I’ve said before that I don’t like going to London. This dislike is, however, entirely due to my having to use public transport to get there instead of my much-beloved sports car, Sceadufell. The capital itself makes a nice change from sleepy Devon.

This weekend I hopped on a train and headed over to the abode of my good friend the Crimson Welshman in Highbury. This was to be our base of operations for an assault on the Science Museum and the Theatre Royal, where the new production of Waiting for Godot is arousing a lot of interest. Having dragged myself away from a troublesome bite register too late to have the shower I’d promised myself, I arrived up in the Smoke tired, smelly and in need of a drink. Matters were improved on my arrival at Arsenal tube station, when I received fresh orders to pick up two orders of chips: as promised, I wouldn’t starve. The Crimson One was cooking steak and chilling beers, which was just what the doctor ordered (if, that is, the doctor in question had been asked to prescribe a sure life-shortening diet). On my arrival I was handed a glass with a sugar-coated rim, containing something orange. It was Campari and orange juice, part of the plunder of a recent trip to Rome, with which my friend had been practising his cocktails. This set the tone for the rest of my visit.

Steak dinner with beer and comedy DVDs: on an exhausted Friday night it’s a vision of paradise. We ate, drank and watched some political satire. In honour of my visit, Have I Got News for You had been recorded (Rolf Harris was the guest host), and afterwards we broke out The Thick of It and The New Statesman. I retired late to the notoriously treacherous air bed that kicks you off at three in the morning. Fortunately, I was drunk enough not to care.

The wage of sin is recycling

Friday evening gets under way

Saturday morning began slowly, with headache pills, orange juice and a pot of Earl Grey. We nipped out to get essentials: the newspaper, some Amber Grief (I’d run out) and the components of breakfast; and after a suitably regal repast and a spot of music from Hotel Crimson’s new MP3 player, we stumbled out to greet the new day.

Morning continues to happen in Highbury

Morning continues to happen in Highbury

Words cannot describe what an utterly appalling experience the Tube can be on a Saturday afternoon. At one point we were crammed in so tightly that the brim of my hat was jammed against someone’s shoulder, while my neck was bent almost double to accommodate the curvature of the roof. It doesn’t happen often, but sometimes I wish I were a few inches shorter. I managed to capture some of the insanity for posterity before movement became completely impossible.

The Crimson Welshman models London Underground's overcrowding problems

The Crimson Welshman demonstrates London Underground's overcrowding problems

We must have spent hours in the Science Museum. I love to wander around the assorted jetsam of ingenuity displayed there, and it’s easy to get lost in it and forget to sit down. Naturally I stopped off on the aviation floor to renew a perennial pilgrimage: on display are Amy Johnson’s Gipsy Moth, the Schneider-winning Supermarine S-6B and the Blériot XI that made the first Channel crossing back in 1909. They also have Alcock and Brown’s Atlantic-beating Vickers Vimy and an Antoinette IV: easily the most graceful of the early aeroplanes. There was a purpose to our visit, however, and so much of our time was also spent reading about Dan Dare and the birth of future Britain.

Colonel Daniel McGregor Dare, Space Ace

Colonel Daniel McGregor Dare, Space Ace

Dan Dare: of all the heroes of my boyhood, he had the most impressive eyebrows. Of course, that was actually his grandson, since the original comics came out when Dad was at school, but it’s a fairly fine distinction. Combining his exploits with the real-life progress that went on while he and the Mekon were duking it out is an interesting idea, but there’s only so much 1950s technology that you can look at before you get thirsty. We adjourned to Gordon’s in Villiers Street, to drink madeira until we were due to meet the rest of our theatre party. Flushed with the day’s experiences, or possibly the Riesling that had preceded the madeira, we headed over to Trafalgar Square to meet the twins. They’d been busy with horticulture coursework, and were ready for a spot of early dinner and some thespianic diversions.

Gordon's Wine Bar, where you can get a drink and, sometimes, a chair

Gordon's Wine Bar, where you can get a drink and, sometimes, a chair

We were half-way through the first act of Waiting for Godot when I dozed off, but that wasn’t the fault of the cast. Perhaps I shouldn’t have eaten those escalopes of turkey at St. Martin’s in the Fields, but it’s more likely to have been the fortified wine. Fortunately I only missed about fifteen minutes, so I didn’t lose out on a great evening’s entertainment. Sir Ian McKellen deserves particular praise for his portrayal of Estragon, but he was the narrow best of an excellent cast. Somehow, when I read the play I’d completely missed the comic elements, which were brought out marvellously in this production: the theatre resounded with laughter, and there were two curtain calls before we left.

The Theatre Royal welcomes your humble correspondant

The Theatre Royal welcomes your humble correspondant

Having seen the twins off at the station, my host and I concluded the evening as one might expect: we fortified ourselves with Staropramen and went home to drink yet more beer. Not surprisingly, I couldn’t last long, but I did get the chance to recommend some additions to the Crimson One’s Johnny Cash collection before I collapsed entirely. Another night of falling off the air-bed and wishing I had another duvet, and it was time to go home.

The line from London to Exeter looks so much friendlier on the homeward stretch. The journey into London gradually replaces green, rolling fields with a grey city-scape, but in the other direction, the concrete and brick slowly gives way to green vistas and the occasional idle sheep. I had my new books with me, so I was able to punctuate the bucolic idyll with episodes from the bloody fall of the Niflungs and speculations on Lugus as the name of Caesar’s Celtic Mercury. Mercifully and unexpectedly, we arrived in Exeter on time, so I was able to jump straight onto the outgoing Exmouth train and was home in time for tea: an agreeable end to a very pleasant weekend out.

London weekend soundtrack, courtesy of Radio Crimson

Groove Armada: Chicago
The Rolling Stones: Paint It Black
Bob Marley: Stir it Up
Almée Mann: Save Me (acoustic)
Mozart: Clarinet Concerto in A K622 Adagio
Blur: Dan Abnormal
The Divine Comedy: Here Comes the Flood
U2: Sunday Bloody Sunday
Libera / Lyndhurst Orchestrathe (cond. Gavin Greenaway): Vide Cor Meum
Stiltskin: Inside (live)
Bardo State: Sospiro
Scouting For Girls: Elvis Ain’t Dead
Kasabian: LSF
Johnny Cash: Folsom Prison Blues
Grieg: In the Hall of the Mountain King
Manic Street Preachers: The Everlasting
Fun Lovin’ Criminals: Blues for Suckers

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