Saturdays have always been a favourite day of mine and today was shaping up to be no exception. A dear family friend of mine John O’Driscoll was in London and today his wife was kindly loaning him to me for a boy’s day out. John has the added advantage of having lived in London before emigrating to Australia. He still has family over here which is the main reason that he was here and it was just pure chance that our dates lined up. Earlier in the week John had dropped off some documentation and instructions on where I was to go to meet him so I had woken up early and was keen for the day.
The instructions were pretty simple – catch the tube out to Paddington, buy a Thames Ranger day pass and catch the 8.22am overland train to Reading. All things going well John would hop onto the same train along the way and then we would change trains Slough for Windsor. Sounds pretty easy except I had no idea where Paddington was. Anyway it all went kind of like clockwork except for a slight change of plans were we met at Slough due to me catching the express train rather than the all stops. I probably need to take some responsibility for this but so can the dopey attendants at Paddington who sent me away from the all stopper to the express. Anyway it was all pretty easy and meant I had to wait for John at Slough for about 15 minutes which gave me enough time for breakfast – a coffee and croissant. Slough has a pretty typical train station with 3 platforms, so there is 1 island platform in the middle. I was standing there people watching on Platform 1 when what is known as a 125 train went flying past. This is a passenger train with maybe 6 carriages that travels at 125 miles an hour. It’s a freaky thing to stand on a platform and have a train go past within 5 metres of you at something near that speed. You can see it coming, and know it is coming from a couple of hundred metres out, but freeze on the spot like a kangaroo turning to face the inevitable whilst thinking move! Anyway, I don’t think anyone saw me flatten out against the station building wall and I recovered pretty coolly, standing there casually drinking my coffee, waiting for John.
A short whistle and a beaming smile indicted that John had arrived on the island platform and shortly after we were on the train to Windsor where we went through the Windsor Castle. The sheer size, scale and wealth on display inside the castle is hard to describe. Once again the way that the English have preserved their history gives such great longevity to families. Whilst walking around the outer walls it is hard to fathom why anyone would bother attacking a castle, given the sheer advantage that the defenders would have due to the size of the walls complete with archer’s slots, moat, inner walls and of course being perched on top of a steep hill.
With John having worked of the Met Police and Royal Guard it was like walking around with a human audio guide, except you were getting the “Director’s Cut”. Through some good planning (clearly not by me) John had us go left and everyone else went right after walking in. We we walked down to the St George’s Chapel area where I met my first Beefeater guard who didn’t crack a smile despite us having him all to ourselves and working some good material on him. We then entered St George’s Chapel which is the Queen’s private chapel and were again lucky to have it so quiet. The chapel is simply incredible, with massive leadlight windows, expansive ceilings, numerous vaults entombing the bodies of former Kings & Queens and a Quire around which previously sat 50 Knights and Cannons facing each other which made think immediately of the scene in Last Knight where Morgan Freeman speaks to the King just prior to being killed. Prince Charles & Camilla Bowles had a “Service of the Prayer & Dedication” in this chapel after their wedding (with Queen Elizabeth &Prince Phillip only attending St Georges Chapel) so it is some sort of building as one can imagine.
We left Windsor Castle and had a beer and a pie at the local pub. After which we caught the open top bus and had a 1 hour tour of Windsor town itself, which also included Eton College and the Windsor Castle Long Walk which is a 3 mile straight dirt road towards the castle. The public can walk this dirt road and there were people walking in groups, families with strollers and joggers going along this beautiful area.
Once again I found the formality of England somewhat amusing. Eton College is a boy’s school where the uniform is essentially a tuxedo with long tails. The uniform was relaxed during the Second World War due to top hats being deemed a nuisance when putting on gas masks. No other changes have been made since then and there is only 1 tailor in town who fits the boys’ suits. The Eton College fair was on today and students were dressed up in their tuxedo uniform. When my family arrives in London, I hope to show the Eton lads to our kids, hopefully ending the uniform negotiations in our house forever.
After the bus trip we caught the train to Reading. We arrived at Reading just in time for the 3pm start of the Reading v Huddersfield Championship League soccer game. We bought tickets for 23 quid each and took our seats at the 5 minute mark of the first half.
We had great seats, about 6 rows back from the pitch and right between the Reading and Huddersfield supporters. I have been to a lot of AFL games but I have never experienced an atmosphere like the one at the soccer. There was about 17,000 fans at the game, 1,379 of them were Huddersfield fans who presumably had made the 200 mile trek to support their team. It was great fun as both supporter bases chanted songs at each other, ranging from the quite witty to the very blunt. However you did get the feeling that some supporters were very “passionate” and there was good reason for the netting over seats and segregation. Whilst the supporters standing their chanting in the stands with their tops off adds to the colour, there are also a few that the look doesn’t really work for and they could cover up;
Johnny Swift scored the winning goal for Reading late in the first half at our end of the ground sending the fans into a frenzy. Reading held on in a frenetic second half when both teams had multiple chances to score, winning 1-0.
I am now a Reading fan and like all my Reading fan brothers, convinced that there is something odd in the water up at Huddersfield.
We capped the win with a pint at a local bar before catching the train back to London, Reading scarf in hand.
A great day with a great friend.