Monday 29th March. ESCAPE FROM BLETCHINGLEY!
Saturday morning, after an hour and a half's work, I took a break from routine and with my friend Mai, boarded a train bound for the bright lights of London. It was my first trip to the capital since starting work in Redhill and Bletchingley almost three months ago. For Mai, it was her second visit to London since arriving in England from Indonesia six months ago to take up a position as housekeeper in my employer's home. I'd been in contact with a few Global Freeloaders in London, and had arranged for Mai and I to stay Saturday night with a member called Rob, who lives in the southern suburb of Tooting. Mai was excited to get away and do some exploring, and was happy that we had a friend to stay with in London. As is my style, I had described Rob as a 'friend' even though I'd never met the guy. One night last week, Mai was asking me about Rob. "Is he married?" she asked, and I told her I didn't know. She seeemed to think that was odd. The next night, we were discussing our London plans again, and when the conversation turned to our host Rob, Mai enquired further as to just how well I knew him. When she finally realized that I had never even met him, the look of horror on her face was priceless!
Since our stay with Rob and his housemates, I think Mai has been thoroughly converted to the concept of 'Freeloading'. She has commented several times, what nice friendly people they are... and funny! We stopped in to introduce ourselves to Rob on our way into London, and dropped off our luggage at their place, leaving us free to wander the city. Rob shares his home with old friend Andy and Andy's Canadian girlfriend Michelle. All keen travellers (Andy and Michelle actually met 'on the road' in Malaysia!) but unable to get away as often as they'd like, they love to have other travellers come to visit. They say it's like 'travelling without leaving home'. I think I can speak for Mai as well, when I say that we felt instantly at ease by the housemates' warm welcome and relaxed attitude. Then it was time to see the sights.
First stop- a bit boring for Mai, but important for me- was a visit to Tottenham Court Road, home to the city's biggest range of electronics stores. I bought a USB memory stick for my laptop, and shopped around for a new battery as well, thanks to a generous donation from a reader. As yet, I've been unsuccessful in locating a suitable battery, but will try again today.
From Tottenham Court Road, Mai and I made our way north to Camden, famous for it's huge markets. I thought the markets were impressive when I bought my Doc Martin boots on Camden High Street ten years ago, but they've grown exponentially since then. The sprawl of tents and stalls seemed almost endless- Mai and I would wander in one direction for half an hour, then turn around to return, only to find ourselves amongst a whole array of new stalls selling everything from photos and paintings to flavoured cigarette papers, from CD's to watches, clothes of every possible fashion, and every imaginable food. We had some yummy fried noodles with chicken, and tried a cup of hot mulled wine and also some tasty chai. Eventually, after I bought three pairs of socks, and Mai haggled hard for some knickers, I think we were both suffering 'market overload', and the day was getting late. We were due to meet Rob and his housemates soon in central London, so we 'tubed' to Liecester Square, and found a cozy little pub. It was chilly outside, in spite of the weatherman assuring me it would be a warm 'perfect spring' weekend.
Our hosts had all been out and about for the day, and met us in Leicester Square. We had a quick beer in another pub, and headed back to their place for dinner.
Rob, Michelle and Andy cooked up a delicious chicken and prawn curry, complete with naan bread and samosas. Tasty! The four of us sat up late swapping travel stories, and these guys each have some great stories to tell as well- buying an old boat to travel down the Mekong, working with Orangutangs in Indonesia, riding the rails of the Trans Siberian Railway. I think it was quite late when we decided we should get some sleep.
The next morning, Rob was off to work before the sun came up. Michelle rustled up an omelette for the rest of us, and Mai and I hit the streets again. We detoured to Earls' Court, so I could book into the Nevern Hotel backpackers hostel, and dump my backpack there. I'm there now, and am engrossed in conversation with a Swedish girl who's been travelling for the last ten years, so I will have to write up the rest of yesterday's journal later. But for now, here's some photos.
Several hours later, and I've had an extremely frustrating morning. The USB memory stick that I spent forty quid on, is apparently unrecognizeable to my computer, despite the salesman's assurances that you just 'plug it in and away you go'. David Ferney cancelled our meeting (the third time he's done so since I first contacted him in December), so it seems he's not so keen to be reunited with his old friend. Also I'm concerned about my friend who has returned to hospital this morning for chemotherapy and radiotherapy. I'm off to meet David and Jeanne.