A life-long devotee of village life, I am rarely to be found outside my natural habitat. A social engagement in central London therefore takes on the signifance of a Polar expedition; with a similar degree of preparation. Driving into the city is out of the question; one-way systems terrify me, and the presence of more than two lanes is positively panic attack inducing. Besides, I quite like travelling by train. I like the mundanity of it, and the voyeuristic peek into pockets of people’s lives, as you chug past their back gardens.
So I find myself on a train to London, armed with a copy of Tatler and some killer heels. This latter accessory has already proved to be a mistake, confirming that my life as a Slummy Mummy has left me seriously out of condition; I may be able to leap across aisles for the last special edition baby Annabel, but I still missed my first train as I lurched across the platform in my Manolos.
I feel a pang of dismay as Cotswold stone and rolling hills give way first to the neat postage stamp plots of the ‘burbs, then to the grey smog of central London. Exiting the train I adopt my usual overtly paranoid stance; bag clutched to my torso in such a manner as to convey that any would-be thief will have to prise it to from my cold dead fingers in order to get their hands on my wallet. Frankly I may as well have ‘mug me, I’m from out of town’ tattooed on my forehead; had I a rucksack, I would be wearing it on my chest.
I descend into the bowels of the underground and try in vain to protect my carefully styled hair against the bellow of warm air that heralds the approach of a train. I negotiate the Bakerloo line and look suspiciously at my fellow underground passengers, scrutinising the carriage for potential terrorists. A young Asian man at the far end catches my eye as I scour his apparel for signs of explosives. I worry about being racist in my paranoia, and dutifully scan the train for some white, middle-class passengers to include in my scrutiny. A man in his seventies, who looks no more likely of swearing allegiance to Al Qaeda than of completing the Great North Run, bears the brunt of my scrutiny and retreats behind his Evening Standard.
Once out of the underground I am assaulted by the noise and lights of London; intimidated by those at home in the city when I feel so at sea. I duck through the throng and make my way to the bar where my friends await, and magnaminously offer drinks all round. It is fortunate that not many accept my offer; or perhaps there is a tacit agreement among Londoners to save out-of-towners from inevitable bankruptcy. For all my fears of a London street mugging, I had never anticipated being robbed blind by a smooth talking bar steward; “That’ll be twelve pounds, thanks”. “HOW much?” Surely there must be some mistake; my ’round’ consisted of two drinks. Just two. Scarcely a ’round’ really – more of a ‘brace’. I will have to hide in the toilets for the rest of the evening to avoid buying more drinks.
They say that if you are tired of London, you are tired of life. I have been here for less than an hour, and if wanting to be back in the country means I’m tired, then I’m absolutely exhausted.