LONDON LETTER: Country bumpkin man of the world

I’VE always been happier in the countryside than in cities, but I don’t regard myself as a bumpkin.

Well, not until I recently went to London, which I now avoid like the clichéd plague if I can.

Unfortunately, management loves it. To her, it’s the most exciting metropolis in the world. She used to mention it in the same breathless awe as Paris. Both cities have terrorist problems, but Paris, I’m afraid, is an ISIS hotbed.

So London is the best, in management’s view.

Consequently, when our one brat recently suggested we come into the Big Smoke for a few brewskis and a bite, management accepted with alacrity. In fact, before I could say ‘golly gosh’ we were on the train.

We decided to meet at Clapham, which is close to where the brat lives, and also on the direct train line to our village.

Only problem was that the train stopped at Clapham Junction, but the restaurant we were meeting at was in Clapham Common.

No problem. We would walk there. To do this I had to break a lifelong habit of never asking for directions and consulted a pavement artist outside the station.

No problem, he said. Just catch the no. 67 bus.

No, I said; we wanted to walk.

This completely confused him. No one walks in London, and he didn’t actually know the way by foot. He pointed in the general direction and we set off.

Soon it was obvious we were getting nowhere. This time management popped into a café and asked where the hell were we.

The fact that we wanted to walk was again treated with astonishment and were instead told that a taxi rank was just down the road.

The café attendant also had no clue how to get to Clapham Common on two legs. She pointed in another direction.

After 20 minutes, I admitted defeat. We were now late for dinner and, more importantly, I needed a brewski.

I was also tired of asking for directions that are only a few blocks away but seemingly inaccessible by foot.Stroke of luckThen we had a stroke of luck. Bus no. 67 suddenly appeared – the one the pavement artist had mentioned.

I asked if it was going to Clapham Common. The bus driver initially seemed stunned that someone was talking to him, then replied that there were three stops in Clapham Common.

I had no idea which one, so decided to wing it. I then gave him £10 and asked for two tickets.

He looked to see if I was wearing a straitjacket. You don’t pay cash on London buses – it’s card only. So I produced some plastic and repeated my request.

The driver shook his head, now annoyed. You can’t buy two tickets on one card, he explained, as if talking to a toddler.

Fortunately, management also had plastic on her.

Going by gut-feeling, we jumped off at the second stop. And there, right in front of us, was the restaurant.

It was a fantastic evening at the North African-themed brasserie. London is unquestionably the gastronomical centre of Europe and you can savour every type of cuisine imaginable, except British. But then again, you don’t really want to go out for bangers and mash.

After several brewskis and gourmet grub, I recounted our ‘adventure’ in trying to navigate just one simple mile of London.

After laughing more than necessary, the brat took pity on us and called an Uber taxi to return the yokels to Clapham Junction.

He and his squeeze were going back to her pad in Brixton, which was once almost exclusively a Caribbean enclave, but now the hipsters have moved in.

Sadly, the error of my bumpkin ways was not over. I tried to pay the Uber driver and saw him peering over my shoulder to see if a spaceship had landed.

Everyone knows that Uber are only account-operated. Except me.

An hour later we arrived at our village station. I swaggered over to a non-Uber cab and told him to take us home. And make it quick.

He didn’t rip me off. He could see I’m a man of the world.

Graham Spence

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