Another grey day dawns over the Home Counties in South East England, the terraced inter-war houses of the London boroughs streak past as the train rushes to Victoria. Thousands of homes, thousands of lives, each going about their own business, each with hopes and dreams, and worries and fears, and each trapped in their own small world, a harbour, an oasis from the vast stormy oceans, and baking arid deserts of the real world.
A large sweaty man in a blue vest cracks open a can of energy drink, the strong stench permeates the carriage, reminds me of unpleasant nights out, and ruins the imagery I’ve just constructed (aided by a bloke with a broken arm and a Big Mac who enters stage right). This is London, the real London, not the London that is polished and made presentable to tourist boards and foreigners the world over.
The train arrives, the crowd surges towards the ticket barrier like some frenzied swarm of hornets. A sudden thought strikes me, is my ticket valid before 10am? I put it into the machine. And hope. “Take ticket, seek assistance”, are the words that greet my eyes. Ah. I frantically scour my pockets for my railcard and show the inspector. He waves me through. I breathe a sigh of relief, and descend into the labyrinthine abyss of the tube. That venerable underground rail network, keeping London moving for a century and a half beneath the streets, like arteries throughout the body. Two stops, two lines, and I’m out, out of the baking heat, the stale air, and the cramped, crowded trains.
I emerge in St. James. The tall Georgian buildings standing proud, built as a testament to the wealth and power of a long forgotten and hushed up era, when this tiny island really did rule the waves. The only reminder of the past that dares to show that chapter of history today. British embarrassment and awkwardness have taken hold, making the subject seldom spoken about in the 21st century. War memorials and statues of famous leaders greet me as I pass them on the way to the office, a monument to Crimea, and a Viceroy of India.
The medical is over, and once more I’m spat out, back into the sprawling metropolis. I sit in a café and nurse a cup of tea, waiting for my friend XYL. She, like TKC, is returning home after university. However, she is from Shenzhen. The result? Much greater difficulty to meet up if she stays in Mainland China. We both require visas to visit one another’s country. Great expense and hassle for all parties. A good friendship put at risk by two powerful governments with an obsession, reverence, and adoration of the gods of bureaucracy. Modern life is fraught with complications.
We elected for 火锅 for lunch, and it was a feast for both eyes and stomach. Lots of food, with plenty of variety were boiled in the bubbling soup, and we lunched and chatted for around 3 hours.
Time now for the return journey, back through the warren of the underground, followed by the slow journey through the suburbs, back to the verdant Surrey Hills.
All in all, a good day!