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Thursday, 27 October 2011

As of today I’ve been back three weeks, and have finally caught up with all the family. I took the train to London on Tuesday to visit my younger daughter. It’s a journey of some 260 miles, and takes a shade over three hours, which means that with half a dozen stops en route we average around 100 mph. For some stretches, of course, we’re doing 125, but that barely rattles the tea-cups. Here’s a photo of my train coming into Platform 1 at Durham station. It’s just passing the loop where I used to wait in my caboose, many moons ago when I was a freight train guard. I never minded being held up there for the odd half-hour, especially in August: there was a big patch of blackberries growing beside the line and I used to fill my billy-can with them, regularly.

Although the station I arrive at, King’s Cross, is a couple of miles from what you’d call the centre of London - that is, the West End, where the theatres are - I nearly always get around on foot. It’s far more comfortable than riding on the underground, and you see so many interesting things. This trip, though, I was meeting my daughter at the Great Ormond Street Hospital, which is where she works. It’s barely a twenty minute walk, and takes me past the restored St Pancras Station

Back in the 1970s, when Victorian buildings tended to be regarded as ornate monstrosities, this was boarded up and all set to be demolished. Somehow it was spared, its value and beauty recognised, and a full restoration programme set in motion. Behind this facade they now have an elegant new station where you can hop on a train that’ll whisk you off to the coast, under the English Channel and away to Paris or Brussels. I have to say it felt odd, for someone who grew up in that neck of the wood and has hardly taken a photograph in London in forty years, to be standing across the road snapping away at the old place, side by side with the tourists. 

The trick in London is to find the road you want to follow and walk parallel to it, along the back streets…

Along the way you come across delightful parks, with huge trees planted by our  Victorian grandparents, who knew the value of greenery in the city.

I got to the hospital just as my daughter was leaving, and we repaired to handy inn for a refreshing pint of Greene King.

There the photos run out, I’m afraid. Flat batteries. Or bad management. And that’s a pity, because the views outside her apartment, which is on the site of the new Arsenal Stadium complex, are superb. However, here’s a link to an aerial shot I found on Google. It looks ludicrously long, as links go, but I’ve just cut and pasted it - and it works. She’s in the L-shaped block, top left,r:5,s:0

She’s just had a birthday, so I treated her and her boyfriend to an Italian dinner. Coffee with a friend next morning, and back home on the 1130 train. We actually walked from her place to the hospital, leaving home at eight o’clock and making the  four miles in an hour precisely, all along side streets lined with trees. Add the part where I got lost looking for a favourite cafĂ© that serves a monster fried breakfast, and the two miles from Durham station to home - it was too nice a day to be on a bus - and I’d hiked eight miles by the time I arrived here. That’s one of things I missed in the Sandhills: striding out on paved sidewalks.

I didn’t miss the weather, though: today has been grey, damp and gloomy. Not cold, not windy, just dull. Still no word from the U of Nebraska Press about my book proposal: they promise to reply within six to eight weeks, and their time is almost up.

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