London: Good Service on the Piccadilly Line

London Eye

In London I thought about Margaret Thatcher. I didn’t wish to.

Our hotel lift was of the talking variety, and in the awful, condescending vowels of the late baroness, it’d declare things like

“Going down.”

“Doors closing.”

“I usually make up my mind about a man in ten seconds, and I very rarely change it.”

That last one was a shock, especially when the lift then scolded me. “You. Yes, you. Colonial man. You’ve been a disappointment to so many, many people.”

*

Slung from the Eurostar, we got into a black cab outside St Pancras. It was instantly welcoming. Like bumping into old friends at the cricket, and sliding straight into some happy banter.

The Gherkin loomed into view along with provocative youngster The Shard. Nattering about kids, our cabby said, “A mate of me old man reckons you should treat boys like dogs. Run ‘em ragged all day, then feed ‘em and put ‘em to bed.”

And that’s why we love London.

*

A decade back and living north of the city, we’d take visitors, without telling them much, on the Northern Line from Kentish Town to Westminster. We’d scale the stairs, rush out into the light, and right there in front of them, to their surprise, would be London’s most lovable landmark, Big Ben.

We did this with Alex and Max too. For them Big Ben’s initial significance was through the film Cars 2, as the place where Professor Z traps Finn McMissile, Holly Shiftwell and Mater. But you already knew that.

It was New Year’s Day. So we found a spot on Whitehall to watch the traditional parade. Suddenly it began, with rousing music from that most cherished British institution, the University of Texas Longhorn Alumni marching band.

Once we’d enjoyed the spectacle for something approaching seven minutes the wife decided we should pop into a nearby pub for lunch. “Think of the children,” she said.

The Silver Cross was a bright opening to our Ashes pub tour. Like Justin Langer getting a solid forty in the first dig, I had a Staropramen pint, and there was a lager and black for the bride. Having fended off the new ball, we played our gastronomic shots. Scampi and chips, steak and ale pie, and kids’ serves, which were good if unspectacular, like a second XI middle order.

A hospitality company, Taylor Walker has run English pubs such as the Silver Cross, for two centuries. If he hasn’t, the new Adelaide Crows captain should claim this etymology. It’d fit within his robust narrative: Broken Hill boy, not uncomfortable within a boozer, former global beacon for the mulleted.

*

London Eye. Up we go. The river shrinks, and the cityscape stretches. Now, multiple interactive touch screens litter the capsules, and there’s vaporous Wi-Fi. Shouldn’t we simply look out the window, and enjoy? Are we so addicted to the digital that even London can’t sustain our gaze?

The rain became ridiculous at the zenith of our ride, and we could just see the Houses of Parliament. Remarkably, it was the first bad weather of our fortnight in Europe. The capsule was a glass submarine, but the boys left buzzing.

Cantilevered observation wheels aside, sightseeing remains best by foot. Our hotel sits within the shadows of the Monument (to the great fire of 1666) and heedful of the cabbie’s son-raising philosophy, we go up and down the Thames. Daily. Maniacally.

Like scamps, Alex and Max run and parkour between the Tower of London and Blackfriars Bridge. St Paul’s. HMS Belfast. The Founders Arms (Coopers Sparkling Ale now available). The iconography! The Tate Modern. The Globe. The new Nando’s at Bankside. At dusk, with the tide out, they dash about on the riverbank, and throw stuff at the freezing water.

*

With Kerry and the boys ice-skating, I’m solo in London on a Sunday morning! I walk. Time can appear elastic, and gazing at Trafalgar Square’s bronze lions and Norwegian spruce tree, and across to St. Martin-in-the-Fields, it seemed we’d only been away for a long weekend, and not nine summers.

I dive into Soho. Losing my usual spatial bewilderment, I know precisely where I am. I round the corner and spot the youth hostel we once stayed. Was it fourteen years ago? Had the Adelaide Crows really lost four preliminary finals since then? Had only nineteen Spiderman films been released in the interim?

I then photographed Berwick Street as it features on the cover of (What’s the Story?) Morning Glory by Oasis, and imagined Noel and Liam and I in the gutter, happily bashing the fook out of each other with expensive guitars.

If you let it, nostalgia can kidnap your life, so I snapped back to the moment. I strolled over to Oxford Street.

*

London’s Natural History museum is magnificent. The Volcanoes and Earthquakes, and Entomology sections investigated, we steer Alex and Max towards the blue whale. Grrr. Another gift shop.

When Kim Jong-un takes command he’ll annihilate every single gift shop using the same precision his late father displayed with a Hot Dot: a 38-under par 34, for 18 holes at the 7,041m Pyongyang Golf Course. Eleven holes-in one. As witnessed by his seventeen bodyguards.

The blue whale looks old because it was completed in 1938. Weighing six tons, it dominates the room, and is impossible to capture entirely in a photo.

Orbiting the whale, I’m startled that coins are thrown onto its massive fluke. Do the punters flip a quid and wish for West Ham to beat Chelsea? For the stockroom assistant to win Big Brother? For a Susan Boyle CD?

*

Down into The London Dungeon! Jack the Ripper, medieval torture, Guy Fawkes, Sweeney Todd, and a gift shop combine into a woolly performance, and it was excellent.

“Giant leeches were used to protect people from the Great Plague of 1665 by removing bad blood,” cried the doctor. Our seats wriggled beneath us as if these parasites were urgently seeking somewhere warm and moist. Being an owner of warm and moist, I leapt up. Alex loved it.

It was terrifying, but timid next to Margaret Thatcher. Years ago, before her passing, I asked my mate Barry if they’d erect a statue of her in posthumous tribute. “Yes, they will,” he said, “And I’ll head straight there and turn it into a fountain.”

oasis

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