London Grammer

There is comfort to be had in the depressing grey shades of Heathrow Airport, a reassuring tinge of concrete and pessimism. But what’s this? People here seem a little perkier than usual, a bit more easy-going. A touch nonchalant perhaps, purposefully blinding themselves as they near the edge of a self-inflicted precipice made worse by those purportedly born to rule. That heatwave they have gone on and on about must have made life bearable again.

LDN01That heatwave was turning into a thing of the past by the time I made it onto England’s shores, and things will be reassuringly back to normal soon. Its legacy will emerge through inflatable pools from Argos gathering cobwebs in sheds up and down the land, frozen Calippo slushes, and a chance for rose-tinted reminiscence of that famous summer before the storm (or sunny skies with fluffy white clouds and unicorns pooing golden trade deals) of Brexit. Plus blackberries, lots of blackberries.

LDN02Regardless of sunshine or headwinds there will always be tea and cake or in this case coffee and cake. You could be forgiven for thinking coffee might be overtaking tea in popularity in the UK given the rampant reproduction of godawful Costa Coffee shops every fifty metres, with their godawful massive mugs and godawful patrons thinking this thing they are drinking is the height of sophistication and really isn’t godawful. Give it a week and I’ll be with them. But today, an independent café in swanky South Kensington and coffee that was not at all deitybad.

Cake commenced a Sunday afternoon that was an absolute delight, sunny skies banishing the grey and encouraging an ambient amble with my friend Caroline through London’s parks and parades. With the warmth building again and many people still in holiday mode, the vibe was convivial and quite un-London like. Almost European, dare I say Nigel and Boris and Jacob et al.

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There was biking and boating and picnicking through Hyde Park, selfies and group gatherings around the Palace and Whitehall, and the languid saunter of families and friends matching the slow march of the ever-brown Thames. That is, until all was disrupted by some kind of urban party boat, the Stormzy Steamer or something. But once that blitzed downstream to pick up Jezza, life was once again grand and London was the finest place in the world for a little bit.

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LDN04One of the pleasures of returning to London goes beyond famous sights, cake, and hearing people speaking with like proper English accents innit. There are the familiarities of place and person, reconnecting with treasured friends, perusing past haunts and – especially fresh off the boat – attempting to retune into the current Britannic zeitgeist. Spending time with Caroline helped a great deal in this regard, and with many steps across London and the Zone 5 countryside, there was much to discover; a veritable bullseye of a weekend, tru dat.

From Zone 5 to Zone 4, and a return to Finchley and a return to a friend I have now known for more than half my life. We graduated twenty years ago goddammit and don’t look a day older. More like years and years. And there was charming Orla, my chess-playing pub lunch pal, who has always been enjoyable company across the parks of North London. I may have a sense of two homes, but they make this feel like coming home.

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Lunch in leafy Highgate while wearing shorts was hard to beat. The heatwave – or at least a minor, cooler version of it – was back. And here, happy with a beer in a pub garden, I could see how easy the grey could fade into the background, and the light, the glorious, English light, could shine through.

Great Britain Green Bogey Society & Culture

London dummies

Just in case everything gets all a bit overly rustic and pastorally idyllic, there is always London. London: a city which once was my home and one which I thought I knew well. But its size and scale and – in places – rate of transformation mean that there is always something else waiting to be seen, something else to be done. Particularly when you can relive it all through the eyes of a novice.

lon01Nothing new with the Northern Line, apart from the far more glamorous and airy edifice of Tottenham Court Road station. Nothing new with the rain either, turning the walk around Covent Garden and Soho into an unremitting trudge. Ducking in for cover at Costa Coffee again (sigh) and splashing out on an I Love London umbrella again. Where is that pastoral idyll, again?

But London is not unfamiliar with precipitation and many thousands mill about with their I Love London umbrellas, freaking out at floating yodas, larking about with toys in Hamleys, packing into the galleries and museums and trying to learn something new. Many thousands also learn little in Madame Tussauds, other than how to pose with a plastic reincarnation of Johnny Depp.

lon02Not being naturally inclined to such a place, this was my first time in Madame Tussauds. I guess the dummies were good, I guess they were interesting, I guess I even started to pose with them myself towards the end – particularly when the Star Wars zone appeared just past One Direction and left at the Dagobar System. There was a silly but fun History of London ride and a silly but fun 4D movie. And, in that first day in London, we obviously got to meet the Queen who had obviously come out especially to greet us.

Such wanderings in wax also allowed the rain to finally clear and deliver a bright and breezy couple of hours to end the day in the real world. Cue barges on the Thames, red phone boxes on Embankment, the slow rotation of the Eye, and the bongs of the bell in that most famous of misnamed towers. A walk with squirrels and dogs in St James Park, up The Mall and to Buckingham Palace, where the Queen failed to greet us (still at Madame Tussauds I guess). And then a rush hour crush on the Victoria Line, the truest London experience.

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If only you could apparate between Green Park and West Finchley was not what I was thinking at the time. I was mostly thinking how the hell are we going to get past these people and out of the doors at Euston? Still, apparition was on topic the next day, providing a convenient means to segue between a ride home on the underground and a Harry Potter walking tour. Again, not something I would naturally lean towards, but I have read the books, seen the movies, and now taken a slightly obsessive teenage fan to London.

lon04The walk required memory and imagination, but it did also offer a chance to see some of the sights: buzzing around the bustling lanes of London Bridge and Borough, crossing the Death-eaten Millennium Bridge, getting in the way of wanker bankers in Bank, and running into walls at Kings Cross. All guided, for this most English of creations, by an affable Aussie.

The underground continued to be magically fantastical – that is, not breaking down or being delayed or being on strike – throughout, and delivered us once again to Embankment the next day. Here was a chance to experience another most English creation: a long queue. A staff presence of one for buying tickets on the river ferries – not the most inspired during a sunny day in the school summer holidays. Boris may need to get his privileged upper class whiff-whaff hands on this one to sort it out.

lon06Still, when finally aboard, the ferry to Greenwich was perfectly agreeable, cruising steadily past the many sites lining the wide brown serpentine Thames. And Greenwich was decidedly pleasant, offering expansive views and a palpable sense of Britannia once ruling the waves. The additional wonder of this being a cradle of scientific achievement may have been lost on some (compared with, say, a waxwork of Robert Pattinson), but some of that may lie in my confused amateur teaching, based on half-formed memories of history lessons, QI episodes and Professor Brian Cox saying something on TV in that affable and wistful way of his.

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lon07Confused teachings could have endured around the Tower of London, but even I was over it by then. Something about beheadings, protection of London from plagues of rats, queens eating beefburgers and radioactive ravens. Luckily, nearby Tower Bridge offered an ‘experience’, in which a video projection of cackling cockneys could tell you of the need for another crossing in Landan taaan and sour-faced Victorians go on to outline the ground-breaking design and construction. A more recent addition to the bridge would be the glass bottom walkways, offering a greater thrill for the increasingly daring in the twenty-first century.

For what it’s worth, I would definitely recommend the Tower Bridge experience, particularly as it is much cheaper than most other sights and you get a splendid view thrown in with it. Indeed, the late afternoon in the capital was looking splendid…all blue skies and white fluffs of cloud, glistening buildings, and a marginally less murky river. Friday vibes and mass commuter escapes, for that most English of bank holidays in August.

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lon14Escape was also on the cards the next day, for us, from London, and back to those country idylls and village idiots. Urban density giving way to flashes of affluent countryside and trim Tory towns. A patchwork becoming increasingly rustic finally seeping across into Devon. From Oysters to Roysters in half a day.  London been and gone and now far away.

Great Britain Green Bogey Walking