated community, figuring that this would be a suitable landmark, and rang for a minicab. None of the minicab firms had any idea where I was. Shit.
Well, I thought, if I kept going, eventually I was bound to find something, right? I mean, roads always lead somewhere, right? I found myself more and more doubtful as I passed a farm and through a flood. At last, at long last, I came to a junction. Brilliant! A junction, with street signs. Try the cab firms again. No reception. Shit.
At that point, a police car pulled up. To be honest, a chap in a cream suit and Panama hat in the middle of nowhere at 2am is probably a criminal or a ghost, so it was perfectly reasonable. The chap driving asked me where I was going. After explaining as best I could, he told me that I was four miles from the nearest town, but said that if I didn’t mind sitting in front of the violent drunk he could drop me off at the service area. At that stage I would have sat in front of a madman with an electric drill just to get somewhere, so I gladly accepted.
I paused at the 24-hour Starbucks for a rest and to consider my next step. At that point, a drunken Scouser said hello and asked what was going on. And so I explained. He offered me a lift with his friends. There wasn’t room in the car, and frankly I don’t think any of us would have benefited, so I politely declined.
At that point, a minicab on its way home pulled in. I went up to the driver and asked if he was able to take me to the nearest station. He was seemingly confused by the question (remember, this man is of an industry that earlier couldn’t find a landmark that I found on Google Maps in ten seconds), but eventually decided that Slough was the one for me. Good old Slough.
After forking out £20 to get to the station, I discovered that it was now three hours until the first train. Damn. Damn. Damn. So what to do? I simply didn’t have the energy to walk any further, or the money to pay for a taxi home. And at that point, things started getting really strange.
You see, a combination of sleep deprivation, physical exhaustion and alcohol can have some strange effects, and at this stage I started hallucinating. I was confused to note that several of the wedding guests were already there, before they resolved into items of platform furniture. Buildings began occupying weird positions, appearing in parts to be closer or further away than they actually were. At one point I nearly walked off the platform, believing the edge to be about a hundred yards away. And I was attacked by something like a lamprey.
Finally, a train arrived, and I fell into a blissful sleep until Ealing Broadway (for some reason, my subconscious always knows when to change trains and wakes me up accordingly) when I took the District Line and a bus home. At some point around this time the hiccups I’d had since midnight went.
What did I learn from this experience?
1. Do not be overconfident in your navigational abilities.
2. Be careful after drinking.
3. The lampreys are not your friends.
4. Seriously, fuck the countryside.
Now let us never speak of this again.