Thursday, July 7, 2011

That dirty little town on the thames keeps calling us away

It seems we just can't stay away from London. We don't plan to go back there so often, but people keep turning up there who we have to meet up with this and last visit was my fourth and/or fifth, depending on what you count as a visit. This time it was to meet up with one of my best friends from home, Alexandra.

We got to London from Amsterdam at around nine at night after a ten-hour bus trip. I’d just put my stuff down at the very London-style (by which I mean huge, functional, impersonal, alcohol-oriented and poorly painted) Generator Hostel when Alex called and we arranged to meet up for dinner.

You know that awkward thing where you haven’t seen someone for a long time and your meeting point happens to be in a really open space where the other person can see you approaching from ages away and you just have to walk towards each other silently not knowing where to look? Well instead of doing that I decided to run to Alex dramatically, arms flailing like in a movie.

After dinner we stood outside the restaurant talking for a while before parting ways, and a green dress on a mannequin inside a shop began mysteriously to move, seemingly autonomously! A ghost or some other numen, surely, and not an airconditioner or wayward breeze.

Alexandra gasped. ‘Anne Boleyn wore a green dress once!’ It’s like her favourite historical topic. ‘And look, she’s been beheaded!’ Obviously it was an omen that in precisely two days we would go to Hampton Court palace, one of the homes of Henry VIII. It felt good to know the spirits had preordained our travel plans.

For the next day, though, Alex and I had arranged to meet up with our old English friend from high school, Lucy. We met at a quarter to ten at platform 9 ¾ at Kings Cross Station, just like in the Harry Potter books. Except it wasn't the real platform, just the fake tourist one. We still thought it was awesome that a book could become so popular that they would install something from it in a real life location from the story.

 Til breezes through.

 I'm a bit more anxious.

Alexandra finds it hilarious.

The first place Lucy took us was the very cool Camden Markets, some kind of magical transposition of Bali into England. It has all the desperately persuasive South East Asian vendors of the Indonesian tourist island, but the higher prices and quaint uniform shopfronts of England. But best of all, the food vendors force free samples of their delicious crispy chicken into your eager hands! Heavenly if your vision of heaven, like mine, involves free stuff (mostly food) all the time. It just sucked we couldn’t really buy anything because we'd have to carry it around with us till we got home.

 Straight out of Bali.

 Why does this dog have a pokéball around its neck?

After that we hit up Harrods and bought some sugary delicacies to eat in Hyde Park, where we sat on the crap-covered ground eating them because the chairs cost 2.50. That's right: wealthy enough to eat from Harrods, but too tight to pay for a chair to avoid duck crap.

A chick seeking donations came up to us, probably having noticed our expensive treats and thinking we were good for it, but Tilly genuinely couldn't get her malfunctioning wallet to open.

 We eventually had to resort to desperate measures, and I tore it asunder with my bare hands.

In the afternoon I recreated the New Europe tour Til and I took with Kirbie for Alex and Lucy. Afterwards we tried to eat at The White Horse but had to leave because I didn't have ID, so we settled in at the Queen's Head, where the age restrictions were apparently more lax.

Postprandium, Alex, Til and I bought tickets to Les Mis for that night and said bye to Lucy. It wasn’t too sad, though, ’cause she’s coming out to visit early next year.

Les Mis was really great, and not as depressing as everyone said, though still mildly sad. I ran into a bit of my personal distaste for ‘theatre cheese’ again, but that was unavoidable.

Next day was Hampton Court, which Cardinal Wolsey gave as a ‘gift’ to Henry VIII four centuries ago. It was great. Amazing to see little things like the symbols of Katherine (his first wife) and Henry that he later ordered removed but must’ve been missed (awkward). They have actors roaming around the castle all day playing the parts of Henry, his (soon-to-be) fifth wife Kathryn Howard, her sister and her courtier-lover, as well as a bunch of guards. At first I thought having all the actors was lame, but I increasingly found it entertaining. It really did manage to bring the castle to life. Touring the later additions to the castle where there were no such actors later in the afternoon, I realised it felt kind of dead and lonely and found myself wishing there were actors there too.

 My camera-shy friend.

 Think he wet himself; that's probably why.

 Alex humbly approaches Kathryn.

That night we went back to The White Horse, this time with ID, for dinner and drinks. We were intrigued by a man in a BRIGHT pink shirt who came out of the building he was in like clockwork every fifteen minutes to have a cigarette. We ended up watching out for him to appear, and constructing a story about him. We decided he was a Russian opera singer who had to quit for some reason, possibly connected to his smoking habit, and now he’d moved to Piccadilly to be close to the theatres he once loved. He also had a wife with some kind of mental illness, and the story would be about him meeting a girl while smoking who looks over his drab outfit and sullen expression and suggests he brighten up a bit. He goes through his wardrobe and the only bright piece of clothing he can find is the pink shirt his wife got him years ago and he never wore. His wife thinks he’s started wearing it for her, and he thinks the woman he met is interested in him, when really she’s using the brightness of his shirt and the regularity of his appearance on the street to some end we haven’t determined yet ...

The next day we had to return to Norwich to move out of our accommodation, but we returned the night after for one more dinner with Alexandra. I’d been talking about how, every time the tube announcement that ‘there is a good service on all lines’ comes on, I feel like I’m a mindless drone in some dystopic Orwellian future with a voice constantly reassuring me ‘All is well, all is well’ so when we received the bill with a card urging us to give feedback (online, but whatever), guess what Alexandra wrote.

We saw the waitresses giggling over it on our way out.

We finished up with an exorbitantly priced ice cream in a wanky ice cream shop in Covent Garden.

After that, on our way to the train to our hotel, I decided to get rid of all the useless one and two penny coins Til and I had accrued during our stay in England by dumping them in one busker’s hat, which was pretty funny. I don’t think they knew whether to be happy or annoyed. Altogether it was probably worth a couple of pounds, but they’re so useless!

There was even more than there looks.

Struggling with the weight of it.

 The act. Check out the dude on the left's face.

Thus concluded another London trip. Only one more to go now, to get our flights home!

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