Journal – Christmas 2012 (London Holiday)

A large green grassy sculpture of Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer, adorned with strings of colourful Christmas lights. As well as his red nose, Rudolph is also wearing a woolly hat with a big red bobble on top of it, and a scarf around his lower neck has white, red and blue patterning on it.

Mum and I have just had our third trip up to London in quick succession. But whereas the previous 2 brief visits last year had been for my Nan’s funeral, and then a weekend to sort out a few bits and pieces, this latest trip was the chance for us to have a proper Christmas break, which we needed. It included a trip to the theatre to see The Lion King with a couple of my friends, along with various other outings. I’ve also included a few photos and a video that I captured on my mobile phone during the trip. So I hope you enjoy reading about it all!

Friday January 4, 2013

Travel To London

Happy New Year! Mum and I got back from London today, and a lovely two weeks it was too. Mind you, we were a bit lucky to get up there in the first place, as heavy rain and flooding disrupted the trains on the weekend before Christmas. And had our tickets been booked for Saturday afternoon or the Sunday and Monday after, we probably wouldn’t have made the trip, as the Westcountry was effectively cut off. But thankfully, on the Saturday morning, although our Paddington train was cancelled, we were able to change at Exeter St Davids and, after only about a 10 minute wait, got on a train to Waterloo.

We had been considering booking a Waterloo train to begin with, but because South West Trains don’t do reservations, we were concerned that it would be hard to find a seat. In the event that didn’t matter though. Because people in Cornwall were completely cut off, having to rely on replacement bus services to get to a suitable railway station, the train was a bit quieter than it otherwise would have been, so we got seats straight away. And we got into Waterloo only a short time later than we would have got to Paddington. Plus, of course, I was able to ring my Aunt & Uncle to let them know what was happening, so they picked us up there without a problem. We might use the trains to Waterloo in future, as away from holiday times they shouldn’t be too packed.

Getting Around London

I’m not going to go through the holiday day by day, but Mum and I did go out most days. Other than shopping in the High Street, which is so much easier than shopping where we live in Devon, we also went elsewhere on the Tube. And that was so easy with our Oyster cards – all I have to do is tap our cards and take us through the gate each time. It’s very quick and easy, and made Mum laugh a few times at how quick we managed it. You have to be sure to tap the Oyster card at your exit stop as well, even if the gates are open, so it can charge you the appropriate fare for your journey. Doesn’t apply to buses though – you only tap the card when you get on, and get charged a straight single fare (now to be £1.40 in 2013, up 5p from when we were there over Christmas). We only ended up using the bus once anyway, when we went out shopping with my Aunt one day.

All of the Tube stations we went to are easy to get around as well, as the signage is clear. And we almost always got a seat on the trains – either because there were seats free, or from a few people offering theirs to us, not something that would have happened so often a few years ago. In Central London itself there are also lots of big signs with maps scattered around, which I can walk up to and read easily. And, compared to where we live in Devon, there are no hills – all of the roads we used were level and arranged more in blocks in many cases, so that helped a lot too. We were able to go out walking for two or three hours without getting out of breath, whereas going shopping in Devon for an hour can be quite an effort!

Ultimately, London is so much more accessible than it ever used to be, and still getting better all the time. There seems to be a lot more help for disabled people than there ever was. We found it so easy, never having any problems finding what we wanted.

Shopping

Shops formed a big part of our outings of course. On one day we went up to Oxford Street, and just had a walk up one side and down the other, to get a feel for it. Then my Aunt came up there with us on another day, and helped Mum and I get a coat each for the cold winter weather. Mum got hers in BHS, while we eventually found one for me in Blacks (who own Millets). It seems hard to find ones with inside pockets, which are incredibly useful, but we got one in the end. Not that the weather was really a bother while we were there – it wasn’t particularly cold, it was just pleasantly mild really. And the rain held off for the most part – we only got wet once, and not by much.

We also went up to the RNIB Shop, which has moved from its previous location near Great Portland Street to Judd Street, near Kings Cross St Pancras station. It’s a massive station, but finding our way out was pretty easy. Then all you have to do is cross over the very busy road – made simple thanks to the traffic lights – then go down Judd Street a couple of blocks. It’s a nice shop too, and the staff are very nice. We ended up getting a potato peeler, can opener and a grater with a box on the bottom for Mum, and sunglasses (eyeshields as they call them) and a magnifier for me. There’s other cool stuff in there too – lots of CCTVs, a talking microwave, and so on, so we’ll be back there again in the future without a doubt.

The Westfield Centre in Stratford was another port of call, inevitably. For that we had to change at West Ham, which is deceiving when viewed from the Underground platform. It looks relatively small, and it was once upon a time, but it’s quite big when you go downstairs now. Mind you, Stratford station is even bigger of course. All you then have to do is go over the bridge to get to the Westfield centre – or, as we discovered on our way out, there’s an entrance right next to the M&S Food Hall (yes, we got some tasty treats in there), without any steps, which is even better. The shopping centre’s massive, and was pretty busy, but we didn’t struggle to get around it. Crowds in places like that and Oxford Street didn’t bother us – Dad would have struggled, but as I’m alright getting through it, Mum’s happy holding on to me.

Talking of shopping, we’ve also ordered a Nectar card now – my Aunt’s got one, and we can use it in Sainsbury’s to get loyalty points. Not only that, but you can earn points in lots of other ways too – including online at places like Amazon and Apple. There are roughly 500 eShops you can earn points from I think. We’re also considering another card that my Aunt has, which is an M&S credit card, as this gives you reward points for M&S – 1 point for every £1 you spend in M&S itself, and 1 point per £2 anywhere else you use it (it’s a Mastercard, so can be used all over the world). There’s no interest if you keep up to date with the payments, paying the minimum, or preferably the full, amount each month. Every so often the points are converted into vouchers and sent to you, and they last for 15 months, meaning you can save a bunch up at once. So, given our plans, we should be able to rack up quite a few Nectar and M&S points.

Walks

One of the non-shopping outings Mum and I did together was on New Years Day. We took a walk across Tower Bridge, down the South Bank, then across Westminster Bridge, which was just over 2 hours, and thankfully the weather held out for us. Westminster Bridge was packed though, as the New Years Day Parade had been happening in the city too. We didn’t see any of the parade itself except on TV later, but we did pass a few people in Star Wars outfits, mainly people dressed as Darth Vader and Stormtroopers.

Another outing was to find the Lyceum Theatre where I would be going to see The Lion King. My Aunt told us the best way to get there (getting off at Embankment, walking up the exit street, crossing over, then turning right and it’s a few blocks down).

From there we walked to Covent Garden, where we watched a fun street performer called Felicity Footloose doing some acrobatics. Her final act was hanging upside down by her feet and juggling knives, which was impressive. She had a good rapport with the audience too, and I got some footage of it on my phone. We had a look around the rest of Covent Garden as well, then managed to get to Trafalgar Square next.

Meeting Friends

I should of course mention The Lion King at this point. It was superb. The costumes, sets, music, story and acting were all extremely well done, and the cast obviously had good fun doing it. I met up with my friends S & T to see it, and they both enjoyed the show as well, we all had a good view in the front row. T had already seen it once, but was very happy to see it again. We did have the orchestra pit in front of us, so occasionally the music drowned out the song lyrics a bit, but that’s a very minor quibble indeed.

After the show, the three of us went on to Garfunkel’s for a meal, which was very nice. I had garlic bread, followed by spaghetti and meatballs, and then a waffle with chocolate ice cream for afters, plus some Magners cider to drink. We had a good laugh and a chat while we were there, as we hadn’t met up for some time. After that we walked up towards Trafalgar Square – partly to see if we could find an off licence, as S was looking for a particular ingredient for a cocktail he wanted to make, but we didn’t find one. So we went into a pub for a drink instead, though S & I quickly came to realise that we were too full to manage a pint of Strongbow each, with us both having only half of our glasses. T happily finished them off though! Then we returned to Embankment station and went our separate ways.

T was holding a get-together with some friends the following evening, which I had been invited to go to when talking to S previously. But I decided to turn down the offer, as I didn’t fancy returning on a completely unfamiliar train route from somewhere outside London, on a cold, dark, December evening, as it wouldn’t really be safe to do so. Mind you, I walked home in the dark from my local Tube station after 9pm that night, which might not be entirely safe either, but it worked out alright. If it was really late though, I could get a bus most of the way from just outside the station. Or my Aunt knows of a licensed cab rank at Stratford that I could use (the taxi from there would cost about £15), so I could go there on the tube and get home safely that way. She’ll show me where that is later on. It is handy having multiple ways to get home, as it’s not really a luxury we have in Devon – buses are certainly not as convenient for a start.

Christmas Food

As for food, Mum and I ate well, and we walked off the calories with all the walking we did! My Aunt got me a Tunis cake from Sainsbury’s, plus I found one in M&S, so I was able to make them last over both weeks. We got an iced Madeira cake for Mum too, though I shared some of that with her as she wouldn’t have been able to eat it all herself. We had some ready meals and other puddings from Iceland and Sainsbury’s too. Plus we had fish and chips from down the road of course – on the day we arrived, and again yesterday as a treat.

For Christmas dinner, we went to my Aunt & Uncle’s house for the afternoon. It was a lovely dinner too, with turkey and all the trimmings – stuffing, potatoes, pigs in blankets, vegetables and a glass of wine, with a chocolate gateau for afters later on. We spent most of that day round there before my Uncle gave us a lift home. Because we haven’t got a new cooker in Nan’s house yet, my Aunt cooked a turkey for us which we took back there with us, and we had that over the next few days, for dinner and in sandwiches, and that was lovely. We then went round to my Aunt & Uncle’s place for New Year’s Eve as well, having dinner and watching the fireworks on TV.

Cats

We’ve been feeding the cats as well – Suzy (our neighbour’s cat, as said neighbour was away on holiday) and Ginger (not sure where he comes from). Ginger’s not comfortable around us, though he’ll eat the food, whereas Suzy’s one of those cats who loves a bit of company and will purr away happily when you stroke her, even laying on her back so you can rub her belly. So we let her in to sit on the table some evenings – although we soon discovered her love of bags too, as she managed to get into Mum’s big shopping bag! I took her out of it of course! Suzy doesn’t mind being picked up, luckily – she never struggles a lot when you pick her up to put her out.

The only thing is that both cats are quite fussy. Once we’d run out of the (very smelly) food that was already there, we tried giving them some cheap stuff that had also been brought round for us to use, but they wouldn’t have it. As it was nearly the end of our stay, we weren’t going to go to the shops just to get food, and we know we’re not the only people feeding them. So the best we could do was put down a bowl of milk, which Suzy in particular happily lapped up. It stopped her miaowing – both her and Ginger have quite loud voices to let you know they’re outside the back door! A couple of times we heard cats fighting out there too – I can only assume another cat was trying to muscle in on their patch. My Aunt says Suzy will often defend her territory.

Other Home Stuff

Other than that, we also filled up the wheelie bin each week with black bags of stuff. There’s not really a lot left to get rid of now. My Aunt’s going to sort out the old jewellery, clothing, linen, etc, and the front room downstairs needs to be cleared out, but that’s it. Then there’s legal stuff to deal with at the solicitors of course. And then we’re pretty much free to move in really. We’re decided that we want it to be sooner rather than later. There’s nothing keeping us down in Devon now – indeed, there’s more reason to up sticks and leave if there’s more risk of being cut off on the railway network by flooding and the like. 2012 was the wettest year in England since records began, and the second wettest for the UK as a whole (the wettest was in 2000), and we’ll probably get more wet weather like that.

It also sounds like homeworking will be alright, as I talked about it again briefly with my section and department managers at our work Christmas dinner on the Friday before Christmas – and it was a very nice dinner by the way. I need to be at work in March for some training on the new system we’re installing (if I do it and then leave, I would have to pay thousands of pounds for it, so they must be pretty sure I can still stay employed by homeworking), plus we’ve decided to do the financial year-end work on the old system now, as it would be too much of a rush to move it all across at this late stage, so I need to be there for that too. But after that, say May or June time, could be a good time to actually make the move. We’ll see. But we would like to go up there during this year, and the earlier the better I think. So fingers crossed!

And that’s the main news really. There’s an exciting year ahead if everything goes according to plan, with big and interesting changes that we’re really looking forward to. Here’s hoping we get the fresh start we’ve been aiming for!

Author: Glen

Love London, love a laugh, love life. Visually impaired blogger, culture vulture & accessibility advocate, with aniridia & nystagmus, posting about my experiences & adventures.

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