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.
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.
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.
** (1) Man on top of lady. (2) Man wearing hat on top of lady.
* Rhyming slang
*** C'mon, I was there for three days.