London, Feb 2020 – heavy metal and museums

I’ve not posted anything on here in a while and wanted to document my recent trip to London with Austin (my son) to see his favourite band… Sabaton! We hopped on a train on the Friday and got to London in good time for a KFC once we’d checked into Clink261 where I stayed last year on the way to Germany. A cracking hostel, a very short walk from Kings X / Euston.

The weather wasn’t great – one of those named storms came in – but we got pretty lucky with the weather. Most of Saturday was free, so we walked down to the British Museum and then on the Imperial War Museum where we had lunch with a very long-standing friend (notice that I avoided saying “old”), Alison. It must be a decade since we last met up, and it was great to finally see her again. We grew up together and have literally known each other all our lives.

With Sabaton’s Pär

Austin and I made it to Wembley Arena in good time for our interview slot (just!), and I used his questions to find out some details about the band from founder member and bassist Pär Sundström. It’s the third time I’ve interviewed him, so I was glad of the help coming up with the questions!

The gig was amazing. Everything we’d hoped for and more. The review is over on the Moshville Times site. We even got an invitation to the after-show party! OK, so the raucous days of Motley Crue and the like are kind of gone (especially when you involve lovely guys like the Sabaton crew) so it was OK to take an 11 year old with me. We had a quick drink each (lager for me, Coke for him), wept over the fact that it cost over a tenner, got an autograph and left. The time was well spent as it meant that the Tube station wasn’t packed by the time we got there. Oh, and thanks to Kaie for the McDs at dinner!

I’d opted to spend an extra day in London rather than heading back on the Sunday, which turned out to be a good thing as almost every train and flight was cancelled due to the weather. We popped down to the Natural History Museum which was rammed with people avoiding the bad weather. The dinosaurs were, of course, the first stop and then we walked around The Cocoon which shows a lot of behind the scenes stuff. Really interesting.

Imperial War Museum

For lunch, Austin opted for a Burger King so we walked along the road in the weather that seemed to be freaking out a lot of the locals. Honestly, you can tell they’ve never been to Glasgow. I mean, it was wet but hardly much more than a heavy shower! After lunch we went back to the NHS and explored the Human Biology exhibit. Which opened with “creating life”. Which led onto that talk… Hey ho. Every day a learning day!

We had enough time to go to the Science Museum before it closed, and I was really happy to find they had a decoding / encryption exhibition on in the basement. I wonder if we have time to organise a school trip before it ends…? Austin had been a little bored just looking at things, but got absolutely buried in decoding messages in the activity area to the point that they had to usher us out at closing time!

For dinner we completed the “set” and had a Subway each, and used the rest of the evening to chill out. Unfortunately we couldn’t shower as there had been a blockage in the pipes at the hostel and only the ones on the ground floor were working. Likewise the toilets… Not a major problem if people aren’t selfish, but I did have to yell at two guys who had hogged the cubicles in the gents for 15 minutes. Come on, if you’re taking that long to poo then you need a doctor not a lavatory!

Monday was a challenge, though. I signed up to travel alerts from Avanti West Coast as I knew there was still disruption from the Sunday. The first email told me to watch for more alerts. Then I was told that trains could get to Preston and a bus would cover the rest of the journey due to flooding. Then I was told all trains were cancelled from Euston and to go home via Kings X and Edinburgh. Then it was updated again to tell me that the train would leave from Euston after all, 27 minutes late, and go via an altered route to be back on schedule from Crewe.

At the show!

So off we walked to Euston only to find that the train wasn’t on the board. Or any others to Glasgow. Checking at information, we were told to go to Kings X, which contradicted Avanti’s email and website. Of course, we’d walked past Kings X so get to Euston… A hurried plod back there and we waited for the platform announcement we needed. And then we ran like hell to get a seat. Credit to Austin he flew as we headed for the front carriage (most people obviously went for the nearer ones) so we could grab a table, which we did. Teamwork!

On the way up, my phone kept buzzing. WordPress was informing me that our traffic was somewhat higher than normal. Sabaton had shared out review on facebook and it got a ton of views! A nice ego boost as the weather went from bad to worse outside.

We made Edinburgh in good time, Austin stopped me getting off in Newcastle when I felt homesick, and we managed to get a ScotRail train through the light snow to Bearsden so I could drop him right back with his mum. As a bonus, his big sister happened to be on the same train! Small world!

As it stands – this is the Friday after – my “Delay Repay” for the journey down has been refused by Avanti and I’m appealing it. They claim that the ticket I provided wasn’t valid for the journey I was on. Which is crap as it’s the exact same ticket their conductor scanned, and he’s the one who told everyone to claim as we were almost half an hour late arriving. I’ve also got a claim in for the Monday as we were over ninety minutes late getting home then. Of course, there’s no claim option for “train cancelled, had to get alternative service” so we’ll see how that works out.

Wacken 2019: To Germany!

While Wacken is off to the west of the country, near Hamburg, I’ve never been to Berlin despite hearing many great things about it. Time to fix that.

I’d checked flights, but worked out that train was about the same price, about the same time, far more comfortable and dropped me off 50m from a hostel. So after waving bye-bye to Joy, I headed to the international terminal at St Pancras and jumped on a Eurostar to Brussels. Then promptly fell asleep. I woke up briefly and the cars we were zooming past were on the wrong side so I assumed we were in France (or the police in Kent were in for a bad day). I nodded off again and my phone told me I was now in Belgium.

After a minor panic getting my 4G to work even though I thought I’d set it all up before leaving, we pulled into Brussels and I located the first of my German trains. A short while later I made a final change onto the one which would take me to Berlin.

I got talking to a nice German lady (who’s near-opening shot was “What on earth is that Boris Johnson doing?”) for most of the trip, and she helped me decipher the conductor’s instructions that we change carriage as, due to an electrical fault, the aircon was borked. Sadly this meant being moved to first class.

We pulled into Berlin Hauptbahnhopf a shade over 7 minutes late which isn’t bad for an interrupted journey (they had to make an unscheduled stop to get everyone to move carriage) and my hostel was ridiculously easy to find. I’m currently ensconced in the Meininger by the train station and it’s pretty much like a budget hotel only with two bunks in each dorm room.

Berlin is like the UK a while ago – it’s hit and miss if people will take card payments and everywhere closes around 9-10pm, but after some hiking I managed to find a place called Curry-One which sold me a “Berlin Menu”: currywurst, chips, mayo, ketchup and beer for €6.50. Very nice it was, too!

Job done, back to the hostel and asleep on top of the covers in the top bunk as it was so bloody warm!

Wacken 2019: Acton and Bloodywood

Long story short as I’ve got a lot to get through! Up, breakfast, met Joy at Victoria station (11 years since we last crossed paths, apparently!). We headed to Backpackershack in Acton where I’d managed to find space for two bodies. A bit of a hike but a nice enough place above a pub. The lady who let us in and sorted the room was from Glasgow!

Back east and a stop off for brunch to catch up with Andy, Shalene and the not-that-small-any-more Alex (and also Shalene’s dad, who was visiting). Lovely to see them, as always, and as a bonus I had my first ever Macedonian beer.

After that, up to Islington to locate the ridiculously well-hidden Academy2 and Katie who was doing photos for the gig tonight. Burgers, chips and drinks and then off to the gig which you can read all about on The Moshville Times once the review’s been proofread and published!

“Home”, tea, bed and an early start in the morning…

Wacken 2019: Wandering London

As is my habit, I like just… walking. I’ve been to London umpteen times (nice place to visit, don’t want to live there) and there’s always something new to see and do, usually for nothing. As well as the other stuff that’s stupidly expensive.

This morning at 10:30 (after a £2.50 breakfast that absolutely stuffed me) I left Clink-261, turned left, walked to Kings Cross, turned left onto Euston Road… and kept going. Well, I stopped at the Wellcome Trust that I’d missed on many occasions. I was just in time to get a little tour based around “what happens to our bodies in space?” before wandering around their current “Psychology of Magic” exhibition on the ground floor. Great stuff and all free.

My aim was to head down to Westminster as it’s been a long time since I walked past the Parliament Buildings and the Cathedral. It took me a good while to get down there, passing through the Magnum ice cream shop that’s opened up on Leicester Square, down a few smaller streets because the looked interesting and so on. I dodged the people giving out free cold cans of Pepsi Max because it tastes like stale money piss (why don’t you give out cans of proper Pepsi? Oh, that’s right, it’s because people actually like it so you don’t need to foist it on them to get rid of your excess stock), and finally made it to Downing Street which has a lot of security for what is now effectively a literal monkey house. Ook, ook, Boris. You mop-headed gimp.

From there to Westminster where I’m still impressed by the scale and architecture of both the political and religious structures, though both are currently largely shrouded in scaffolding which is a shame. Democratically elected morons and people who believe in fairy tales aside, they’re both fantastic buildings visually. A shame they’re both inhabited by those with destructive egos.

Down to the River and over one of the many bridges to the south side as I wanted to pass by the Shard. No reason other than I’ve not been there before. Again, a nice wander looking at nice buildings, and a quick stop in at a museum of art and science where I again lucked out by arriving when a little tour had just started. The exhibits were pretty cool – mainly focused on the current topic of dark matter – if more arty than science-y. There was a woman in our little group who had two children with her, a boy of around 8 and a girl maybe 4 years old. He was very observant, and his little sister asked incredible questions. I passed a little comment to her mum at the end and told her never to stop her doing so – a little girl with a mind like that has the makings of being a brilliant scientist in her own right!

On past a large railway carriage covered in gigantic ants (yeah… I know, odd) and then to Tower Bridge and the Tower of London itself. I crossed here knowing, because my memory remembers shit like this from 20 years ago, there’s a KFC in an underground location near the Tower that sells beer! Well. Budweiser. But hey. I found it with not trouble, but was disappointed to find that they no longer sell beer. Boo! I was hungry so ordered a meal… only to find that they also didn’t sell any drinks with sugar in! So, erm, no. Order cancelled, I walked off and looked for a McD’s instead.

I didn’t find one. Seriously, I walked all the way past the rear of St Paul’s (there’s a joke there somewhere) and all the way back to the hostel without passing one! Incidentally, I’d aimed to get from where I was back to the hostel by 5pm. I walked through the door at 17:00. On the dot. I also hadn’t stopped for anything to eat or drink since I set off in the morning. Oops.

As it happens, there was a McDs a 2 minute walk up the road so I splurged £1.99 on a Big Mac and chips before meeting Jonathan for dinner (well, his dinner) and drinks round the corner. Jon, I checked – it was 2001 the last time we met! Bloody hell.

A great night was had between two bars and several pints before he headed off and I collapsed into the 18-bed sweat-pit.

On an additional point, I’ve found London very pleasant on this visit especially given the hot weather which normally makes people short tempered. Sure, the drivers are all dicks (what’s new), but everyone else has been lovely and polite. I even had two people compliment me on my (pink rainbow Death Metal) t-shirt!

Wacken 2019: London first

I’ve not updated this blog in bloody ages so I’m going to use the trip to Wacken as an excuse to put up some garbage that none of you will read.

Wacken may be in Germany, but as usual I decided to head through London for a day or two to chill out and to catch up with old friends as I do most years. The sweet spot for train tickets (£30) this time was the Thursday evening. Unfortunately this was Niamh’s birthday but at least I got to see her in the morning when she woke up where I’d missed the entire day last year as I was in Slovenia covering Metal Days.

So, come 2pm and I started packing in the knowledge that I had to be out of the house by just after 3… Fortunately I travel light. Courtesy of EasyJet (and every other budget airline) now saying you can only have one tiny bit of carry-on luggage without paying £30+ for another bag, I’d picked up an appropriately small wheeled suitcase and ensured it had enough room in it to stuff my daybag for the flight back. Journey out: denim jacket in suitcase. Journey back, that space taken up by backpack while I wear the jacket.

Beyond that, one plug bar, a foreign plug adaptor, 5 t-shirts, 8 pairs of socks, 5 pairs of undies, a spare novel, a lightweight pair of trousers and my trainers. I chucked in some chocolate bars and peanuts I could snack on throughout the week and some toiletries I could throw away before the flight (because heaven forbid I try to down a Boeing 747 using 10ml of toothpaste).

Time was getting tight for my train to London, so I hopped on a bus into Glasgow (which turned out to be almost twice the price I expected – I’d have been better off getting the train), and went through my usual mild panic waiting for it to get to Glasgow Central. Just as Google Maps was telling me to stand up for the final stop, the bus hung a sharp left and kept going. And going. And going. Eventually dropping me off at the wrong train station.

I belted through the heavy crowds in the hot sun, knackered a wheel on my suitcase, sprinted into Central Station only to find… my train had been delayed by 50 minutes. Turns out that the overhead cables in London don’t like 40-degree heat and melt or something. Bizarrely this had caused problems with the rail network.

Well, I eventually made it to London over an hour late (which means I qualify for my ticket to be fully refunded) and I only got soaked a little bit as the aircon in the carried crapped itself having to deal with heat and leaked profusely from the ceiling several times. I mean, it’s not like it’s actually what they’re built for or anything.

Thankfully Clink-261 (10 mins walk from Euston) has a 24 hour reception. My 18-bed dorm, filled with very sweaty yet considerate people, had an air conditioner the side of a hair dryer in the corner which was making apologetic noises for how ineffectual it was. Thankfully months of acclimatisation in $3 per night Bangkok hostels came back and I slept moderately well despite one cohabitant snoring like a pig oinking underwater. Through a megaphone.