Monday, January 07, 2008

Planes, trains, automobiles and boats

New year fireworks in London. It certainly seemed like a good idea when first mooted back in August.

Beloved Wife and her Goat have done the whole marriage thing in an odd order. Following the August wedding, we had a December honeymoon in the Maldives (story to follow...), which was in turn hotly pursued by two weeks in Ing-Er-Land over the Christmas and New Year period. The Goat got his friend, Mr Lawful Good of Cowplain (LGoC) to arrange the venue for a post-nuptial shindig so that a crowd of those who couldn't make it to the States in August could meet up for beer and buffet.

Dubai Drama Group's Guards! Guards! curtain closed on 15th December. Goat and Beloved Wife headed straight off to the airport with diving equipment. A week later we were back in Dubai doing circuits and bumps. We dropped off our dive kit at home, grabbed our winter woollies and went straight back to the airport.

At six in the morning on Christmas Day we arrived at a damp Gatwick and picked up the rental car. I expressed the opinion to the guy at Immigration that he ought to be on double time. He smugly replied that he was on triple time plus a day off in lieu, and of course he wouldn't have to eat any Brussels sprouts. We took the pretty way to Plymouth, as defined by the GPS as the shortest route, passing through many small villages early enough to see some stirrings of small children keen to discover what Santa had left for them.

Then we stopped off briefly at Stonehenge in the rain to experience the full wet chalk experience. Stonehenge was shut apart from the loo, and security guards were there to keep the solstice latecomers out. I suspect Security reckoned that the besandalled couple in black were neopagans in a horribly wrong time zone. It finally stopped raining as we drove over Dartmoor and headed south into Plymouth. As I said, it was the pretty way.

Christmas dinner was scheduled for the evening because of our late arrival at Nanny Goat's. There was time for presents and even a brief nap before the traditional impossibly gargantuan pile of food appeared. And disappeared. What can I say? I was hungry, having only eaten aircraft food for about 36 hours! And contrary to popular belief, there are actually those who like sprouts, even if - nay, especially if - they've not been on the boil since Thanksgiving.

The next couple of days saw my young nephews playing with their new IR-controlled helicopters (ex Dragon Mart, and possibly the only ones in the country.) I hope the helicopters last longer than the polystyrene flying saucers did. An added Christmas bonus was that the kids got their artwork into the January 2008 issue of Dive magazine, courtesy of a hand-drawn birthday card from them to me and a suggestion from Beloved Wife.

Then we headed off to Gosport in Hampshire (where, as in Hertford and Hereford, hurricanes are seldom experienced). We went via Bristol. There is very little scope for entertainment in Bristol on a cold and soggy Friday afternoon, so we went on a pub crawl and took in some exquisite beer and food. Thanks to Simon and Clare for entertaining and accommodating us. I am fascinated by Simon and Clare's iPhones, but am probably too technologically incompetent to own one, even if they did work here in the Land of the Sand.

The Clarence Tavern hosted our shindig. Around twenty people showed up for beer and snacks. The brief of 'dead things on sticks' manifested as a vast cold buffet primarily consisting of curly-tailed products. And the beer was only excellent. Driving was clearly very unwise, so Beloved Wife and I stayed the night in the smallest and probably hottest bedroom in town.

Mr and Mrs LGoC own a boat. Jedi is a 32-foot cabin cruiser moored at Sunbury on Thames. She's their third boat, each being larger than the previous one. Jedi is powered by a pair of elderly Perkins diesel inboards that are older than Mrs LGoC. The engines are inevitably named 'Luke' and 'Leia' and are both reliable, but Leia smokes too much and, like most of the vessel, is in need of some TLC. That said, Jedi floats, runs and there's on-board heat, light and cooking. There's even a civilised shower and toilet head.

We set off from Sunbury at around midday on 30th December and headed downstream towards the City of London. In keeping with traditional custom and practice, all the locks were set against us, requiring waiting around at Molesey, Teddington and especially Richmond before we got on to the tidal Thames.

We had an appointment at St Kat's. The single lock gate to St Katharine Haven is open for fewer than two hours or so either side of high water. Unfortunately, and unbeknown to us, the lock gate had become broken and it would be impossible to get a boat either in or out. St Kat's chose to inform us of us this by leaving their phone off the hook and refusing to respond to marine VHF calls. We eventually ended up further downstream at South Dock Marina in Greenwich. Fortuitously, this turned out to be cheaper than St Kat's, mains electricity was included, and we were conveniently located for the Thames passenger ferries and a half-decent shopping centre. There were no decent pubs immediately apparent, but we'd brought a vast stock of Special Beverage for consumption on board, so this wasn't a major problem.

We set off upstream to Blackfriars on the ferry at about 9pm on New Year's Eve and found a spot on the Embankment to view the fireworks. The ferry wasn't allowed any nearer to the London Eye than Blackfriars; apparently there was a barge moored in the Thames that was chock full of explosives. The whole area quicky filled with revellers and, despite the cold and rain, by midnight the whole place was heaving with probably over a million partygoers. The spectacular fireworks display - and it was spectacular - was dampened somewhat by the mist and rain that caused thick clouds of gunpowder smoke to hang over the City and obscure some of the pyrotechnics. I love the smell of gunpowder in the morning... Getting back to the ferry proved problematic. There were so many people that the Embankment was standing room only and breathing by numbers, as we tripped and stumbed over empty beer cans, champagne bottles and miscellaneous inebriates.

The wet weather cleared up somewhat over the next day or so. New Year's Day involved the traditional lie-in and late breakfast. But clear skies mean cold, and the mercury only just crept above freezing, which is a bit of a shock if you've just come from the tropics! Beloved Wife declared that on 2nd January she wished to go shopping in London, so we agreed that she's head back to Cowplain by rail while the rest of us would take Jedi back to Sunbury and then meet her at the station. I treated the LGsoC to some diesel from the fuel barge moored near Tower Bridge. We bounced against the barge while fuelling up with red diesel at a rather frightening 50p a litre (AED17 a gallon) but nowhere near as scary as the £1.04 a litre (AED35 a gallon) petrol for the hire car.

On a clear day in January the Thames is a chilly place. There was little other river traffic apart from some nutters sculling on the non-tidal Thames. It is a curious thing how different rowers react to larger craft. Obviously a 32-foot Coronet cabin cruiser can produce an enormous wash, so it is incumbent on the skipper to keep the speed down. If you're rowing on the river, effectively sitting astride an overgrown matchstick, you will not appreciate being swamped by a big boat's wake. So when near scullers, I slowed to tickover, the absolute minimum possible speed that doesn't involve anchoring. One group of rowers wished us a Happy New Year and thanks for slowing down; another bellowed indignantly that we were going too fast. It takes all sorts. Finally back in Cowplain, we all had a massive chip-shop feast.

Beloved Wife and I did a little sightseeing in and around Portsmouth until our desperately early departure for the airport on 4th January. I stupidly managed to leave my mobile phone behind, and the new handset and alternative SIM card have both vanished from home in Mirdif. We have turned the villa upside down in a vain search for the Nokia that I specifically did not take on holiday. My enforced new year's resolution appears for the time being to stay away from mobile telephones.


El Casareño Ingles said...

Casareño Minor also managed to get one of wonderful (indoor) helicopters for navidad which he managed to break the same day - so much for 40 euro worth of hi-tech. I eventually managed to fix it on día de los reyes by soldering the broken wire, the fiddliest piece of soldering I have ever done. I was so glad I had also bought CM a modelling grip and magnifier as well.

Sorry I was not able to make the shindig in Trogspoo, I will blog our seasonal experiences to explain.

Anonymous said...

Much fun was had with the grandparents indoor helicopter on Boxing Day
Sprouts were heard described as 'little green balls of joy' sometime before Christmas - no accounting for taste, maybe it came from having Peachey as a father

i*maginate said...

Love this post: almost feels like I'm on holiday in "Ing-Er-land"

I say, when's your next book coming out?

Keefieboy said...

Sounds like you had a grand old time - sorry we couldn't make it.

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