Wednesday, 12 December 2007

Getting anywhere?

The Frenchman has arrived and thinks St Pancras is great and getting from it to us is "not that bad". He has taken the Underground, an overground train and then walked some. He adds, to really wind me up, that he is "pleasantly surprised".
"Not that bad? Not THAT bad?" I shriek. "Of course it wasn't that bad. You were on your own with an overnight bag. You did not have several bags and a heel-dragging, tired and sulky child."

He thinks I am being a drama queen. Now he is feeling so smug he wants to take the bus to Richmond. I am a great fan of London buses. They are, in my opinion, the only form of public transport in the city to have improved in the seven years I have been away. But in spite of bus lanes and the congestion charge they have yet to acquire magical immunity from traffic jams. I have been to Richmond on a bus. I tell him: "Trust me on this one. This is not Paris; the bus would be a mistake." But he is determined and I cannot be bothered to argue. So we spend an hour and a half inching through traffic in a red bus when it would have taken 15 minutes maximum by rail. He will not admit to being wrong and smiles throughout while I fume and La Fille sleeps. This is better than the alternative but means she will be fractious in the shops when I hoped she might have been semi-comatose.

We have a private appointment with an eye specialist for a second opinion on La Fille's squint. I suggest a taxi. The Frenchman has worked out that if we can get to a certain Underground station it is a direct line to the clinic. I tell him I am paying dearly for this appointment and do not want to waste half of it sitting in a tunnel under London. I agree, however, it will be equally pointless spending half of it above ground in a taxi. I give in again. We take the Underground. It is airless, sweltering, crowded and halfway through the journey the train decides to change destinations so we have to get off and wait for another. The Frenchman says: "I see what you mean". There is no pleasure in being proved right; I feel my head is going to explode from heat and stress. How is it the fares rocket and yet the Underground remains so relentlessly awful. Sorry to go on about it, but you would have thought a £4 single ticket would guarantee at least a minimum of service and comfort but apparently not. (So what is the money being spent on?) I have seen cattle transported in lorries across France in better conditions than we are enduring.

I hate being late and allowed plenty of time to get where we needed to go. We were still late. I ran the last couple of hundred yards carrying La Fille, who is no lightweight, so I arrived breathless, sweaty and looking as maniacal as someone who has a secret stock of green pens. The second opinion was not great. It was hardly the end of the world, though for an instant it seemed like it and I felt sick to the stomach. It turns out La Fille has good vision in each of her eyes individually they just do not work together and it seems unlikely they ever will or that the squint will improve. Apparently it will almost certainly prevent her being a fighter pilot or engaging in high level sports because she is less able to judge distances. A great loss of career prospects? Probably not, but even so I was distraught. I figure I am allowed to overreact. I am her mother. On leaving the clinic, I was so upset and distracted I could not have given a flying damn how we got home. The Frenchman pointed to a bus and we jumped on it. I had no idea where we were, but at one point we passed the National Autistic Society HQ. He looked at the building and at me. "Better a little squint, non?" he said.

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