All the fun of the big pink tent – first published 11 May 2013

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Moonwalk day had finally arrived and, for the second time in a week, I was off to London. This time it was in the car with Commando. We had a hotel booked in Putney but only one of us would be spending the night there and there was the small matter of actually getting to it. Driving in London is not as simple as you’d think…

11 May 2015

We set off for London  just before midday after I’d checked and rechecked the bags to make sure I had everything this time, especially socks. Last time I forgot my socks and ended up having to walk round Putney until I found some. This was not a good way to spend the hours before the walk. The weather didn’t look great, sunny but lots of dark clouds threatening rain.

The plan was to stop at Fleet and get a big high carb meal to set me up for the walk. This was something I’d been really looking forward to as it’s not often I get to eat as much as I want guilt free. It turned out to be a big disappointment. There wasn’t the greatest of choice to start with unless you wanted greasy Kentucky Fried Chicken or Mackie D. The proper restaurant had a minimal selection, most of which looked rather unappetising if I’m honest. Commando chose chicken tikka, probably the nicest looking thing there but I thought this might not be wise pre-walk meal. In the end I plumped for ham eggs and chips, plenty of carbs there and a bit of protein.

The curry was dished up and the waitress went to the kitchen for my ham and eggs. A few minutes later she came back, “no ham.”
“Could I have sausage instead then, with the chips and eggs?”
“No.”
“Can I have sausage and mash but with chips instead of the mash then?”
“Yes. You want eggs with that? Ninety nine pence each.”
Was I missing something? Maybe it was the language barrier. I was speaking English, goodness knows what she was speaking but it could only have loosely been described as broken English. She put three sausages on a plate.
“You want two egg?”
“Just one will be plenty.”
One rather rigid egg went onto the plate with the sausages.
“No chips,” she indicated the almost empty stainless steel warming tray. “Four minutes.”

When I eventually sat down to eat, the egg turned out to be immaterial, it might as well have been made out of rubber. I left it, along with one of the sausages and some of the chips although I did think of taking it with me to use as a mini frisbee. I’d probably have been better off with the Kentucky or the Mackie D. On the way out I went to the loo and almost bumped into another Moonwalker. Well, she was wearing the bra t-shirt so I assumed she was a Moonwalker. I wished her luck, she wished me luck too. There is a great camaraderie amongst those mad enough to contemplate this cruel and unusual challenge.

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The closer we got to London the wetter it got. The rain was pouring down and on the radio Shakira was singing “without you this place feels like London it rains every day.” The irony was not lost. I hoped the rain would do its thing and go away before the walk started. Actually praying might be a better word. No sleep, lots of people, waiting around for hours and freezing cold are bad enough, rain on top is just torture and should probably be banned under the Geneva Convention.

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We were almost within sight of the hotel when things took another wrong turn (excuse the pun). We were on a rather large and poorly laid out roundabout with traffic lights and three lanes. The satnav told Commando to turn off at the next set of lights. Unfortunately it didn’t do this early enough for him to get into the correct lane and, as this is London, no one was going to let him in. We eneded up going round the same roundabout three times before we managed to get into the correct lane at the correct time. I hasten to add this was nothing to do with Commando’s driving skills but down to the way the roundabout was set out and the refusal of any London driver to ever let anyone in. There are probably people who starve to death driving round and round that thing trying to get in the right lane to exit. Remind me never to even contemplate driving in London when I pass my test. I was getting nervy just sitting in the passenger seat.

Eventually we got to the hotel and parked. When we were checking in there were a group of other Moonwalkers in reception also checking in. The receptionist was asking them all about it. We all exchanged a few pleasantries then Commando and I went off to our room. I did try to sleep and I think I may have got about an hour If you add up all the five and ten minute bursts. My plan was to get to Moonwalk City as late as possible to avoid all the hanging around but the WLR girls had different ideas. They texted to say they were at Victoria Station and Anne P, who wasn’t actually Moonwalking had joined them. When I texted back and told them about my plans Mr Bumble came back to say they might not let me in becuase my race number was for the first start and I was supposed to get there first. So that was that, it was time to go.

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There were even more Moonwalkers in hotel reception when we went down. One woman was actually from Southampton, what a coincidence. It was her first Moonwalk and she didn’t have to leave until later but I do hope she finished and got back in one piece. After an uneventfully tube journey with just one change of train we found the gang in Prezzo on the mezzanine at Victoria. What is it about Prezzo and me these days? There was an empty table next to theirs so we sat down but pretty soon a rather rude member of staff came up to tell us the table was reserved (despite nothing to indicate this) and we couldn’t sit there. So instead of a healthy pre-race snack I ended up with a Big Mac and chocolate milkshake in the only other place that wasn’t teeming with Moonwalkers. Everywhere you looked there were women in pink and white Moonwalk bra t-shirts.

After we’d eaten we went back to Prezzo to meet up with the WLR girls again and with Ally’s husband who was also walking (complete with bra and costume) so was an honorary WLR girl for the night. The ‘reserved’ table was still empty. Mr Bumble was ensconced in the loos putting on her costume. After what seemed like a very long time with no sign of her Anne P and I went to make sure she was alright but all we got in reply to our knocks was rustling and giggles.

Moonwalks are always themed and this year the theme was Fly Me To The Moon, which meant anything loosely connected with space or sic fi. Ally, Mel C and Mr Ally all had silver bras with coloured stars and skirts to match. Mr Ally had shorts, having said a bra was one thing but a skirt was a step too far. As you know my costume was black with lots of stars, a Moon, planets plus a few rockets and aliens thrown in. Mr Bumble is never one to do things by halves. This time she had excelled herself. She had a Dalek theme. Her skirt was like the bottom half of one of the Doctor Who monsters and her bra had two rather unfortunately placed Dalek arms, she even had a head piece. I’m surprised we didn’t get arrested when we did our little photo shoot. Ally and Mel C refused to remove their bra t-shirts though. What chickens!

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We had a little bit of time left before we needed to leave for Battersea so decided to go and get a coffee. I never have to be asked twice about coffee. We got to Starbucks just as they were closing up. All the tables from outside were piled up inside and they were clearing things away. As we were all Moonwalkers, they let us come in to have coffee anyway. How nice and what a change from the service in Prezzo. After one last trip to the loo we said goodbye to Anne P and got our train along with hundreds of other Moonwalkers. The place was crawling with them and so was the train. It was like London had been taken over by a tribe of pink and white bra t-shirt wearing invaders.

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We actually passed Battersea Power Station on the train. The sky over it did not look promising and I was glad I had my windproof waterproof coat with me. When we got to the front entrance to the iconic London landmark we were disappointed to see a long pink and white queue going right along the block and round the corner. There were mumbles from some of the group. Those of us who’d done the Moonwalk before were not surprised, the queues last time were legendary.

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Around the corner it became apparent that the queue stretched right along the block and round the next corner too. The grumbles grew louder. By the time we found the end of the queue we had walked almost a mile and of course that meant we had to shuffle another mile in the queue to get in. Still we were looking right at the back of the building with the four tall white chimneys towering above us and, through a small arch, we could actually glimpse the big pink Moonwalk tent. At this point the gates hadn’t actually opened so the queue was just getting longer and longer. Lots of people walked past grumbling loudly and saying how unfair it was and a few tried to cut into the line but they got short shrift from everyone already queueing.

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Once the queue did start to move it moved quite quickly thank goodness. We shuffled forwards at a relatively speedy pace. There was a lot of good natured banter and complements on costumes. It seemed everyone had interpreted the theme in their own way. There were quite a few Princess Leia’s and aliens, one woman had a silver sprayed bin made into a space helmet. I didn’t envy her trying to walk in that and hoped, for her sake, she was only doing the Half Moon.

On the last leg of the queue I heard a little voice call my name. Leaning up against the wall behind us was a woman I didn’t at first recognise and I must have stared at her a bit blankly. It turned out to be Roxy, an ex WLR girl who I’ve never met before but keep in touch with on Facebook more or less. She wasn’t moving forward because she was waiting for someone to join her so we only had a few moments to wish each other luck before the queue moved again and we lost sight of her.

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Finally we got through the gate and had our numbers checked. Just as we were strolling towards the tent the heavens opened. A real deluge. The Walk the Walk Official shouted, “run for the tent,” and started rushing people inside. We made it just in time to save us getting soaked to the skin but I suppose the people further back in the queue, including Roxy, weren’t so lucky. The rain just kept falling.

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We set up camp where we could. This turned out to be close to one of the openings so it was quite drafty but at least we were dry. Well as long as we didn’t want to sit down. The click together flooring was soaked from all the wet feet. In the end I gave up and spread my Moonwalk issue plastic mac on the floor to sit on. We did have a wander around and look at all the things going on. Sadly there was no one at the Talk the Talk Forum stand when I got there. I was hoping I might actually get to meet Jo, one of the Walk the Walk Admin people who always comments on my posts. There were quite a few Star Wars characters in the tent, not all of them walkers, some were Walk the Walk entertainers.

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The rain stopped, more or less, so I had a little wander outside. There were no queues for the portaloos at this stage so I took advantage of that. The real Back To The Future De Lorien car was outside and I took a photo but I didn’t queue to sit inside and have a professional photo taken because it was very cold and windy. I decided to go back to the tent where it was a bit warmer and drier.

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There was a very emotional minute of silence announced by Nina Barough. Three women, all victims of breast cancer, had signed up for this Moonwalk believing they would be able to complete it. All three had actually died. Friends or family had chosen to walk in their places and were somewhere amongst the heaving crowds. That really bought home exactly what we were all doing this for.

My start time was supposed to be just after eleven so when Mr Bumble decided to see if the loo queues were still bearable I said I’d go too to have once last almost indoor wee before I set off. I didn’t particularly want to go but it seemed like a good plan to try. As it turned out it was a lucky move and also lucky I didn’t really need to go. When we got outside people had started to line up for the first start, mine. Thank goodness I decided not to bother with the loo queues and to join the group at the start line. I’d been there hardly any time at all when Nina appeared on the high platform beside the start banner and started the countdown to the off. Minutes later I was walking under the banner starting off my WalkJogRun.

 

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Marie

Writer, walker, coffee drinker, chocolate eater, lover of nature, history and the little things that make me smile

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