Thursday, 9 September 2010

The Tube Strike and the Old Vic...and a Coincidence?

Click on map to enlarge.

Four million people ride the underground each weekday. Starting Monday evening tube workers went on strike for 24 hours. They were protesting the imminent firing of 800 ticket office workers. The managers argue those people are redundant while the union argues that without them riders on the tube will experience delays and other disruptions. Regardless of the issues, 4 million people needed to find alternative methods of travel: cars, bus, bicycle, walking. Four million people. That's more than the populations of Los Angeles or Houston. The result? Too many people clogging the roads. Normally it takes Erika 30-40 minutes from the house to the offices at CAPA. On Tuesday morning the same trip took over 2 1/2 hours riding on three overcrowded buses on overstuffed roads and, for the last mile or so, walking. She was very late for her class, but her students, who live within walking distance of CAPA, waited for her. 

Clikk on map to enlarge. A close up of the western portion of the tube map above. Northfields station is in the lower left quadrant along the blue line. Erika gets off at Gloucester Road and walks about 3-4 blocks to CAPA. You can see the Victoria and Waterloo stations.  Many of London's most interesting sites and museums are in the right half of the map.

Erika and I had tickets to a play that night at the historic Old Vic. The original plan was for Benedict and me to meet her at CAPA. Jim and Susan Kilfoyl also had tickets and they only live a couple of blocks away from the Old Vic, and they invited us for dinner before the play. Benedict would stay with their kids for the evening. The dilemma for Benedict and me was how to get into the city without taking  hours and hours on the buses. We canceled the plan to meet Erika at CAPA, and instead Benedict and I would go directly to Jim's and Susan's house and meet her there. Normally getting to their house is easy enough on the tube because they live close to the Waterloo Underground and Railway station on the south side of the Thames. But the strike added complications. It looked pretty bleak, and I doubted that it made sense for us to take the risk given that we might not get home Tuesday night. The strike was supposed to end in the evening, but normal tube schedules weren't expected until Wednesday morning.

We visited the Northfields Underground station to add money to my travel card, and though the Piccadilly Line's trains were suspended a couple of office workers for the underground system kept the gates to the station open for a few hours for people like me. When I asked about alternative routes they advised we try the railway as the railway system was not effected by the strike. Several major railway stations lie within the boundaries of central London, including the Victoria, which we used to get to Brighton, and the Waterloo, which travelers use to head west, such as to Reading.

That's what we did. We took a short bus ride from the Northfields's station south to the Brentford Railway station. The train stops at every little station on the way, crossing the Thames at Barnes Bridge, and ends at Waterloo. Perfect.

We arrived earlier than planned and we still had a bottle of wine to buy for dinner. Benedict and I ended up wandering up Stamford Street near a campus of King's College, one of the colleges of the University of London. We kept walking and found no place to buy wine. Suddenly someone waved and called us as we passed a bakery. Who should it be but Erika, sitting outside the bakery enjoying a cup of hot coffee and a piece of cake! She had just sat down as we walked by, oblivious. Getting across the river this afternoon was easier than getting to work this morning. She stopped at the bakery for some pastry for after dinner that night.

After coffee we wandered around some more, found a store where we bought a bottle of wine, and actually passed the Old Vic on our way to the Kilfoyl's house. They are excellent hosts and wonderful company, and Benedict has fun hanging out with John and Sarah. We adults left them their to wait for Jim's sister, Barbara, to drop by. She lives in Edinburgh and was in London for a business trip.

The play we saw at the Old Vic was a preview performance of Noel Coward's Design for Living, a rather risque romantic comedy written in 1932. The play didn't premier in London until 1939 because it was banned until then for its rather ribald plot and its sometime suggestive but extremely witty dialogue. Anyway, we thought it was fun.

An odd thing about the Old Vic is that its artistic director is an American actor, Kevin Spacey. Odd because a previous artistic director was Sir Laurence Olivier.

After the play we picked up Benedict, and  Erika and I debated whether to risk the underground or take the railway train home. I favored the railway. At Waterloo we asked a tube worker at the gate if we could get to Northfields station, and we could, by a round about path because many of the tube lines were still partially suspended including our Piccadilly Line. It only ran between Hammersmith and Heathrow. We followed his instructions and made it home just before midnight.

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