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Last night I was walking home next to the river Thames, when something strange happened to me. It was late at night and I'd had a long and difficult day at work.

Is past perfect justified it was late at night and I had a long and difficult day, it is obvious that if it was late at night my work had finished a long hours ago.

extract from the white mysteries the very beginning of the text

  • It's not obvious. We don't know what the character's work hours are. They could be 3pm to 1am for all we know. Had had refers to the time reference of both 'when something strange happened to me' and 'it was late at night'. It is at the same time as these time references that the author has already had a long and difficult day at work. – AmE speaker May 26 '17 at 6:26
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While it is not obvious how long ago your work ended, using past perfect is justified since you difficult day ended before everything else in simple past.

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