A few weeks back I went to London for a short while. So far I have only written about my first day.
My second day in London, Dan was up super early to go to work. At the time he was working as a demolition man, kicking holes in walls, smashing things with crowbars and the like. He said it wasn't as fun as it sounded. As I was leaving London though, he was lining up a new job, setting up tents on the festival circuit. Free entry to massive rock festivals doesn't sound like such a bad deal.
Anyhow, he got up at the crack of dawn, I thought I might get up soon after, so I could make the most of my first real day in England. At midday I stirred. It was good to get a good rest, and this probably got me over any jetlag.
After having some troubles entering the country, I thought it may be time for a cleaner look. I had walked by a barbershop the day before, so I went to see if I could get a haircut. “No appointments necessary” that's what I like to hear. The shop seemed to be run by a Polish family, we joked about the fact that no English people lived in London, and I was served a cup of tea during my time. Unlike the barber I went to in my youth, they didn't talk about guns and fishing, or ask me my thoughts on the current topics of the day. Back then, I normally kept quiet. My views seemed to be regularly the complete opposite of old Reg, and I've read the man from Ironbark.
Looking about ten years younger, I stepped out into the streets of London. It was still fairly cold, though at least it wasn't raining. I didn't really have a plan, I just thought I should go around and have a look at things. I went into the newsagency and bought an Oyster card, these are the cards used on London transport, so I felt almost like a real Londoner each time I swiped my card through at the station, just like everybody else.
I got on the tube with no particular destination in mind. Looking at the stops, I decided on Notting Hill Gate. I walked around Notting Hill to see if anything of interest was around. I entered a few record stores, seeing if I could find a street press, but most of the places sold second hand jazz records. I don't really know anything about jazz, so they didn't occupy my interest for long.
I kept walking and went into Kensington Gardens, a large park adjacent to Hyde Park. I was interested in taking a look at the palace there, but the entry fee was fifteen pounds. In 2000, they decided entry to most of the museums in London would be free. I decided I would be better off sticking to the free places and kept walking.
The park was quite nice, it probably would have been more pleasant if there was sun shining, but I had a jacket on, it was spring I was sure the weather would clear up soon enough. It didn't. On the other side of the park, I came to the Royal Albert Hall. I'm sure there's been plenty of big bands to play there, but I know Cream played a reunion show there around 2006. That would have been a pretty amazing show to attend. Dad actually has a tape of that in his car, I listen to it sometimes when I go to visit. I took a photo, but didn't bother going inside. Just around the corner there are numerous museums.
First stop was the Science Museum. I was hoping for a Questacon-esque experience, a really fun, hands on place, but it was more just what the title implied, a museum of scientific stuff. There were some good exhibits, especially one that concentrated on what the Muslim community brought to Science over the years. There were also millions of screaming kids there, which made the experience much less pleasant. At least it was warm in there.
My next stop was just a few doors down the same street at the Natural History Museum. I went to a similar museum in Vienna last year, which I found a bit weird, so I wasn't sure if I should bother with this one. Entry was free, and it was nice and warm, so it was a good decision to enter. Not only that, but the exhibits were excellent. Apart from the animal type exhibits similar to what I had seen in Vienna, there was a lot of focus on things like earthquakes, volcanoes and movement inside the earth's core. I didn't really know anything on these subjects, so I actually learnt something from this visit.
Back out into the cold, and I wondered, where to next? I saw a sign pointing me in the direction of an underground station and headed there. I grabbed a bit to eat in some cafe, and got on the tube at South Kensington to get off at Westminster. Oh, here we are, this looks familiar. This was the place for some famous sights of London. I thought about taking a riverboat along the Thames, but in that weather, there was no point. I took a few touristic photos, then went by foot along the river.
I found some signs pointing me in the direction of the Imperial War Museum. I headed that way. I crossed the bridge and headed for the museum. I assumed it wouldn't be that far, that was incorrect. It seemed I walked quite a long way through the cold, and each step it seemed to be getting colder. I was reading Down and Out in Paris and London at the time, and I wondered how these characters got through the winters if this was Spring.
Eventually I was at the museum, they had an interesting exhibit about the different spy divisions within England, the whole exhibit seemed to question whether these agencies should exist at all in what is a time of peace. They also had the usual assortment of tanks, planes, guns etc. On the top floor there was a holocaust section, I was heading up that way, but decided I couldn't stomach that kind of thing and headed back out.
I found a tube station at North Lambeth after a bit more walking, I got out at Charing Cross, I decided to check out the National Gallery. You know that feeling you get when you've done too much in one day, a feel of being overwhelmed, I felt like that. I wandered through the galleries, paying vague attention, it was basically a waste of time me being there, but once again, it was free and it was warm.
Liking the idea of seeing some more of the monopoly board, from Trafalgar Square, I walked up Pall Mall in the direction of Oxford Street. I got on a tube eventually and went back to Dan's place. I got out of the station and walked confidently in the direction of his house. I thought I remembered what it looked like, but on arrival, I wasn't so sure. For some reason I hadn't written down the number of the place, or committed to my memory. It was number 14, that's the number of my house I lived at when I was a child, and the number of my Grandma's house. I wouldn't be forgetting that one again. One of the Kiwi guys came outside “hey, Dan'smateDan”. I was “home”.
That night we went out for a meal at an English pub in Shepard's Bush, a couple of stops away on the tube. Fulham were up against Atletico Madrid in the Europa Cup final. There were some people watching the game, but it wasn't packed. Fulham lost in extra time, the Fulham fans looked completely despondent. From years of watching the Canberra Raiders, I knew the feeling.
Dan wanted to show me how stupid these “Australian pubs” were, so we went over to the Walkabout, just round the corner. It wasn't so crowded on this particular night, but as the night on, people arrived in big bunches, which I assumed were Contiki tours and the like. Anyhow, they had a table tennis table and the beer was reasonably priced, I didn't think it was so bad. I won the table tennis 21-17.
We got the bus home, and once we got off, Dan was busting for a piss. He ran off the bus and into a nearby park. He was so worried about the task at hand, he didn't see a low fence, which put him flat on his face in the park. He had a nice wound and a sore shin the rest of the week.