Bringing the learning home (Australian Learning & Teaching Council)

Three wollongongers do london: the longest post ever part two

Luke here, continuing on from my last post.

The last thing I said was about how we kind of poorly timed our trip because we missed the Royal Wedding, but one way it wasn’t poorly timed was meteorologically. The weather was spectacular. Last time we were in London it was grey, bleak, positively Russian, but it couldn’t have been better this time. Compare the pair:

December

 

April

Actually, those two pictures probably don’t really demonstrate the difference that much. Except for the leaves. That was just the only thing I took a picture of twice. 

After the tour, lunch and Snog we returned to Trafalgar Square to go to the National Gallery (yet another free attraction – although we did donate), but first we saw the performers outside:



That second guy was such a wanker. There’s pumping the crowd up and then there’s gratuitously wringing them for all they’re worth. I swear he took half an hour just to get through that stupid tennis racquet. It’s not even impressive; you’re just skinny …

The National Gallery was good, but we weren’t really up to it after the walking tour and all. Our feet were killing us so we ended up surrendering and going for cider and wine in St James’s Park. I love that you can drink in public here! They’re not, however, very big on screwtop lids, so getting to our precious liquid required some ingenuity:


Kirb using Til’s fake plastic key; I favoured my metallic phone case.

After that it was more predrinks in a bar and then back to Jamie’s Italian for a delicious, inexpensive dinner.

 Predrinks at Verve.


 Til being counselled by our (pleasantly) surprisingly knowledgeable waiter.

 

Til’s truffle tagliatelle


 My lemon curd.


Kirb’s raspberry chocolate brownie


 Til’s walnut slice.


What looks to be an authentic Crapper’s toilet!

The next morning we visited Westminster Abbey. Of course, the first thing I did when I got inside was get the baby (DSLR) out to get  a photo of the amazing stained glass windows. Before I’d even gotten the lens cap off, this waspish old bag in an absurd green cloak had blustered over to me and snapped, ‘There’s no photography in here!’

‘Oh, sorry’, I said, immediately repentant. I was a little embarrassed. ‘Really?’ I asked, suddenly finding it astonishing that you wouldn’t be allowed to take photos of such an iconic attraction.

‘Well there’s notices everywhere!’ she snarled, as if I’d just whipped it out and started pissing on Chaucer’s grave or something.

I looked around, genuinely looking for a single one. ‘Well I don’t see any, and that’s a really nice way to speak to someone, isn’t it? Very Christian. Turn the other cheek, love thy neighbour and all that.’

Except by the time I’d turned back from looking around she’d already stormed off, probably luckily, or I really would’ve said that to her and then gotten kicked out of the church. But what a bitch. It was just the way she spoke to me, and the fact that we were in a church and that she was presumably Christian. Sorry if I was so distracted by the magnificent historical splendour around me that I didn’t notice one tiny green sign prohibiting photography. As if I’d walk in and blatantly take a photo right in front of her if I’d seen the sign. Besides violating her Christian beliefs, she was also not living up to her job description which, according to the Westminster Abbey website, includes ‘[h]elping visitors to feel comfortable in the Abbey and not to be daunted by the building.’

Now, I’ve been to a lot of churches and abbeys and cathedrals since I’ve come to Europe, and at first I did feel a bit guilty taking photos in a place of worship. It felt disrespectful somehow. But I’ve since come to the conclusion that it’s not me turning them into a tourist attraction – it’s them. They’re the ones charging a seventeen pound entrance fee, hawking cheap religious merchandise, trying to elicit a few more pounds out of you by deliberatley funnelling you past the coffee stand which, I might add, is sitting ON TOP OF PEOPLE’S GRAVES. But oh no, we wouldn’t want to defile the sanctity of the church by cheapening it into a mere tourist attraction with our photos. I’m sorry, but if you’re selling it like a tourist attraction, the tourists should be allowed to take photos of it. Also, you can’t forcibly dominate one and a half thousand years of human history without surrendering some privileges; it’s part of the bargain. When a culture or institution gains a certain amount of supremacy in the world, it relinquishes control of the institutions and constructs it previously commanded and enforced so that, today, many of the irreligious celebrate Christmas, and Christian relics such as abbeys are of as much, if not more historical importance than spiritual.

But anyway, I am glad I didn’t get kicked out, ’cause the church was really cool. The audioguide was narrated by Jeremy Irons! I was having inappropriate Lolita flashbacks. Saw the graves of lots of famous people. Sure wish I had some photos. Haha. We saw one grave of some guy named something like ‘Baganoll’, and we were going to get a cheeky picture, but then we remembered a fact from Dave’s tour: that Britons are the most watched people in the world, with some ridiculous amount of the planet’s surveillance cameras situated there. So we thought maybe not. Also we’d had the fear of the ‘greencloaks’, as I’d taken to calling them, struck into our souls.

 ‘No photos!’

We did get a few photos in the cloisters, which I later discovered you were allowed to do anyway, but whatever.



In the cloisters was the coffee shop I mentioned above, and the delicious pastry fragrance wafting from it wasn’t helping the fact that I was starving. I refused, however, to give any more of my money to this evil institution (haha), so we finished up in the abbey and since I LOVE them and Kirbie hadn’t tried one yet, went in search of pasties. Usually it’s not that difficult: there’s a Cornish Pasty Co every five seconds in this country but, like Starbucks, you can never actually find one when you want one. 

Next up was the British Museum (free once again!) which was, ironically, having an Australian exhibit that we, needless to say, didn’t see. There I got to see a lot of old friends from Ancient History, plus some other cool stuff.


 Cool roof.


 

 Me with the Rosetta Stone.

 Only mention of Hatshepsut I could find.


 Lindow Man.



Once again, after the museum our feet were dying. Kirb went back to her hostel to get ready for the pub crawl that night while Til and I dropped dead in the nearest cafe to be replenished by some surprisingly good (by European standards) iced mochas. 

Known for their restorative properties.

After a minor travel mishap which involved me running all over London looking for an internet cafe, we were reunited with Kirbie for a speedy Maccas dinner and the pub crawl. I was neg-vibing on it a bit at first, due to exhaustion, but it turned out great.  There was one crazy Western Australian guy who must‘ve been on drugs, and a Swedish girl who challenged us and a Canadian guy list ten famous people from our countries, only to list brands when we turned the tables on her.


Crazy guy



It kind of became evident as the night went on that the pub crawl was more of a singles-fest than anything else. By the end of the night it was kind of just the guys passing around the girls, which was funny and gross to watch, but we left around that point.

The next day was Kirbie’s last in London, and I had high expectations. We were going to the Tower of London and to see Lion King, two things which I’d really been looking for. And as always, ‘when a man get something he wants badly he doesn’t like it’ (VS Naipaul’s Miguel Street). I did like them both, I just had such high expectations that I was slightly disappointed.

That’s one major lesson I’ve learned from my exchange experience so far. It’s been a fair while since I’ve made new friends – everyone I’m close to at home has known me at least since the startof uni. So having this intense experience of becoming close to people in a period of six months has been a kind of checkup on what I’m like as a person right now. Everyone else I know has preconceived notions of me, but the people I’ve met overseas have nothing to go on but what they’ve discovered for themselves in the last few months. In a way, their opinion of me will be the most unbiased account of who I am, perhaps not wholly, but currently. And it’s interesting because two of the people I’ve grown closest to over here, Sam and Kim, have both said I’m a very cynical person – which is something I don’t know many of my friends at home would call me.

I’ve thought about this a lot, and learned from it. I think the best way to be, in this respect, is to have the acuity to be able to perceive things as they are with all their faults; the disposition to not be bothered by those faults; and the social awareness not to come across to people as a critical asshole who can’t be pleased by anything. I think I had the first two to begin with, but I was never aware of the need for the third until now.

I think I have a higher tolerance for faults than other people. Yes, I can pick holes in something and point to the parts of it that I didn’t like, but that doesn’t mean I didn’t enjoy it otherwise. That doesn’t mean I dislike it all together. I have an exacting standard of perfection, but not an exacting standard of enjoyment. So yes, I can be disappointed by a whole lot of things in Lion King: the fact that the lines were rushed and said without conviction, that the additions to the show weren’t of the same quality as those from the original, that Simba’s accent was far too posh, that Nala kept making the same ridiculous gesture with her body and so on and so forth, but still come away from the show having loved it.

I love language, and think it’s our best medium for communication, but even so, it’s so inadequate. There is no way to economically modulate it enough to accurately convey the middleground, the liminal, the grey , the inbetween of human experience, and you can see this in the way we think. It’s difficult to list the faults of something without it seeming like you didn’t enjoy it because language forces us to make assertions in relative polaritie, with only clumsy adjectives and things as modifiers. That’s why you get all these people saying in their Facebook ‘About Me’s that they’re ‘a walking bundle of contradictions’ and ‘so random’, because when called upon to give an account of themselves in words, they find it difficult to reconcile any words which contradict one another, they are ‘unable to hold in their minds … two contradictory ideas’ (Earl Lovelace’s The Dragon Can’t Dance – you can tell I’ve just been studying for a Postcolonialism exam, can’t you?). They go to write that they’re quiet, but then they remember that, when they’re with a certain group of friends they’re really boisterous. But what? Quiet AND boisterous? No! God, I’m just sooooo random! 

You’ll notice how long and dense (and boring?) all my posts are, and how full of relative pronouns (which etc) they are. This is because I’m trying to accurately represent my experience, and that requires modulation. But people don’t like picky people (everyone hates professional critics), and it’s my responsibility, not theirs, to control how I represent myself. I think sometimes I’ve got to just hold my tongue and say I liked something instead of saying I liked it, except for all these things, but I still liked it. Lesson learned.


 Insecure, much, Henry VIII?



After the Tower of London, we went to this really bizarre restaurant. It wasn’t overtly weird, it just kind of built up in strangeness so that by the end, I was convinced it had been started by this family who had everything except the chef, and they finally found one to work for them, but he was like, ‘All right, but we’re gonna do things MY way’, and from then on the family lived in terror of displeasing the chef by violating any of his punctilious rules. First, they didn’t have eftpos. Then they wouldn’t take our order until Til had gone to the ATM which they said sometimes didn’t work, they wouldn’t let Kirbie have two toasted sandwiches instead of one (without getting two entire meals), and they gave us paper coffee cups for our Coke. They had a whole page of restrictions on the front page of their menu, essentially saying things like ‘no alterations’ and ‘too bad if your food comes out at different times’. Do you see what I mean? How it was all so self-oriented instead of customer-oriented. Like, NO we don’t have EFTPOS even though it would be really easy for us to get it because we’re in the middle of the city next to a gigantic tourist attraction; NO we won’t take your order yet because we don’t want to be inconvenienced if the ATM doesn’t work; NO alterations, NO food out at the same time, NO proper glasses because we don’t want to wash them up! It’s like, it’s called the hospitality industry for a reason …

 Coke in a coffee cup.

The bill said service wasn’t included, but there was no way we were tipping, so we just left the exact money and sketattled.

Sadly that night Kirbie left. It’d been so good having her there; we probably wouldn’t have done half the things we’d done if she hadn’t been there to energise and motivate us – we were leaving the hostel at nine in the morning and not coming back till eleven, twelve, or one every night. She really made our visit.


Kirb being swallowed by a sea of tube commuters.

After Kirbie left, Til and I walked around Covent garden and watched an amazing busker for a while before heading home.


Our last day in London turned out to be a return to all our favourite places without us meaning it to. We started out at the National Gallery, this time in the Portrait Gallery, where we saw some very cool familiar faces:


 Anne Boleyn

Charles Darwin.

Charlotte Bronte.


Ted Hughes.


And guess who else we saw? That’s right, Mandalf!:

‘JUST, KIDDING’.

It was this guy:


(image from http://www.life.com)

After that it was a return to St James’s Park and Snog:

 BAMF once more.



And then finally we revisited Covent Garden, my personal favourite, for some chorizo and chicken rolls which were AMAZING. It was the perfect way to  end our stay in London.

Cheers,

Luke Bagnall

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