Sunday, 8 February 2015

Cemeteries and compartments

It's been a beautiful, calm, sunny, fresh day today. The sort of day when everyone starts to feel optimistic, a day when huge numbers of people come up to Highgate tube and drift up to the village for lunch followed by a stroll through the famous cemetery or a yomp on Hampstead Heath. Highgate cemetery is well worth a visit, not just for Karl Marx, but for the myriad other curios there, including Douglas Adams' grave littered with the pens of visiting fans, and the eccentric tombs of a bewildering string of freethinkers and eccentrics. I would heartily recommend visiting the West Cemetery. That's the bit that isn't open to the general public. You have to book a special tour. It's ramshackle and highly atmospheric. The tour takes a visitor through the Egyptian Avenue, a series of tombs shaped like ancient Egyptian monoliths, and around the Circle of Lebanon, which is about as mystical and eerie as anything in London ever gets. There are catacombs and mini chapels. It's little wonder why the cemetery is the focus of so many ghost stories. In the 1960s there were even a series of reported Vampire sightings, which were accompanied by the gruesome discovery of piles of animal bones. Much recommended, but not for the faint-hearted!

I left the house at 6pm today to discover that the traffic lights on the A1 outside had stopped walking. It was genuine mayhem. Cars were randomly piling into the junction and swerving all over the road. As I walked down to the tube, I called 999, largely because I couldn't remember the number for the non-emergency police, but also because a road accident was almost certainly imminent. You can't really expect a cross roads on the A1 to function without lights. The woman who answered the call was, to my ears, a little snooty. As I said goodbye she said she'd "report it to the traffic division" almost as though she were saying, "like you should have done."

I thought I'd left the mayhem behind when I got on the tube, and prepared myself for a slow, comfortable drift down to Hove where I'm staying the night with Fiona before doing another two days of mixing with PK.

Victoria station was at a stand still. Most of the trains had been replaced by rail replacement buses, and the one I'd booked to travel on was absolutely rammed. There were tussles on the platform as people jostled to get on board, and a really silly woman in a hi-viz jacket was shouting at everyone to go further down the platform where she said there was "more room." What she wasn't taking into account was that the train was due to split at Heyward's Heath, and that only the last four carriages were going anywhere near where I needed them to be going. If I'd taken her advice, I'd have ended up in the wrong place.

The train proceeded to amble its way through South London at ludicrously slow speeds whilst we all got light-headed and breathed everyone's else's carbon dioxide. It was hot and claustrophobic, like some form of torture, really. The transport infrastructure in London is now so broken that I reckon we're just one terrorist attack away from complete anarchy!

Fortunately the carriage emptied a little at Croydon and then again at Gatwick, but the train continued to go at speeds which seemed slower than a Stannah Stairlift and I got stuck opposite a pair of gossiping women who seemed to want to comment on everything that was going on around them. The man opposite me was snoring gently, and one of them suddenly said, "ooh, someone's asleep." Then I got a runny nose, so kept having to sniff, so that became, "ooh, someone's got a cold..." I mean, what's the point in saying stuff like that!? Is her friend's life any richer for having had the bleeding obvious pointed out to her? Of course it's not.

I arrived in Hove feeling like an old dish cloth.

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