Saturday, April 30, 2011

Three wollongongers* do london: the longest post ever part one

*I think ‘Wollongoners’ is the most suitable demonym for Wollongong. Better than Wollongongian or Wollongongite or any other suffix combination, anyway.

As I’m writing this, which will probably be a long time before it’ll go online, Til and I are lounging in the indoor deck of the Pride of Kent, crossing the English channel to Calais.

I love that word. Calais. If it didn’t sound so much like a wankified version of ‘Kelly’ (à la Ja’mie from Jamie), I’d want to name my future daughter Calais. Sounds kind of Elven.

‘Illué alloay Arwen. Callathee allathar cathai calais.

We’re sitting next to a depressingly nuclear American family who talk (in especially annoying accents, no less) to each other like they’re from 7th Heaven or something. It’s all très bourgeois (getting my French on), so I’m distracting myself from their twee blather with what will probably be an epic blog post.

Where do you go when the world won’t treat you right? The answer is Calais, evidently.

We arrived in London from Norwich last Sunday, and stayed in what looked like the fairly posh suburb of Pimlico, judging from the beautiful olden-day apartments and the concomitant rows of Audis, Mercs, BMWs and Alfa Romeos parked outside them.

Our hostel itself wasn’t so posh, offering what a website tactfully describes as an ‘iconic view’ of the hideous Battersea Power Station. We had to stay in separate male/female dorms ’cause everything else was booked out, and that wasn’t fun because the types of people to deliberately book all-male dorms can easily be the creepy fifty-year-old kind who stand eerily in the corner of the room over the sleeping body of another guy for hours on end (this only happened once, but that was enough). 

 And I'm not even just exaggerating to fit this picture into this vague LOTR motif - the dude really kinda looked like Gollum.

The showers would be more adequately described as dribblers (not that showers ‘show’), and there was a fifteen minute walk to the nearest tube station. But on the upside, it was very cheap, the service was friendly, which is rare in England, the pub downstairs was cool and played good music, the fifteen-minute walk kept us out all day and burning calories and, best of all, despite the first being low quality and the second being of the Pepsi-not-Coke variety, we got free breakfast as well as free softdrinks whenever we wanted.

My cousin Kirbie was also in London at the time after attending some scientific conference or seminar or workshop or something in Dublin a few days before, so we made plans to meet up at Jamie’s Italian on our first night. Amazingly, it wasn’t outside the restaurant that we met, but in one of five or six elevators at the tube station – we just happened to get in the same one at exactly the same moment. Things like that keep happening, I’ve found. Like Jean-Paul, the only other person on our Topdeck tour to Les Deux Alpes, happened to be staying in Kirbie’s hostel as well, and we ran into him there one morning.

We postponed Jamie’s Italian in favour of something less busy,  which ended up being Spanish restaurant La Tasca, where we supped upon delicious (and expensive) sangria and incredible paella.


During our stay we came to feel like regular Londoners, spending almost a hundred pounds a day, passing iconic places like Pall Mall, The Strand, Trafalgar Square, Leicester Square, Coventry Street, Piccadilly and so forth on a quotidian basis (but unfortunately not passing ‘go’ and not collecting $200) and expertly swiping our Oyster cards with the utmost nonchalance on public transport of at least two kinds. Sydney really needs to get something like that. So much more efficient than stupid prepaid bus tickets and weekly/monthly/yearly Shityrail passes.

I started out loving the tube because you can just go down there at any time, wait three minutes at most, and a train will arrive. But a couple of travel disasters later I was over it. I don’t understand how people use that thing every day, in BUSINESS SUITS. It must be awful in summer. They should really be air-conditioned.

The first thing we did on our first full day was the free walking tour where you just tip what you think your tourguide is worth. It’s clever, because knowing you don’t have to pay makes you want to pay more, provided you had a good guide, which we did. And it encourages the guides to make an effort too, I’m sure. Ours was a pretty cool guy named Dave, a musician.

I love the kind of stories they tell you on these tours – anecdotal, urban legendary. It’s rooted in historical fact but not always accurate, and it doesn’t need to be. I think it harks back to that primal act of oral storytelling or something.

Anyway, we started out in Hyde Park Corner, where we heard about Arthur Wellesley, first Duke of Wellington, apparently an arrogant, elitist, sexist war hero. His mansion was right across from the park (at the awesome address of ‘1 London’) and he had a mounted statue of himself erected there, reportedly so he could see it from his windows whenever he wanted. This not being enough, he built his own Arc de Triomphe in the park as well, after he defeated Napoleon, with another statue of himself on top. Apparently Queen Victoria hated the statue so much she replaced it with another one as soon as he died.


Next stop was Buckingham Palace for the changing of the guard. It was madness. I think London was just brimming for the impending royal wedding, so there were so. Many. People. Dave said he'd never seen it like that.

Outside the palace, Dave told us some pretty hilarious stories about people who broke into the palace. One did so wearing a Batman costume and stood on the balcony for hours; others, German tourists, wanted to go camping in Hyde Park, saw the trees over the walls of the palace and assumed they'd found it. They jumped the fence, set up camp, and were only discovered the next morning when they asked a guard how to get out. There was a standout about a drunken homeless Irishman, but it was different to the account I found online. The gist of it was that he ended up on the end of the queen’s bed in the middle of the night, chatting to her for about ten minutes after having consumed half a bottle of her wine. And afterwards, some quirk in the legal system meant he couldn’t be charged for trespassing on public property, so he was just charged for stealing the wine!

Next we walked up Pall Mall to Trafalgar Square, where we saw the hideous Olympic countdown clock and the monument to Nelson.

Here Dave told us about the legend that the term ‘stiff drink’ comes from when sailors preserved the body of Nelson in a barrel of brandy during the three-week journey back to England, but once they had exhausted the ship’s alcohol supply, they proceeded to drink some of the brandy with the body inside (stiff = corpse, therefore ‘stiff drink’). He also told us how they reduced the number of pigeons living in Trafalgar Square – by putting birth control chemicals in the pigeon feed. Just as he finished the story, a lone pigeon swooped JUST over our heads, as if to say, ‘Yeah, but we’re still here!’ and I caught it on camera.

We were then led to the Admiralty Arch.

Til and I had seen it on our previous London visit, but we hadn’t noticed its nose, which sits embedded in the wall for no known reason.

The tour ended at the Houses of Parliament and the Clock Tower (which we now know is only called ‘Big Ben’ metonymically for the bell within). It was really worthwhile hearing all the little stories you’d never know about otherwise. I always think it’s interesting the way you learn the geography of a city – Sydney, Norwich, London. You start out knowing enclosed individual areas, but not how to get from one to the other, and as you wander around you’re always surprised when two areas separated in your mind link up. I think it’s the same way with knowledge, in this case of history. I know separate historical facts about the history of Britain’s royalty, but it was great having them unified by the stories on the tour – learning that so and so was whatsisname’s grandson, etc.

Tilly had heard before coming to London that frozen yoghurt was the latest craze. 

 The frogurt is also cursed.

So we headed to the place she’d heard about, ‘Snog’, which was admittedly pretty cool. I didn’t think the yoghurt itself was that great, but the décor was interesting. And the concept is clever. And the lighting was sensational! (Just kidding. But seriously, it was).

Our timing of this London-Paris-Amsterdam trip was a bit out, really – we probably should’ve made sure we were actually in Britain for the royal wedding. 

Okay, so this one was a bit contrived.
(Picture from

But seriously, it would’ve been great to go to an ironic student party, or play The Royal Wedding Drinking Game. As it turns out we’re in the Netherlands instead, for a different (better) royal event – 

 Sorry, couldn't resist!
(Picture from

I actually meant Queen’s Day – but more on that later. So while we won’t be in London for the party, we did get our fill of tacky wedding merchandise. It was in every shop window! Walls and walls of poorly Photoshopped, terrible photos on tea towels and plates and keyrings and such.

Who buys this stuff!?

Everyone's trying to cash in. Glad someone called it. 

Due to technical difficulties, this post continues here.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Winchester III: darrell's revenge

LUKE: I’ve already written two posts about Winchester. How can I possibly come up with another title?

TILLY: What were the other ones?

TILLY: How about ... ‘Winchester 3: darrell’s revenge’?


LUKE: I’m so calling it that!

And there ends the significance of the title of this post. In no way did Darrell exact any revenge during our stay in Winchester ... that I’m aware of ...

Anyway, the reason for this, my third return to Winchester and the abode of the Grundys, was for Gilly Grundy’s G-Themed Fortieth Birthday Costume Party!

This party was during the first weekend after classes finished at uni, so we didn’t have very long to put together G-themed costumes. We were brainstorming and I said we could go as Graham Gooch, which made Tilly think of going as goon! This would be significant because, while she was a student at UOW, we younguns introduced Gilly to all sorts of awful cheap goon drinks by which she was continually disgusted.

 Apparently only one cognitive leap away.
(pictures from <> and <>)

It was then simply a matter of deciding which form of goon would be best: Fruity Lexia or Berri Estates box? Goon Sunrise? Should we attempt to drink a goonsack every night until the party and wear a suit made of blown-up goonsacks? Goon Commandos with goon box helmets? We decided going as giant goon sacks would have the maximum effect for the minimum effort and price. We went around Norwich searching for electrical tape, thermal shock blankets and something suitable for nozzles, and were serenaded on our way by two buskers, one of whom was naked to the underwear, who sang something about us looking like lumberjacks as we passed because we were both wearing flannos. This is why I love this city.

Typically, we were still finishing our costumes thirty minutes before the party, on the train and in Winchester train station, where we attracted all sorts of looks and questions.

 Plastic wine tumbler/goon nozzle stickers on her eyes.

 Hasty assembly.

But the final result was worth it:

Goon sack costumes.

The party was awesome. Our costumes were a conversation starter, since the English don't use the word 'goon' and therefore our costumes' 'G' connection (sounds rude?) had to be repeatedly explained. People kept telling us they could hear us coming, 'cause the thermal blankets rustled so much - we also had to spend most of the night outside to prevent overheating; those things retain ninety per cent body heat! 

There were some really terrific costumes, among the best of which were Gilly’s parents’, Galadriel and Gandalf, and Gilly and Darrell themselves, Lady Godiva and the Grinch.

 They made the costumes themselves if you can believe it.

  Nipple repairs.

 'Goons. Hired goons.'

 'Hired goons?'

After the party we stayed a couple of days. Sunday was a beauty, and we went for a walk to G&D’s allotment, and then to the Black Boy for some drinks.

 Til being cooperative.

 Like something out of an Angus & Julia Stone film clip.

 A bumble bee on a wet-the-bed before the massacre, which left flower blood on our hands for days. Out, damned spot!


While we were sitting outside at The Black Boy, two people started looking up at the sky. Til worked out that it was just a parachuter, but a couple more people started looking so I started taking photos and pointing and saying, ‘I’ve never seen anything like it!’ until there was a line of six or seven people all trying to see what it was.

The Black Boy was the really cool pub I said I should’ve taken photos of in ‘Winchester II: return to gilly’s’. So have some now as a redress:

There was a game where you had to swing a ring on a chain onto a hook. I was too impatient for it, but Til got it.

 Hours of fun.

 ‘I’m really into this cup and ball now.'

Once again we balanced out our lazy, movie-watching days with day trips to Oxford and around Wiltshire. We made a special stop to see the shark house on the way into Oxford, which was everything I always dreamed and MORE!

 The house across the road is called ‘Sharkview’.

We had lunch in the White Horse again, and oh my God the food. I’m instituting a rule from now on that if something on a menu says ‘Chicken, mushroom and white wine sauce’ I MUST eat it. Also the cheesecake was the best I’ve ever had. I have this theory that the measure of a dairy product is how much it can be compared with another kind of dairy product. ‘This milk is so good it’s like cream!’ ‘This butter is so good it’s like cheese!’ ‘This cream is so good it’s like yoghurt!’ and so on. This cheesecake was so good it was like icecream.

My favourite place of the day was the shop that Elisa and Gilly found when they visited. It was like heaven. What is it about that certain kind of product, that stationeryish, leather-bound, handmade, old-timey kind of crap that appeals so much to us writers!? I never wanted to leave!

Our other daytrip, through Wiltshire, organised by amazing trip planner Gilly, took us to Stonehenge, Lacock, Salisbury and the New Forest. Stonehenge was Stonehenge. Pretty damn cool for a bunch of rocks in a field.

'Oh, we can't touch it, dad! It's behind a velvet rope!'

'The veeelvet roooope.'

Lacock is an entire village owned by the National Trust which hasn’t had any new buildings in two hundred years, so it’s constantly being used for TV shows and movies – it was Meryton in the BBC adaptation of Pride and Prejudice, and the abbey was used for parts of Hogwarts.

 Gilly reenacts Lydia’s admiration of a fabric in P&P.

The whole town was obsessed with the word ‘quintessential’. Every book I picked up in the giftshop used it – ‘Jane Austen, the quintessential English writer’, ‘Tea, the quintessential English tradition’ – and there was even a shop in an old house called ‘Quintessentially’. 
Looking through Quintessentially’s secondhand book collection was pretty amusing – it featured Anne, The Princess Royal – A Princess for Our Times (1973), and Our Princesses and their Dogs (1937).

 (Image from <>)

 In the abbey.

After Lacock the camera ran out of batteries and we sang our way in the car from Alanis Morissette to The Eagles in Gilly’s iPod until we got to Salisbury, only to find that the award-winning fish ’n chip shop we’d come for had closed down. But we found another, and also FINALLY some nice crusty fresh bread, of which I bought two loaves.

From Salisbury it was Enya to Howie Day and we were in the New Forest, so called because William the Conqueror declared it his new hunting ground in 1079, where horses, ponies, cows, pigs and donkeys roam free. We drove around and went to a pub before heading back, by which time we’d come back to Miss Morissette, presumably much to Tilly’s dismay.

The next morning we were off, after probably my favourite visit yet! Fear, all you travellers, the wrathful, grinchy revenge of Darrell!