I’ve developed a bad habit of starting paragraphs and sentences with “So,” if you catch me doing it, flick me or something, eh?
My trip to London was replete with irritations and was far more frustrating than relaxing. Day 1 we missed our train, the Metro board said that the train we were getting on was heading to Sunderland when it wasn’t. So rather than getting to London at 12ish and spending half a day mooching around we spent that time mooching around Sunderland.
A quick aside, apparently Newcastle and Sunderland have some sort of rivalry that might colour my perception that Sunderland is some sort of hell hole. Sunderland smells funny, it’s hard to find a good place to eat and the bits that aren’t on their way to being derelict are occupied by soulless chain shops. Like the rest of my life football doesn’t even come into it. The best bit of Sunderland is The Winter Gardens, but what’s not to love about a big greenhouse full of tropical plants and Koi? That being said we discovered a church for sale, anyone with 400K going begging want to start a budget wedding venue with me?
Eventually we get the next train, and naturally I’m pooped from getting up so early to get that pesky first train, so I try to nap. The first part of the journey was blissful. Quiet, lots of space, good views, sun streaming in through the windows and being tempered by the air con, like I said, bliss. Then some weird bloke got on and sat across from us. I knew he was going to be a pain in the butt when he started talking to my boyfriend, who is a very shy and not chatty kind of person. (What can I say? Opposites attract.) Every word this guy spoke was shouted, from “IS THAT YOUR GIRLFRIEND?!” to “WHAT? YOUR RAIL CARD ONLY GETS YOU A THIRD OFF? I’D WANT ATLEAST A QUARTER.”, a thought he addressed to the poor lass who had the misfortune to sit between the loud moth and my boyfriend. Thankfully he got off at York, and the rest of the carriage joined me in a collective sigh of relief.
Arriving in London wasn’t too bad, we ended up getting messed around by the rout planner we were using and instead of directing us to the DLR station right next to where we were staying it suggested we get off over a mile away and get the bus or walk. So we walked, which turned out to be a blessing in disguise, it was a beautiful stroll down the river in the afternoon sun. We checked into our AirBnB, an episode which frankly deserves its own paragraph and headed out for dinner.
I should have known from the start the AirBnB was going to be less than perfect. He requested we brought our own towels, not amazingly convenient, but also not a deal breaker. I didn’t realise this meant we wouldn’t even have a towel handy to dry our hands after washing them and I also wasn’t expecting the lack of a bath matt. Ever since I slipped getting out of the bath and fractured my wrist a few years back it’s something that worries me every time I put my bare foot on a wet tile. These things are annoying but not a big deal. There were etiquette instructions on how to use the toilet gaffer taped to one of the walls. My boyfriend only noticed the instructions half way through his unexpectedly, forbidden, stand-up-pee. Being the amiable sort of chap he is, he simply resolved to sit down whenever he used the bathroom from that point on and to double check he hadn’t accidentally splashed the seat. By the time I popped in to use the loo, about 3 minutes later, there was another sign taped to the flush asking us to respect the first sign. The weird thing is, how did he know? He was sat in the kitchen the last I saw of him. Did he make the effort to get up and listen at the door? Needless to say, it really creeped us out.
As I said, we popped out for tea, my boyfriend had found a great Korean/Japanese place very close by and we were pretty excited about the prospect of food and being able to use the bathroom with impunity. We sit, we order, we chat, it’s lovely, just basking in each other’s company and the quiet burble of a relatively busy restaurant. This romantic tête-à-tête lasted for about 5 minutes, no sooner had we ordered than 3 adults and 3 kids sat on the table behind us. I have never seen such bad behaviour by kids in a restaurant. They were running, climbing, drumming with their chopsticks, banging on the glass window like they were trying to break through it and for not understandable reason screaming. Just screaming, literally; in the faces of their parents, at each other, at other people, screaming. We finished our food and left, deciding bed was calling and an early morning with a fresh attitude would be just the ticket. As we nestled in our bed we heard screaming coming from outside. Yep, you guessed it, it was those same kids were running up and down the street screaming.
Day 2, we woke early, booked a ghost tour for the evening’s entertainment and then we started the day off with something I’ve long wanted to do, breakfast at Borough Market. We spent about an hour just mooching around looking at all the food before we bought anything. I got an oyster, which in hindsight probably wasn’t the best thing to have on an empty stomach. I bought some berliners and the most amazing cheesy bread I’ve ever experienced and my boyfriend had a burger for breakfast, because he’s a philistine who doesn’t appreciate amazing food. Next we hopped back on the tube and took a trip to Highgate Cemetery for a guided tour. It is a beautiful old Victorian graveyard, with a really interesting curated but also dishevelled appearance. We took loads of photos and learned quite a bit about London’s development. I’d recommend you give it a visit if you’re ever in the neck of the woods. The guided tour only covers the west wing, the east is a DIY tour, but it’s where Douglas Adams and Karl Marx are buried so while you’re there you’ve got to pop in. Just as we reached the Marx memorial, London luck struck again and my eyes started burning. Obviously I was having some sort of allergic reaction, but I couldn’t open my eyes to see. I tried toughing up and carrying on, which made it worse and I tried washing my eyes out with water, to little effect. Eventually I just had to sit on a bench with my eyes closed. My boyfriend did a quick circuit on his own and I endured the judgement of everyone who passed me and assumed I was sleeping. When we left, my eyes were fine, which was irritating. (Irritating, get it? my eyes were irritated and then I was irritated when they stopped being irritated after we left…no ? Not funny? Fine.)
Next we went for a meander down by the river again. We crossed a bridge and ended up close to The South Bank Centre, I remembered there was a cool Mexican restaurant close by, and suggested it for a light lunch. It was lovely to sit in an open fronted restaurant and drink a beer in the shade. I should have known things were going too smoothly. My boyfriend’s side dish arrived, after about 7 minutes of watching it go cold he ate it. A while later my super healthy salad-in-a-deep-fried-tortilla arrived. By the time I’d finished it my boyfriend’s main dish still hadn’t arrived. Eventually it came. It was cold. Our waiters shift ended and he had bailed so someone else had to receive my displeasure. The place was called Wahaca if you want to avoid it. The food was alright, but the portions are small and as I have already outlined the service leaves a lot to be desired.
We continued on down the river after lunch, it was still warm and pleasant; we walked past the OXO Galleries and Tate Modern, back over the river, past St Pauls and onto Bank station where the Ghost Tour was supposed to begin in an hour’s time. Plenty of time to find a public toilet before our adventure started. This part does not make a particularly interesting story. Suffice to say if it had a theme tune to set the mood of my search for a loo it would be the Benny Hill music whilst I rushed from place to place, ever more desperate to find a loo that was either open or functioning. Dear London, why would you close your public lav’s at the weekend? I hate you, Love Me.
We returned in time for the ghost walk our previous mission being eventually, satisfactorily accomplished. My heart sank, there looked to be about 40 people waiting for the tour to start. I remember sullenly thinking to myself that hearing the guide was going to be impossible and we were in for another disappointing experience. I was so wrong. The guide must have been a classically trained actor, because his booming voice would have given that chap on the train down a run for his money. For an hour and a half he shepherded us around with the perfect mix of humour, presentation and scary stories that kept us riveted for the full time. It was amazing to be able to walk the stories he was telling us and get a good dose of history in too. There has got to be some research about ghost walks, place and performativity. This is the guide’s web page if you’re interested http://www.london-ghost-walk.co.uk/. It’s a good resource if you’re interested in finding fun stuff to do in London too. By the end of the walk we’d chalked up 35000 steps according to my boyfriend’s FitBit. We were both knackered. We travelled back to our AirBnB and practically passed out.
On Day 3, we were both tired and sore from all the walking so we took it easy, we sauntered past the tour of London, and off to find Brick Lane Market. What a place! Busy, vibrant, full of cool market stalls and food venders, I really don’t think I can do it justice! I loved it. Next time I’m in London I don’t think there is anything that is going to stop me from going there again! It’s got all the rough charm and charisma I find that Camden Marker lacks. Unfortunately, it was still hot and after a couple of hours my boyfriend had reached “maximum exposure” to people. So we decided to head back towards Kings Cross and get an earlier train home. On the way we stopped off at a place recommended by the ghost tour fella. A mall, that lets you out onto its roof terrace for the best views of London you’re likely to get! Check it out: https://onenewchange.com/roof-terrace .
Our trip home was lovely, we got chatting, ahem, I got chatting to a nice lady from Australia who had been screwed over by the British Airways debacle. Imagine traveling for days and then having to hang around in an airport with no clean clothes only to be told that there are no concrete answers about when you can leave. We talked about bushfires, botanic gardens, and town planning until she reached her final destination.
When we reached Sunderland train/metro station we were glad to be on the home stretch. Then we realised the London Trip Luck wasn’t done with us! We were sitting waiting for the metro home when to teenage girls appear and basically spend the next 20 minutes trying to goad me into a confrontation. It’s nice to see that teenage knobs never change, it was exactly the same sort of stuff the kids did when I was at school. Walking up to you and getting in your face and then walking off, or for some reason, spraying themselves with body spray and then us. It’s at times like this I realise how classist I can be, because my internal dialogue was peppered with the words “chav scum”. Chav is one of those words that I’ve been trying to remove from my vocabulary for years, like I say it’s classist and I’m fairly sure replying to them calling me a barrage of mostly unintelligible names with “I’m sorry, I can’t understand you, I don’t speak chav.” would not have helped the situation. I react to situations like this with fairly acidic humour, but for a start I don’t think they would have understood most of my bruising social commentary and frankly I was just too tired to rise to it. I took solace in the fact that we were on a metro ride out of there in the next few minutes and they probably have a lifetime pass to Sunderland and all it has to offer.
All in all not a fantastic weekend but also not a terrible one. Some highs, some lows, my favourite motivational saying is “Don’t let the seeds spoil the watermelon.” I love watermelon, and it’s a saying that really resonates with me. Although this weekend was a pretty seedy there was still a lot of sweet, sweet melon to make it worth the time and effort.
I’ll leave you with the Benny Hill theme tune, in case you didn’t get the reference before, listen to it and imagine me pegging it through the streets of London busting for the loo.