Read the previous part here.
The next twenty four hours were going to be eventful. I was on my way to the coach station, humming the tune of a ghastly song, occasionally whispering the lyrics. The cold was sending in shivers down my spine. I reached Gloucester Green at around three in the night. My bus had not arrived. I had hoped I’d meet people at the station. There were none, except a drunk girl who thanked me three times for telling her the time. She was not travelling to London, she was just waiting for a cab. I tried to direct her to the cab stand but apparently I was not making a lot of sense. While we were trying to establish my right was not her right, my coach arrived. The british people are very amiable, you just don’t end conversations abruptly with them, so I had to lie about her right being my right. I bid her goodbye and hopped onto the coach. I showed my ticket to the driver and walked to the middle of the coach where the seats were the most comfortable. The time was 0310. The coach took off in a jiffy. I was the sole passenger in the sixty seater double decker bus. Scenes of Indian buses flashed past my eyes: a hundred people – relying only on the inter-atomic repulsive forces that prevent all matter from combining – trying to fuse into a single blob, some hanging out from the doors, in a moderately sized vehicle. I looked around to reassure myself I was alone. I collapsed in the comfort of my cosy seat and prayed for a change. I tried to doze off, but the streets looked so lovely in the moonlight, I couldn’t help not stare at them. It was 0440 and I had reached London, Victoria coach station. I thanked the driver. I was excited and relieved as I got off the bus. As much as I love travelling, I don’t like spending time getting to the places. My next task was to locate Stop D and board the bus N73 to Kings Cross St. Pancreas. I groped my pockets for the map of the place and retrieved one from umpteen nicely folded print outs of more maps and bus routes and bus timings. I have never prided myself for being able to learn road routes and in the next thirty minutes, I was beginning to doubt if I was even a literate. I had the map and I was walking along what appeared to be the right tracks, but the destination seemed unreachable. I reverted back to my starting point twice, made slight modifications to the paths I had taken earlier, but it didn’t work. I knew I had missed the 0510 bus and I’d have to catch the next one. I had made up my mind to take a cab, but fortunately I spotted N73, the bus I was supposed to board. I couldn’t stop it, for it was not my country. For what was worth, I saw where it was coming from, so I walked in the direction I thought it had originated from. I managed to find Stop D and realized how Archimedes must’ve felt after the knowledge of buoyancy hit him. The next bus was in twenty minutes. I had a lot of time to reach King’s Cross. My cousin had promised to be there at eight for our breakfast together. I would’ve missed the next bus too had I not been reminded to buy a ticket from the ticket dispenser by a kind elderly man who learnt from me how I had missed the bus. Fortunately, I didn’t.
I was at the London King’s Cross St. Pancreas station. The time was was 0552. I had time to kill. I had a small bag that I was carrying. I decided to take a walk. There was a KFC nearby, it hadn’t opened. I walked towards it to read the offers pamphlet and it started raining. It was a drizzle at first but grew into a downpour in a jiffy. I ran towards the train station to seek refuge. The station was huge but there was no sitting room. There were white, black, brown, yellow people everywhere. There were a couple of stores inside: selling books, chocolates, fruits, water, soft-drinks and chewing gum. There were restaurant outlets selling food. I checked into a book store to kill the time; spent the next forty minutes reading the gists of different novels. Suddenly people started to leave the benches and walk towards the trains. A couple of trains were ready for departure. This implied sitting room. I jogged towards an empty bench and perched my rear on it. I had not slept in two days, and there wasn’t going to be any sleep that night. So I decided to take a nap. I rested my bag on my lap and my head on the bag and tried to sleep. I was unsuccessful and gave up. A couple of chinese looking people were banging their heads, trying to scan the huge digital information board to locate the timings of a train to Cambridge. I joined them and found the train to Cambridge in three minutes (not my personal best though). “Thank you mister“, replied one of them. Suddenly I felt a vibration in my pant-pocket. It was my cellphone. I picked it up. “Robin, where are you?“, my cousin from the other end said. “I’m at Kings Cross”, I responded. “Be there. Sorry, I overslept. I will be there as soon as I can. I’ll take the train from Wembley. Eat something if you’re hungry. We’ll still have breakfast together“, he said. “Okay. I’ll wait here, and you take your time. There’s no hurry“, I hung up. I walked out, it was still raining. I checked into another shop, bought an apple and read the headlines from a newspaper that was up for sale. The rain had mellowed down so I walked along the streets, breathing in the fresh, moisture laden breeze. I received another call from my cousin and we decided to meet outside the King’s Cross station in 5 minutes.
We hugged. Saurabh Bhaiya (that’s how we address elder brothers in India) asked me if I had any food preferences. I had none. So we started walking, talking about my future, daylight savings and other things I don’t quite remember. We had traditional English breakfast at a cafe. It consisted of vegetables, an omlette, bacon, bread butter and tea. It was nine thirty. I had decided to catch the 1006 train, so we walked back towards the train station. We reached the station well in time, and we still had about fifteen minutes before the train arrived so we used the time to see Harry Porter’s platform nine and a three quarters. There was a long queue of young people waiting to be photographed at the platform. Soon it was time and I bid goodbye to my cousin and embarked on the train to Stevenage. I didn’t have a music player then, but the moment I stepped into the train, I could hear Rammstein’s Kiene Lust in my head; it was the effect of seeing the people I was travelling with. It was the biggest Heavy Metal crowd I had ever seen. People with tattoos covering three-fourth of their bodies, people with piercings, people with muscular builds, people with hair reaching their waists, people with knotted beards, I knew the next fifteen hours were going to be fun. I looked around, there were two attractive young girls wearing Motley Crue T-shirts in one booth, and three older men wearing Metallica and Slayer in another. I weighed my chances, and sat with the Big 3, because 3 is an odd number after all. Thirty two minutes of heavy metal trivia later, I found myself in a queue to the shuttle that would take me to the Knebworth Park. Twenty minutes and a bus ride later, I was outside the Knebworth Park; my first reaction was, “It’s freaking huge“. The shuttle dropped us outside the park from where we had to walk a couple of miles to get to the actual park. On the way we saw parked cars for a mile and camps for another mile. Finally I got to the huge queue to the main site entrance. I could still hear music in my head, but it was drowned in the actual music coming from inside the park. I noticed I was excited, which was a rare occurence for someone with a slow brain and a dismissive attitude towards most things others are interested in. I found a gentleman with a BMVC bag ahead of me in the queue, I was fascinated (BMVC is an annual Research Conference for those seeking answers to similar questions as I am). I held out my hand and introduced myself, explaining why I had poked him. He responded, “so you’re a machine learning guy” and introduced me to his two Italian companions. I joined them, three is an odd number after all. We talked and walked to three the main stages: Apollo, Saturn and Bohemia. Well technically Bohemia is the smallest of the three stages, where the smaller bands perform. It was not noon yet, so Bohemia was the only stage in business (bigger bands don’t quite like the sun). Some band was playing some form of heavy metal, I could hear the growling vocals. It was good, but, as I told my companions, there were bands in Hyderabad like Skrypt, Sledge, who’d kick arse harder.
It was noon, Lacuna coil would go first. I had expected them to be a bigger name; anyhow, they did a decent job, but they were not so good Live. There were girls jumping around to their music, and the one in front of me landed twice with her wooden boots on my left foot. It was excruciating, but when she asked if I was okay in her husky voice, I could manage, “No I’m on local anaesthesia, it doesn’t hurt”. We had a laugh and she offered me beer. The rest of the evening was spent seeing and listening to bands like Anthrax, Slayer, Good Charlotte, Skunk Anasie, Katatonia, Evile, Papa Roach, Soulfly, Apocalyptica, Fear Factory, Motley Crue, Placebo. I had never heard Fear Factory, but they were a force Live, I respect bands who are good Live. I got into a huge moshpit while they were on, and I lost my companions. I had southern fried chicken for lunch, and a softy for dessert. Rammstein started playing around 2130 and continued till 2300. They set fire to the stage. The back-drop of the stage changed several times, they did their shenanigans and tantrums, the keyboard player was thrown in a coffin which was set ablaze, someone from the crowd jumped on the stage and was set on fire; it was a crazy awesome performance. Rammstein was Rammstein best that night. I had to take the last bus at 2352, so I ran like I hadn’t in ten years. The natural process of companion selection landed me with a Portuguese dude (he basically had the same speed as I had) and he volunteered to show me the way. He was travelling to London too and was an IT technician, so we had other stuff in common to talk about. So we sat next to each other in the Shuttle and the shuttle left us at a strange intersection. I looked at the Portuguese, he looked at his watch and back at me with the “everything is under control” twinkle. We walked in a direction he dictated and stood in a queue for five minutes, it was hardly moving. I asked him if we were standing in the right queue, he reasoned the station was crowded because everyone wanted to get on that train. I was skeptical about his theory because everyone in the queue was so dressed to kill, it was certainly not the Heavy Metal crowd. I asked him to save my space and went on ahead to find out why the queue wasn’t moving. I felt a shiver down my spine as I saw a huge bouncer chatting with two women in raunchy outfits. It took me less than ten seconds to realize it was the queue to a disco/drinking club. I cursed my fate, ran back to my companion, pulled him by his arm and announced “it’s a fucking disco.” He smiled and responded, “Not in the mood to dance?” We laughed like war veterans, it was a bloody brilliant line. Twenty seconds into the fanfare, I realized this train was my only chance to not miss my flight to India, so I decided to tell him I HAD to be on the train. He realized the urgency of the situation, pulled out his modern cellular phone with GPS tracking and asked me to follow him. I could see a smaller route to the railway station on his tracker map, but I didn’t want to confuse him, so I just followed him. He was kind enough to remind me we’d have to run again, and we ran our way on the longest route available to the railway station out of three available options. Basically it was like going from the east coast of America to the west coast, only taking the route via China. One and a half miles of running later, we finally reached the train station at 2351. We had no time to read instructions, so we jumped into the first train we saw and the doors shut instantly. I leapt for the door realizing it could be the wrong train, but it had started to move. Thankfully it was not the wrong train, as was announced later. At 0040, we reached London, and I knew this was it; I had made it. The Portuguese and I bid good bye, he said he’d be glad to see me again sometime, I said the same, but I didn’t mean it. He was a nice bloke, but I swore never to trust a Portuguese. The rest of the trip went as planned, I met no talkative strangers at the Kings Cross. It was perhaps the most memorable twenty hours of my life, but several incidents recently have made me question my assertion. Nevertheless, I’m looking forward to a life full of similar adventures, I’m going to Sonisphere next week again.