Travels: London: Friday 18th August 2000

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On arriving at Cambridge station platform 3 at 16:01, the only person there was Jonathan Dimbleby (using a mobile phone). There was a late rush to board just before the 16:15 non-stop train left (1 minute late). I bought a can of Pepsi (there being no Coca-Cola available) from the trolley service - for 75p. Ouch!

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I took a taxi to the Bonnington Hotel in Southampton Row (the north-east corner of "theatreland"). I was pleasantly surprised by the fare - just over 4 - having heard so many comments about London taxi prices. I half expected it to be nearer 10. The taxi radio announced the Test Match (v. West Indies) had just ended after less than two days!

I'd booked my room on Sunday, using Lastminute for the first time (75). Before that I'd tried phoning the Travel Inn (Whitbread; all rooms 69) in County Hall but no-one answered. I phoned the hotel on Thursday morning just to be sure the room was booked!

Room facilities (at this relative cost) have come on since I was last in a hotel room. The wardrobe had just been fitted with a safe, operated by charge card. The Philips TV was also a radio, alarm clock and had pay-per-view programmes plus a games console. There was a hair dryer and a trouser press.

I was in two minds about whether to get to the theatre by taxi or foot: it was largely cloudy with the potential for rain once the sun set. From looking at a map I reckoned it should take around 20-25 minutes to walk there and set off about 19:00. Partly to go via wider pavements and partly to avoid any Friday evening drunken revellers around Covent Garden (the more direct route), I went via Kingsway, Aldwych (spotting the Duchess Theatre, with Copenhagen on, which I was thinking of seeing the following day) and the Victoria Embankment, arriving at the theatre at 19:20.
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To kill time I carried on up Northumberland Avenue and at last found the famous Sherlock Holmes pub at the corner of Northumberland Street and Craven Passage. It's also a museum for the collection of the Sherlock Holmes Society of London. There were crowds of suits inside and out - ditto at the other end of the Passage at the Ship and Shovell. I decided to return after the show, as most drinkers would have dispersed to their suburban homes by then.

I walked on through the Arches Arcade to Villiers Street, through Embankment Place arcade round to the theatre.

Afterwards (about 22:10) I went past the stage entrance (and the large crowd of fans there) to the two pubs. These were now only about half full and no-one was outside but I could see there was no interesting beer on. Instead I walked up Villiers Street and along the Strand, back around Aldwych and past the Duchess Theatre in Catherine Street, around Drury Lane Theatre, up Drury Lane to Long Acre.
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I noticed the Freemasons Arms was to the the left (recommended in the Good Beer Guide and where the Football Association was founded) and approached it but very loud music was blaring, so I carried on back to the hotel via Drury Lane and High Holborn.

There were a lot of people of all types about even though there was some drizzle. Beforehand I wondered how safe I'd feel and how many drunks there'd be. The general view seems to be that theatreland and similar parts of central London are pretty safe: the key is probably the mix of ages and venues.
[The Cambridge Drinking Circuit]
By comparison many British cities have developed areas called "drinking circuits" which are decidedly dodgy and no-go for many people on Friday and Saturday nights. In turn this has hastened the deployment of CCTV in lieu of proper policing.


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