Flying out of Delhi was straightforward and hassle free – if you don’t mind the several layers of security that sees your hand baggage checked, re-checked and triple checked. By the time I got on the plane my boarding card had almost as many rubber stamps as my passport. Jet Airways use Boeing 777s on the Heathrow route. They’re pretty good, the legroom in my window seat was fine and my fellow travellers (a gracious elderly English couple) ideal companions. Now, I’m not a great fan of flying as I’ve done far too much of it over the years. Any vestiges of romance wore off years ago. But, I do really enjoy day flights out of India because of the majesty of the country we fly over. Not just India with its patchwork of farms or desert, snake-like rivers and sprawling towns, it’s when we headed out over Pakistan’s North-West frontier to fly over Afghanistan that the scenery really become breathtaking.
The tragedy is that Afghanistan is far less peaceful on the ground than it seems from the air but from 35,000 feet the squabbles of humanity are eclipsed by the sheer scale and desolation of the landscape – especially this time of year when vast tracts of this rugged country are blanketed in snow. Then again, it wasn’t just Afghanistan – the snow extended right across the former Soviet Union, creating a monochrome landscape that only petered out at the gates of Moscow. I’d loved to have got some pictures but my window was fogged with too many ice crystals so the only images I have are stored in my mind’s eye. Spectacular as the landscape was I had no desire to be part of it. I was happy to watch such a bleak and freezing world go by from the comfort of a seat at 37,000 feet with a glass of wine in my hand.
Suitably refreshed I managed to get a few hours sleep before we entered UK airspace and began our approach to Heathrow. I love flying in to Heathrow long-haul from Asia as you often get held in a stack above North-East London which gives you superb views of the capital. The final approach is even better – especially if you have a right hand side window seat like me. That way you get a grandstand view of the historic sights of central London.
Heathrow was ticking over nicely so it didn’t take me long to get through the airport. Sadly, the same couldn’t be said for the Piccadilly line. Luckily for me Christian Wolmar was making the trip out to Heathrow and tweeted warning of a ‘one under’ so I caught the Heathrow Express instead. Within a couple of hours I was sitting in front of a coal fire with friends at their home West Norwood – getting used to the idea that I was finally back in Blighty. I’d been travelling for 28 hours and my body clock was telling me it was 5am not 10pm but my day wasn’t quite finished yet...
RAIL magazine had commissioned me to get some shots of the Virgin Pendolino that would be visiting Kings Cross in the early hours, so after a couple of hours sleep I found myself waiting for a night bus to Trafalgar Square. Apart from me, some urban foxes and a few Network Rail vans, the streets of Norwood were deserted. The trip across the city was easy (the night bus system is brilliant) and I soon found myself at the gates of Kings Cross. The station is in the final stages of a makeover that’ll leave the place looking pretty spectacular. Workmen were everywhere, busy testing or adding finishing touches.
The actual job took less than an hour with the safety brief vying for length with the photography! You can see the results in the latest edition of RAIL (out on Wednesday). Afterwards, tired but happy (with a metabolism convinced that it was Midday and asking where the hell Monday night had gone!) I caught the first Victoria line tube back to Norwood for a rendezvous with a well earned breakfast.
Talk about hitting the ground running...