Summer fun in London.
If you didn't think beer drinking could be a cultural experience, read on.
Monday 2nd July 2006 -
I flew from Vienna to Heathrow, or at least that was the plan. We were on the airport bus to take us to our plane when they decided it wasn't airworthy, always a decision best made BEFORE take-off! We then had to wait while Austrian Airlines 'found' another plane.
How do you 'find' a plane? Check under the mat? Hey guys here's one under the potplant!
How you 'hide' an aeroplane in the first place?
It's annoying when your delay is longer than the flight, and unlike Qantas, Austrian Airlines don't provide you any refreshments while waiting, as a consideration for the delay. Then they want you to pay for any food on the flight, except you wouldn't have been hungry if they had flown in the middle of the afternoon when scheduled!
I got to Heathrow, eventually, only to hear that the baggage unloading system had suffered a 'meltdown' whatever that means. (I didn't realise baggage systems were now nuclear powered!) Happy moment amongst all this, I wasn't on the flight that had just arrived from Madrid. According to an announcement, their plane had taken off with no baggage at all! Not happy Jan!
Baggage collected eventually, I then caught a bus directly to Cambridge to meet up with my Auntie and Uncle, but by now, had now missed the family dinner. They actually live in a little village called Histon about 5 km from Cambridge.
My cousin Yan had come home to meet up with me, and we both went and spent the morning, lunch and afternoon with my Grandpa. He lives a short distance away in Godmanchester. What would any self-respecting English gentleman feed his grandsons if he takes them out for lunch. Fish and chips of course! Also with mushy peas. MMmm! Mushy peas.
Hot and humid late afternoon was spent by Yan and I in the middle of Cambridge. Hair cut, and gargoyle-adorned cathedrals photographed, we returned home.
Tonight we had a family dinner outdoors, something I never though would happen in England. Something else I never thought would happen was burning my feet on hot ground! Before dinner, I popped down to the post office in the centre of the village. Having already taken off my shoes, I thought a barefoot walk downtown would toughen my feet up. WOW! Today was really hot and the ground was too. I've ended up with blisters! Bugger!
Tuesday - enjoying 'being on holidays', I only headed to London mid afternoon and the local bus from Histon to Cambridge train station was HOT. Then I felt the heaters were on and realised they probably can't turn them off! England copes with the cold as the houses have heating etc. What they don't do well is heat as nothing is air conditioned.
English efficiency – At 14:50 I enquired at the info booth on the platform whether the 14:54 was an express train to Kings Cross or should I wait for the 15:15. She said the 14:54 had already gone and the 15:15 was an express. When I pointed to the giant station clock on the platform, she had no idea either. WOW! To make sure you run on time, you leave early!
The express train to London was quick. Apparently London is in the middle of a ‘heatwave’? Front page of today’s evening newspaper 32 degrees!
Sometimes hotels, sometimes backpackers. This holiday is nothing if not variety. Each has it’s benefits and the downsides allow me to appreciate each in turn. During my 4 nights in London, I am staying in Piccadilly Backpackers in a ‘pod’ dorm.
“What the hell is a pod dorm?” you ask. I know I did!
Actually it’s an improvement on a normal 6 bed bunk dorm. The 6 beds (3 wide and 2 high) are like pigeon holes on a shelf and you climb in the end, rather than the side. There is a plywood ‘wall’ between you and the person next to you. This means if you hang your towel over the end, you have privacy and darkness. I’m staying here for the LOCATION as it is right in the middle of London’s West End action. There's a theatre next door and the Piccadilly tube stop is a stone's throw, and I can't throw far!
Later this afternoon The Wandera went wandering.
True to form, London had by now clouded grey and was getting ready to unleash a humid thundery downpour later tonight.
My West End wanderings brought me to nearby Leister Square and a pub! Since reading all about a few months ago in a book called The World of Beer, my mission on this visit is to only drink 'real' ales. They are the cask conditioned beers with no carbonation that get hand 'pulled' by a pump from the cellar. The first pub in Leister Square had 5 to choose from and I tried 2. One was called Hophead. MMmm! Beer! :-)
I lived in London in 1992-1993, and this is now the third time as a 'tourist'. Whilst I’m clear I would not like to live here, I do enjoy visiting London, and never lack for things to do.
It was Samuel Johnson who said,“When a man is tired of London, he is tired of life.”
The intention of this visit is to do some cultural stuff. Art galleries, theatre, pubs, comedy clubs, etc. I have 4 nights here, and the first one was the cultural experience of being in a centuries old pub in London called The Crown, drinking real ales and watching WC soccer with a bunch of Londoners. Cosy, and smoky. Unfortunately it seems that Europe, with the noteworthy exception of Ireland, is way behind Australia in making pubs smoke-free and a healthier place for all.
Wed - I skipped the dodgy breakfast at the backpackers. Queuing up for two bits of stale toast and bad coffee doesn't count as ‘breakfast’ in my book, but hey, they get to put "Breakfast included" on their website. I stayed here in 2004 and the location is 10/10. Brekky? Worst!
My first goal this morning, after a 'real English breakfast' elsewhere, was to secure a ticket to a musical tonight. Magazine to read in hand, I got to the half-price ticket booth in Leister Sq. half an hour before it opened at 10 and was one of the first in line. (If you get there at 10, you will wait more than an hour in line. Not such a dumb %u#& hey!) I got a great ticket to We Will Rock You, the Queen musical written by Ben Elton.
‘Heatwave’ yesterday and raining today! I went wandering towards Trafalgar Sq., just a short walk from Leister Sq. and before I knew it, like bees to a honeypot, there was Malcolm being sucked into the National Gallery. Like a timewarp, I entered before noon and reappeared into the daylight of Trafalgar Sq. about 3pm having been lost in the amazing collection of art they have. I went to the National Gallery in 1992, and I was familiar with Constable, but a revelation for me on this visit was the work of Turner, another English landscape artist. His capture of the nuance of light was just magic. He did it in a very literal manner, unlike Monet, an impressionist. On the subject of Monet, they have a whole room of them in the National Gallery.
No Monets for Malcolm! Unfortunately it was closed for a week for renovations, right when I am here!
Bloody Murphy keeps following me!
Next I walked to the Photography Gallery. I found it inspiring for a different reason. If the featured artist can be such, by taking boring family snapshots over a 3 year period, there’s hope for any of you reading this, and me!
I continued walking up Charing Cross Rd to Oxford St with lots of shops as I’d been hunting for a new travel clock. I eventually found one. What time to set? I didn’t know, but knew it was time for a beer! The Ship poured me a nice pint of London Pride, and my cultural experience continued. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.
We Will Rock You was a great show and would be appreciated by anyone who knows at least a couple of Queen songs. Ben Elton’s humour crept into the ‘plot’ of course and it was a lot of fun, which is what a musical should be. Add to this the ‘sense of place’ as it is showing in the Dominion Theatre, where it has been since opening 5 years ago. The lobby and other areas are adorned with archival and historic photos of Freddie and Queen, providing interesting viewing in the interval.
Thursday – As I said, this is not my first time to London. It was however the first time I have ever done the hop-on-hop-off bus tour. Great idea! Undeterred by the overcast sky, I jumped on board the open-topped double-decker bus. It was a great idea until, true to London form it set in raining.
I jumped off near the London Eye, but with weather like this, I was not going to waste money on a view that wasn’t there. (Two days ago in the heat people were being ‘fried and microwaved’ in the plastic bubbles on the London Eye! Today they can’t see for rain!) My reason for getting off here was that the Dali Universe is right next door. I discovered the Dali Universe gallery by accident on my last visit and he’s my favourite artist – crazy, but inspiring. Creative, expressive, and not too bothered what people thought.
My favourite Dali quote is,“An artist is not someone who is inspired, rather someone who inspires others.”
As expected, I left inspired to greater creativity and artistic expression.
Lunch was in a Japanese sushi bar, but the dish I chose was Spanish fusion, I guess. I had a seafood paella eaten with chopsticks with miso soup. Japanish or Spanese?
St. Paul’s Cathedral was my next stop. WOW! Christopher Wren, you have done well.
The Tate Modern gallery followed, and I was here until closing at 6pm. I wanted some balance to the art in the National Gallery. Spending time at the Tate Modern, I was reminded how much of a crock some modern art is, when a painting that was just brown with a white stripe on the right border was described by the w#nker, sorry art critic, on the audio guide as being, “Moody and melancholy - with the white providing refreshing optimism to the whole and creating tension between the parts.” What a crock! It was a brown canvas with a white stripe that any primary school kid in the UK could have done, and some twit at Tate Modern spent thousands of taxpayers pounds on it. Glad I’m not a Pom or I would be annoyed.
Today was an international one for meals – English breakfast, Japanese lunch and now an Indian Rogan Josh curry for dinner.
Tonight’s cultural adventure was some stand-up comedy. I found a place literally right around the corner from where I am staying. Told you the location was good! It was upstairs at the Queens Head, a morbid name referring to none other than Anne Bolyn, the queen beheaded by Henry the 8th (I think it was he who invented fractions.)
Cosy venue with less than 40 in the audience and the ‘house full’ sign on the door. The MC worked the crowd to warm things up before the 6 comedians to follow came on. Asking if there was anyone not local and where they were from, I of course piped up ‘stralia. After stating that Aussies are always smiling, happy, optimistic and easy-going, he then went into a very funny tirade about how much he hates Aussies because despite the efforts of the English at being sad, downcast, miserable and pessimistic, it has no effect on the Aussies and they stay cheerful. A national compliment I thought. “Many a true word spoken in jest.” as my mother would say.
Friday 7th of July and my last day in London.
MMmm! Cooked breakfast! I walked to Embankment Pier for the 10:40 river cruise up the Thames to Greenwich, another thing I haven’t done before. Despite the grey sky still, it started off beautifully with the open topped boat and sights such as Tower Bridge and the Tower of London passing. Then the rain came, the roof was closed over and I am still waiting to see London with blue skies. The postcards I bought had a copyright date of 2002 and I suspect that was the last time they had the chance to take pictures of London with the blue skies.
On returning at 1pm I walked to Temple Gate to photograph the knight statues. Temple Gate is the gate/archway that divides the City of Westminster from the City of London. I hadn’t realised until yesterday on the bus tour that they are two cities. I thought it was all London.
From there I caught the tube (underground) to the Victoria and Albert (V & A) Museum. It focuses on design and whilst it did have some paintings, there were many other objects of art on display. I particularly liked the sculptures.
Catching the tube back to Piccadilly I stopped at the Devonshire Arms (another pub within 50m of where I am staying) for a pint of ale. London seems to have a tiny pub on every corner and sometimes even in between - Australia has much fewer, but much larger pubs.
The bargain meal I’d sniffed out in the form of a Thai buffet, turned out to be a reminder, that you usually get what you pay for!
There was comedy on again at the Queen’s Head. Different organiser and different comedians. Tonight was quieter, with only 21 in the audience. I had the comfy chair in the corner and was picked on at various times as “Malcolm in the corner.” The comedians weren’t a patch on last night and there were even times that the banter amongst the audience was funnier than the person up front! One even swore at us and walked off. Very amateur.
I’d do stand up comedy, but I’m scared of being laughed at.
Why is it in England that everyone always talks about the weather?
News Flash! Unbelievable but true! Man in Kent caught beginning a conversation with something other than the weather.
Quirk of history. It seems that over the centuries many countries have tried to invade England.
Perpetual grey skies, incessant rain, cold, damp and overcrowded. Kinda begs the question - Why anyone would want to invade England?
Visit? Sure! I did and once again, had a great time!