How marvellous it was to return to the English-speaking world. Comprehending Brits on the telephone and the numerous accents in the capital were other matters altogether, but at least for day-to-day exchanges I was not required to employ simplistic and slow language. I relished my time in London because it essentially provided a break from the exoticisms of the world; which have been fascinating but nevertheless draining to experience. There seems to be an entrenched antipathy toward England in the Australian psyche, but I found that personal detestations, even from a sporting perspective, partially subsided during my fortnight in London. Despite Great Britain’s location on the other side of the planet, I found a continuation of Australian culture and humour there. I suppose, why wouldn’t they attempt to emulate our magnificent society? From visiting the museums and ambling through the great city, I developed a sense of patriotism and pride for the Anglo world. I cannot decide whether this is an utter abomination or entirely justifiable considering my heritage. I nevertheless felt a “connection” to historical British achievements and our royal family. This type of barbaric sentiment is demonstrative as to why Australia must butcher all links to the constitutional monarchy and form a new national identity under the guise of the Republic of Australia, with Liam I of House Stevens serving as Emperor.
London is a city that I could happily reside in, if we ignore the deplorable weather. On only three of the fifteen ”summer” days I was in London for was I treated to what would loosely be described as sunny weather. Grey and bleak overcast conditions were the usual fare, with temperatures hovering in the mid-teens. Nevertheless, such trivial complaints failed to deter a growing desire to call the city home (briefly). I have discovered this year that my cultural and linguistic ignorance dictates that if I were to settle outside of Australia and hope to enjoy the experience, then the Anglo-world would be the most appropriate areas to consider! While the English people are purportedly classified as our eternal enemy, personally I find them to be the most similar to Australians in terms of humour and general conversation; other than (quasi-Australian) New Zealanders. The diversity that London exudes I think is its most appealing attribute. Architecturally, the central area features a mix of imperial and monumental buildings and futuristic post-modernist structures. London (unexpectedly) is probably the most multi-cultured city I have ever been to and consequently the city features a unique fabric of varying cultures and cuisines. While I suppose there are ultimately numerous similarities with Australia, the metropolitan area of London dwarves Melbourne and Sydney and it emanates international importance and centrality rather than irrelevance and isolation. If only they had decent weather.
Initially I planned to stay in London for no more than five or six days, which has been my customary timeframe in Europe’s major cities. However, because I met several Londoners on the tour through Southern Africa and subsequently also, I opted to spend two and a half weeks in the city. This was also a wise judgement because I felt like I needed somewhere to “stop” for an extended period and an English-speaking country was certainly an appropriate choice! To reminisce on past experiences/ordeals, for most of my time in London I stayed at my former tent partner British Dave’s apartment in the humble outer suburb of Watford. British Julia, another member of the Africa trip, happily reminded us all though that technically Watford is not considered to be within the boundary of Greater London and Dave should therefore not be considered a Londoner. While Dave generously provided free accommodation, the heinously expensive prices of public transport to reach Watford virtually eliminated any economic advantage of staying there (approximately $27 in transportation costs each day). Nevertheless, I thoroughly enjoyed my stay in this pleasant town, even if it exhibited a touch of the ordinary. Dave was an excellent host and catered for a seamless stay. Well, aside from the conspicuous absence of pillows or linen for the four-foot couch I slept on. And I suppose the bare kitchen where kindergarten breakfast cereals and brie cheese were the only edible options was a tad unhelpful. I’ll ignore the derogative comments and relentless crusade against my glorious beard also. Initial awkwardness after arriving quickly subsided as we descended into the same banter as on the Africa trip, which made for a highly amusing stay in London.
While Dave had the distraction of work to attend, on my first full day in London I reunited with another member of the Africa tour, Australian Kayla. We met at Oxford Circus as the only two from the initial group in Cape Town to still be continuously travelling. This rendezvous was thus markedly different to previous reunions, as we recounted events from the previous months from an “equal” footing. After I departed the tour in Zanzibar, it continued onward to Uganda for another four weeks. Kayla was the first person I had reunited with that had stayed on the trip for its entirety, so I was most intrigued to hear her revelations about the changing group dynamics and to subsequently compare them with the occasionally contrasting perspectives of Australian Malcolm. In adhering to the common theme, Kayla toured me around central London as we passed by Oxford Street, Trafalgar Square, Houses of Parliament, Big Ben, London Eye, The Sherlock Holmes (where Dave had a drunken mishap in April) and the self-proclaimed “world-famous” Camden Market. The latter exemplified London’s diversity, as the people, culture, merchandise and aesthetics of the area contrasted substantially with the business area of the city. It was essentially similar to Brunswick St, only much larger and more alternative. Naturally one as uber-cool as myself fitted in perfectly with this environment (especially with my shaggy beard); though Kayla had some difficulty. We ventured to the pedestrian crossing at Abbey Rd that was immortalized by the Beetles. Unfortunately though, this Kayla-inspired endeavour was not interesting at all. As we patiently awaited Dave to finally depart work, Kayla had to suffer through Liam’s notorious shopping customs. In the evening, we returned to the Sherlock Holmes for dinner; which was attempted by several members of the group in April but denied because of Dave’s inebriated state. The infamous events of that evening have been recounted to me ad nauseum by six different members. Kayla and I had an excellent day and I look forward to reuniting with her in Melbourne. To which she returned the following week, leaving me as the Sole Survivor from the Africa tour!
Kayla’s simultaneous presence in London was not merely coincidental, as several from the group congregated in the city for the “event of the year”, Dave’s 30th birthday party. I made the wise judgement of vacating Dave’s apartment for the weekend festivities and stayed with British Julia and Australian Malcolm from the Africa trip. While the couple may appear mature and responsible, they eagerly encourage the deprecating jokes and drunken antics of the younger members of the trip. I stayed at their apartment in Crystal Palace and was treated to sleep in one of the most comfortable beds for the year. Note that Crystal Palace is an area in London, not a luxurious royal residence unfortunately. Amid satirical commentary about Dave and his big event, Julia and Malcolm showed me around the once notorious neighbourhood of Brixton. This gentrified area is dominated by the Caribbean community and consequently features an exciting vibe. Some in London still naively regard Brixton as a complete no-go zone, so Julia and Malcolm instructed me to horrify the slightly snobbish Dave about my ventures to the area. British Ann, another from the Africa trip, also stayed at Julia and Malcolm’s for the weekend. Collectively we visited Crystal Palace’s constituent attractions, namely the foundations of its destroyed namesake (the Crystal Palace), a series of dinosaur models in a park, the highest point in London and Crystal Palace’s very own Eiffel Tower. Ann and I attempted to attend the first day of Wimbledon, but unfortunately we were confronted with the longest Queue in the tournament’s history and were forced to abdicate such plans. I did at least walk around the perimeter of the fabled precinct. To subdue extreme disappointment, we headed into central London to ride on the Eye and enjoyed magnificent views of the River Thames and London. Julia and Malcolm generously accommodated us for the weekend which was much appreciated and credit to Julia for her excellent lasagne on my parting evening.
The “event of the year” orchestrated what will probably be the largest Africa trip reunion we’ll ever have. Representing the group at British Dave’s birthday were Australian Anna, Australian Kayla, Australian Malcolm, British Julia, British Ann, British Becky, Italian Davide and most importantly the Emperor. The event was obviously also attended by his friends and family, so it gave context to the enigma that is Dave. Intriguingly, he exhibits remarkable similarities to his father, in mannerisms and speech, though notable differences also! The occasion was celebrated on an evening cruise along the River Thames, which was a thoughtful gesture since it was a brilliant way for me to see Tower Bridge (I never realised that much of it is blue!), Millenium Bridge, O2 Arena and St. Paul’s Cathedral. Davide endeavoured to enlighten us with an architectural and sculptural themed-tour of the passing structures, but Kayla thwarted such efforts by demonstrating contemptuous boredom. Malcolm reneged on wearing the bedazzling shirt he promised to but he did enthusiastically engaged in bizarre dance routines. Upon the announcement that food was being served below deck, I disappeared for two hours. The night witnessed an unusuality for the group as everyone maintained decorum and there was a conspicuous absence of alcohol frenzied madness.
After the excitement of the much vaunted party, several lesser events occurred during the following week. I joined Dave for a classic English tradition of partaking in a midweek pub quiz at a local establishment. I was only able to answer one question (about cricket) for the entire evening, which raises questions about the integrity of the competition. Why else would every question be British orientated if not to rig it against the Australian? On Dave’s actual birthday, he had drinks with colleagues at a pub near their offices. Consequently, I was quite self-conscience about my appearance with the untamed hair, Kathmandu jacket and hiking shoes alongside the slick professionals of a law form. The evening was enjoyable, although I was slightly disappointed about the lack of dinner and Dave passing out at the station before the last train out to Watford was a bit of a hassle. We meet Julia and Malcolm in central London the following evening for expensive Chinese food. While the others partied on, I cleverly caught the last train back to Watford in order to avoid an exorbitant taxi fare. Dave returned in the late morning and his father kindly picked us up to drive us to the UK’s premium theme park, which features something like a dozen rides that are classified “extreme” (whatever that means). The rides, Dave’s drunkenness/succeeding hangover and his sleep deprivation thus formed a delightful recipe of amusement for me. Yet again, I discovered that I have virtually no fear on rides and consequently on several rollercoasters I attempted to imitate Mr Bean’s deadpan expression on the UK’s highest ride from a famous sketch. Dave ordered that we should scream for the entire duration of our last ride but he gutlessly backed out, which left me as the screaming lunatic at the front screaming at all the stationary moments. That evening, Anna bravely completed the trek out to Watford and celebrated what was my last Nick-free evening in London!
Reunions in London were not solely restricted to members of the Africa tour as I caught up with Kiwi Jess from the Portugal-Spain-Morocco component of my trip and British Charlie and British Ollie from Dahab also. Since separating in Fez, Jess briefly continued travelling and then settled in London to work. We met in Islington and attempted to locate a mysterious breakfast café to no avail. She revealed that during her time in the UK she had discovered that the British are hopelessly inadequate at customer service, that it lack’s Australasia’s sophisticated café culture and that the fish and chips just aren’t as good as in Down Under. While Charlie lives relatively close to Watford, he and Ollie determined that the sleepy hollow would not be a sufficiently interesting destination for us to meet one evening. Instead we met in Whitechapel; another district which Dave contemptuously disapproved of. I was somewhat relieved to learn that essentially everyone else from the Dahab group also felt that a particular American guy there was a bit of a turd-face (and the epitome of the “typical American” typology that seems to be universally scorned). As with previous reunions, it felt quite unusual seeing these guys in the West but it was pleasing that we got along just as well as in Dahab.
I don’t mean to be as boastful as Dave, but: I went to Oxford. Whether that involved study or touristic photography is completely irrelevant, that comment should only be evocative of unquestionable extreme intelligence. At least I assume that was Dave’s purpose for continually making such references. Since Dave has spent significantly more time in the historic town, he thus acted as the guide. While I was eager to be educated about the history and development of the colleges there, I was instead shown the favourite lawns for drinking, the ceremonial pub crawl route for graduating students, gardens in which Dave was arrested because of drunken escapades and other attractions of that ilk. Nonetheless, it was impossible not to notice the stupendous Gothic and Neoclassical architecture of the college buildings and churches. The University of Oxford does not occupy one sprawling and grandiose campus but its colleges are rather strewn throughout the town. The town boasts an attractive riverfront area and we ate at a pub overlooking the scene. Oxford was a pleasant daytrip from London and the excursion facilitated a glimpse into the English countryside.
This predominantly covers all that happened in the opening ten days of my London stay. I did actually do some sightseeing and tourist activities in London, though I’ll discuss that in the next entry, which centres on Nick’s arrival. Although I didn’t necessarily see all that many wow-factor sights, this was certainly among the best weeks I’ve had all year; which made it quite difficult to eventually leave. It was nice that friendships made throughout the trip have transcended the original meeting as I reunited with eleven different people in London.
That’s all for now,