Wasting time at Waterloo... review
So I've got 2 hours to kill at Waterloo station. What can I do? Walk around for a bit? nah, too lazy for that. Do a bit of shopping? no money, so there's no point. I know... I'll have a posh coffee in the shop upstairs. That is my favourite pastime at the moment, drinking posh coffees in fake Italian cafes. Places filled with fake Italians pouring out milky coffees and selling them for 5 quid a pop. They used to have coffee shops in 17th-century London, you know. London was famous for them. Samuel Pepys used to love his 15-minute sit-down in his local Starbucks. So I am just carrying on the tradition.
I've got a few favourite coffee stops and one of them is at Waterloo station. It's the one upstairs called Benugo's, overlooking the concourse. So you can sit down on the balcony and watch all life pass you by on the concrete down below. What are we going to see today?
Ordering the coffee is always a bit of a pain in these places. It's a bit like shopping at Argos. First of all you have to queue up and order the thing, and pay for it, but then you have to go and join another queue and wait for them to make it. They've got these big industrial coffee machines with pipes and buttons all over the place. Steam is coming out of every kind of hole whilst it whistles and grins and spits and spouts and the waiter is mixing it all up in ten types of jug. It's more complicated than brain surgery. Eventually he pours out your thick milky gloop with bubbles on top, and if you're lucky he'll draw a picture in the foam. My guy doesn’t do that today though, he's got too much to do, he's too busy for bubble art, it's an expresso service today.
The good thing about sitting on a balcony is this: the people you're spying on can't see you. They are like little ants on the garden path. Ants with hats and suitcases... their bald patches on full display to the gods in the balcony bar. You can just sit here and watch them go about their business, queuing up by the departure boards to see when the next train outta here is leaving. They’re not fussy where it's going though... they've had a long day and just want to leave London. You can't get any decent trains at Waterloo. There is nothing to Spain. No trains to Hawaii. No express trains to the moon. It's suburbia or bust. The trains take you to the kind of places that people want to leave. They drop the boots and suits at home for a bit of kip before whisking them back to work again 12 hours later. Back and forth, back and forth, a conveyor belt of carriages dropping off and picking up the workers. They all look glum getting on, and knackered getting off.
It’s not all commuters though… you’ve got your holiday makers too, and families dragging their little kids around for a day out. These people are smiling widely. For them Waterloo is a nice place, it’s the gateway to London, an adventure, and they have arrived!
How long do you reckon I can make this cup of coffee last? I've still got 2 hours to go and it will be stone cold in 30 minutes. I might have to buy something to eat. They don't sell sandwiches at Benugo's though — it's all paninis and wraps and posh stuff like that. It’s a sandwich in a suit, that’s what a panini is… a sandwich dressed up in his Sunday best, not the kind of thing you’d put tomato sauce on. You’d probably drizzle on a bit of olive oil or something like that. That is more panini style.
Guess who's just sat down next to me... you are not going to believe this... it's Nikhal from Emmerdale Farm. No joke! It’s definitely him, this is not a wind-up. Let me take a sneaky photo of him to prove it...
He’s just sitting here writing out his Christmas cards, I think. He’s got a whole stack of them. This guy has obviously got a lot of friends, or maybe he’s sending some off to Emmerdale begging for his old job back. Did they kill his character off? I can't remember. I think he went off to America after his wife got smashed in a car crash. But here he is, large as life, as if nothing has happened. Sitting drinking coffee at Waterloo station. It was all an act!
It's rush hour now and the concourse is getting packed. The big glass roof is slowly going grey as the sun goes down and the white lights are shining on inside. People all rushing onto the trains to go home... elbows at the ready jostling and barging through the mob. Bundling through the ticket barriers with their big bags getting trapped in the gate. Gotta go home, gotta go home, let me through people, I've gotta go home.
The other siren-like object that attracts people's attention is the big TV on the wall. If there's a TV on, people will watch it. That is the rule. Even when it’s on a repeating loop of news, sports headlines and laptop adverts. It all gets beamed down to the hypnotised commuters as they wait for their train. You can't help watching it. Even I'm watching it. We're all watching it, hundreds of us.
There's a nice little bit of entertainment now... it's Christmas so they've got a big tree set up and a little choir of carol singers has begun to gather around it. They've got bobble Santa hats on and break out into a warm-up, tuning up their voices. They've even got a jolly fat conductor waving his baton around like it actually means something. A quick few verses of silent night and here come the buckets of money... we sing, you pay, they say. We don't do this for nothing. Empty all your wallets!
As much as I like this place, there is one thing about Benugo's that I hate — the blasted pigeons all over the place. Waterloo station is like an indoor aviary sometimes. Once they get in they can't get out. They just fly around from person to person pecking at all the leftover sandwiches on the tables. Pecking at everything that looks like a crumb. They used to live in Trafalgar Square until the Mayor kicked them out as vermin. So now these homeless creatures have descended on Waterloo like a load of pecking begging feathered immigrants, flapping around with their elbows out (a bit like the commuters bundling onto the train).
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