Monday, 24 September 2012

London Fever

London can be bad for your mental health. It can make you quite unwell. This weekend took me to the middle of the country, a train to Winchester then a half hour drive to some dark space between the galaxies, far, far away. Working with horses early at 8am on Sunday, it was a simple day-trip to the country.


First signs
Going abroad used to be a longwinded process. Vaccinations and visas are of course no longer usually required to go to France but you used to have to make plans over which currencies you might need, there was a time before e-tickets, you had to phone to confirm your flight, the whole thing was just a lot more of an ordeal. My God, people actually used to buy travellers cheques. I had them once - money that you have to change before you can use it and which you have to pay for. What was that about? The first sign of London fever is where you start seeing leaving London in this way. Before catching the train I withdrew £100. The nervous anxiety that outside London there's only one cashpoint per county, that nowhere accepts plastic, that a beautiful ancient antique built by a druid would have to be returned to the shelf because the medieval bank was only open in the morning at dawn when everyone else trades their wares for cash still attached to the gold standard, had taken hold. Twenty minutes after the train's pulled away you see for the first time the unadulterated natural world. In the heart of Exeter you can always see the hills; in Cambridge you never really feel that you've left the countryside. In London you can go months without seeing an unmanicured stalk. And then you arrive in pretty little Winchester.

Culture-shock
Winchester is designed to confuse you. There was a sign for the cathedral where I was meeting a friend to drive on to the wedding. After that no more signs. I asked a local who pointed me in the right direction advising me to turn right at Monsoon, where she clearly bought all her clothes. There were some comforting reminders of London, like Thieves and Crooks (Gieves and Hawkes), but I was as unable to afford anything there as in London; and I was surprised to see a Loch Fyne restaurant, mainly because I figured that by the time the fish had made the two-day wagon ride from Southampton they probably wouldn't be in great shape. The centre was full of people, all very casually dressed. I suspect many of them had been out back earlier on making butter. It turned out then that my friend had been "joking" so I went back to meet him at the station. There were plenty of signs for this but they had been clearly designed to take you on the most circuitous route possible past every single shop (of which there were at least nine). Which was annoying. I did however pass an AMAZING bakery and had the most delicious sandwich IN THE WORLD, in which the bread was infused with cheese. INFUSED. CHEESE. Amazing.

A Very Big House in the Country
My friend has devised an amazing strategy for navigation. He goes to google maps to note every turn off, but the clever thing is he then goes to street view and memorizes the scene so as to remember it when driving. Clever huh? I've no idea whether I could manage it but he didn't make a single mistake and we were genuinely in the middle of nowhere. I was a little concerned that the trip back would cost a fortune as a solo-taxi is not the most economical way to travel. When I got to the house I went through the list of local companies. The first three "companies" didn't answer the phone. When I phoned the next one it was a clear the "company" really was just a bloke with a car. He couldn't take me - my guess is that he was staying in to watch the X-factor. Amazingly the next company also refused to take me - this is 10pm on a Saturday night booked at lunch time - you'd think it would be a little more straight-forward. Anyway after some umming and ahhing I got an old man to agree to come fetch me. Turns out he was an old dear and chatted amicably while I drunkenly jibbered at him all the way home, mooning over having to leave an excellent party early. The wedding was awesome - there was a cupcake wedding-cake and they had boule and hoopla in the garden. Old school. It only took two hours or so to get home. Not actually that long. Try and get home from Dulwich "village" on a Sunday, a mere 8 miles away and you won't be in bed much sooner. Then again Dulwich and Winchester have more than a little in common, and quite possible a significant overlap in population.

So London-fever, can be overcome. You just have to try not to be a dick and give in to zone one or even zone six snobbery. Definitely take out a lot of money - that taxi was pricey. And buy a sandwich. INFUSED WITH CHEESE.

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