Disclaimer: The photos included here are from my trip and have absolutely nothing to do with the shambles described below
I don’t recommend carrying heavy objects around Leicester Square at 7am wearing only your pyjamas. It’s not the way a wonderful 2 ½ week holiday to Australia book-ended by Hong Kong and Singapore should end. Leicester Square is an almost dystopian place to be on a cold and cloudy Tuesday morning, your only company being downcast street cleaners and the odd bedraggled looking victim from a heavy night before. All the lights and glamour have faded to grey and caffeine is your only salvation yet nowhere appears to be open.
Ok so we weren’t in pyjamas but close enough (think of the sort of comfy clothes you’d wear around the house). Due to my own hubris I thought that we could easily handle a whole morning in London following a 14 hour flight from Singapore. Our flight landed at 05:00 and I foolishly didn’t book a train back to Birmingham until 13:40. £5.50 off-peak singles on Chiltern are devilishly tempting. After using as many delaying tactics as possible at Heathrow we reluctantly got on an empty tube to Central London, knowing we’d be ludicrously early. The journey in wasn’t too bad. The tube was warm and I was lost in the scandal of Lady Chatterley’s Lover however when the time came to exit onto Cranbourn St near Leicester Square the frigid temperature and hours ahead hit me like a ton of bricks. Lugging around a heavy bag (without wheels) at 7am as London prepares to go to work on a cold morning was (quite literally) a world away from the t-shirt and shorts nirvana of Singapore 24 hours earlier.
After clumsily stabbing at Google Maps on my phone we fell into one of the few coffee shops that had just opened up near Trafalgar Square. As I lay slumped in my chair I watched important looking people ordering cappuccinos and opening up thin laptops. They frantically tapped away, presumably sending e-mails containing the usual interminable corporate tedium. Despite my listless appearance I was happy to be out of the cold and able to put my bags down. I drank my coffee with a breath-taking rapaciousness but this wasn’t an ideal place for breakfast. The heartiest option they had on their menu was something to do with eggs and avocados and that just wasn’t going to hack it so after some more Googling I forced us out onto the streets again and a shivering walk up to the Breakfast Club in Soho.
This was an excellent decision. I devoured my brick-like ‘breakfast burrito’ in record time and another coffee kept my long-suffering eyes open. The Breakfast Club is a chain although it doesn’t really feel like one inside. Photos of previous visitors, mostly backpackers and tourists, adorn the walls which gives it a personal touch and the staff are very friendly and attentive. That’s probably why it’s popular and the small queue that had formed outside the door made us feel like we were slightly outstaying our welcome so out we went. At this point my lamentable idea of booking a train for 1:40pm became very visceral. We still had 4 hours to kill.
A bookshop. A bookshop sounds like a good idea. I like books and I don’t really like people so I could spend some time in the serene confines of one of London’s myriad bookstores and while the hours away. The 15 minute walk to Foyles on Charing Cross road seemed to take an eternity as we trooped with our bags dodging busy suits late for meetings and a scary woman on Tottenham Court Road incorrigibly shouting things about Jesus and final judgements. Aside from a chance to head to the bathroom and upgrade my respectability by changing from joggers into jeans, the tranquillity of the bookstore was a little overwhelming. Falling asleep here wasn’t an option so after toiling through about three pages of my book we hit the road again.
A museum. We can definitely kill a couple of hours in a museum. It’ll keep us on our feet and I like history anyway. And it’s free (well, most of them in London are anyway). A cursory glance at Google Maps tells me the British Museum is a hop, skip and jump away from Foyles. A short but agonisingly slow walk later we were outside the museum fence observing the queue snaking into a white gazebo where guards appeared to be checking everyone and their bags. I didn’t fancy going through this tiresome airport security routine again but we didn’t have much choice. We were put out of our misery early on though as a stony faced guard in a high visibility jacket told us our bags were too big to store in the museum. Brilliant. A grand plan foiled before it had even got started. There are plenty of other museums around but that meant getting back on the tube and not knowing for sure if we’d be able to store our bags. There was only one option left.
The pub. Of course. It might have still be morning but nothing was beneath me at this point. A tube ride to Marylebone Station arrived around 11:10am. The Sir John Balcombe is a few minutes’ walk away and was the only pub open in the area so there we trooped. I was done with coffee at this point and needed something else so of course a couple of pints were ordered from a happily non-judgemental Scottish barman. There were a few board games in the corner of the room so we passed some time playing Connect 4. After a stunning victory I reflected on how most sensible people would be at home with their bags unpacked whereas I was sat in a London boozer struggling to keep my eyes open.
And there we stayed. Actually it wasn’t too bad. Maybe most people in our position would have tried to go to the pub (any pub) earlier but the fog of one of the world’s longer flights clearly affected things. We got back to Birmingham at 4pm, around 11 hours after we landed. I fell into the deepest of sleeps not long after.