So it’s been a few days and I’ve only got a few bits and pieces to share with you. As lovely as it is being with family on Christmas day, the day began ridiculously early with the clamour of present-hungry rugrats, wore on not a little tiredly and lacked a lot of the lustre, glimmer and shine that it has in Australia. In fact, the whole lead up to Christmas seemed very bah-humbugged and lacked a true feeling of festivity. I did get a Mag Lite torch from our hosts, my Auntie and Uncle, which will, no doubt, come in handy in future camping ventures.
Had a lazy day on Boxing Day despite another early rise. Since then Tim and I have blocked the door to our lounge room sleeping place with two large toy boxes, with our hosts’ approval. This allowed us to sleep in until about 7 or 8am without too much disturbance. There was a little snow Boxing Day afternoon, which was cool to see.
The day after Boxing Day was yet a Bank holiday in London, but we braved the close-to-freezing conditions and the falling snow to venture out to the hallowed ground which is Lords. Our tour guide was a passionate older man who had obviously attended and/or worked at Lords for a couple of decades at least. The 1 hour 50 minute tour was extremely informative and a great photo shooting session, hence the “Keep off the grass” IOTM.
Today Tim and I took a train ride through Victoria station to Leceister Square, with the preconceived notion of seeing Les Miserables at Queen’s Theatre mid afternoon. After discovering that a ticket worth AUD$85 would provide only a partly-obscured view of the stage, we canned that idea and went to Pizza Hut at lunch instead. Thereafter we rode the train to Wimbledon in the hope of catching a movie, only to discover it was not screening at all. A couple of coffees which were either mediocre or average were also consumed during the day.
I think I spent about as much money today in one hit as I’ve spent the whole time I’ve been here to this point. We’re off to France on Friday and I’ll be sleeping in an annexed outside room which may actually have no heating at all. This prompted me to take the step of investing in a 3-seasons sleeping bag for about Â£70, rated for comfort from 5 degrees C to -5 degrees C. Here’s hoping it’s not too warm for use in Australia during the summer time, otherwise it’s a lot of money to spend on a couple of isolated winter expeditions. Still, I do enjoy the odd backpacking or low-impact camping adventure, so maybe it’ll be a catalyst rather than a deadweight.
Today’s the first day I’ve actually felt normal, and actually been in my right mind, after the joys of shunting my body clock backwards 10.5 hours. Yesterday I awoke feeling downright groggy, with a hint of a headache and an inability to properly stomach my glass of milk after breakfast. The cheese on my sandwich at lunch time felt equally disturbing, but all remained where it should and I decided a nap was in order.
Fully two hours later I awoke, at last with a clear head and the ability to think straight. My left knee, which had been troubling me due to the combination of cold, additional walking and my long fast stride, had eased sufficiently for me to manage stairs without a limp too.
It’s interesting to note how badly I was actually doing while under such a cloud of haziness. Today I got back into the normal routine of things. With my sleeping patterns no longer dictating my brain’s inability to function, I was thinking at normal full speed and even anticipating stuff properly. Hoorah.
This, unfortunately, means no new photos. Tim and the parents went to the Tower of London and did the tourist thing inside. Given my distaste for the monarchy and its apparent uselessness in a Western capitalist socioeconomic structure, I was somewhat glad to have had the “misfortune” of being laid up at home. We’ve messed around with our further plans in England and France, with my Germany jaunt being pushed forward to Jan 3 and our trip to Bath relegated to Jan 11. Hopefully this means we’ll take a day trip to the university town of Oxford sometime after Christmas and before New Year, and possibly visit the English Salisbury too.
Today, then, was excellent. Amazing how improper sleep just makes everything else totally insufferable. It hit double figures today: yes, 10 degrees. This meant that Tim and I could walk around outside in our usual winterwear, with the stylish yet practical addition of a manscarf each.
It was the perfect opportunity to jump on a train to Wimbledon with the grandparents, with the express purpose of visiting the Odeon theatre to see Narnia: The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe. It was, succinctly, fabulous. The opening half hour is totally emotive, and I was on the edge of my seat with excitement as all my most vivid imaginations of Lucy’s “Lamp Post” meeting with Mr Tumnus were rendered in motion picture before my eyes. Disney is to be credited with remaining faithful to C.S. Lewis’ original text, matching the dialogue almost word for word (as I recall it, no less). As soon as we saw Aslan, I did whisper to Tim that he’d better have a good voice talent behind him. Fear not, he is brilliantly rendered, with an excellent voice performance by Liam Neeson. The beavers are great too, with some light comedy between Mr and Mrs to keep amused the parents of kids in tow. I did wish that the White Witch was a little more ferocious (a la Galadriel’s transformation in LOTR:2, which, incidentally, I found quite anomalous), and that the story didn’t proceed quite so quickly. At times Peter looked precocious with his sword, and unfortunately we flicked quickly from duty-to-parents-to-protect-siblings to must-save-Narnia-ahhhhhh. Still, this was no epic of the trilogic scale of LOTR’s proportions, so we will forgive these shortcomings and say bravo.
There was a glaring omission in my previous entry – we actually visited Westminster Abbey and went inside. The place is huge, both in prime real estate area and height. Strewn throughout are memorial stones and tombs dating back to the 1200s. So many of the early English royalty are actually buried there, including a couple of “firsts” (King Whatsisface I, etc). After spending an hour or so inside, you pop out again into bustling London. My first comment to Dad was that you kind of forget about the rest of the world while you’re inside. Remarkably peaceful, if a little bewildering.
Here’s something I found amusing. On the first night we were blowing up our air matresses in the lounge room and discovered the pump nozzle fitting was cracked. Rather than pumping the air into the bed, it was just escaping around the nozzle. My first reaction was “Got some gaff?”, which I asked aloud directly to my Auntie, fully expecting the typical “Erm, gaff?” response. But she just said “Yep! In the cupboard.” and I doubled over laughing. [For the uninitiated, gaffer tape is commonly used in construction and audio/production, where it’ll stick to anything and fix anything.]
Finally, something truly random. While we were at the cafe yesterday I happened to discover a small fragment of tooth loosely embedded in my gum where my bottom left wisdom tooth has surfaced. This small fragment irked me no end, and I fiddled with it indecorously until finally dislodging it and extracting it. It was no larger than a sesame seed, and oddly enough, had the look of a miniscule tooth, with a crown and a root. If this is a fluke, it was an ironically well shaped fluke!
Since Mum didn’t care too much for the cold open-top Big Bus company ride around the sights in London, I took advantage of the second day of her ticket to join Dad in a hoon around the east side. Victoria and Regent, Trafalgar and the Thames. Fortunately I managed to hit the shutter on my camera at just the right moment when passing the [clock tower commonly known as, and containing the huge bell called the] Big Ben, and despite the postcardish look of the shot I’m glad to have been there and captured it myself. Tower Bridge (yep, the one with towers on it) was an enjoyable sight too, as was the London Tower. I got a decent couple of pics of most of the sights to see.
Our tour guides on the buses were absolutely hilarious. The first was just funny and laconic, but the second was a one-eyed sold-out born-and-bred London monarchist. He was loud and abrasive and indignant, heaping scorn on dispassionate tourists when passing quintessential London landmarks and attempting to incite some emotional display. Quite informative, he was, and listening throughout enabled me to have a better understanding of the sights and sounds around the place. I now feel satisfied that I have been a tourist in London.
To be in London and not visit Harrods would surely be a cardinal sin. Furthermore, my idea of what Harrods would be was totally incorrect. I had assumed it was a boutique niche store serving only the most exorbitant of tastes. Nope. It’s huge. You pay a premium to buy anything with the Harrods brand on it, apparently up to 20% over normal prices. Fortunately I was wearing my good jeans (yeah, I know), because visitors have been known to be turned away if their dress was deemed inappropriate. As it was I was asked to carry my backpack in my hand. Didn’t buy anything but had an average quality coffee at Illy on the top floor for £3 (about AUD$7.50).
The younglings who live here at our accommodation – my cousins, aged five and nine – manage to rise every morning at an unearthly hour. I have not slept past 6am in my time here so far, and the prospects of this actually occurring but once during my time here are bleak. Add to this the unfortunate reality of totally destroying my body’s perception of regular sleep cycles and you have a red-eyed zombie each day at about 4pm. They eat at about 6pm and retire at about 7pm, whereas the rest of us don’t eat until 8pm. This is odd. My mind gets it but my exhaustion says otherwise. It is remarkably frustrating for this choleric that I can’t function half as well after mid afternoon than before midday.
Perhaps we are becoming accustomed to the cold. It seems less piercing and it’s too much of a hassle to remove jacket and scarf at every indoor location. The heating here is as prevalent and effective as Australian cooling, allowing us to wear only one layer inside.
Today we managed a couple of hours of solitude while the rest of the crew were at a school breakup do. Tim and I were totally overtired and we were laughing at both our languid attempts at normal motor skills and the hilarity of a hopping international calling card. To celebrate Tim’s success with his SACE/TER we visited the local delimart called the Co-op and a chip shop for typically British hot chips.
Thereafter we visited Wimbledon, which is a thriving mall centre not far from the tennis mecca. First time to try a Quiznos sub, and while it wasn’t insubstantial, I didn’t find it worth the 4 quid I paid. Tim got an eminently British Big Mac meal for not much more.
There’s a cafe at the Plaza in Wimbledon called Costa Coffee. The coffee was, surprisingly, outstanding. Not only in quality but also in quantity too – we got medium drinks which would have easily been 600mL. My additional macchiato was delicious and I was only sorry that I quaffed it so quickly. I may have mentioned that coffee is everywhere, with no shortage of independent and other franchises in addition to the green-branded mermaid.
I like Wimbledon. It’s much less frantic than Oxford Street and the focus seemed to be more authentically social than the need to be seen in the right place wearing the appropriate ensemble of brand apparel.
We decided, Tim and I, to take an exploratory jaunt around the high shopping district in the middle of London on our first real day “in town”. We took the train – actually, three trains, from just down the road from where we’re staying in Mitcham, Surrey. We travelled via Victoria station, stopping so Tim could get some fries from Maccas and we could get our first espresso-based coffees in two days. That was overdue.
From Victoria station we cruised via underground right into Oxford Circus. This is smack in the middle of the biggest shopping street I have ever seen. It’s no mall – there are mad black taxis and madder red buses screaming past you everywhere. The jumble of one-way streets makes for interesting pedestrianism (look out for it, it’ll be in next year’s Macquarie) but what really takes a deal more concentration is navigating through the thronging mass of people. It was ridiculous, even on a Monday morning at about noon, in 5 degree weather!
Every big brand and almost big brand has a presence on Oxford street. The stores themselves are huge status symbols, establishing a weight of marketing-driven necessity to fund their exorbitant outgoings in maintaining operation.
For lunch we found a little hole in the wall selling kebabs. For the Melbourners, this is no yiros. This is real deal, Turkish kebab. Oh yeah.
We continued on what fast became a tour of the [go to] jail corner of the Monopoly board. We visited Oxford Street, Bond Street, Regent Street and just saw Picadilly across the road. For $320, Bond Street is a steal. It’s interesting to note how the demographics change in these areas. One moment you’re in middle-west Oxford street with middle-upper class Brits and a handful of tourists, and then you’re further east on Charing Cross in the middle of Chinatown and tech central.
There are a few extra photos in the gallery. It’s late now, so I’ll add captions where needed sometime later.