Our Travel blog
Tuesday 24 May
Today we travelled to London and meet up with James and Juliet for a meal and some wandering around the shops. First though we had a 2 mile walk to the station which started through woods adjoining the site. Emerging from these we found ourselves at the tail end of a party of 20 or so ramblers, all looking determined and dressed in walking gear. Walking gear is distinguished from every day apparel by having a generous pocket to garment ratio, too many zips and the occasional carabiner clipped on in a casually alluring way. Quite why people going for a walk inside the M25 need a metal clip designed to fasten you to a mountain is a mystery, but I do sympathise. I have a few myself and can testify that there is something butch about a carabiner dangling from your trousers. You feel more professional and in your mind that passing stranger takes a glance and thinks 'gosh, they must scale lofty peaks in gale force winds and hang precariously with one hand from icy Alps, the sexy beast.' Then your carabiner gives one final wink in the sunlight and you disappear into the undergrowth leaving the stranger thinking improper thoughts and panting. Meanwhile on the other side of the hedge you continue looking for the number 7 bus to Croydon;
the stranger doesn't know you are off to buy stamps and corn plasters, obviously because you were wearing a carabiner.
Alison fell into conversation with the group leader, a man whose appearance was so rural you could put him in a smock to sell cider. His face was rugged, defined by cheery laughter lines and had a glowing ruddy complexion. He had a shock of white hair that did its own thing independently from its owner and a chin strap silver beard that hung from a face that smiled easily. When he talked his face seemed to double in length to accommodate pearly white teeth and a throaty guffaw. He told us the walking club has over 60 members and they run walks 3-4 times a week. This one was a 6 mile amble to a pub and everyone on it looked to be past retirement and cheerful. He broke off to shepherd the group over a road and bade us farewell with an invitation to join the group and a parting friendly wave.
As we wove our way through, several hikers spoke to us, asking us to join them, warning us not to drink the pub dry if we beat them to it and generally being wonderfully happy in their gentle exercise. It was a sunny morning and they set us up for the push over a hill and down towards the M23 on a path of exposed chalk. We joined the North Downs Way and followed it under the motorway and through a charming meadow of wild flowers and bird song, surprisingly peaceful considering it is sandwiched between the M23 and the roaring M25, Britain’s busiest road. Crossing the M25 we descended into Mertsham and found the tiny station nestling in the leafy suburb.
We went to a Japanese restaurant where you choose a broth and dipping sauce and the food comes around on a conveyor belt that chugs between the dining areas set around it. The idea is to choose something from the belt as it passes and cook it in the broth that sits bubbling away on a warming plate in front of you. To aid this you're provided with chop sticks, a pair of tweezers and a tea strainer like wire basket on a long handle to fish out your food.
Our company were both adept with chopsticks and the concept so were soon tucking into hot noodles and suchlike. We however were less skilled and our table space soon became a smear of spilled food and broth. At one point the waiter approached to see if I needed another lemonade because I'd mistakenly just dipped Pak Choi in the one I had. I looked up with a face splattered in bright red sauce and a noodle hanging out of my mouth. It must have looked like I was eating a live baby octopus.
After a while I started staking lumps of tofu with my chop sticks in the manner of a spear fisherman and finally resorted to scooping everything out with my little wire net. It was all great fun and I took to experimenting with cooking times, was given more broth because everyone seated near me was wearing my first bowl and ignored my companions in my earnest concentration to snag mushrooms that teased me by rising and falling in the broth. At one point I swear something broke the surface and winked at me, but I may just have been over doing the chilli.
Alison meanwhile took to knitting together her noodles and slurping one long strand of about 2 ft long, the tail end of which whiplashed onto her forehead leaving a pleasing stain, like a tattoo after surviving a tribal initiation into adulthood. We eventually finished, a kindly James guided me to the wash room to clean up while the other diners applauded the entertainment we'd provided and the waiters put hazard tape around my seat and phoned the industrial cleaners.
Appetites duly sated the four of us hit London and did some light shopping then had coffee and hot chocolate in Covent Garden where the waitress took one look at my food speckled attire and sat us outside, all the easier to hose down if I ordered anything more challenging than a beaker of tap water. We generally mooched about before heading to The Barbican to avail ourselves of their rather splendid self-service restaurant, which passed without any undue dining calamities.
We parted on the train where they caught a connecting train to Brighton and on our arrival back in Mertsham we spent a good while waiting for a taxi for the return to Mavis in the dark.
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