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Bon Journal

The price of the unfamiliar

Any departure from the daily routine and familiar surroundings is an invitation to inconvenience and discomfort.

Today I took my Evening Standard (newspaper) coupon to the Wandsworth branch of Cannons, a private health club. It was the closest one with a swimming pool.

Bus 156 took me to Burr Road, and it was a seven minute trek in darkness before I summoned up the courage to ask a passerby. How could a health club thrive in the middle of nowhere?

Since the coupon gave me a free visit to any branch of my choice, I decided to use it to the max before it expired. So I worked out for one hour in the body conditioning class, a touch too mild for a once keen aerobics enthusiast. Thereafter I dived into the swimming pool, which was big by London standards. Classical music played through stereo speakers - and I was hooked. The club tries to keep its costs down by encouraging you to bring your own towels, shampoo, and other amenities. Otherwise, you'd have to pay a pound for a towel.

The journey home was a long and winding one. I waited indefinitely for the same bus to take me to Clapham Junction. Forty-five minutes later, the bus arrived thirty minutes late. By then I was cold, hungry, and desperate. With two see-through plastic Virgin Atlantic backpacks and a BP black (briefcase-like) bag, I looked and felt like a homeless woman. Even in my warmest coat (a Laura Ashley apaca wool), I felt the night getting colder and lonelier.

At Clapham Junction, I noticed a brightly lit restaurant beckoning me to stop and get dinner. "Good Morning Vietnam" served Chinese, Thai, and Vietnamese food specified as being free of MSG, fat, and BSE. I was pleasantly surprised at the authenticity of the £3.95 bowl of roast duck and pork noodle soup. Starters were just £2.50, and I presumed equally good.

The direct train to Victoria station was seven minutes late. So I stood on platform 12 hoping that I wouldn't freeze in the clear, half-moon night. At Victoria train station, the walk to the Underground seemed like an eternity. Yet once I got into the station, I learned of further delays.

It took three hours from the time I left the club in Wandsworth, by bus, train, tube, and foot, before I got home. If London's public transport system weren't so in need of a fix, my venture into the unknown might not have turned out so rotten.

26 November 2001 Monday