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Our first ever day in London

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June 5- Michael

Thankfully the London flight was only just over half full so we had a spare seat next to us which made the journey better. My initial seat decided to break during take-off and lurched back onto the poor sod behind. The trolley-dolly and my travelling companion both denied any problem, but ultimately understood.

We watched All the Pretty Horses, Sweet November and Anti-Trust. Our arrival at Heathrow was exciting until the poxy, mongrel bastard ATM ate my card. Had coffee and coopa-tea.

June 5 (continued)- Kerry

The bus was ye goode olde fashioned red double decker. The trip was really enjoyable- we got off early to see a bit of greater London. The bus dropped us off at the end of Oxford Street, near Marble Arch- at the corner of Hyde Park and we walked the rest of the way.

This turned into a major feat- no map and only a vague idea (This became a major theme in our travels over the next fifteen years- Editor). Eventually we made it after asking for directions several times and then ringing the hostel.

The room is interesting. Small, a bunk, a cupboard and a sink. It overlooks a construction site. The kitchen and lounge are clean and comfy. There is internet access, a laundry and lots of tit-bits for sale at reception.

After a shower to freshen up we hit the streets- very tired, but needing to stay awake as it was the middle of the day. Four hours sleep in over 24 is not enough.

First stop; lunch at Benji’s on Oxford Street- then a quick trip home for a jumper and umbrella then we were off. Bought a map at a local stall and there was no stopping us. We zig-zagged through the streets of Soho down to St Martins-in-the-Fields church.

Across the road, Trafalgar Square is very impressive. Down Whitehall, past Admiralty Arch, the old war offices in Downing Street, onto the Houses of Parliament and Big Ben and across the way to Westminster Abbey- back to this another day for a look inside too.

Next down to the river just near Westminster Bridge and pier- there’s a good view across the river to the London Eye and the county hall. Walked along the Victoria Embankment up to Cleopatra’s Needle. Very impressive because of its age, but also because of the bog holes and missing chunks from bombing during the war. Also, interested to read that the embankment is only fairly new in the big scheme of things and the river’s edge was in fact about 150 metres from its current position.

Took a photo here of the gate that was once the river’s edge- of course I can’t think of its name at the moment! (Google it, kids- Editor). Made our way to Leicester Square and through Chinatown in Soho to a pub called the White Horse. Looked like a good old English pub- turns out three Aussies and a Kiwi work there. Anyway, the beer and shandies were great.

Walked past a theatre on the corner playing The Graduate- hope to come back and catch it one night. On the way home, we stopped at the supermarket to get a few supplies- things were reasonably priced, then up Berwick Street past the markets which were just packing up.

Back at out hostel we stored our stuff and had a drink before going to bed. Walked around a bit trying to find a good pub and ended up in the Blue Posts for a quick one, then hysterically tired, headed home to bed- still daylight, but four hours sleep in over 36 is just not enough.

In bed at 8pm and not many minutes with the head on the pillow before drifting off into a well-earned long sleep.

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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.”

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