Holiday Day eight (March 9th) London to Toronto
Cabbies and Carriages
Today’s story is about the journey from London to Toronto.
We checked out of the Travelodge, and while doing so, asked about a taxi to the airport. That was easy enough. You simply press a button on the counter and a moment later, the receptionist gives you a cab number. Five minutes later, a few steps away on Drury Lane, there’s a car waiting for you. In our case, it was a traditional black cab driven by a young man called Christian who came complete with a reassuring East End accent.
There’s something about a London black cab that only the British could pull off. For a start, a black cab’s real title is still a hackney carriage, as if Britain were still living in the 19th century. (Currently, I think it is; the country still has duel carriageways.) The origins of the use of ‘hackney’ date back to 1654 when parliament passed “An Ordinance for the Regulation of Hackney-Coachmen in London and the places adjacent”, which was intended to remedy what it described as the “many Inconveniences [that] do daily arise by reason of the late increase and great irregularity of Hackney Coaches and Hackney Coachmen in London, Westminster and the places thereabouts.” Hackney, then a village in Middlesex and now part of Greater London, was renown for its meadows and horses, and the original pullers of the carriages were from Hackney. Thus, we took a hackney carriage driven by a man from Hackney, under 450 horsepower as opposed to one beleaguered old nag.
Whatever, Christian whisked us to Heathrow with the minimum of cabbie blarney and personal thoughts on West Ham FC and immigration and even offered us hand-san before and after the ride.
Her Majesty very kindly gave us the use of her terminal for our check-in, but as we were early, there was plenty of time for a Costa (small fortune) coffee while we waited to meet our tour manager. From here on, we were travelling under the wing of Great Rail Journeys on their escorted ‘The Canadian in Winter’ tour.
A few weeks previously, our tour pack had arrived including the name and phone number of our manager, Keith, and bang on nine o’clock, I met him just inside the terminal entrance. Keith was (and I hope, still is), a tall, broadly-built Yorkshireman in, I’d say, his sixties, who was very experienced in taking tours to all kinds of places.
[Note: I have to be careful what I say about whom because some of the people we met on the tour are reading this (Jude, Alison… I know who you are). I am prone to forget details and miss things out, so let me know if I get anything majorly wrong, but remember this is written from my perspective, eight months after the events, and comes from my fading memory.]
‘Collins and Gosling’ I announced as if we were representing someone in court, and we were duly ticked off the list and given our papers for check-in. Now then, when I booked this tour and paid the deposit back in December 2018, I’d noticed that the company offered upgrades on the flights. Thinking it might be a special treat on the way back, I asked how much an upgrade to premium economy might cost for the return journey. When I’d picked myself up off the floor, I (think I) agreed, and asked what the cost would be for both journeys. I was told that they didn’t have a quote for the outbound upgrade at that time, but they’d made a note to contact me when they knew. Then Christmas happened, and I forgot all about it. So, when we came to check-in, I was expecting the usual cattle-class treatment, but strangely, we’d been upgraded to PE for the outward journey. Must have booked that one the wrong way around, I later thought, but at the time, was convinced someone had made a mistake to our advantage, and I still am.
Either way, we were treated like lords at check-in, and sailed through the barriers and security, the pat-down and strip search… Actually, no, only joking, but once you’ve removed your shoes, jackets and belt, and your trousers have fallen down halfway through the scanner, you might as well have been led off to a room and de-clothed; it would be less embarrassing. I do wonder if, when a person is strip-searched and contraband is discovered, does the criminal later tell their cellmate he was fingered at Heathrow? Just a thought.
The bears, naturally, were excited to be flying, especially Little Pad who’d only flown once, to London from his factory in Taiwan, and even then, he was in a packing crate. Paddington had flown before many times. We found him waiting for us in 2007 when we stopped off in Brighton on our way to South America. Jenine had sent him as a travelling companion, and since, he has been on every major trip we’ve taken. So far, Padders has been to Peru (where, strangely, no-one had heard of him), Ecuador, Scotland, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Romania, Serbia and Austria, and a couple of years ago, went on holiday with Jenine and the boys to Athens and Corinth. So, Paddington knows how to behave at the airport.
He’s also met a few stars.
The travelator route at the Queen’s Terminal is overlooked by large photos of pop/rock stars and events. If you like to play Where’s Wally, then you will have a great time with this next photo.
Taken on July 13th, 1985, it shows the stage at Live Aid. Somewhere in the front of that crowd, you can find our own special wally, Neil, waving his arms and doing whatever youths do at these events. At the same time, I was driving past on my way from Baron’s Court to somewhere unholy in Essex for a party. I was taking friends across town, the party was dreadful, and I ended up sleeping in the car. But that’s another story, and now back to this one:
In the Air
The flight was with Air Canada, and everything ran perfectly. We had that priority boarding thing, which I always think is totally unnecessary unless you have medical or mobility needs, because, let’s face it, no-one’s going to take off any earlier than anyone else, but it did give us time to explore our seats in cattle-class-plus. As with the theatre tickets we had lavished my pension on, we were in the front row, and with so much legroom, I could have done yoga in the gap between me and the wall dividing us from business class. Except, of course, I can’t do yoga and only get into those unlikely positions following an accident.
We had our own movable monitors, complimentary things we’d never use, hot and cold running waiters, even cloths on the trays when lunch came. They also gave us real cutlery, which somewhat negates the ‘no knives or sharp objects’ security arrangements so stringently enforced at airports, but we weren’t planning a hijack, so that was alright.
Lunch was, by our standards, a posh affair that included far too much wine, a table service which continued through the afternoon as the time zones changed, I watched ‘The Goldfinch’ and got all sniffly at the end, and fell asleep. Now, that’s a first for me, sleeping while travelling. Actually, it’s a second as I once managed three hours kip on the way back from Australia. (It was my only three hours in 48 from my brother’s house in Salamander Bay, New South Wales to the Plaza hotel in Rhodes by which time I was understandably delirious.)
I managed four hours dozing as we crossed the Atlantic and the tip of Greenland, and woke to discover we were over land. Or, rather, over frozen rivers and a snowy landscape that ran to the curve of the world, and the journey monitor rather alarmingly, told me we were on our way to Montreal. It updated when I refreshed the screen, and we’d passed Greenland, but were still, allegedly heading for Montreal.
Luckily, we didn’t end up in Quebec, but in Ontario, so I don’t know what that was all about, but finally, after about eight hours in the air, an announcement came that we were nearing our destination. Jackets were gathered, empty bottles disposed of, bags arranged and bears put away for the next stage of the adventure, and we disembarked.
A short while later, having been instructed somewhere around 64° N, 19° W (Iceland long/lat) to meet at baggage reclaim, we did just that and met up with the rest of our party and Keith. Our tour manager clearly knew what he was about because no sooner had Neil appeared than he identified him as the one to keep an eye on. ‘I see you’re going to be the naughty one on this trip, lad,’ he observed dryly, and I thought, ‘If only you knew.’
Now I think about it, that laugh might have happened at Heathrow, my mind’s a bit fuddled because we’d left London at midday, flown for eight hours and it was only four in the afternoon, except it was eight in the evening, or should have been.
Anyway, there were 18 in our group and two more to join us later because they were travelling from America, poor things. We obediently followed instructions, sailed through immigration on our British and Irish passports, and clambered aboard a waiting bus.
Having come from Symi, where no building is taller than three or four storeys, and even from London, the first sight of the buildings of Toronto was very impressive.
Even more impressive was our room at the four-star hotel where we settled in before heading out to find somewhere to eat.
I have to say, the hotel was a bit more up-market than those we’re used to dealing with. I think it was the Hilton (Jude or Alison will remind me, I’m sure). I told you my memory’s a bit cloudy in some places, and my papers and notes are up in the loft, and I couldn’t be bothered to go and find them. I do, however, remember it had a scenic elevator which rather took me by surprise when I first stepped in. I’d be quite happy abseiling down a cliff or climbing up a mountain, roped on and at a dizzying height, but a man-made object travelling upwards at speed with nothing between me and the drop other than plate glass… Well, I have a ‘thing’ about that these days, and although I didn’t know it, I was going to encounter a couple more before the end of the trip.
Before then, however, we have Niagara Falls to visit tomorrow, so make sure you bring your Pac a Mac.