I’ve never been a major fan of London. It’s probably not London’s fault, just a matter of crappy circumstances.
I’d been there three times prior to our current trip. The first time was so long ago (in my early 20’s) that I have almost zero recollection of it as I’m so incredibly old and losing my brain cells. It actually mustn’t have been that bad as the second time was an attempt to live there.
Failed attempted at living in London
After travelling around Canada and America for three months, my boyfriend Tim and I decided to move to London and try to get work as computer programmers. This was at the time of the comical Y2K panic. Unfortunately it wasn’t the time of hiring programmers but of firing them as they had done their conversion jobs and were no longer required.
There were hardly any jobs being advertised in our field and we were quickly running out of money, having spent most of it galavanting around North America. We rented the cheapest accommodation we could find, which was a 2 star hotel in Bayswater. I would have rated it a negative 17 star hotel as it was absolutely appalling, even by backpacker standards. The reason we chose it was that it was advertised as having a kitchen. As it turned out, the kitchen facilities weren’t in our room but in what felt like a medieval dungeon, about two floors below the ground. It was tiny, dark and damp and contained one knife, a broken spoon, a temperamental microwave that could electrocute you if it was having a bad day and a faulty sink that sprayed water in your face as a final insult.
Our room wasn’t much better. The bed was more like thin material stretched over metal nails than an actual mattress. There were springs poking out at different angles. You had to strategically manoeuvre yourself into a foetal position to avoid them. Inevitably, the need to move would result in nasty jabs to parts of your body you really would rather not be jabbed in by a metal wire.
The “shower” was an old cupboard that they tiled. Most of the tiles were smashed in pieces on the floor but conveniently there was a showerhead in the cupboard to wash away the blood.
We met a nice South African couple on a night out somewhere and they asked if we’d like to get a share room in a hostel together. We said sure but decided against it when we saw that the place they wanted to share had a glass shower in the main living area. We kindly rejected their lovely offer of watching us shower and stuck to our negative 17 star hotel.
London kind of sucks when you don’t have much money. There are a few cool free things to do but most of the awesome things cost too much for paupers such as ourselves. We couldn’t even go to see a movie as tickets cost the equivalent of $20 each. We found an old cinema out in the sticks where you only paid $10 to watch 5 year old films so this became our special treat.
In an attempt to make some money to get out of our hellhole hotel, we started applying for secretarial jobs. These seemed to be easier to get but we weren’t going to make nearly as much money as we would back home. After spending a month as complete paupers in London we weren’t really sure we loved it enough to stick it out. In fact, we saw some pretty nasty and violent incidents that made us begin to hate the city. One such incident was witnessing two guys drag another guy down an alleyway in the middle of the day and beating him to a pulp. I hadn’t seen such violence in any of my travels and I had walked through The Tenderloin in San Francisco!!!
So, we decided to visit Tim’s lovely Aunt in Southhampton for a week and then head home. That visit was probably the only thing that stopped me writing off England for good as the countryside is simply stunning and the people we met were lovely and not the dragging-you-down-an-alleyway type.
Next attempt at not hating London
I’m clearly a glutton for punishment as my next trip to London was about 3 years later with Andrew. I didn’t hate it as much but I didn’t love it. Maybe I was still scarred from my last experience. Things that would normally be funny to me were downright annoying. I found the people on the tube quite aggressive to backpackers. Once or twice when I was walking out of the train with my backpack on, I got shoved by people and fell backwards in an awkward human turtle position. Another time we wanted to turn left down a street but there were so many people turning right that we literally were picked up by the crowd and ended up a few blocks down the street heading in the wrong direction.
Why the hell would I go again?????
So why I agreed to go back to London this time is beyond me. Actually it’s pretty bloody obvious. It’s my child. Oli was desperate to go to London. He really wanted to check out the London eye, the crown jewels and just walk around the streets experiencing Londonish things. I blame Harry Potter and Sherlock Holmes.
So to London we went and…. I loved it!!! I have no idea why this time was different but I’d suggest that having more money probably didn’t hurt. I think seeing London through the eyes of the kids added to my enjoyment. We only stayed for three nights but we managed to pack in quite a lot.
Day one – kind of thinking London is ok
Our first day was mainly spent around the South Bank area doing the London eye and generally walking around. What completely cracks me up about Oli wanting to go on the London Eye is that he has a pretty severe fear of heights. Kids are weird little enigma’s so we didn’t bother questioning his desire but, off course, he spent most of the 30 minute panic stricken and trying to avoid looking at the view. Strangely, he said he enjoyed himself. Kids are bizarro world, well our kids anyway.
Walking along South Bank was pretty cool. It’s a really lively area full of theatres and colourful cafes. The best and most unexpected part was the skateboard undercroft, which is recognised as the home of British skateboarding. We spent about half an hour watching a few people do cool tricks. I later read it was an unused space until skateboarders, street performers and grafitti artists started hanging out there around 40 years ago. It became a little community and haven for many kids who felt isolated and misunderstood. In 2014 the government attempted to take the space back for the purpose of building more shops. There was a huge pushback from the skating community and they eventually won, with the support of the greater community through a fantastic awareness campaign. There’s a pretty fascinating documentary about that period of time.
After our walk around Southbank, we caught up with our friends, Brendan and Susanna, at a gastropub called The Laughing Gravy. The main meal was delicious but dessert was quite disturbing. It was an apple and cinnamon cheesecake with a small white ball on the side. Brendan and Andrew tried the mysterious ball and said not to eat it as it was a ball of salt and tasted truly disgusting. Humans are dumb creatures and their idiotic curiosity always takes the better of them so of course I tried it. I shouldn’t have as they were right re the disgustingness. I’ve noticed the restaurant has since changed their menu from “an accompaniment of truly disgusting salt’ to ‘apple compote and toffee apple’. Wise move The Laughing Gravy.
Day two – Admitting that London doesn’t fully suck because… Squirrels
Our next day was full of unexpected animal fun in Hyde park. Firstly, a cute little squirrel ran right up to the kids. Oli was beside himself with excitement as squirrels are his favourite animal. He’s even planning to name his future band after them. Look out for the self titled vinyl LP from The Dehydrated Squirrels in all good record stores in 2023 (yes vinyl will still be hipster cool then). The kids wanted to feed the squirrel. All we had was chocolate chip muesli bars which the squirrel took out of their hands and ran off to bury in his winter store. Either there’s one pretty happy squirrel eating some chocolate right now or there’s a cute, dead squirrel in Hyde park because maybe, like dogs, they are allergic to chocolate. Let’s hope it’s the former.
After this bit of excitement, we walked past a tree full of parrots. An old lady was complaining to her partner that some parrots snatching an apple from her hand and flew off with it. We saw grumpy old lady’s apple lying on the ground and the kids shoved it on a stick and held it up. A second later the aforementioned thieving parrots flew down to eat their dropped loot.
After our animal encounter, we had a pleasant lunch in a Hyde park cafe. Our experience was made slightly less pleasant by Oli spilling his glass of water all over a random guys phone at the table next to us. Understandably, the dude was a bit miffed but no damage was done so, for the 80th time on this holiday, we begged Oli to not be so clumsy and moved on with our lives.
The rest of our day was spent checking out the major tourist sites such as the Tower of London, Kensington and Buckingham. We also made an obligatory trip to the worlds largest Lego store.
Day 3 – Yep OK London’s pretty cool, except the super gross stuff
On our third day we went to Sherlock Holmes’s fictitious house but the line was so bloody long we decided to cheat and just go to the shop. It was a pretty cute shop and satisfied our Sherlock Holmes obsessed kids. We walked through Columbia rd flower market, Old Spitalfields market and Brick Lane market. We went to the Natural History Museum and totally freaked out as something that we thought was a dinosaur skeleton was, in fact, a giant sloth!!!! I’m assuming they were more petrifying than cute.
We were having an ace time in London and I almost forgot how much I didn’t like it. That was until I saw these weird grey structures being pulled off a truck and placed all over Leicester square. After closer (but not too close) inspection we realised they were stand up urinals for drunk Brits so they didn’t piss all over the street.
Wish they had portable toilets as then we may have been spared the sight of watching a dude do a poo between two motorbikes five minutes later. Now that’s the London I know and don’t love.