Hello dear readers,
Yes, I have borrowed my title from Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon's spectacularly uneven series about their adventures driving through the north of England eating in swish restaurants. Of course, the difference in my and Mrs Donaldson's tale of exploration is: a) we are more erudite and sophisticated b) Mrs Donaldson does not do excessive Al Pacino impersonations and mug for the camera c) we have fewer BAFTA nominations and d) most of our meals are budget.
Still, we did leave our local area in search of adventure and a pleasant way of celebrating my dear neighbour's 79th birthday on the tab of her only son, who 'does something with numbers with the government' and has been doing so for long enough not to fear the swath of forced redundancies sweeping the nation. So may I begin by first saying, Happy Birthday, Mrs Donaldson. You look younger than your years and are as spry as a 60-year-old with mild arthritis, an ambitious hair colourist and a King's capacity for sweet sherry.
Now the plan to leave London began in jest, a remark on my part in relation to my desire to write a Bill Bryson-style travel book. Being carbonated with vim and vigour, and feeling somewhat low about the turning of another page on the ever-shortening calender of life, my dear neighbour practically goaded me into action, making the arrangements herself and doing everything short of packing my bag. I suspect she would have pressed and folded my pants and socks if given the chance, which would have left me terribly uncomfortable.
The bare facts:
Mrs Donaldson arranged for us to travel via National Express coach, leaving from Victoria Station at precisely 7pm (give or take a cup of tea and the last bit of pastry being consumed by the driver) for the princely sum of £13.50 (one-way). Apparently she paid the same rate, due I would suppose to our late booking, proving rather emphatically there really is no good reason to get old anymore in our ruthless modern society. Because of her languid joints and our desire not to be separated for the journey, we also paid the £1 surcharge for priority seating. When did this blatant money grab come about? You tell me, ruthless modern society. You tell me...
Now, for international readers, to get from Islington to Victoria Station we had two options. The first was to take one of our city's famous black cabs, helmed by a well-trained and regulated driver who would have had to have passed a rigid exam. These chaps possess an intimate knowledge of both the intricate geography of the city, as well as its vibrant soul, and are tremendously professional (as long as you do not vomit or act like a prat/lunatic/French Prime Minister).
Instead we opted for a mini-cab, because frankly, they are considerably less expensive and I have an aversion to people driving and speaking, which black cab drivers are also famous for... It seems like a potentially deadly distraction. I get a tad nervous and nauseous.
Now, the key is to pre-book a mini-cab, as basically any rapist-cum-serial killer can plaster some signage on an automobile and agree to drive you to Luton. The other rather disagreeable problem with mini-cabs has largely been solved by GPS, but a decade or so ago (when I travelled more) one had a 70-30 chance of the driver either asking you to give him street by street directions or hurling an A-Z into your lap. To be fair, this only happened if you were going somewhere atypical he didn't know, like for example, your home. Drivers were more adept at locating major landmarks and airports, or a shop selling rugs owned by his uncle.
Anyway, the advent of GPS has changed the game completely. Our driver was a pleasant enough chap, and after Mrs Donaldson had thoroughly inspected his license, we settled into the back of the vehicle and had a fine 20-minute ride to our destination.
Being a dedicated walker, I admit having been somewhat agitated by the rapid acceleration and braking, tooting and hand gestures of the city's vehicular life clattering around me, but was calmed by Mrs Donaldson's firm suggestion that I 'buck up and stop moaning'. To an outsider this might sound harsh, but what my dear neighbour was actually saying was, 'It's all fine, Nate.' Communication is a generational thing...
And so, we arrived with body and soul intact for our journey to Bath, Somerset - an outpost of the Roman Empire established around 60AD as a temple to Minerva - sister city to Shower, Loofa and Bidet - home to the most remarkable natural hot springs in Britain.
Now if only I could keep my supper down on the three-hour journey...