There are a couple of American writer-friends of mine who have kindly advised me that I’m pretty nifty at writing ‘slice of life’ blogs. There are probably other writers who say would advise me I’m not that nifty at any kind of writing, but I choose not to listen to them. Lately, I always start these blogs with an obligatory apology about not having written for a while. So take it as red that that’s what I’m doing now. It’s not that nothing goes on in my life anymore; I just find I have less time and inclination to write about those events. And I thought I’d take the advice of those writer-friends that like to hear about the trivial things that go on in my life (even if only they should read this – I’ve had smaller audiences before).
Last weekend was my birthday (woop-woop). I was going to write about that, but then I thought turning forty-seven wasn’t that special a milestone – so I didn’t (but when I’m fifty…man, you may or may not being hearing about it…). But what we did do to celebrate was spend the weekend in London – the city of my birth (and my home for the first twenty years of my life). A couple of years back, I was in Berlin, and then subsequently in Glasgow, and I remember thinking how fabulous the architecture was. But I always remarked that you couldn’t beat London for that, and I realised how long it had been since I had gone back – and virtually never as a tourist. So I felt it time that we went as a family; my husband, kids, and I – to see it from a visitor’s perspective.
To be fair, we actually stayed in an Air B&B apartment in Croydon – but it’s on the outskirts and only twenty minutes journey by train to central London – so it made a great base. I said we wanted to be tourists, not overly-flamboyant with our money. Being a Londoner has taught me to be savvy if nothing else. On arrival, we briefly settled into our new home for the weekend. Then we were off out again to catch a train to London Victoria to see ‘Hamilton’ the musical. Let’s face it, part being a tourist usually means taking in a show. And what a show it was. A lot of people give me a bit of a nonplussed look when I talk about Hamilton (and I’ve only known about its existence for the last couple of years, to be honest). It’s an odd blend of American history, politics, and hip-hop. I know, that sounds super-weird, but the songs are amazing – it’s certainly the best musical theatre I’ve ever seen, and has reignited my ambition to be in an amateur musical before I’m fifty. Only a couple of years left to make that a reality, then.
Driving in London is a thankless and pointless task. The nice lady at Croydon ticket office assured us that an Oyster Card wasn’t really what we wanted (only being in London for the weekend). I was glad of that since Oyster Cards were introduced sometime after I left London, and being that I don’t like things I don’t understand, it was a relief to be told we were better off without one. So we purchased our one-day travel cards and decided to max those babies out. On our train journey, we witnessed the aftermath of a man having an epileptic seizure in our carriage, and then our train had to sit outside the station at Clapham Junction for ages because of a fatality there. Yikes, it all goes on in London – but the London Transport Police on our carriage attending to the seizure were lovely! We had a very friendly chat with them about the best places to go shopping.
After all the shenanigans, we spent that day in the Kensington area doing the museum circuit; The Natural History Museum, The Victoria and Albert, The Science Museum. After this, we somehow managed to find our way to Harrods department store – everything is nearer than you think in London. Although, the health apps on our phones advised us we had walked over six miles – y’know, when I say walked, I mean that ‘slow shuffle of death’ like the one you do around IKEA, which is a killer on the hips and knees…and your feet. But still, it was another awesome day.
The third day (my birthday, no less), after a fry-up expertly cooked by my husband (with carbs – like I say…birthday!) and presents (a new Kindle and case – hoorah!) was dedicated to reliving my misspent youth. When I was a girl, my friends and I would buy a one-day travel card and catch a train from Bethnal Green, in the East End, up to the West End – virtually every Saturday. And I wanted to show my kids the nonsense we got up to (I might write an in-depth blog about that…). We started out at Embankment, walked to Westminster to see the virtually obscured Big Ben (it’s fully encased in scaffolding at the moment…which is a shame) and Parliament. Then it was on to Piccadilly Circus, then Regent Street to visit Hamley’s toy store (seven floors of overpriced toys in an unbelievably hot environment), then trendy Carnaby Street and Soho, and onto Oxford Circus and Oxford Street (which I truly believe was the busiest street on earth at that moment). Then it was back on the train to Covent Garden to watch the street performers, and finally an exhausted stagger (after seven miles of walking) to China Town to wolf down a not-so-great Chinese (there were long queues out of every other restaurant door, but not ours – there turned out to be a reason for that). Then out came the travel card for its final journey of the evening (and the weekend) back to Croydon for a swift drink in the local pub, and home to bed.
The next day, unfortunately, was our day of departure. But it wasn’t all bad. We managed to drop in at a Christmas family gathering in the Beaconsfield area, visited my husband’s Granny’s grave, and met up with the relatives for a lovely Sunday pub lunch.
So that was the end of my London experience as an outsider. I thoroughly enjoyed it, and would like to spend a week doing much the same thing someday – there’s so much more to see. I’m proud of my London heritage – it made me what I am, it gave me my dry sense of humour, it gave me this messed-up accent that (even if I should) I wouldn’t want to change for the world. I could never live in London again; I’ve changed too much and I simply couldn’t hack the fast pace – country bumpkin that I have become. But for a short excursion, it rivals any major city on the planet (I’m biased, but I actually think it may be the best).
NB: Thanks to Ennie How for all the fab photos. I took about four, a) because I couldn’t be arsed to take my phone out of my pocket – my hands were cold, and b) because I don’t like living my life behind a lens. I’ll never make it as a photographer.