So strange; we spent all morning listening to Sylv, Bruce and Jean about the machinations of the despised Doris, but I expected to feel sad or angry or any one of a hundred different emotions, but instead I felt elated and so did Hub. All the guilt about not having managed to get Ronnie out of the hell ward and into a hospice seemed to fade away because we had found out about his past finally and the last piece of the mystery fell into place.
‘I must tell Mum what I’ve found out’ – but I can’t because she isn’t here to tell anymore – but I know that she knew all about what had happened to Ronnie and that’s why she fought so hard to clear his name.
We talked and smiled all the way back home – which was just as well because Uni Boy had taken FAR too long in the shower and College Boy was champing at the bit to begin his ablutions. Oil was poured and the troubled waters subsided. UB went back to his packing; he had already decided when we first planned this trip that a couple of days of family immersion would be enough and bought his own train ticket back home in advance. He’s become something of a whizz on the train booking system and as well as getting a cheap ticket, he’d also acquired a £7.00 upgrade to First Class on one leg of the journey – free food and WiFi.
His minimalist worldly goods were packed into the car and the four of us hit the shopping mall – which seems to get bigger every time we visit but also has less shops that we are interested in. Clothes were bought – well, it hadn’t been dry enough to hang out washing and there was no tumble dryer so retail therapy was the only answer – and we hit the Gadget shop so CB could buy silly things for his mates. UB and I found a bookshop; our intent was to browse but neither of us could resist in the end and several pounds were spent.
Thence to the station to see UB off and to acquire our train tickets for going up to that London the next day. UB had worked his wonders again and got us a good deal. Hub was excited just at the prospect of letting the train take the strain all day. CB was feigning boredom about the whole jaunt but I could tell that he was quite excited too. Not just at the prospect of seeing London and going on the London Eye, but also having us to himself again – he’s really not good at sharing.
Hub and I need to make wills. I know things are different these days and I don’t for one moment think that UB is as Machiavellian as dreadful Doris but if we’re leaving everything to the boys we need to ensure that CB doesn’t end up in Ronnie’s situation. UB and CB don’t like each other much but I can’t see them being so cruel to each other. Or can I?
UB hugged and dispatched; tickets collected and the proximity of Zorbas too hard to resist. CB also discovered a shop selling American produce and came back with his arms full of Twinkies and Hershey bars.
I usually forget something when we go away and this time it was my walking stick. I don’t use it that often but after the hammering my poor knee has had over the past couple of weeks, it was something I really should have remembered. An emergency trip to a camping shop and a choice between Norwegian hiking poles and a hunky bamboo job – we plumped for the latter and went home for the kebabs – which were just as good as they had been on Saturday – wonder if John would consider relocating to the North? CB muttered about the embarassment of my taking a walking stick to London but was roundly ignored.
UB isn’t especially noisy (unlike his younger brother) and I’ve got used to him not being around during term time, but it was a shame that he went back early and missed out on the London trip. He needs his space though and compared to his Uni chums, we’re probably less good company – especially the loud, immature and sometimes totally obnoxious CB ( I love him really).
Wednesday morning dawns and the weather is dry but unpredictable. The taxi takes us to Hamble station, unmanned and surrounded by fields. We wait on the platform; confused by the items lying on the line. Why are there three different odd shoes? Are people in the habit of dropping just one shoe when they get off the train? A Tippex bottle, apples in different stages of decay, soft drinks bottles and what looks like a pair of PE shorts keep the lonely shoes company.
CB (never at his most charming first thing in the morning) suggests that the odd shoes are grisly leftovers of people who’ve been horribly maimed by the third rail. His father and exchange looks and decide not to go there.
When the little train arrives we get on and find ourselves in the quiet carriage. This shows how provincial we are; I have read about the quiet carriage on Twitter and Facebook, have heard about people who sit there and get annoyed by other people who still chat loudly on their phones and play music so loud that leeches out of their earphones. We have never experienced the quiet carriage before because we rarely do trains – buses – but not trains.
CB gets embarassed if Lovely Hub and I talk too loud (as in normal quiet conversation) so the quiet carriage is okay for us. Hub and I have our own methods of communicating in front of the boys and words are often superfluous.
Unfortunately there is already a young man in the carriage who is shouting into a mobile in a language alien to all of us. It’s amazing how quicklywe get annoyed at this blatant violation of the rules (but none of us is brave enough to say anything). The ticket inspector comes along and says nothing – although the young man is on the phone as his ticket is being checked. CB pulls that ‘Go On Mum, do something about it!’ face, so I quietly mention to the inspector that the young man seems unaware that he is in the quiet carriage.
Reluctantly, he walks back to the young man and shouts at him, gesticulating at the mobile phone with a cross through it sign; ‘Quiet carriage mate. You aren’t supposed to use your phone in this carriage. Understand?’ The young man obviously does because the rest of the journey is spent in quite blissful silence interrupted only by CB glowering at me for breathing too loudly and subsequently sniggering at his cross expression.
We have half an hour to kill at Southampton between trains. UB has written me out a list of train timings in an efficiently quarter-Teutonic manner – his Oma would be very proud of him. We decide to fuel up from the station cafe and this necessitates lots of stairs or the lift. CB hates lifts so he stalks ahead and waits gloweringly on the far side platform whilst Hub and I negotiate a lift from platform two to three and then another from three to four. We are probably far more excited about our day up in that London than he is – and if he was excited his carefully cultivated adolescent persona would not permit him to show any pleasure anyway (the persona still slips occasionally).
We get drinks, go to the toilet and repeat the lift procedure. Panic! There is a train on platform two and the ticket collector indicates that it is bound for London so we jump on with moments to spare and find ourselves in another quiet carriage, but this one is full of people – all silent except for one teenage girl who starts off chattering n her phone but very quickly gets shushed by an elderly woman who sits next to her. CB is in the seat in front of us this time so Hub and I can indulge in some handholding and hushed conversation.
It’s only when we stop at a station that we aren’t supposed to stop at that we realise that we have ignored UB’s timetable and jumped on the semi fast to Waterloo instead of the fast. This doesn’t bother Hub and me because we like trains and the opportunity to stop at stations we knew so well as grumpy adolescents (that would be me not Hub) is an added bonus. We decide not to tell CB about our mistake because it will only be another thing for him to get cross about.
It is lovely to see Waterloo station again after twenty-odd years (I said we were provincial). I have many memories of excited arrivals and exhausted departures – especially after going to gigs at the Hammersmith Odeon (as it was then) or the Marquee Club, dallying a little too long and finding that we’d missed the last train home and it was a couple of hours till the milk train would be departing. Oh nostalgia!
There are several signs for the London Eye and Hub heads for the nearest. I point out that there is (apt for the first day of the Paralympics) actually an exit for disabled people but that entails doubling back and I can see by the look on CB’s face that the option is not available. It’s quite a trek and involves a huge flight of steps where I hold up other travelers as my sore knee locks and means that I can only do one step at a time. CB glowers at the foot of the steps; he has moved into ‘Oh God, I hate my embarrassing parents mode’.
He perks up when we see the Eye however; Hub is busy snapping away with his new camera and once satisfied, goes off to collect our tickets. CB and I perch on concrete bollards and watch the busy crowd as we wait. Hub returns with tickets for the Eye and the river cruise an hour later. We join one of those snaking queues where people are separated by silver poles and ropes and you end up taking twenty minutes to move one hundred yards. This queue is fast-moving however; we get stopped just as we reach the point where we have to cross over to another queue and the young man with the lanyard and walkie-talkie writes ‘FT’ on our tickets and indicates that we need to go to a different queue. We have been fast-tracked and all because Mum bought a walking stick with her.
The staff we encounter from this point on are all very courteous and we are brought to the front where a young lady states that they can actually stop the Eye for me to get on and off if I want. I don’t need this however. I sit on the wooden seat in the middle of our pod happy to look through other people’s legs and arms whilst CB stands and Hub snaps happily with his new toy.
There is a German woman sat next to me, wearing a bulging rucksack . She has no spacial awareness regarding her rucksack and in turning quickly to bark orders at her male and female companions, hits me with it, not just once but twice. I slide over to a different position. She decides to walk round the Eye and kick my sore leg at the same time. CB wants me to deck her for this transgression but we are in a glass pod high above London and I am too entranced by what I see to care about revenge right now. i don’t evenmention the war.
I loved the Eye. I could go round and round on it all day and still see new things. Hub and CB are similarly impressed although CB does his best not to show it. Reluctantly we climb off and move away from the throng, looking for somewhere to eat because it is just gone twelve and the river cruise is not for another hour yet.
The fine drizzle is upon us so we head into County Hall for shelter and food. It is busy; we are still in the school holidays and the cafe is heaving. I suggest we try the Chinese ‘stuff your face for just under seven quid’ cafe; when I see the grim interior I know that I have made a mistake but there is no going back. We are committed. The food is not good. Hub manages to find something he likes, I pick dispiritedly at a bowl of sad-looking noodles and unidentified tempura, CB (who is still on one of his high protein make it up as I go along diets) picks and grumbles too. My outlook is even more influenced by the fact that I have been dipping into Giles Coren’s latest book and I dread to think of what he would make of this horrible place.
I go off in search of a toilet whilst my men are still getting through their seconds. Not surprisingly, the toilets are down two flights of stairs. There are two disabled toilets which double up as baby changing rooms. There is a yellow cleaning cone outside them and they are both locked. I need the loo. My knee is sore from being kicked by Frau Insensitive on the Eye, my lunch was deeply unsatisfactory, it is now raining heavily and I AM NOT A WOMAN TO BE CROSSED AT THIS POINT!
After a couple of false starts I find a member of staff who can unlock the toilets, which had been cleaned over an hour before but another staff member forgot to unlock them and remove the cone. By this time there is a long queue; several wheelchair users and their helpers and a multitude of young women on mobile phones, chewing gum and accompanied by bright pink buggies and small children.
I wait my turn and come out to hear one such female muttering about having to wait whilst these cripples use the toilets, and how she hopes they don’t leave them dirty as she wants to change her baby’s nappy (I can smell her baby’s nappy. It isn’t good). I hurry away biting my tongue but catch the eye of a young girl in a wheelchair who grins at me, shakes her head and shrugs her shoulders in a resigned fashion that makes me even more ashamed of what I’ve heard.
Hub and CB have finished eating and I just want to get out of this horrible place. We hurry (they hurry, I hobble) through the rain to the jetty and are told we can get on the next boat rather than wait till one o’clock. Another queue and my County Hall depression is deepened by the sound of what I think is a child blowing bubble gum and popping the bubbles loudly. I won’t be able to bear that for a whole hour.
We get on the boat and find seats at the back, with a window seat for CB. The bubble popper turns out to be an American male in his late twenties who really is old enough to have grown out of his irritating habit. I resist the temptation to deck him too and relax as he heads for the front of the boat and out of my earshot.
Despite the rain, the river cruise is well worth the time. A splendidly witty tour guide gives us a whole new slant on our surroundings, Hub is still happy-snapping and even CB makes the odd comment that indicates he is not totally hating his life at the moment.
Like the Eye, it is over all too soon and we are back out in the rain in not very suitable clothing. The number of Gamesmakers has increased as the time for the opening ceremony for the Paralympics draws near. We were going to stay on and have dinner in London but in a rare moment of mutual agreement have decided that we want to go HOOOOOOOME. CB says he will only come to London again if we can guarantee that there will be no annoying people around. Looks like he won’t be embarking on a further education course here then.
A pair of Gamesmakers direct us back to Waterloo; they are excited, cheerful and charming despite the rain and as we trudge back to the safe haven of the station, we find that there is a mere thirty minutes before our train. Time enough to find some meat for CB and a reviving mocha for me so thatwhenwe get on the rather busy train, we can cope with the fact that we are in a loud carriage. I apply my anitidote to stress and doze off, secure in the knowledge that Lovely Hub will prod me if I snore and wake me in good time so that I won’t stumble off the train bleary-eyed, blinking and confused.
Back in Southampton we find that we have missed out connection and there is another hour to wait before the next train. CB is looking as if he will explode so I persuade an initially reluctant Hub that a taxi back to Hamble is the only solution. We are too tired to wait on the platform for another hour and the bus station is miles away. He is persuaded thankfully, we have a lovely driver who likes planes and the two of them chat happily about air travel whilst CB and I veg out in the back of the taxi.
We had promised to take CB out for a decent steak and fully intended to accomplish this in that London. Luckily Southampton had a suitable restaurant and we ended up there later that evening. CB was happy. he had real meat. UB texted me to say that the house was still standing. We drove home across the Itchen Bridge, admired the blue lights and snorted at the executive dwellings that are going up on the old Vospers site. Our Hamble house felt very welcoming, although the sight of UB’s empty room made me feel slightly choked. Nevertheless we all survived and had a good day. So good to be back home again.