My family live about 25 miles from London and yet to get there was a struggle. My parents were of the opinion that since we had “been there before” that there was no need to go again … ever. In my opinion not going to London on a UK visit would be rather like waiting in a long line on “free ice cream day” at “Ben and Jerrys” only to decline a dessert and ask for a water on reaching the front of the line.
London is kind of like Budapest if you disregard the absence of 3 million Hungarians, cold war era buildings and the fact that Buda and Pest are actually two cities and are on either side of the Danube rather than one city on the Thames but aside from all of that it is similar. It is also rather larger and has a much fancier looking business district and they have red double decker buses as opposed to orange trams and black taxis as opposed to papier mache trabants. The restaurants are different too and the Hungarian women are prettier but anyway aside from all of that the two cities struck me as much of a muchness I mean for one thing it rained in Budapest last time I was there and it always rains in England but anyway since hardly anyone has ever been to Hungary I guess it is actually a bit of a crappy comparison so I’ll get to the point. London is arguably (along with Budapest ?) the greatest city in the world. In fact if the ancients were to come back and re-evaluate the “7 wonders” of the world today they would surely ditch the Lighthouse of Alexandria and replace it with the city of London. That being said they could probably replace that boring lighthouse with the Odeon in Harlow and be onto a winner but my point is that London has everything you could want in a city and the best way to see it is on a badly driven red bus.
Many tourists flock to the capital and get ripped off by Eton drop outs who act as tour guides on cramped single level coaches that plough through pedestrains at Leicester square but the savvy cockney knows that the actual local transport system is the way to go. I’m not a cockney so I didn’t know this but since my old man grew up singing “I’m forever blowing bubbles” he was well aware of this so our first hour in the capital was a rapid fire whirlwind tour of the main tourist spots courtesy of Red Ken. My daughter liked it because she got to see “the Peter Pan clock” (Big Ben), the Mary Poppins Bank (Eddie George’s place) and the Cyberman church (St Pauls).
We had lunch at an Italian restaurant where we unwittingly took part in a Guinness book of records attempt to squeeze 4000 tables into and 20ft by 20ft room. The meal was nice and certainly nicer than the one I once had at the pub opposite some years back when Deacon got drunk on 2 Harp shandys and humiliated himself by singing “Stayin’ Alive” on karaoke in the style of Pee Wee Herman.
Lunch was followed by the days main event which was the stage musical “Wicked”. To those who don’t know it is the leftie apologist back story of the wicked witch of the west and her house flattened sister. The star looked uncannily like Elaine from “Seinfeld” but greener and with a voice more like the “Super Nanny” and the role of “Glenda” was played by a Bonnie Langford wannabee with a blonde wig. The show was very entertaining and allowed my Mum the opportunity to see something that she wanted to see under the guise of it being someone elses birthday present. Mine actually. Fortunately for her I am easily pleased but my Mum has a long history of this kind of behaviour. The most famous incident occured when my Dad decided to leave the post office after 20 years of service and his co-workers threw him a big party. He was mortified on receiving nothing but expensive books on pre-Raphaelite art as goodbye presents . His naive work colleagues had called my Mum and asked what he might like for a farewell gift. When they called to ask she set down the picture book of Italian art work she was reading, thought for one second and then told them that my Dad loved nothing better than to come home after a long days work and look at pictures of limbless nude Florentine statues. They must have thought he was a right weirdo but it didn’t stop my Mum and she used that as a starting point to acrue a vast collection of antiquituies that she bought for people only to see them re-gifted … to her. “Wicked” though was one occasion when everyone was happy and after a rousing ovation we left the theatre and whilst my parents took my daughter back to Sawbo my wife and I ventured into unchartered territory…South London.
My Dad had tried hard to discourage us from visiting “Sarf London”. The reason of our visit was to see an old school friend I had known since I was 4. My parents showed us newspaper cuttings about headless Ukranian women being thrown from tower blocks, rampaging gangs of Neo Nazis and hordes of Satanist roaming the streets in search of flesh blood to feast on. My friend had called and told me that he lived in a “dodgey high rise” which didn’t help matters but undetered we caught the tube and headed closer to the equator and into the mystical land they call Crofotn. We exited the train and as the mist slowly cleared and the crows gathered over head I heard what sounded like the faint croaking murmur of a dyeing man. I stopped dead in my tracks and held my breath. The voice was getting fainter but I could just about make out some words. “mind…………mind the ……..” I could almost hear it but the pitter patter of rain was obscuring the last word of this haunting message. Then abrupdtly the rain stopped and the baying crows went silent long enough for me to hear the mysterious words ….”Mind the gap.” It turned out that they had a faulty speaker at the train station so the tannoy operator was trying extra hard to make himself heard !
The area was actually very nice once we left the station. The scary image my parents had painted was about as accurate as a “fair and balanced” debate on Fox news. My friend Aidan lived up to his reputation as a wind up merchant and far from living in a high rise he actually lived in a pretty expensive and nice looking house in a quiet neighbourhood. The next 3 hours were a chance for me to meet his family and he mine. We both had children which was scary since neither of us even had a girlfriend last time we met up. We discussed how we’re haunted by memories of our sadistic primary school headmaster and still amused by childhood incidents such as the birth narrative of James Canning (He claimed his Mum never knew she was pregnant and took a sepository the day he was born) or the fact that there is a hotel resort in Orlando named after Gaylord Nathan. It seemed like we hadn’t been there for long when it was time to leave as my parents had put an effective 10pm curfew on us. Granted I am 31 and so what if I live 5,000 miles away from them and only speak to them via phone once a week, in their minds I can’t be trusted to be out after dark and so we said our farewells to our hosts and made our way home. We were back just in time to see the Everton highlight on “Match of the day” which has always been the prefect way to end a day.