It started with a plan and escalated into an adventure or opportunity! Lille first stop between the channel tunnel and Paris not a name on every bodies lips but every one who has travelled to Paris, Belgium or Euro Disney via the Euro Star has been through this commercial city in Northern France.
I was excited at the opportunity to travel through the tunnel underneath the great divide that separated us from our French Foes the choppy sea of water that was our protector for so long. Maybe it was for that reason I endured a restless night before commencing the first part of my journey to the big smoke. I had often suffered before big occasions and European flights away but this was some what different there appeared no obvious concerns. I did have other things on my mind and was not well organised however I had not needed as much sleep as I used to in younger days and maybe the toil of early to bed due to excessive tiredness resulting in waking and rising far too early made me restless.
Stay in bed as I might be listening to the delightful Sheleigh Fogherty on Radio Five this could only last a limited time and reluctant as I was eventually I rose to complete my final checks and dress for the first part of my long weekend.
The trip to Lille was to be the sandwich into a busy extra long weekend commencing with a night in London and completed with a dull trip to see the reds face Portsmouth at Anfield. In between added to the match and sight seeing in Lille I would be controlling the Bristol Chess League closed event an exhausting event long and tiring diluted with periods in-between of inactivity.
My departure time crept forward and earlier as I longed to depart from my home, an early and unsurprising visitor not knowing he would not see me for another three or four days came to wish me bon voyage before I quickly kicked out my little black friend leaving a bowl of fresh water in the shelter I had created out the back. I doubt that Blackie or any other local cats use it much as it is a sign of my devotion to recycling and making use of things. An old broken chair on its side covered with a block of wood from I don't know where creates a shelter where I can place some drink and food or they can shelter come rain or hot sun. The adjacent fence provides addition shelter if needed.
After a final check and locking my door in the pleasant morning with blue skies and a touch of sun I entered my little Fiesta and commenced backing it slowly of my short open driveway reversing carefully before pulling away upwards and off my estate.
The route to Bristol Parkway station is a familiar one haven only a few months earlier used it when I travelled to Cardiff to watch them play at their new purpose built stadium. The winding and steep road that took me along Taites hill is like a woman and has to be handled with care gently caressing the road and lightly touching the brake as if fingering her shoulder. The views on a clear day are magnificent although only when walking have I truly been able to appreciate them. Joining the A38 at the Prince of Wales hotel junction with Berkeley road an old deserted rail station the railway box no longer there as the rail line that took trains down to Sharpness is no longer used. The hotel advertised spaces for the weekend I noticed as my speed increased on a road with barely a car in sight. The turning to Berkeley former home of one grandparent was on my right and onwards I progressed through Newport with the turning to Lower wick and the country lanes where another long departed grandparent once resided.
The flashing "Slow down" sign common on this part of the A38 encouraged me to slow to a forty mile per hour canter as is the speed limit for much of this stretch to Bristol. It appears pointless to me for the roads are wide and safe and pedestrians few and far between however we are not to question the logic?
Stone with its towering church spiral visible above the row of newly built houses hiding its lower structure from roadside view with a disused and boarded up old pub or mansion facing it from the other side as I continued by.
The lights at the M5 junction 14 are an unnecessary nuisance again a relic of some council or road committee's logic. Do they use these? I often ask for it was easier and simpler in the good old days when I never had to halt to join the motorway.
At last an opportunity to drive at seventy miles per hour or faster for some drivers passing me by on the outside third lane as I drove through open South Gloucestershire countryside that no driver could truly appreciate! I followed the route without map using experience and signs familiar to me and it was not long before I was entering the Car park adjacent to the station forecourt and the first problem I was to face.
I had read about the car park getting full after 09.30 on a website so I cannot claim ignorance. My ill thought out plan was to arrive early and wait for passengers from a departing train thinking I would be the only car seeking a space a grave and fatal error erroneously I was wrong and with no back up plan I resorted to something that I realised was a risk that I felt I had no alternative. With the wonder of hindsight better time management and more research an alternative would suffice however with the large number of vacant and close spaces reserved for badge holders (workers and disabled) I resorted to using one of the far too many empty ones. Others had tried although clearly most drivers where not or had alternative plans and I new the consequences so cannot plead ignorance here!
Having paid and displayed a three day ticket I headed for the ticket machine to collect my tickets. I am ignorant of these a ticket machine "virgin" and again lacking in experience thought or what ever made another costly mistake that had I realised should never happened.
Following the instructions I obtained a ticket which I did not look at when collected I should have collected more than the two and probable the return tickets where printed and produced collected by the next passenger who may have been honest or not. The two tickets I retained where a single ticket to London and receipt for the amount debited to my card the return ticket for a few days later was not among the items another lesson learnt I hoped.
From the upper platform waiting area I could view the surrounding area of houses although standing out was a picturesque church complete with spiral. The pleasant but chilly day made it a great setting for a possible future photo. Consuming a roll and chocolate bar as I watched other passengers come and go before descending myself onto the platform for my London bound train making use of the waiting room again as shelter from the desolate and depressing platform with no protection from the wind.
At last my carriage arrived hurting by to a stand still doors opening leavers descending and as I surveyed the carriage with numerous vacant seats I sought carriage D where my booked seat would be and quickly found it settling down in the window seat to enjoy the country side. A drop down table was a god send for placing my newspaper to complete the Sudoko with a pencil I was to soon foolishly to loose when misplacing it as the ticket Inspector came through. Not to worry I had plenty if I wanted to but some how this didn't seem to matter I was on my way to Lille via London and I had never been one to seek sympathy. Put up with it and learn let others moan although I always retain issues that gripe with me till the day I die!
Despite other concerns I consumed some drink and food on route prepared for the journey and was able to enjoy the country side as the train hurtled by in an eastwardly direction towards Paddington station. Swindon with its terraced houses and railway heritage the station covered in scaffolding for repairs to its building. Didcot and Reading arrived and departed before slowing down in the suburbs of London unchanged and no different to days gone by still looking old tired and dilapidated begging the question who lives there.
London Paddington was announced and please check and remember to take your belongings with you which I did except for the missing dropped pencil that despite a few checks and discreet looks under the table avoiding peering up the skirt of the young lady behind me had gone for good. The platform was full of departing passengers in days gone by cup finals and the like they would have been wearing red scarves and hats singing ditties in tribute to the mighty reds. These where carrying cases and coats with the clog of hurried fast walking eager travellers the only sound.
Paddington Station was not the station I remember even from my most recent visit the open concourse with its dark depressing end buildings containing a bar and maybe a few shops was no longer. Skirting through the maize of stands and shops plus additional passengers to find the Underground entrance was a challenge in itself. Find it I did and descended downwards to purchase a ticket. On a previous 3 day stay a helpful ticket officer sold me a three day pre dated ticket but no more or so I was bluntly told without asking she sold me a all day ticket for areas 1-4 and it was only afterwards I realised I needed more zones so later required me to purchase an additional ticket. What an expensive trip this proved to be? I wonder when the lady in the Paddington ticket office will go on her Customer service course soon.
Barking was to be my destination where I had booked a cheap Travelodge for one night. Comfortable warm clean rooms with no thrills all I really needed.
Check in was three O'clock and I had time to spare or kill with no Wembley to revisit plus no Cotswold entry forms to deliver Bow church appealed which conveniently was on the edge of my travel card limit. It was an opportunity to see something I would never see again the Church on its own Island in the middle of a major London street. Across the road was a rival Catholic church so a double photo opportunity though a random choice. The pleasant gardens in front of the church was well tendered unlike the church itself with boarded up lower windows. A local lady was seated enjoying a sandwich and we passed pleasantries as I strode by although it was not long after I was taking the reverse journey and she had gone.
Passing by the police station "Bow street cops" are famous for not capturing "Jack the Ripper" unless it was one of them. An appropriate bow legged pedestrian hurried by arms bent and moving like a skier with his/her stick pushing down on the snow to gain more speed even a group of three coppers including one attractive female and another not so. On returning to the Underground and purchasing another ticket I noticed a mobile phone stranded left by a previous purchaser. Honesty took the better of me and I handed it in without any sentiments at all.
My journey continued to Barking station through what too me looked like some of the worst areas in London. Eat London Upton Park, West Ham station although on every occasion I passed through I failed to see the tired old ground that one day West Ham United may vacate for something better!
Barking tube station was where I eventually departed emerging into a bright day opposite a shopping centre and into a busy active street. Not the undesirable area I had anticipated but fortunately and something I must be grateful for a desirable residents with shops good lighting plenty of pubs and courteous police officers who where able to direct me to my hotel.
The streets where clean and some buildings including the clock tower now used as a magistrate court plus behind it the Council buildings. Travelodge was hidden down a narrow road but as the Police officer said look left you can't miss the sign right on cue. As I walked round to pass the entrance the shopping arcade across the road included an ASDA I was to use later even though adjacent to the hotel was a small Tesco Express.
Quickly in and out after a shower change of clothes with the daylight still bright although only a couple of hours remaining I desired to takes some local photos suss out a Weather spoon to taunt Yvonne with before checking the route to St Pancreas station. The magistrates court provided the first photo shoot as did the tall clock and poster above the council office. It was the "ruins" of Barking Abbey which produced the best opportunity although without either of my trusted Catholic companions I did not enter to further my education. The graveyard included some old but interesting statutes and maybe the result or further bad luck was not in doubt when I stood on more than one to take shots of the Church. The clock and cockerel indicating wind directions perched high on its upper most roof under the blue sky was a must. Unusual for London the wide open space either side for walking and general enjoyment.
I headed back to the tube station as checking out each pub I passed and to my delight adjacent and foolishly missed by me earlier was "The Barking Dog" a picture had to be taken for my friend Yvonne of this Weather spoon which no doubt she will visit in due course. A meal and drink was planned there now for that evening.
After returning to my room to drop off some unneeded gear I soon returned and headed to St Pancreas via Algate East. Tony has a marvellous pic of the St Pancreas station on his infamous blog showing the name plate as he headed in from his long five minute walk down the Euston road. We stopped at Euston underground on our return trip to Paddington!
At St Pancreas I followed the signs and soon discovered the Euro star area shops with one designated for breakfast. The exit I took just went to a bus stop and taxi rank had I known better the route to Euston may have been a good option to perhaps discover a better venue for breakfast the next morning. Hind sight research and preparation are a wonderful thing.
Happy with my preparation I headed back to Barking changing at Tower Hill as recommended over the tannoy due to disruption. It was still reasonable day light as I emerged over the bridge and virtually straight down. A protest group where perched above while the clean sandy white building was dominant across the way although I didn't fancy an unplanned stop there. However on impulse Whitechapel was due a visit as the area made famous by the serial killer "Jack the Ripper" in the dark Victorian days. Never caught and no one truly knows who he (maybe she) was it remains one of life's great unanswered questions!?
I envisaged a dark mysterious area with character and perhaps a "Ripper" pub. No not even one with victim number x drunk her before heading out on the streets to her untimely death. Market stalls mostly packing up as the darkness descended where pitched as far as I could walk either way. The area was well lit and although a few dim photos where taken the mood was not that I had expected.
It was to be my final stop before returning to Barking tube station and enjoying a delightful two course meal and drinks at the Weather spoon. Even as I strolled back accosted by a local lady seeking money allegedly for her and younger brothers bus fare home I was unperturbed. Refusing due to lack of change she could have had my tube tickets if they where of use but I suspect not.
A further restless night although tired it was punctured by me getting up to read an educational book on time management. I do not require as much sleep as I used too and getting up so early to be as active as I remain means I get exhausted far too early.
Thursday 11th March St Pancreas and Lille
Another few hours to kill preparing packing watching TV I read some more and then pop across the road to ASDA for some provisions. Time at last one last check before I depart out the room and down the stairs not using the lift I hand in my keys and say Aurevior as I push the doors open and enter into the London morning air. Chilly a little as I zip up tight my coat and head for one final time towards the tube station. Brown zip up case in my right hand and over my back the Athens 2007 champions league final blue bag a useful item.
I purchase a ticket at the machine in error an unnecessary return one final mistake perhaps I should have gone to a ticket window if open. Any way its St Pancreas here I come the first part of my journey who will I meet first.
Having checked out everything the night before I didn't change plans heading an entering the chosen restaurant crammed in next to a bigger rival. The London Breakfast with cappuccino was my choice nice but not as expected although the pancake enclosing scrambled egg, bacon and other delights was tasty. An exchange of texts with Tony before a wonder upstairs for a photo of the John Benjamin statue.
Another wonder and as I passed the T junction entrance to the Euro Star a "Hello Kevin" called out to me. I looked right at the seats to see Douglas Moreton my fellow Bristol supporters club member. A regular traveller often early on the scene some unkindly nick named him "Sid Little" but sometimes with his balding head "Stan Laurel" would be more appropriate. We were soon joined by John Shaw and gradually our group got bigger and soon with only a few stragglers remaining and after the all important greeting kiss with Annie we headed into the unknown departure lounge.
Security checks where not as arduous as at airports Food and wash items where not so thoroughly checked although weapons would be confiscated.
We only had to arrive thirty minutes prior to leaving and with less time to kill the group was more relaxed when the lovely tall Laura came striding in followed by Tracy a boyish looking female with hardly a word to say.
Laura was in buoyant mood as always the centre of attention a bubbly enthusiastic character keen to greet everyone. Two more fellow Bristol supporters club members where to be on our train Tim Richards from Swindon who I had known since the eighties and big Steve Mooney. Steve is a big lad who walks as many of his size do in addition an eye sight problem means he cannot drive and he walked blindly pass us before Tim called out and he turned holding his hand out waiting for me to place mine in his. Tim confided in me about his difficulties and how he was attempting to disguise it best he could!
Eventually departure time and we piled on strolling in convoy along the almost never ending platform with 20 or more carriages to our allotted carriage and seat.
I did not feel the excitement then for I guess the adventure and build up had passed me by however certainly in days gone by the thrill of travelling through the Channel tunnel was something achieved to tick off my "to do" list. I was not the only traveller that day or in the future with the same sense of achievement and desire.
Ebbfleet was soon stopped at and departed as the English Country side passed us by the nearer we got the greater the anticipation and with a few false dawns on route it was only at a time I can no longer recall that after a few minutes of darkness we new we where in. Apart from the length and the sure knowledge you are hurtling through at great speed there is no other sense that makes it different from any other tunnel. If you stop to think and realise above you is the salt water and rough seas 22 miles of it dividing England and France. A liner full of passengers and with Sailors on board your imagination can run riot for the twenty or so minutes it takes to truly travel between England and France.
Daylight as we emerged the other side into the wide open French country side although a few wind mills there blades turning in the wind meant you could almost be in Holland or the near by Belgium country. It was time to unfold the flag and a photo opportunity prior to placing on display for our French counterparts to know the "unofficial Official" red army where on our way.
Lille station was open and glass fronted as we tumbled up the stairs and unchallenged into the open French air. Our hotel could not have been closer literally a matter of crossing a two lane road and checking in which we dually did. In and out in the time it took Douggie to phone his beloved Mandy to let her know he had arrived safely. Under the thumb with his intended or just pleased to have a Mrs Moreton to be!?
Lille as we where to discover was a tale of two Cities. In the area we where stationed a tall nine story hotel block and beyond more similar giant glass houses new and fresh a commercial district. It appeared to be a jungle without trees and we where on its edge with the Euro star station only a few steps away marking the border. As we crossed the bridge that separated the station below us in to two clearly defined areas one for arrivals another departures we headed towards the old town with the Station Gare Lilles "boarder point" marking the start of this area. Old fashioned in appearance from its outside it was easy on the eye and surrounded by modern day shops and restaurants.
We ambled round Tony, Douglas and I not following any map with the sense of entering into a different world complete with range of bar's various shops and department stores. The seedy or less desirable side was represented by a street with wide pavements containing either side beggars, homeless refugees what ever you like Children ran outstretched hands with cups acquired from fast food places and a legless men all seeking sympathy. Well three well off bachelors ignored that preferring to give to wild wild women, purchase food and drink at MacDonald's or waste on unnecessary travel expenses which we may or may not moan about later on.
An amble gave as an insight into the town while a MacDonald's refreshed and fuelled our stomachs for the evening ahead.
It was as usual an eager and enthusiastic bunch boarding the Thwaites express that would take us to the stadium. An uneventful journey that in the day light meant we could view a bit more of the Lille area. It was not enthralling with the sight of a crazy golf course unexpectedly being the high light. With good security our coach driver was directed into the car park where a few other coaches had already parked up in addition to some right hand drive vehicles from the uk. As we departed each ticket was carefully checked and scanned for forgeries before proceeding through the next lot of checks. Ticket check followed by body search and repeated unnecessarily by the local National Gendarmerie who where also enthusiastic to check the banners. I guess racial banners something that red fans have never eluded to was their concern but the English Stewards put them right as they attempted to confiscate one. My Camera was clearly on display while attractive Natalie Rusk snuck her mini phone camera in by hiding in her shoes. Sticks was another area of contention with extra large Craig walking in with his gammy leg and stick while others where confiscated. This indiscriminate and illogic action did not win friends but they don't care about that and from previous experience I know you don't argue with them!
In our covered section however open at the side Tony and myself acquired a seat low down with a good view of the nearest Goal. To our right was a section for the home supporters while addition reds where separated from us by a fence on our left the corner of the ground. An eight lane running track surrounded the pitch which allowed surplus banners to be laid out and the local stewards had room to watch the visiting followers. A loud speaker nearby played music to the crowd perhaps as Tony stated to drown out the vociferous Liverpool followers.
The opposition end behind the goal was uncovered to the elements and behind an array of blue empty seats soon to be occupied by more followers allowed the "Your never walk alone" flag to be displayed. I was able to get a photo opportunity of myself flag held high in the ground taken by a friendly steward. A picture of Cheltenham red Danny the game in progress and flare set alight some how despite the stringent security snuck in!
Lille 1 - 0 Liverpool (BBC report)
For me the hosts started of well until about twenty minutes in when the Liverpool team playing in white took control without creating much. The first half didn't drag but lacked excitement to enthral even the most devoted follower and the nil - nil half time stale mate was a fair reflection.
Liverpool face an uphill task to progress from the last 16 of the Europa League after Eden Hazard's goal gave a lively Lille side a first-leg lead.
After the hosts' bright opening, it took a superb double save from Mickael Landreau to deny Steven Gerrard and Fernando Torres and maintain parity.
Yohan Cabaye went close before Hazard's free-kick floated over a packed penalty box and into the far corner.
Torres threatened late on but was crowded out by a scrambling defence.
After tripping up away to Wigan three days earlier in the league, Liverpool manager Rafael Benitez had claimed the match would provide his side an immediate chance to recover their stride.
But it was Rudi Garcia's side who were faster out of the traps as Cabaye exercised Jose Reina with a well-struck shot and Hazard's dangerous low ball fizzed clear across the six-yard box.
The French side held Valencia at Stadium Lille Metropole to a draw in the group stages and their crisp passing in the first 20 minutes suggested Benitez might be satisfied to repeat his previous club's result.
Some slick interplay of their own conjured Liverpool's first opening as Ryan Babel and Torres exchanged passes to slice open the defence before the Dutchman saw his shot blocked by Mickael Landreau.
The goalkeeper came to his side's rescue again after an electric burst from Torres took the ball from halfway to the edge of the box before drawing a foul from the chasing pack of defenders.
Landreau first palmed away Steven Gerrard's fierce drive before clawing out a header from Torres that seemed destined for the net.
The 19-year-old Hazard was impressive throughout and his darting run behind the Liverpool defence after the interval seemed timed to perfection, but his progress was harshly halted by the assistant referee's flag.
At the other end, Landreau was fortunate when Babel unleashed a ferocious shot straight at him before Liverpool also enjoyed an escape as Daniel Agger narrowly avoided putting the ball into his own net.
A superb long-range effort from Cabaye had Reina worried as it whistled over the bar before the Spanish goalkeeper took two attempts to grasp substitute Stephane Dumont's skidding shot.
A awkward challenge from Jamie Carragher prompted penalty appeals from the hosts, but Lille's pressure was finally rewarded when Hazard's curling set-piece cleared everyone and bounced into the bottom corner of Reina's goal.
A last-ditch challenge from Agger did just enough to divert Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang's effort on to the post as Lille threatened to take a more comfortable advantage to Anfield on 18 March.
As time ran out Torres was afforded a brief glimpse of goal but the ball was ushered away before the striker could pull the trigger.
The second half continued where the first half ended and I felt the reds were comfortable without creating enough or anything dangerous. As the ninety minutes drew closer and a scoreless draw looked on the cards. A dangerous score but conceding would be worse and that is what happened. Despite slick play by the reds it was only through a free kick given away in a dangerous position that the deadlock was broken five minutes from the end of normal play. Reina the Liverpool goalkeeper was left helpless as the free kick (was it indirect) flew into the corner of his net without him or any other player touching the strike.
After this and despite a concentrated effort I made Lille slight favourites to progress although naturally I hoped I would be wrong.
The Fifteen minute wait which was more like half an hour passed slowly but happily came to an end as we strolled back to our coach only having to wait a further half hour for all to return and then waiting for priority vehicles to be let out. The great thing about the early kick off (six O'clock UK seven O'clock in the evening French time) was we where able to get back to a bar at a reasonable time (ten O'clock) instead of the regular scramble before midnight when most hotel bars (even in European cities) are shut.
Via the hotel and a picture opportunity as we gathered downstairs and led at a brisk walking pace to a recommended restaurant for an enjoyable meal drink and group get together. Spirits where high and Laura as always couldn't stop talking while the quiet ones and tired Douggie fell asleep only to be awoken by his picture being taken.
It was a content and relaxed group in the midnight air unperturbed by any French foes who returned to the hotel for a six or seven hour rest.
As we strolled back across the bridge near to the shopping complex Tony turned to a fellow supporter who's name he recalled on the list "Are you Steve Stead?" he asked yes was the response did you go to school with me in Preston?" was the follow up not sure but after further conversation an amazing coincidence two fellow reds who where at school together and now in their fifties meeting in France for the first time!
As is often or probable always the case I was first to rise next morning and after the necessary wash and shave took a look outside the hotel onto the busy adjacent road. Not for long for Breakfast awaited joined first by Tony then later Douglas Moreton as we enjoyed a pleasant Breakfast looking out the glass windows onto a sea of roads and tall buildings engulfing the area.
With fruit drink cereal and bread a whole hearted meal was enjoyed added to by me sneaking out an extra yoghurt and apple as is my way. Tony probable frowns on this although he took an apple for later while Douggie in a world of his own and "in love" took no notice.
We waved Laura goodbye after I had marched up to her at reception to give the obligatory kiss on the cheek. Well she is a good looking girl and it will not be the first or last!
Friday mornings are usually the best of the week a final working day of the week this was to be our last in Lille but for me first of a busy weekend. Tony, Douggie and myself took a stroll towards the old town. Douglas wasn't party in much decision making think he is used to that he was a most welcome companion who I think appreciates the opportunity in his own way.
The streets where busy not only with shoppers, vendors and workers but the street beggars with their little ones running about. We weren't impressed but strode on by till we stumbled upon a photo opportunity. The opera house and adjacent tall clock tower at the pinnacle point of its triangle shaped buildings.
The opera house was a grand old white building with traditional architecture of its day. The setting at the back of its own square made it a convenient stopping place. Directly opposite was the old stock exchange which we walked round for a better photo shoot in the larger "gal de Gaulle" square complete with its towering central stature that only the clock tower in the distance could out shine. Onwards we headed to the Lille club shop which would only open at ten O'clock giving us thirty minutes to spare. A further stroll took us to some central water fountains fronting a traditional building of local architecture. The cooling fountains where not needed and baldy placed barriers made good photo taking difficult. I tried going back and climbing up for a good photo.
For me the highlight of that day occurred unintentionally in the Subway where we stopped to enjoy a coffee. Sat at the end Tony took it upon himself to photo the empty subway restaurant before we conversed as best we could. In strode a local lady for a coffee which she paid for and was having trouble using the self service machine. Tony got up quickly and full of noble intent assisted the lady to obtain the item of choice. She was grateful as he returned to his seat while the lady chooses to sit adjacent to me and started conversing with me. Changing between English and French she hardly stopped for breath and even I struggled to ask questions getting the gist of her every word.
Pleasant and easy on the eye she was flirting with me intentional or not her hand brushed against me stretching and gentle. She was not like many of the girls that approach us on tour neither as far as I could tell a prostitute, seeking a sugar daddy or route to the UK, If she was seeking money then she was eyeing the wrong candidate. Opinionated she certainly was giving us her views on Princess Diana being murdered by our Queen (for which she was unforgiving) to her dislike of Pakistani's Afghanistan's and how her home country Algeria was a democratic state. I begged to differ but couldn't get a word in edge ways as she started to write down her contact details. With one eye on the clock knowing the shop would be open I indicated to Tony and rose to depart. With a goodbye and gentle return touch although tempted I held back the idea of a kiss and we where off to the small shop to purchase a mug in my case and woolly hats for my fellow shoppers. A gentle stroll back stopping only for the right honourable D Moreton to purchase some cigarettes and Rum for his Fiancée back home. Crossing the bridge for a final time we witnessed below John and our fellow compatriot's below on a fast march in the mist of a pleasant day.
A quick change and pack and we where checking out heading for the departure area of Lille international railway station soon to board the Euro star express back to Blighty. It was our last few minutes in Lille spent patiently waiting and chatting on the long platform as the full length Euro star pulled in. Halting directly in front of us was our carriage "that was well placed" commented our Annie oblivious to the fact it was intentional the position being marked on the platform.
Without our leader who would be in London at her desk for a long working day we managed to find our seats and again my Bristol companion took the Window seat. Tony was directly in front of me as I tucked in to a few items of food saved from the breakfast. Enough to satisfy my stomach as the train slowly and first cantered out of the station gathering speed till it was hurtling through the French country side soon to be followed by the tunnel and delights of our home land. Fatigued I slept for much of the journey although comments where made about Douggie sleeping which went unnoticed by myself!
Under the tunnel thought and discussion about Christine Blakeley the "One show host" who was due to water ski across the Channel above us. There was some confusion as John Shaw mixed her up with Christine Blinkley tall leggy model a former squeeze of dimute Billy Joel. We were all fans of both except the latter with her sexy Irish accent was now on the extended arm of Frank Lampard until some one better came along.
Despite a stop on route we were not too late arriving back in the big smoke with St Pancreas station our destination. Only Twenty four hours earlier we had left this modern updated station adjacent to the major "Kings Cross" and a mere five minutes walk for Tony to Euston. We said our good byes as I followed the crowd attempting and failing badly to take one last Euro Train picture amongst the rushing departing passengers.
With John as my leader I purchased a single one way ticket to Paddington which was swallowed up on arrival. He was my guide through the maize and redirected me when I went astray although had I been alone I would have still coped or asked some attractive young lady directions.
At Paddington and with my originally intended train over an hour away while John only had a fifteen minute wait we said our cheerio's and separated. Despite Bristol being our final destinations different bookings and final destinations determined we would be on separate trains. I first attempted and failed to get my pre booked ticket which I was now confirmed as produced at Bristol two days earlier. Another costly error as I had to purchase a new more expensive ticket and although I attempted to get a refund this was rejected.
In hind sight and from this experience I have learnt hopefully and will not make those mistakes again although I now benefited from an earlier train and in the short time available took the opportunity to discover the statute to the famous bear named after the station. Legend has it he (Paddington bear) arrived there by train from Peru where he met the Browns who took him in. It is not a large or dominant creation but the children love it and it was to be a final photo option of this thoroughly enjoyable trip.
A seat on the train a bite and a sleep as the express to Bristol Parkway completed a reverse journey for me. Only vaguely interested in scenery and the conversation of other passengers I was delighted to get back to my car and confirm the extent of any parking ticket fine I would have to pay. They where not lenient and the same person placed two tickets on separate days. As I surveyed and took a few photos even using the camcorder I didn't feel annoyed at the vast number of unused spaces. It was a waste as I was to comment in my appeal for the second fine to be rescinded as a duplicate although I also concurred that probably legislation or political correctness resulted in APCOA being as annoyed as station users.
I was now off to Filton to the Ratepayers arms a complex that included a bar sports facilities adjacent community centre and vast open sports complex. Set next to and among an estate with the police station nearby the back afforded vast and amazing views over the dip into the distant hills. A Tesco express nearby and just over the bridge that crossed a busy main road a few pubs and shops most food outlets but a hairdresser. Some where boarder up and a to let sign displayed while others in the complex behind that included a library where busy. A nearby church was to provide a later photo opportunity.
The venue was to be my weekend treat as I organised the finest chess players in Bristol in there annual Championship. Graham Mill Wilson had completed most of the donkey work I was there to Arbitrate (umpire) organise each round of pairings and then sit back to collect results. It would be a busy time for periods followed by quite melt down but the convenient setting made it so pleasant. The bar provides cheap drink and food with friendly staff and I remembered from a previous encounter one attractive blond bar staff with her red strip in hair and Bristolian accent that stood out.
I think she remembered me for although it was only on the final day after we passed in opposite directions a few time that we spoke I notice her admiringly glance my way as I passed the lounge area on one occasion whilst deliberately being oblivious to my presence on another.
That first round on the Friday night passed by without incident as did the whole five rounds and it was among the most easy and satisfying event I had run. Graham's preparation work was a major plus although the disappointing entry which almost resulted in cancellation may mean another format perhaps as part of the "Bristol Winter" or moving the later to Spring is needed.
That night I returned home for the first time in three nights and at my door seeing and recognising my grey car pull up was the shadow of Blackie from across the road. Eager to get in from the cold impatiently waiting at my door as I unlocked and opened it without asking "Where have you been?" he shot in heading for the Kitchen followed by upstairs and then back down again.
I was too tired to argue so just as requested placed a few crunches in a plastic plate down on the floor and he was in his element purring away as he devoured them. Most where gone and I needed to retire so picked him up and placed him outside to look left and right before deciding to head elsewhere perhaps to meet the girl friend!? I headed to the sack exhausted for a decent nights kip without the snoring Douglas.