From Cologne to Charlton, the long way

Always there when you need them

It comes to something when you see a 486 bus outside Sainsbury’s in Greenwich and feel a fleeting urge to kiss the windscreen, after finding myself worn out, damp from drizzle, and desperate to get home for the first time in nearly a week. I have had many days which lasted longer than Wednesday 10 June did, but I’ve rarely had one that felt like it’d lasted for a week. Funnily enough, though, it had also been a enjoyable one. Please excuse this self-indulgence combined with some “look at me! I beat the Tube strike” nonsense.

7:45am CET (6:45am BST) – wake up in hotel in Cologne, realise I’d better get a move on. Stayed up too late last night having a bar wander and writing a blog post about a Tube strike drinking game.
8:40am CET – board swish Deutsche Bahn Inter City Express train bound for Brussels laden with bags and breakfast. Managed to get cheap first class seat, and am offered German newspapers, sweeties and, er, wet wipes as western Germany and eastern Belgium fly by.
11.00am CET – arrive at Brussels-Midi, and realise with some annoyance that I probably could have got away with getting a Eurostar train due to leave in just less than half an hour. Instead, I have three hours to kill in a city I found pretty underwhelming when I first visited it a few days before.
11.30am CET Glare at underwhelming Mannekin Pis, try to find bar recommended by pal. Fail.
1.15pm CET Use crappy internet cafe using crappy Windows PCs on a crappy connections in crappy Brussels Midi station to catch up with home stuff. See the Tube strike drinking game page views have gone through the roof, but am disappointed to discover that Boris didn’t go by bike after all.
2.15pm CET Enter Eurosnore check-in zone.
2.59pm CET We pull off.
3.40pm CET Just as it starts to tip down with train somewhere in northern France, the train manager announces there is a problem with one of the engines. I swear he said we’d have to terminate at Ebbsfleet International, the useless car-friendly stop in Northfleet. In the end, we didn’t, but our ride to London is slower than usual.
4.15pm BST Arrive at St Pancras, greeted by chaos a sea of black cabs. Walk straight onto a 214 bus, heading north. It all seems business as usual for Tube strike day – a slightly “stickier” feel to getting around London, but it’s by no means impossible.
4.45pm BST Leave bags at a pal’s work in Camden Town, head to Camden Road railway station.
5.20pm BST The North London Line is jam-packed, but on the whole people are being decent and friendly to each other. We chance it and head onto Willesden Junction, aiming to get to Wembley Central…
5.40pm BST …which has already been closed, along with every other station that England fans could possibly use. This is the kind of thinking that makes Britain great, eh? Maybe Boris could pen a witty column about it for the Telegraph one day. Out onto the mean streets of Harlesden, and the Harrow Road is like a car pack, with buses packed to the gills. There’s nothing else for it, but to put our best feet forward and walk.
6.40pm BST Harlesden to Wembley is probably London’s least picturesque walk, as a rough corner of the inner city opens up into beaten-up suburbs. I don’t think I’ll be in a rush to include it in my future strolling plans. But walking was only slightly slower than going by bus, as it turned out, and far better for the mind.
7.00pm BST Take seat in near-empty stadium.
8.15pm BST Kick-off in England v Andorra. No chants of “Bob Crow is a wanker”, alas, although I thought I heard someone try one about Boris. Atmosphere’s too family-friendly and fizzy for that, though (although why do England fans boo Ashley Cole? Yes, he’s a vain, greedy, thick arse, but booing a footballer from your own side for that is like jeering a bus for being red).
9.00pm BST Half-time, and it is announced that Wembley’s two Tube stations will be open for business after the match. It gets one of the biggest cheers of the night.
10.30pm BST After a 6-0 win, it’s more or less straight onto a Jubilee Line train at Wembley Park. What strike?
11.15pm BST North Greenwich station swarming with fans from the Britney Spears show at the Dome. It looks like a slow business getting the fans out, with armies of extra marshals and loads of extra buses to supplement the Tube, but it seems to be working. Ssssh, don’t tell Boris, but they were running bendy buses to meet extra trains at Charlton. Wonder if RMT members drove those extra trains?
Midnight – Home after pit-stop at Sainsbury’s. Collapse.

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