Three wollongongers* do london: the longest post ever part one
*I think ‘Wollongoners’ is the most suitable demonym for Wollongong. Better than Wollongongian or Wollongongite or any other suffix combination, anyway.
This is Luke Bagnall from UEA again, writing on our trip to London.
As I’m writing this, which will probably be a long time before it’ll go online, Til and I are lounging in the indoor deck of the Pride of Kent, crossing the English channel to Calais.
I love that word. Calais. If it didn’t sound so much like a wankified version of ‘Kelly’ (à la Ja’mie from Jamie), I’d want to name my future daughter Calais. Sounds kind of Elven.
‘Illué alloay Arwen. Callathee allathar cathai calais.’
We’re sitting next to a depressingly nuclear American family who talk (in especially annoying accents, no less) to each other like they’re from 7th Heaven or something. It’s all très bourgeois (getting my French on), so I’m distracting myself from their twee blather with what will probably be an epic blog post.
Where do you go when the world won’t treat you right? The answer is Calais, evidently.
We arrived in London from Norwich last Sunday, and stayed in what looked like the fairly posh suburb of Pimlico, judging from the beautiful olden-day apartments and the concomitant rows of Audis, Mercs, BMWs and Alfa Romeos parked outside them.
Our hostel itself wasn’t so posh, offering what a website tactfully describes as an ‘iconic view’ of the hideous Battersea Power Station. We had to stay in separate male/female dorms ’cause everything else was booked out, and that wasn’t fun because the types of people to deliberately book all-male dorms can easily be the creepy fifty-year-old kind who stand eerily in the corner of the room over the sleeping body of another guy for hours on end (this only happened once, but that was enough).
And I’m not even just exaggerating to fit this picture into this vague LOTR motif – the dude really kinda looked like Gollum.
The showers would be more adequately described as dribblers (not that showers ‘show’), and there was a fifteen minute walk to the nearest tube station. But on the upside, it was very cheap, the service was friendly, which is rare in England, the pub downstairs was cool and played good music, the fifteen-minute walk kept us out all day and burning calories and, best of all, despite the first being low quality and the second being of the Pepsi-not-Coke variety, we got free breakfast as well as free softdrinks whenever we wanted.
My cousin Kirbie was also in London at the time after attending some scientific conference or seminar or workshop or something in Dublin a few days before, so we made plans to meet up at Jamie’s Italian on our first night. Amazingly, it wasn’t outside the restaurant that we met, but in one of five or six elevators at the tube station – we just happened to get in the same one at exactly the same moment. Things like that keep happening, I’ve found. Like Jean-Paul, the only other person on our Topdeck tour to Les Deux Alpes, happened to be staying in Kirbie’s hostel as well, and we ran into him there one morning.
We postponed Jamie’s Italian in favour of something less busy, which ended up being Spanish restaurant La Tasca, where we supped upon delicious (and expensive) sangria and incredible paella.
During our stay we came to feel like regular Londoners, spending almost a hundred pounds a day, passing iconic places like Pall Mall, The Strand, Trafalgar Square, Leicester Square, Coventry Street, Piccadilly and so forth on a quotidian basis (but unfortunately not passing ‘go’ and not collecting $200) and expertly swiping our Oyster cards with the utmost nonchalance on public transport of at least two kinds. Sydney really needs to get something like that. So much more efficient than stupid prepaid bus tickets and weekly/monthly/yearly Shityrail passes.
I started out loving the tube because you can just go down there at any time, wait three minutes at most, and a train will arrive. But a couple of travel disasters later I was over it. I don’t understand how people use that thing every day, in BUSINESS SUITS. It must be awful in summer. They should really be air-conditioned.
The first thing we did on our first full day was the free walking tour where you just tip what you think your tourguide is worth. It’s clever, because knowing you don’t have to pay makes you want to pay more, provided you had a good guide, which we did. And it encourages the guides to make an effort too, I’m sure. Ours was a pretty cool guy named Dave, a musician.
I love the kind of stories they tell you on these tours – anecdotal, urban legendary. It’s rooted in historical fact but not always accurate, and it doesn’t need to be. I think it harks back to that primal act of oral storytelling or something.
Anyway, we started out in Hyde Park Corner, where we heard about Arthur Wellesley, first Duke of Wellington, apparently an arrogant, elitist, sexist war hero. His mansion was right across from the park (at the awesome address of ‘1 London’) and he had a mounted statue of himself erected there, reportedly so he could see it from his windows whenever he wanted. This not being enough, he built his own Arc de Triomphe in the park as well, after he defeated Napoleon, with another statue of himself on top. Apparently Queen Victoria hated the statue so much she replaced it with another one as soon as he died.
Next stop was Buckingham Palace for the changing of the guard. It was madness. I think London was just brimming for the impending royal wedding, so there were so. Many. People. Dave said he’d never seen it like that.
Outside the palace, Dave told us some pretty hilarious stories about people who broke into the palace. One did so wearing a Batman costume and stood on the balcony for hours; others, German tourists, wanted to go camping in Hyde Park, saw the trees over the walls of the palace and assumed they’d found it. They jumped the fence, set up camp, and were only discovered the next morning when they asked a guard how to get out. There was a standout about a drunken homeless Irishman, but it was different to the account I found online. The gist of it was that he ended up on the end of the queen’s bed in the middle of the night, chatting to her for about ten minutes after having consumed half a bottle of her wine. And afterwards, some quirk in the legal system meant he couldn’t be charged for trespassing on public property, so he was just charged for stealing the wine!
Next we walked up Pall Mall to Trafalgar Square, where we saw the hideous Olympic countdown clock and the monument to Nelson.
Here Dave told us about the legend that the term ‘stiff drink’ comes from when sailors preserved the body of Nelson in a barrel of brandy during the three-week journey back to England, but once they had exhausted the ship’s alcohol supply, they proceeded to drink some of the brandy with the body inside (stiff = corpse, therefore ‘stiff drink’). He also told us how they reduced the number of pigeons living in Trafalgar Square – by putting birth control chemicals in the pigeon feed. Just as he finished the story, a lone pigeon swooped JUST over our heads, as if to say, ‘Yeah, but we’re still here!’ and I caught it on camera.
We were then led to the Admiralty Arch.
Til and I had seen it on our previous London visit, but we hadn’t noticed its nose, which sits embedded in the wall for no known reason.
The tour ended at the Houses of Parliament and the Clock Tower (which we now know is only called ‘Big Ben’ metonymically for the bell within). It was really worthwhile hearing all the little stories you’d never know about otherwise. I always think it’s interesting the way you learn the geography of a city – Sydney, Norwich, London. You start out knowing enclosed individual areas, but not how to get from one to the other, and as you wander around you’re always surprised when two areas separated in your mind link up. I think it’s the same way with knowledge, in this case of history. I know separate historical facts about the history of Britain’s royalty, but it was great having them unified by the stories on the tour – learning that so and so was whatsisname’s grandson, etc.
Tilly had heard before coming to London that frozen yoghurt was the latest craze.
The frogurt is also cursed.
So we headed to the place she’d heard about, ‘Snog’, which was admittedly pretty cool. I didn’t think the yoghurt itself was that great, but the décor was interesting. And the concept is clever. And the lighting was sensational! (Just kidding. But seriously, it was).
Our timing of this London-Paris-Amsterdam trip was a bit out, really – we probably should’ve made sure we were actually in Britain for the royal wedding.
Okay, so this one was a bit contrived.
(Picture from http://img-nex.theonering.net)
But seriously, it would’ve been great to go to an ironic student party, or play The Royal Wedding Drinking Game. As it turns out we’re in the Netherlands instead, for a different (better) royal event –
Sorry, couldn’t resist!
(Picture from http://www.squizzas.com)
I actually meant Queen’s Day – but more on that later. So while we won’t be in London for the party, we did get our fill of tacky wedding merchandise. It was in every shop window! Walls and walls of poorly Photoshopped, terrible photos on tea towels and plates and keyrings and such.
Who buys this stuff!?
Everyone’s trying to cash in. Glad someone called it.
Due to its unwieldy mass, this post will continue above.