The transit time between my flight getting in at Heathrow and changing to the Singapore plane was very tight – two hours exactly, which left no room for anything going wrong, and given the track record on this trip and Heathrow’s notorious ‘issues’, I wasn’t confident. So I changed my Singapore flight to the next one, which happened to be twelve hours later. Jen decided to come down from Oxford with JD for the day so I wouldn’t be bumming around on my own.
Bek and John kindly dragged themselves up out of bed at 6.30am to drive me to the airport (about 40 mins away from their place), and we put on our Bjork t-shirts to make it a bit more bearable.
And wouldn’t you know it, but this one particular flight, that I had been anxious about, came in on time, my bag came out quickly and I made it to Terminal 4 in plenty of time. Oh well – I was excited about seeing Jen again, so it was all good. I checked my bags in at the left luggage spot and after following the many confusing signs eventually found myself at the Underground. I had to meet Jen at Marble Arch, so instead of catching the expensive express train I bought an all day Tube ticket and went into town that way. What was a 15 minute trip on the express train took over an hour…now I know why they charge a premium for it!
Jen, JD and I had a happy reunion and grabbed some food and caffeine. Of course while we were in the cafe it started bucketing down with rain, much like the last time we saw each other at Oxford (at least I was organised this time and had my umbrella). But, no matter, we bought a map and decided to head over to St Paul’s Cathedral, as neither of us had been there before.
The Marble Arch Tube station was mysteriously closed at this point, so we decided to wander down Oxford Street to the next stop. It then became apparent that the British public transport system is really not set up for disabled people or people with prams. The escalators say ‘no prams’ but there aren’t any lifts or stairs. At Bond St station we had to actually leave the station, go across the road to the older entrance and carry the pram down the stairs. I guess the stations are all old and it would cost a lot to upgrade them, but compared to Australia where they are obsessive about accessibility, it’s surprising to find somewhere that is so inaccessible to people who aren’t especially mobile.
After more manhandling the pram up the stairs, we found ourselves at St Paul’s station, staring at a map, trying to work out which way to go. “Is it this way?” I ask. We spy a bit of statuary. “Is that it over there?” Then we round the corner and burst out laughing; St Paul’s is so unbelievably massive it was funny to think we couldn’t see it.
St Paul’s does have an entrance for the disabled. The sign said to press a buzzer, but “Due to the large size of the building, there may be a delay before someone arrives.” We waited around, redirecting other tourists who were trying to line up with us to the main entrance, and after about 10 minutes a harried looking woman let us in. “You do know we have an entry fee of ten pounds, don’t you?” Er, no. Ten pounds? That seems excessive. Oh well, we agreed to pay it and went in. “And there is no photography inside the cathedral.” Ten pounds and I can’t take photos? Rats!
But once we were inside, we were gobsmacked by the building. Gold mosaics, statues of saints and apostles, huge columns soaring into the air, beautiful domes overhead. We sat down and took it all in, then while Jen fed JD I went on an explore and climbed the hundred-and-something stairs up to the Whispering Gallery, the balcony that runs around the inside of the main dome. I was climbing up the seemingly endless spiral staircase behind an Asian Dad who grumbled and complained the whole way, and his exasperated daughter who kept snapping, “You read the brochure before we came up, Dad, it told you how many stairs there were!”
We didn’t really have any other plans, so we ended up spending all afternoon at St Paul’s, just looking at it all, having tea and scones in the Crypt (I just love saying that), and then staying on for Evensong at 5.00. Jen whispered to me as it began, “Just warning, if you enjoy this then you’re definitely an Anglican.” I guess I must be Anglican then! I wouldn’t want that to be my experience of church every week, but as a one-off experience it was wonderful, especially given I hadn’t been able to get to church that week when I was in Belfast (which struck me as ironic). The music was glorious and bell-like, the litany all from Scripture, and the prayers moved me to tears, which I think is a good thing. It was so refreshing to just sit and reflect on God, to praise him and pray and just be there.
We parted at 6.00, Jen to head back to Oxford and me to Heathrow. I sat in the airport and ate some indifferent food, blogged about Bjork and got on the plane without any fuss. And then, to my delight, the doors closed and I was the only person seated in my row of four! Luxury! Compared to the flight over, it was bliss. After dinner I put all the arm rests up and was actually able to sleep for two thirds of the journey. It certainly makes all the difference!