Saturday, 24 January 2015

Eclectic England

Miss Dunnit had an interview at Central School of Speech and Drama this week, (for a 'backstage course). Starting at 10am.  We knew this would involve a 'rush hour' train journey from where we live, deep in rural England! She had applied to this Uni without our having previously visited for an open day or anything like it, so I said I'd go with her for a bit of a looksee. You know, suss the area, research accommodation and do practical stuff. Like sight seeing.  
Well, first things first...rail tickets for two us at peak time were £150. Seriously. Central London is a 40 minute train journey from here...and then I expected another 30 minute tube travelling experience.  So I decided it was cheaper to drive.  Found an underground car park, all day for a tenner, so it wasn't going to cost £150 to use the car. Which is why everyone drives I guess.  Central is in Swiss Cottage and very accessible, despite the North Circular and rush hour traffic.  We got there with 15 minutes to spare and Miss Dunnit was instantly ushered away.  I enquired about a quick look around - erm, no. Any info on accommodation? Wry smile - there isn't any accommodation, even for first year students. Ouch. Research over, I realised I had a lot of time to was a day long interview/look around for Miss Dunnit.

Now let me tell you gentle reader. Tuesday in England was COLD. Obviously, not as cold as elsewhere in the world and not as cold as Scotland and northern England where the snow and ice were playing havoc with commuters. But it was below freezing all day, despite sunshine.  I wasted an hour in the Hampstead Theatre coffee shop and decided to go into Camden, which has a reputation for a vibrant town and market.  

I set off on foot and changed sides of the road wherever necessary to walk in the was cold enough without being in the shade.  I realised that I could hop on a bus...and as I was surveying the timetable at a bus stop (working out how far back I had to stand to see the damn thing without having to take my gloves off and rummage in my bag for my readers...), a bus stopped. I kinda felt obliged then, so I stepped on. Ahh the warm!
Well I told the driver where I wanted to go and he waited very patiently while I rummaged in my handbag, trying to locate my purse. (If you're American that won't have made much sense: I rummaged in my purse to find my wallet.....)
I asked the driver how much the fare would be and he politely told me that I needed an Oyster Card to pay. I don't have an Oyster card. Of course I've heard of them..they are pre-paid tickets that deduct your fare when you 'scan' them.  But I didn't have one, obviously.  So he explained that London buses don't take real money, and if I didn't have an Oyster, I couldn't use the bus.  So I got off. COLD!  I wasn't embarrassed so much as feeling like a right old country bumpkin for not knowing. But why would I know! 

Five minutes later, I was stopped by a lady using the maps app on her phone and she asked me for directions.  I told her that I was not local, indeed, I was so out of date that I couldn't even use the bus because I didn't know I needed an Oyster card!  She stared at me. Then bent over and laughed and laughed and kept saying...'you couldn't ride the bus for no Oyster innit' until we were both crying with laughter.  And then we laughed again when we worked out that she was holding the 'map' the wrong way round and she was actually walking away from where she wanted to go.  Well that epsiode had me smiling for the rest of my walk!

The market was lovely...but stone cold. And not very busy at mid morning on a Tuesday - I imagine at the same time on a Saturday that you can't see a stall or shop for people. Large parts of the market were located in ex military stables. You can tell that from the architecture.  Shopkeepers were layered up in warm clothing, stamping their feet and huddling round teeny heaters.  The outdoor stands were mostly food..I could have eaten a couple of meals just from the samples being offered as I walked around.  I bought a hat and a thicker scarf. I was so cold. 

I spent a lot of time browsing at a second hand book shop, the keeper and I had a conversation about Dickens, Trollope and Carol Shields. That was really nice. I bought a slim volume by Gabriel Garcia Marquez and decided to give in and find somewhere to have a warm, sit down lunch.  Of course I did. And like so many people who are on their own, I read my new book.  

I was too cold to think about doing more sightseeing, and walked vigourously back to Swiss Cottage.  I sat in the Hampstead Theatre coffee shop for another hour, watching the world go by and reading. And hugging a radiator - did I mention how cold it was! Miss Dunnit was 'released' at about 4pm and had a sheaf of information about life as a student at Central.  On the drive home, she confessed that she would rather they didn't offer her a place.  The course wasn't quite as she expected and chatting with students had added to her impression of penury caused by living in London.  Interesting.  My next travel bulletin will therefore be from Plymouth. And I'm assuming, because of trade winds or some such, that it will be a tad warmer.  


Fiona@Staring at the Sea said...

I found out the Oyster/riding a bus thing when I was there in September. I was saved by my friend and her contactless debit card. You can use those too, but of course mine is chip and pin. Good luck to your girl, whichever she chooses.

Michelle Reed said...

We have a similar system here in my part of Toronto suburbia called the "Presto Card". No card, no ride. Bah, what a pain, it's easier to drive.
I'm sure had the weather been warmer you would have thoroughly enjoyed you day of wandering.

Lunch Lady Jan said...

I would have been a change seeking person too...didn't realise that about Oyster cards only on buses now! Glad you had a good, if freezing, wander.....interesting about Miss D's post interview reaction though..
Have fun tomorrow :-)
Jan xx

Mary said...

Thanks for taking me on your day trip. As I sit here in my night cloths, drinking a hot cup of coffee, in an overly warm Northern California, I felt as though I was coming along on your adventure. My grannie used to tell me to find her "pocket book" in her purse. I don't know how wallet came to be...interesting though, I think. I'm with you, as "hip" of an old gal I think I am, things like Oyster cards always remind me of how fast the world is going. Now when I visit my son in the city, I use my "app" on my phone to call an Uber cab. I get in with a stranger and am reminded that my mom always said, don't get into cars with strangers! Ah, there is something to be said about small town living Have a glorious day! When's the trip to Plymouth? Love the photos!

Helen said...

oh Julia I do love your blog posts!! The Oyster thing only happened late last year. I am glad you survived your freezing day up here in that London place, and Camden market sounds like a place I need to investigate - in summer!

Carola Bartz said...

I felt cold just reading this post - brrr. I had experienced London in the cold several times - back when I was much younger and didn't mind that much. I think the next I'll be there I have to visit Camden - it sound like a place I'd enjoy.

Sue said...

Don't blame your daughter for not wanting to pay out London rents. Hope portsmouth is more suitable.

You were brave to drive into London and then go on your own. I didn't know that about the buses.

Hope you enjoy the rest of the weekend. Sue

Monica said...

The cold front is heading east so give yourself 2 weeks and it will be chilling you down. I hate the cold. It has been grey and as we(meaning Loved One and me)say, very English, damp cold and drizzle at times. Only good thing is we are getting over the drought.
My clothing supply is bleak and the only bright spot are my fabulous winter socks soft cuddly and warm. The few winter clothes are a result of them having winter clothes in store when its 90 degrees and i put off buying until it gets warm then nothing left.
I am sure the young lady will find any college out of London a lot more fun and full of real people!

Robyn said...

cold and windy here as well, tho above freezing, thank you very much!
I've never been to London, tho I guess it was like I felt being in San Francisco and anaheim last week.
County mouse indeed!

Bleubeard and Elizabeth said...

I always wondered about London and the different socio-economic classes the city seems to attract. Camden/Camden Town looked like a fun place for the young and young at heart. Of course, it also sounds like a place to visit in warmer weather.

I understood your purse in handbag. Didn't think much about it till you reminded us in American English (grin). I've never ridden on a bus in my life, so I would have been as lost as you. Although I live in the largest city in Kansas, I still feel like a country bumpkin at times, too.

Thoroughly enjoyed your trip to the big city, then your side trip to Camden. And I did it all in my nightgown, too.

Neet said...

Thanks for the info - I would have been real chuffed to find I couldn't ride the buses when I next visited. Whenever that would be.
Great laugh Julia - keep 'em coming.
Hugs, Neet xx

misteejay said...

I commute daily to London but I don't have an Oyster card because that system doesn't work out where I live. So I have a travel card built into my ticket. London has been extremely cold recently which is strange because we are always being told that one of the reasons London rarely has snow for very long is because of the density of buildings and the warmth created by this "sheltered" environment. Love your photos.
Toni xx

Clemencia R said...

It looks so beautiful! You are so blessed :)

Kyla said...

Ah the oyster card, brilliant idea but it does catch a lot of people out.

Hurrah to Plymouth (where my mum was born) its a lovely Uni and they run fabulous art courses too. I hate to tell you it won't necessarily be warmer-wind straight off the hoe...brrr!


famfa said...

Lovely post. Made me smile lots. Also made me a bit homesick, not that I'm from London. Look forward to reading about your exploits in Pompeii (Plymouth). X

Mrs.D said...

Julia, so frustrating, but you need to write to Boris and tell him how frustrating it was because lots of non locals have been caught out by this.
As Michelle Reed mentioned above, this is the situation in Toronto, and we didn't have a clue and ended up wlaking nearly four miles to pick up a hire car, already booked, because no one could tell us how/where to get a bus ticket.
It maybe convenient for the bus drivers, but it is so unaceptable for strangers, makes you feel so unwelcome.
Hope your daughter finds somewhere she can study and enjoy living.

fairy thoughts said...

Was it cold by any chance ? At least you had a few laughs at the situation. Don't bank on Plymouth bring any warmer.. DD2 did her masters there for a year ... Cold wind as I remember but at least they have student accommodation. Keep warm

Eliza said...

Why in the blue blazers are they called Oyster ????? we have card things here that have credit, don't know what they are called, Oh brain caught up they are called Myki or Mikey bloody hell it sounds like my key' LOL. I don't use the trains, trams or buses here you can tell right. I think you day of adventures was indeed freezing adventures, did you warm up in the car on the way home. I think you can thank DD for not choosing that establishment for further education. Blimey that is a s..t load of money to catch a train. Thanks for the giggle too.

Hugs Eliza

Hammers said...

Aah my beloved city - not treating visitors as well as it should. I went to University in Plymouth. I LOVED EVERY MINUTE. My advice to Ms Dunnit is go to Plymouth, it is a fun, cheap and beautiful city and much easier to navigate than London. I LOL at the purse reference. Everytime I say I'll just get my purse out here an American looks at me like I lost my mind. Cx

Sandy Leigh said...

Oh Julia! I just enjoyed the insight into your day so much. I think we're all having a fit about the Oyster card. What the heck--since when is cash money no good! And thank you for the handbag/purse/wallet clarification. Yes, we call our purses a handbag, a bag, and in the old days my mom ALWAYS called it her "pocketbook." Actually, she never stopped calling it her pocketbook. But a wallet is always a wallet or a billfold. But my favorite is the "wristlet" because it is a wallet that you've turned into a little purse and hung on your wrist. If I'm carrying an extra big bag that is doubling as a purse and tote bag, I call it the "Mother ship" because inside there's always a "dingy" or a tiny purse in case it needs a side trip.
Is Miss Dunnit interested in technical theatre? My husband has a masters in technical theatre actually--so let me know if she has any questions! I hope she finds the place she wants to go. Shocking there's no residential for first year students. Wow. Hugs! Sandy Leigh

Queenie Jeannie said...

You had me laughing and smiling the whole story!!! Yes, even about your "purse"! Although I had already been educated on that score thanks to a dear friend in Lincolnshire. Sometimes things aren't as they appear in the brochure, and I'm sure Miss Dunnit will find where she's meant to be. I hope you have warmed up a bit!!! Your photos were lovely!

Zsuzsa Karoly-Smith said...

What a fun blog post! Thanks for the pointers about the Oyster card. This valuable piece of information will probably save me from feeling like a country bumpkin one day, if only I can remember. Looking forward to reading about your shenanigans in Plymouth next, Julia!

Lisca Meijer said...

Oh dear poor you. I felt cold just reading it.
I'm in Rotterdam and the first thing I had to do was get an 'OV card', then charge it so I could use the transport system.

Princess Judy Palmer said...

Definitely tell Miss Dunnit to look into schools in warmer climates, preferably with white sandy beaches and attendant swarthy young men. Indeed! I worry about falling behind the times myself. At least our buses still take cash but parking garages don't have real people. I was with a friend in a parking garage. We paid the fee in the vending machine as required by our tag wouldn't open the gate to let us out. It had a sign stating if that happens you must call a number on your cell. I have no cell so I'd be stuck in the queue for hours! Or until someone stuck behind me called for me out of frustration.

RosA said...

Well, that was an interesting day out. I did enjoy your trip to London, but not the miserable weather. (Cold is fine, so long as it's accompanied by skiing.) I think I would have spent most of in coffee shops too :)
What a staggering amount of money to catch a train!! I think it equates to about $300AUD!! Unbelievable!
Hope Ms D finds what she's looking for. Sounds like Plymouth might be worth investigating :)