I have somehow picked up some non-serious but weird medical condition that is beyond the expertise of my local or even regional health authority, and I have been referred up the food chain. Out of the blue a letter arrived in the post for an appointment at a hospital in London. Yes; London. Not scary for some people I know but for a country mouse like me living in the fields of North Shropshire, it might as well have been Sydney or New York. It was also for 9:30 in the morning…

There was talk of going down the night before and putting up in a hotel, but Marky is nothing if not a tight-wad, so Wednesday morning (5:45) saw me standing wide-eyed and fidgetty on Stafford station platform ready to catch the Red-eye to London Euston, weighed down with a knap-sac full of breakfast goodies, a lunch box, a flask of coffee and a good book.

I had a plan to make my way to the hospital, factoring in plenty of contingency time (I hate being late for anything, I find it the height of bad manners), and having pored over maps and timetables, deliberately chose the cheaper but earlier train – hence the owl-spooking 5am drive across the Shropshire-Staffordshire border.

Once off at Euston – man! that’s a huge station, it’s like an airport – I stood a bit desolate and lonely wondering what to do next – I still had 2 hours before the appointment. Being unfamilir with London’s rush hour I decided the best option was to get to the vicinity of the hospital first then see how I was doing for time. I went to the loo – uh oh, first mistake, that’ll be 30 pence please, that was why the lady sitting across the aisle from me on the train visited the loo on the carriage a couple of times before she got off – then got sucked into the heaving mass of people joinimng the underground.

Now despite knowing where I was going and walking in what I thought was a purposeful manner (I’m a tall bloke so even my leisurely pacing is fairly brisk) practically everybody else overtook me, all scurrying somewhere like busy worker ants. I had read that city living makes everyone move faster but it was eye-opening actually witnessing it. It was also a pleasure knowing I didn’t have to move at that speed everyday.

Any ways without further incident I was seen at the hospital fairly efficiently and with the delightful prospects of further appointments in the Metroplois in the next few weeks found myself back out on the pavement by 10 am. My return train wasn’t due to leave for another five hours so the whole city was mine for the taking.

I droped into a Costa coffee shop (I find the monotonous familiarity of chain coffee shops somehow reassuring, especially whenever I’m in a foreign city) to review my options and phone home, then decided to re-enter the underground and head up to Trafalgar Square and take a wander round the National Gallery – as it was free, and I didn’t have an eight-year-old in tow for once.

What it says on the sign – no idea who the girl is though..

I’d already scoped out its prospects on line before leaving for London, so knew it was a good place to while away somw free hours. It was a fantatsic couple of hours to be honest – I didn’t rush round and try and do all of it – it’s too big, but I could linger over those paintings that caught my eye, regardless of how famous (or not) they were. There were a surprising number of nudes and topless ladies on display in many of those paintings as well which is always a bonus.

Lunch was taken alfresco from Markys butty Box situated immediately outside the Gallery, in the weak February sunshine watching the street performers in the Square (I sat behind them; I could see them but they couldn’t really see me), while just down the road the Union Flag fluttered briskly above the mother of all Parliaments. It was all there – black cabs, red buses, Japanese tourists and pigeons; the lions, the fountains and above it all Lord Nelson standing defiantly in the wind.

It wasn’t that gloomy – I was shooting into the sun!!

I’d got myself to the centre of the craziest, liveliest city on the planet with absolutely no problem, and more importantly little expense (I figured that after transport costs I’d contributed less than a fiver to London’s coffers – sorry Boris!) and was actually enjoying being there. OK it had cost me a day’s annual leave, but I can always make that back thorugh working flexi.

All in all I felt pretty chuffed with myself and my self-reliancy.

I must do this again soon. Oh, wait a minute – the post has come and look! yes there it is. Another appointment – no two appointments. Looks like I’ll be back in a month’s time. I wonder how I can exploit my new-found skill in enjoying cheap day trips to London. Maybe I should start a website…

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