Market Harborough, 0 miles, 0 locks
Off to London to see the
Queenophthalmologist. I'd been referred after my optician, using a completely unreliable 'blow air in his eyes' test, decided that the pressure in my eyeballs was too high and that I might have glaucoma. Apparently this is easy to treat if caught early and better safe than sorry. The optician passes the buck to your GP, who gives you a choice of four ophthalmic hospitals you can go to. Living in London, one of my choices was Moorfields—as my GP puts it "the best eye hospital in Europe"—so hardly a difficult choice, although the wait to see them was quite long. Today was the day.
20 mins to Market Harborough station, a 5 minute wait, then one hour ten to St Pancras. Pretty good going really. From St Pancras there's a 10 minute walk to...St Pancras Underground station (well it feels like 10 minutes anyway) followed by a couple of stops on the Northern line to Old Street. Moorfields is out exit 8 and follow the green line. Dead easy.
Moorfields are very professional and I'd barely had time to sit down before they were running tests on me. There's the inevitable wall chart, followed by a 'click the button when you see a flashing light' test where they cover one eye with a pirate patch while you do it. It's really hard work, especially as it lasts for several minutes per eye, and you start seeing things and your eyes start wandering. Once all that's done, it's time for the eye drops: first you get the anaesthetic ones, so they can poke your eye with a pointed stick (in reality it's some kind of pressure probe), then you get the yellow ones which allow them to do a digital 3D scan using what looks like a laser—all very impressive, especially when they show you the terrain map of your eyeball and rotate it so you can see the start of the optic nerve—finally you get the stingy drops that dilate your pupils, so they can look at the back of the eyeball.
After that it goes a bit downhill as you join the huge queue waiting to see one of the four consultants who are on duty. After the express handling I'd had so far, sitting like this seems a little old fashioned and there are people in the queue ranging from liggers like me to others who must nearly be blind. Eventually I'm called and after reviewing the data, the consultant wants a look for himself. More drops and a 15 minute wait later, he has a good look inside my eyeballs using a very bright light and decides that my eyes are absolutely fine and I can be completely discharged.
Back to Ice Wharf, where I've missed the opportunity to look around King's Place. Fortunately my neighbour Cliff has been on the tour and offers to tell me what happened over dinner. After he grabs a bottle of red wine, we go to Paulinos—a little Thai place he knows on King's Cross Road. I'm sure he's mentioned it before, although I've never been, and when we get there I realise why: it's a tiny little yellow-fronted cafe, barely large enough to hold two standing customers let alone the staff. Once inside you go through an arch and there's a small restaurant out back, able to hold maybe 20 people. Cliff says that it's not much to look at, but the food is wonderful and you can BYOB. Of course, he's absolutely right. I let him do the ordering and the food that arrives is great, the waiting staff are also very friendly and helpful, and Cliff is clearly a regular (in fact it was his third time there that week). Over dinner he explains about how the terrace at the back of King's Place, that we're so worried about, is actually a public right-of-way. This clearly complicates things and with the terrace being covered and having such a nice view, there's a possibility it'll attract a little homeless community. I got to know quite a few homeless guys last year when I was stuck on the Thames—the bench on the shore next to my boat was their regular afternoon meeting place—and they're not all druggies and drunks, but along with the concert-goers popping out onto the terrace with their G&T's and the smokers popping out to feed their addiction, they're just more people I'd rather not have within bottle-throwing distance of my bedroom.
After dinner we went back to Cliff's boat and were joined by Dinah next door. It was all very comforting and familiar, sitting there drinking and catching up with the latest gossip on the mooring and who's staying on which boat and why. I was clearly going to miss the 21:30 train back but was determined to make the 22:00, so I said my goodbyes and headed for St Pancras. Although Battlebridge Basin, where Ice Wharf Marina is, isn't very far from King's Cross (which is next door to St Pancras) it might as well be half a mile away if you run slap bang into the middle of passengers who've just got off a train. There's a quickie route, taking the bridge from Platform 1 across to platform 8, but that's shut for the rebuilding that is going on in King's Cross at the moment, so there was nothing to do but mill along the platform with everyone else. That delayed me so much that it was 21:57 when I got on the train, only to find that it was pretty much full. I resolved to stand until Luton—the first stop—where I figured a lot of people would get off. They did and I was able to secure two seats in a group of four round a table. On the other side of the table was a man travelling to Nottingham, who had headphones on and was listening to music from his laptop.
Just south of Wellingborough the brakes suddenly went on. I grabbed the table and wondered whether the train would de-rail and I'd end up being a statistic, but after going 'thump thump thump' over something, it eventually came to a halt. We all sat there and looked at each other, wondering what had happened. After a few minutes, the train manager spoke over the intercom to explain that we'd hit "an obstruction on the line", that instructions had been radio'd for and he would let us know once they'd been received. Thinking that the instructions might be a long time coming, I popped to the buffet car, only to find that the buffet was closed, so it was back to my seat and wait. After quite a while, the train manager spoke again, saying that the police had been called and that people would be coming to check the train. At the mention of the police there was a ripple round the carriage, and the word 'suicide' cropped up a few times. A chap behind me complained that if it was a suicide, it'd be the 2nd tonight, as the Underground had been delayed by a 'person under the train'. There was nothing to do but wait and eventually police officers carrying torches walked past the train and along the tracks. A little while before the train started to move again, a passenger—who had gone forward to talk to the train manager—re-entered our carriage and said that the 'obstruction' was a man carrying a can. This, to me, put paid to the idea of a suicide, but the chap opposite said that it had to be a suicide because you'd be able to hear the train coming and be able to get out of the way. I pointed out that you'd only hear the train if the wind was in the right direction and with trains travelling at 125mph or more, they can come from no-where in the time it takes you to even notice they're there. Someone would only need to choose the wrong time to take a 'shortcut' over tracks near a bend, to find a train had run them over before they knew what had hit them. I can see now why, if your car conks on a level crossing, the advice is get out the car NOW and don't even try to start the car or push it off the track.
Eventually we continued on to Kettering, where we were all asked to leave the train. Due to a bit of re-routing, the train behind ours was already waiting on another platform and we were hurried over there so we could get on. When that train got to Harborough a little while later, it was 01:20—a far cry from the 11:10 I'd expected to arrive.