Saturday, November 14, 2009

Travel Ugh.

London! Home of Londoners! Birthplace of cockney chicken penang* and Her Majesty the Pearly Queen.

I like London. It's different to the rest of the country, almost like a city state on it's own, surrounded by the moat of the M25 to keep invaders out by making them queue until they lose interest. London has so much going for it that a trip there justifies an entire blog post. Quite a long post at that, because one must bring these out of the way places to the attention of the general populace.

Feel free to skip through to the end, because there's a picture of a cockroach.

The goodladywife and I booked a four star hotel near to Hyde Park via an internet agency that specialises in last minute bookings. Can't remember it's name. It was pleasant enough, but I've never stayed in a hotel in London, and you don't get a huge amount for your money. Basically, a clean small room with an en suite and a kettle. Sort of the absolute basic you'd expect from any hotel really, but apparently this was construed to be worthy of four stars, which does make you wonder what you get in a three or two star establishment. Bed-bugs possibly.

It was perfectly acceptable for our needs though, and we settled in with a cup of tea, supped from a cup that all hotels everywhere seem to have, specially designed so you can't get your fingers through the handle, and end up pinching the cup between thumb and forefinger like an errant child's ear. This adds excitement to your beverage as you're fully aware, at any moment, the whole cup might rotate through 90 degrees and deposit scalding liquid onto your genitals.

Then, we went out.


Shining jewel of the South East. A beacon of civilisation in a turbulent world. A monument to ancient and modern urban accomplishment. Shops!

Two things let a man know that he is, for sure, in that city of cities. The first is the sudden barrage of different languages, from the melting pot that is London's cultural milieu. Every other person seems to speak a different lingo or has an exotic accent, and far from this being a Daily Mail reader's realised nightmare of uncontrolled immigration, in reality simply demonstrates what a world-spanning magnet the city is. I liked it.

The second sign is grey bogies.

A spot of nasal excavation will reveal that, after but 24 hours in London, one's nose goblins have gone from the usually healthy mix of oyster-like verdantness to a monochromatic rubbery sludge. This is a cause for concern because the grey bogey is very similar in concept to the green crisp, in that you're never sure whether it's safe to eat.


But I'm not here to write about boogers. I shall save that for another post. This one is all about our trip to the capital. The Capital of Eng-er-land.

Firstly, we indulged in a Thames-side walk, from Tower Bridge to the London Eye, a nice genteel stroll which was easy on the legs. I was quite surprised by just how pleasant it was. We took a number of detours to examine places we'd never bothered with before. St Katherine's Docks, for example, was a collection of expensive, yet slightly aging yachts suggesting that it was once a sort of inner city Monaco, where rich folks parked their gin-palaces for the fifty-one weeks of the year they weren't at sea. It was so close to the thronging crowds of Tower Bridge yet we only saw a couple of other people in the whole area:

Along the Thames are some great alleyways, mudflats, even hidden beaches with fishing cormorants and small yellow wagtails bobbing along the shoreline which came as a surprise. Not sure what I was expecting, but not pretty wildlife. Maybe a river ecosystem consisting of hairless cats and some sort of sub-human monkeys descended from feral chimbley sweeps.

At one point on the walk all that water took a toll on my physiology and I became the proud owner of a full bladder, so began to look around for a public loo. London suddenly became the Land That Bogs Forgot, which was a tad uncivilised. I considered giving the Golden Hinde a bit of a golden shower, but despite the absence of people making such an action possible, I could see lots of cameras keeping an eye on us for our own safety. With such omnipotent powers of observation being apparent, I declined to go au naturale, because the todger police would certainly have arrested me for possession before you could say urine retention.

Instead, we finally opted for a pub called the Mudlark, named after the street urchins who would comb the thameside barefoot with primitive metal detectors for a living, in the days before Crocs and child labour laws. About 1983 I think. If they could have seen into the future the urchins would no doubt have been pleased that, in their honour, I could have a decent local pint from a proper glass with a handle on it and everything, whilst mulling over what a rough life they had.

We went past a big tower in London, I forget what it was called, but it was essentially part of an enormous fortress that has been used as a safe house for royal types, a mint and a prison. Putting aside the initial considerations of housing the nation's wealth next to convicted felons, the place was very atmospheric, and that was just from the outside. I would have paid to go in but I'm extremely mean.

Traitor's Gate was particularly resonant with the clinging fug of unpleasant history:

I'm not sure why anyone would use Traitor's Gate. I mean, if you go in by that entrance, you're just giving yourself away really. Even if I was an actual traitor, I would've played it safe and used another door.

We ended up at the London Eye, a big ol' ferris wheel erected by some well-off carnies, presumably, and I had planned to go on it. In the end, I decided not to, for a number of reasons. The first was that it had gone dark in that selfish autumnal way that November has about it. The second was that there was still a big queue, and the third was that the damn thing didn't go very fast or even upside down. Disappointing.

An evening visit to Soho to sample an Indian restaurant called The Masala Zone was next on the itinerary, and that was just excellent. I've always liked Soho, but it seems to have changed since I was last here many years ago. A meander through shows that it's a lot less seedy than I remembered. Possibly a lot less interesting too. Presumably the internet has allowed men perverts to look at porn for free in the comfort of their own basements, so the dodgy cinemas have gone. There were lots of variations of trendy Anne Summers type shops, although I noted one was called "Trashy Lingerie" which got The Jules Seal Of Approval for Honest Advertising.

There was also one called "British Sex Shop" which was doing a brisk business in hessian condoms and posters showing both sexual positions**.

A final visit to a pub for lasties involved a live band and local ales, which was a pleasant end to the day.

The next morning we had a choice. Breakfast in the hotel for sixteen quid each, or a local cafe for a full English at £5.50. We opted for the latter, and were glad we did, because other than the strange lack of a possessive 's' on the sign, it was all good:

Sheila's had pictures of famous folk on the wall, like Woody Allen sitting on the steps reading (maybe a script? Or a hotel bill? Or the wife's school report?). You know a place is good when it's full of local workmen eating there and asking for tea and "free shaggers", which I was quite excited about until my phrase book translated this as three sugars.

We took a walk around the diamond district, which involved, well, some shops selling diamonds. Yep. Shops with all diamonds in them. Fascinating stuff. If you like glittery stones. I was more interested in the fact that, on the same road, was this innocuous building:

This was, apparently, where the Maxim machine gun was invented. It was conceived by Sir Hiram (and Fire 'em) Maxim who, according to my imagination, got fed up with his colleagues stealing his biscuits, and decided to exact efficient revenge.

Nearby we found a lovely old church on Ely Place, which is a small area owned by the crown and not subject to the everyday laws of the UK, let alone London, and officially even the police must get permission from the commissionaire to go in.

I discovered that the reason for such secrecy and security is to be found in the church. Like the Da Vinci Code, I found proof of a conspiracy about Jesus that predates not only the bible, or written history, but even the very existence of humanity itself.

You will almost certainly be aware from theology classes at school of the theory that God's chosen people were, in fact dinosaurs:

Obviously, if this were to be true, the Church would be in dire trouble, as it would undermine blah blah blah blah blah.

Well, anyway, I found evidence in an old stained glass window that it IS true. Beneath an image of Jesus is his original moniker:

Jesus was a goddamn C. rex!

I'm hoping Tom Hanks will play me in the unavoidably boring film that will ensue. Or maybe Jim Carrey.

After yet another great pint in a cool little pub in Clerkenwell Green, we aimed to have a look at the St John's crypt, but it was closed for refurbishment, which was a shame because it features in the aforementioned religion-shattering tome The Da Vinci Yarn, and I would no doubt have found more evidence for dinosaurs as the chosen people of the Lord.

It's a conspiracy I tells ya. The Illuminati are closing down tourist attractions to prevent me from finding out the devastating truth which might plunge the ancient secret organisations into a turmoil of blah blah blah blah blah.

I would fight them all the way but I can't be bothered.

Instead, we headed through Exchange Square and I took a pic of Liverpool Street Station, because I could:

After a tour of Spitalfield market, we headed back to the hotel for a rest and a shower before an evening meal in Covent garden.

Another day, another full English fry up at Sheila's, because we didn't want our blood to flow too easily through our arteries now, did we?

London in the week is surprisingly uncrowded. I was comparing my last visit here at the weekend when I took a pic of the Undertube, a sort of ride that goes through tunnels and stops every two hundred yards or or so. Then, it was like some sort of hellish dystopian nightmare of invaded personal space and scrunched up faces.

Now however, I was greeted with this:

I could watch the presumably deaf mice gambolling around the track in peace.

We decided we wanted some greenery, and headed up to Hampstead Heath for some fresh(ish) air. The open space was welcome, and the Heath proved amiable not just for cruising homosexuals getting on with what most men would like to do anyway, but for strolls, walks and bird spotting.

They had parakeets!


Okay, that photo is not going to get into National Geographic, but take my word for it. It was a wild ring-necked parakeet sitting in a tree. Since their successful bid for independence a few years ago, they have expanded into large numbers, called herds by people who don't know what a flock is. Although they're a common, noisy sight in various areas of the south east of England these days, I was quite chuffed to see them for myself.

We visited a pub in Hampstead that was very posh. Too posh to clean out it's beer pipes, judging by the vinegary tang of the ale, although this was the only bad pint I had in London out of over two hundred.***

The rest of the day went by with a quick visit to Camden to look at the market, a mecca for goths (if that's the right word) and just the place to go if you want to buy a sheepskin jacket for ten pounds made, judging by the quality, from some poor creature with five legs and terminal scabies.

Tattoo studios advertised their wares on signs carried by . . . er . . . well, people I suppose, using the term in it's loosest possible sense. Strange, multi-hued mullet-wearing pseudo-goths tried to persuade us to nip in for a quick tattoo, as if it might be something one should do on an impulse.

"Actually, you know you're right. Can I have a tattoo of Jesus cuddling a baby tyrannosaur across my abdomen please? Eight quid? Great."

Anyway, I like to be different, which is why I'm British but haven't got a tattoo.

Time to head for home. We had an hour to kill before our train and were hungry, so the time limit ruled out a relaxing meal in a proper restaurant. For this reason, we headed for the station and, en route, stopped for what might be called a meal at Burger King. Happily, when I checked the menu, I discovered they sold burgers, so I had one.

Whilst in the loo, I did a spot more wildlife spotting, and managed to get a nice shot of a German cockroach nymph, which was harder than it might seem as it was practising it's scurrying:

There were about ten of the buggers in there, which made me glad I'd eaten first, because if I'd seen them before my meal I wouldn't have had seconds. Possibly. The missus wasn't too pleased though, as I showed her this photo on my phone whilst she was halfway through her spicy beanburger.

I told the manager about them and, in grateful appreciation, he offered me his thanks by nodding and muttering "Cheers mate". Reward indeed.

Still, a happy ending ensued because I got to finish off the wife's beanburger.

The train was only a few minutes late, which in the UK is officially classed as early, and we wended our weary way back to bumpkin land.

My verdict on London?

We enjoyed it. Because we didn't have much in the way of money, we concentrated on walks with free things like history and architecture, which is what London is all about really. The people were friendly, which I wasn't expecting for some reason, but most of all, when all's said and done, at the end of the day and with hand on heart, the pubs were good.


* Rhyming slang

** (1) Man on top of lady. (2) Man wearing hat on top of lady.

*** C'mon, I was there for three days.


  1. Great story as for me. It would be great to read a bit more concerning that topic.
    BTW check the design I've made myself High class escort

  2. I few years ago I had to go to Stratford Upon Avon at least 20 times for work. I never made time to go to London because I was too busy. Now I regret it.

  3. Brilliant! Pretty much along the lines of my experiences too - including the sooty snot. Walking around that place for a day and leaves you filthy - and not in a good way!

    Liked the Liverpool street station, but nothing beats St Pancras and the wonderful John Betjeman...

    Did you buy a uke after all?

  4. Sounds like you had a marvelous time. I've been all over Europe yet have never traveled anywhere in GB. Isn't that weird?

  5. I agree with 123, it would indeed to be great to read a bit more concerning that topic, the one you just wrote about, the one about stuff that is good and fun and great. You know the one.

    You forgot #3 position, the "man wearing lady wearing hat".

  6. 123 123 - Good, specific point. I'm glad you brought it up. And well done on making those prostitutes.

    Dr Z - Stratford's good. If you're into Shakespeare. We always think we'll get round to stuff in the future, don't we.

    Judearoo - Glad I'm not the only one. And I completely forgot to include any ukulele related anecdotes in that post. Suffice it to say I didn't purchase one. Frowny face.

    Erin - I wouldn't worry about it. You can get an accurate idea of what most of the UK is like if you go to the Olde English Pub at Disney World. Honest.

    Steamy - 123 is like a topic rapier, getting right to the heart of the point. And I can't believe you mentioned position #3 you hussy. It's termed "The Love That Dare Not Speak It's Name" here.

  7. Damn, I was hoping you'd climbed up Nelson's Column. Someone's going to do it eventually...

  8. Hi Jules,

    Thanks for the excellent tour of London. I've been to Italy and Germany but never the U.K. I keep saying I must go because it's on my Tod Do List.


  9. GB - I'll leave that sort of stunt to Fathers for Justice.

    U - Hope you make it over here mate. There's plenty to put on your Done That list.

  10. I think the lack of possessive S is because it is Sheila's andwich bar.

    She sells andwiches.

    I vote no on the sex thing.

  11. Even with your description, this makes me want to go overseas someday to see it all for

  12. Marvellous. Just marvellous. I shudder to think of what might happen if you a Mr. London Street ever met up in London. A novel perhaps?

  13. Alex - I don't know whether I want an andwich now?

    Mr Mischief - I failed to put you off I see :-)

    Tennyson ee Hemingway - It would be a wordy tome, I expect. And the grammar would be correct if Mr LS was in on it.

  14. Gee but that sounds like an eventful trip, it sounds like a kinda weird place though, nothing like here...more like overseas. It's a good thing you didnt attract the todger police, do they measure up?.. is there a minimum length? Oh! and Parakeets?!.. we have them here too. When they get too numerous they're thinned with a thing we call a 'shot gun'

  15. So, basically a three-day pub crawl. I like it! I didn't hear any mention of children. How did you manage that? Seriously, I need to know...

  16. I dont like big cities much..and London is like..five times larger than Sydney (our biggest city/hell hole)
    How do you refurbish a crypt...I thought you died and went in there...the end! (fancy having to redecorate every so often)

  17. Tempo - lol. the only warning you get is when you see their helmets coming at you from out of nowhere.

    Ana - The joys of grandparents. It was the first time we've ever left our little boy, so we were going to make the most of it!

    Pash - I'm a bit of a bumpkin myself, so I like to visit rather than live there. Having said that, a temporary stint in London would be good. A crypts are all about flock wallpaper these days.

  18. Hilarious post! I must go to this little village one day.

    Maybe Sam Neill for the boring Christus Rex film?

  19. forget everything else, sugar! y'all went to marsala zone!!! one of my favorite places in london, well, next to the electric cafe and chutney mary's...oh yeah, and khans. i even have a favorite pub in kensington! (the hansom cab) xoxoxox

  20. Lovely evocative stiuff, Jules, and it brought it all back. I lived there for 10 years and enjoyed it, though it's rue that you don't tend to get a huge amount for your money. Sheila' is now my hero too.

  21. Eric - Ta. Sam Neill's a good choice, but I'm also thinking Richard Attenborough could play David Attenborough.

    Savvy - Wot a small world. You went to the same town? I suppose it would be inevitable we'd go to the same cafe.

    Gadjo - I know a lot of people who went there temprarily and never left. It's like Hotel California.

  22. How is it that you were able to take so many gorgeous photos? Wherever I went, there were people in the way and they would look at me weirdly when I was trying to take a shot.

    Do you hate it too?
    "If you're going through Hell, keep going."

  23. And tell me, these places, they are in London, are they? I just ask because I never get to see anyone of them marooned on my journey to work and back. I live my entire life on the tube and in the office. But without cockroaches. Which is nice.

  24. Michael - That's the beauty of going in the week. It's a lot quieter. I was surprised myself.

    Mdme DeF - they do have scorpions on the underground. Little white ones that are descended from escaped cave dwellers apparently. So it's not all bad news!


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