Time to leave Birmingham, but first of all we needed to settle the bill. I realised I was a bit lacking in the cash department, so had a quick consultation with "Basil", our host. He apologised for not accepting cards, but gave me directions to a cash machine, and then asked "Are you sure that’s okay?" with the kind of tone that suggested that if it was too hard to walk there get cash, he was almost willing to let us leave without paying.
We found the fabled Natwest machine, just as per his instructions, and returned to cough up the dosh. Then we set off for the bus stop, and caught one of the many going by to Birmingham City Centre. We strolled along Corporation Street to New Street Station, and checked the times of trains back to Oxford (yes, that old make-use-of-the-railcard thing again). We had just missed one, so we took a look around the shopping centre above the station, the (s)wankily named Pallasades Centre. Ultimately, it was just another shopping mall, but it kept us entertained until it was time to get on the train and say, naturally, "So long Birmingham – You’re my kind of town!"
Courtesy of another of Richard Branson’s train sets, we rolled into Oxford a bit later, slurped down a drink and then rolled out again, bound for London on board a very streamlined and fairly empty Thames Turbo express. We bought some sandwiches off the jovial on-board catering bloke, and had munched our way through them by the time we reached London Paddington station.
Back on the Underground to London Victoria, then we wandered around and found the Sainsbury’s not-quite-big-enough-to-be-a-supermarket nearby and bought some food for dinner.
Then we went and did the Victoria shuffle, a little dance without music that sees people gazing up at the departure boards looking for the station they want to get to, then scurrying off towards the platforms when they see it, hoping that there’s actually time to get onto the train before it leaves.
We got to our train, but the on-board announcements left us in some doubt if it would actually be stopping at South Croydon. The quintessential City Gent sitting opposite deftly whipped a timetable from his briefcase and inspected it, and told us that it should do so; and indeed it did. He was very cheerful and helpful, despite Jeremy doing a toddler scream at him (well okay, not at him, but in the vicinity) and us nearly breaking his legs as we manoeuvred the pram past him to alight.
It’s refreshing to know that at South Croydon, the painted signs on the platform saying "MIND THE STEP/GAP" actually warn you of a considerable gap (and step), not just a teensy tiny ant-sized gap of the type elsewhere in London that the signs and railway people seem to be at pains to warn you about. No, at South Croydon, they have a real gap.
From the station we walked back to my uncle Hew’s place. He was almost as delighted to see us as he was delighted to discover that L had volunteered to cook chicken for dinner, which we made very fast work of, before settling into a relaxing evening of wine and telly (vision, that is, not savalas).