City to City – Travelling to Cologne via London with Gerry Rafferty

Ginsters, better than the real thing ;p

Travelling to anywhere from Cornwall is a bit of an arse-ache. In terms of the rest of the British transport network – with regards to the time it takes to get anywhere beyond Devon and the cost of doing so – it may as well be the ends of the Earth. I know this, and I wasn’t expecting too much from the trip up to Gatwick in order to meet up with Lee and Ben and fly to Cologne.  In spite of convention though, the journey was monumentally uneventful much of the way. The first two trains were so empty on a Sunday evening that not only did I not have to argue with an indignant and absurdly fat woman and her two or three odious children to get my seat reservation (which almost always seems to be the situation I’m presented with in standard class), but I was able to give myself a free table seat upgrade by virtue of there being two tables and only one other guy in the carriage.

I spent an hour playing Command & Conquer Red Alert 2 and RISK Factions, listened to most of The Who and Gerry Rafferty’s respective discographies, and read my way through a book on photography, in almost complete peace and calm. This never happens, and perhaps I should have realised that not only would it not last, but I’d be punished for my complacency when I finally reached London.

When I had initially booked my train ticket to Gatwick I hadn’t noticed that it simply said “transfer” between Paddington and London Bridge. When the train website says I need to make three changes I expect that to mean four trains. Not three and a gap in which to make your own way from one station to the next. That seems contrary to the whole idea of using public transport in the first place. When I did notice, I naturally thought of the Tube. It’s one of London’s most famous (or perhaps infamous is more apt) features. Except that it apparently closes for the night. Faced with a five and a half mile journey, not inconsiderable luggage, and fifty-five minutes to do it in before the final train to the airport, I was left to book a taxi.

I mean book a taxi, too. In fact, I booked two. The first I booked at three in the morning online, twelve days before I would be travelling, and while I did get an email confirmation, I was never phoned back by the company as they were meant to. Eventually I just called them after ten days of uncertainty about whether they were just leaving it until closer to the actual date, and was informed that they had assumed I was spam, and never actually booked me a taxi. Assumed I was spam. What is the point of having an online booking service if you assume anything booked out of office hours is merely spam? So they got told where to stick it, and I called up the next cheapest quote I’d been given. This time I was told that the website was out of date and that the quoted price for the journey wasn’t right, that it would be more. I agreed, because I didn’t have a lot of options and it was still marginally better than the third best quote (which, for all I knew, was probably wrong as well at this rate), and the guy told me that I would definitely have my taxi there. He even sends me a text confirmation. Out of consideration for them, and long experience with the trains, I even asked them to pick me up fifteen minutes after I was due into Paddington.

So I’ve had my enjoyably quiet and easy first two trains. I arrive in Paddington. On time. It’s past midnight on a Sunday night, or Monday morning as it is now, and it’s frigid with just a touch of damp in the air. The news has been telling me for the past week that most of London was crowded with hooded vandal ten year olds and set on fire, so to be alone on a bench beside an empty but undamaged taxi rank and thinking I should have worn a heavier jacket was a bit of a surprise. And I sit, and I wait for my taxi, which was booked. And confirmed. And fifteen minutes later I’m still sat waiting with no taxi in sight.

I leave it five minutes more, because I’m nominally English and therefore overly and stupidly polite about phoning and complaining about anything. But I need to make my final train, so after those five minutes I do call, and am told that the taxi wasn’t sent. Something has gone wrong with their system. It’s the same guy I spoke to on the phone when I booked the thing, and he remembers me and where I was going to. He apologises and promises me he’ll immediately dispatch a taxi to me, to be with me in ten minutes at the most. And I say sure, because sometimes things go wrong, even though I’m starting to panic about getting there on time. I don’t know London. Five and a half miles is no distance in Cornwall, where the only traffic slowing elements are tractors and the occasional bus. But everyone is always saying how hard it is to cross London in a car, and I don’t know if that’s any different early on a Monday morning or not. It probably seems laughably obvious to people who live there or perhaps in any large city, but I never have, and I don’t want to make an assumption and be wrong in a way that ruins the entire GamesCom experience before it actually begins.

Fifteen minutes later and still no taxi, so now I’m properly shitting myself. I call again. This time I’m told that the taxi has been to where I am, not seen me and tried to call me but I didn’t answer, and left again. This is bullshit on a number of levels. First of all, he gave me the registration number of the taxi supposedly coming so that I got into the right one, and it wasn’t any of the handful of cars that drove past me in the last fifteen minutes. And my phone hasn’t rung at all; I haven’t been using it because I know the taxi driver will call me, and in the heart of London the signal strength is 100% with virtually no real variation. He’s lying, and I’m in trouble.

London... only one more wretched hive of scum and villainy exists in the universe...

Eventually I just flag a passing taxi down in desperation. Even this doesn’t go well – I was always under the impression that to become a licensed London cabbie you need to take a test called The Knowledge. The guy I’ve flagged down has a broad London accent, a genuine looking license ID card hanging from his rear view mirror, but when I tell him I’m going to London Bridge main train station he takes out a TomTom GPS and wastes even more of my dwindling time trying to find London Bridge on it. The city itself is pretty amazing at night from the back seat of a taxi, and even whilst worrying about time I couldn’t help doing that embarrassing touristy thing that all country folk do in London, of gawping slack-jawed at the buildings going past the window and smiling like a moron whenever a street name comes up that is on the Monopoly board or was shown on the telly. And when Baker Street station whizzes by me I can’t help but hum the saxophone solo I was listening to earlier on the train. This brief moment of pleasure, in spite of the erratic braking and slightly manic driving style of my cabbie, ends with him depositing me outside London Bridge underground station, on the opposite side of a main road to the actual station, and too late for my train which departed ten minutes before. Adding insult to injury is the cost of this short trip, which is significantly more than I had planned for.

Fortunately, there is one last train according to the boards outside the station. Like the first two, it’s empty and I get the carriage to myself. And I still get to the airport two and a half hours before check-in. Finding the check-in area for my airline is simple enough – Gatwick isn’t the horrendous clusterfuck of Heathrow – and there are a handful of people sleeping on the benches and the floor. Relieved to be there, I hunt around for a bench of my own, and end up spending two hours outside an open Subway sandwich shop trying not to think about food and how I’ve not eaten since Sunday morning. Ten minutes before check-in is due to open, it’s still a vast empty space, so I decide to go to the toilet. This was a mistake. Coming back there now is a massive queue for check-in, with a long stream of people pouring through the entrances constantly. I rush to get in line, and end up spending the best part of an hour getting to the front of this heaving mass of multi-cultured humanity that has seemingly appeared from nowhere.

"Set course for Cologne... engage..."

All things considered, the flight itself was very smooth and easy. It was even shorter than when I flew to Ireland last year (how, I have no idea) and Ben and Lee (who had appeared just as I completed the check-in assault course) were more or less zonked and not inclined to much conversation. The bizarre combination of camp and slavering corporate aggression that airlines inflict on their customers in the form of the cabin crew seemed unable to penetrate my sphere of apathy, leaving me alone to gaze out of the window I’d snagged myself whilst haranguing other passengers into spending their unconverted Sterling on overpriced drinks and assorted tat.

Since landing here in Cologne we’ve wrestled with the ticket machines for the train, explored, got lost, been ripped off for drinks in the EA Sports bar, and had mixed feelings about the magnificent gothic cathedral in the centre of the city, which would be completely awesome if it wasn’t covered on one side with scaffolding. I won’t go into too much detail since Lee has already talked about most of it in his first diary. For me personally it’s all rather exciting, and ultimately worth a few disagreements with taxi companies to get here. It’s my first real games expo. I have no bloody clue what to expect really.

But it’s going to be a lot of fun finding out.

Last five articles by Samuel



  1. Lorna Lorna says:

    The old classic, of “the cab turned up, but you weren’t there…” Fuckers. Your best best would to always have been to hail one, just a shame you got a dobba who didn’t know where one of London’s major stations bloody was. And it is universal sod’s law that whatever lovely piece of architecture is there in the place you’re visiting, it will be smothered in scaffolding. Had the same thing in Berlin, city of cranes and construction :)

  2. Mark mark_S says:

    I had to google Gerry Rafferty, but yes that is infact Preach. :)

    Sounds like you had an exciting trip.

  3. UselessJack says:

    I feel your pain man. I went through the same shitstorm when i had to get from Glasgow to London City Airport. First the Glasgow Airport Shuttle wasn’t deploying from it’s original station and then i had to get from Heathrow to City Airport in less than 90 minutes. I spent almost 100 pounds for that freaking taxi ride, but I saw lot’s of awesome stuff like the Big Ben :D
    And as I said before, GO INTO THE DOME OF COLOGNE. It’s amazing in there. Grab a tourist guide and walk up to the bells. Do it.

  4. Edward Edward says:

    Sounds like a bit of a horrendous journey, but you made it, man!
    Hope Gamescom was a lot more fun than getting there :D

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