HAVING been working for some months on a secret agency airbase at ****, deep in the heart of the countryside, it was something of a shock to find myself with a job back in the evil black heart of London. Even if it did mean that I was no longer working in a portacabin several inches from a busy airstrip complete with reclining palm trees. Now London's crowning glory is of course the Tube. Goes everywhere, transporting near-infinite numbers of people through 21st century gleaming glass and chrome with the speed of thought Well, sort of. The reality being this sort of dingy Victorian series of interconnected tunnels and toilets, interspersed with the odd black hole into which folks disappear, never to be seen again. Life's like that.
So here I am, on what is easily the hottest day of the year so far, standing at the back of an immense crowd of people trying to get into Paddington Underground station. The reason it's such a crush is that both the Circle and District lines have given up the ghost due to the heat and the weight of tourists and the trains are sulking in their engine sheds, refusing to come out until Ken Livingstone sacrifices a virgin on the secret altar at Piccadilly Circus. Vultures swoop lower over the crowd as people begin to die of heatstroke and starvation. Some haven't had a vanilla latte for at least two hours and the strain is beginning to tell. Also, the air temperature is beginning to approach the boiling point of human bodily fluids which can't help. Gibbering wrecks peel away from the back of the queue. Including me. Well, even on a good day the trip from Paddington to Hyde Park Corner is a pain and it's probably quicker to walk. And I have my trusty A-Z.
Anyway, to cut a long story even longer, I made it to the Victoria gate into Hyde Park without any trouble. Am I not, after all, the orienteering champion of West Gondor for five years running? Well, no, but that's not my fault and it hardly seems relevant in the circumstances. I could have been a contender. I rarely get lost and given a good map, compass, sextant, GPS and a team of helpful native bearers prepared to go "no, not that way effendi, that leads into the dreaded Ravine of Doom from which none escape", I can find my way almost anywhere. Unfortunately, First Great Western Trains charge the earth for train tickets and so my native bearers were still in Reading as I confidently strode down the road which led in the direction of Hyde Park Corner (on the opposite side of the park).
It seemed so simple at the time. Large area of grass with me at one side, office on the other side at 1, Knightsbridge, straight line from point A to point B. Elementary my dear Watson! Except, of course, that I was trying to go away from Baker Street, not towards it. Alas, I had reckoned without the manic skill of the ancient Georgian masters of Feng Shui who laid out the park in such a way that, walking towards something inevitably leads you cunningly away from it. Somehow, I found myself walking the wrong way on the wrong bank of the brook Serpentine. Well, bloody great lake actually. Inline skaters and cyclists in suits, wielding briefcases zipped past me as I struggled hand to hand with the malign forces of geography. Eventually, I struggled out of the maelstrom, past the skeletons of lost tourists lost in the Ravine of Doom, only to find myself at the wrong end of Knightsbridge and very very late for work.
So now I try no more to walk around the mystic maze of London. Instead, I take the tube or wait for buses like real Londoners do. I've been waiting for this one nearly two days