[contributed by Squiffy]
One day I took my life in my hands and headed for the bright lights of England’s fair capital. Here are a few pointers to any of you brave souls who may be thinking of doing the same.
Some useful phrases are included for our colonial friends…
1. The Train
If you are planning to tour round the city for the day, make sure and buy a One Day Capital Card – advertised by British Rail as “Half train, half tube, half bus!” Err?? This gives you free unlimited travel on the trains, buses and tubes………. What it doesn’t guarantee you is a SEAT on any of these forms of transport – be prepared for some serious WALKING!
2. The Station
When you arrive (at last) at the London termini, fight your way through the crowds, holding very tight to whatever you’re carrying – pickpockets are everywhere – to the Tube station. Wow! What an exciting place – thousands of people milling around, none, it seems, knowing where they are going! Bit like the Houses of Parliament!
The route maps are really useful – if you can read them through all the graffiti! Having ascertained the line you need to get on, fight your way to the automatic ticket barriers, then spend five minutes extracting your wallet from the hidden recesses of your anti pick-pocket coat to get your ticket out to open the barrier – ignore frosty glares and rude comments from the assorted fellow travellers (who always seem to carry their tickets in their hands; must be locals).
3. The Tube
Having avoided the assorted buskers, riff raff and beggars (don’t give them money – most of them are professionals, earning more than I do!) you find yourself on the platform – usually the wrong one! Retrace your steps and then emerge on the right one. The gale-force wind and the sound like the gates of Hades being opened signify that “The Train” is coming.
Prepare yourself at this point for the rigours to come! When the train arrives try to ingratiate yourself with those already crammed on it to actually let you in the door – not always easy when a) half of them don’t speak English, and b) the ones that do are too belligerent to move, somehow, further back to let you get on! Make sure you avoid “The Gap”. This is a strange phenomenon found only at London Tube stations – it comes from having station platforms and trains which seem to have been built for two totally different countries. Having extricated your leg (minus shoe) from “The Gap” you find that some other misguided soul has filled the small hole you had managed to get for yourself in the melee of bodies in the train and the doors are shutting to the quaint call from the station staff of “Mind the bloody doors, you idiot!”
Things are even worse when you finally get on the train and it gets to your destination, which if it is more than two stops on from your start usually means that you have been pushed halfway down the carriage and have to fight through all the bodies to reach the doors. Five stations past your stop you have finally reached the door and manage to squeeze off – remembering to “Mind the Gap” as you disembark.
Repeat procedure in opposite direction until you finally reach the correct station. Now, a tip for the timid (remembering the slight upset at the automatic barriers): extricate your ticket from the hidden recesses of your coat whilst on the escalator on the way up. Don’t drop your wallet! When you go through the barrier remember to collect your ticket from the machine! Having forgotten to do so, fight your way back through the crowd and search for ticket (which some kind soul has discarded conveniently for you on the floor of the station with the other 500!)
Well, you are finally there! Well done!
And now some of the sights seen on my recent visit …
4. The Sights
Check out the new cyber café Cyberia (39 Whitfield Street, just off the Tottenham Court Road) – great atmosphere AND dozens of Pentium computers all connected up to full access to the Net. A cool, “happening” place – that’s what the brochure says! It’s good fun, but at £1.50 for a cappuccino a little expensive! You can hang out as long as you like, chatting to people from the Net Culture, as long as you don’t drink too much coffee!
From here it is just a short walk to Covent Garden – a must if you like “Alternative Shopping”. If you ever have a strange desire for a clock made out of scrap metal or earrings made out of (I hate to think!) this is the place to go! Street entertainers abound so a good place for “people watching”. Sit awhile in the wonderful ambience and listen to the string quartet playing in the lower level. Enjoy the sights and sounds as some drunken slob pukes in front of you! Wonderful place! 🙂
After a brief respite, having checked out the “Vegetarian Non-Bacon Bacon Roll” – the new gastronomic sensation of the capital – we move on…
Leaving Covent Garden, we browse through the multitude of bookshops heading for Leicester Square, another “Happening Place” – it says here! Not much “happening” when I was there! 🙂
Now, as all good shopaholics know the place to be is Oxford Street – OK, with London A-Z in hand I thought “I know, I’ll just cut up here and that will bring me out at Mecca!” What the London A-Z doesn’t tell you is how to mapread! We find ourselves in Trafalgar Square! “How the hell did I get here?” I think to myself. Oh well, whilst in Trafalgar square check out St Martin’s in the Fields – where the hell are the fields anyhow?? – Nelson’s Column and, of course, the pigeons! N.B. – Whilst at the tube station, stop at one of the handy shops and buy a pack of travel tissues – you just KNOW they’ll come in handy! Now, what do you do when a pigeon craps on your head in London? No, I didn’t know either! Having forgotten to buy that handy little pack of travel tissues, I was rather in a quandary! Having finally, I thought, cleaned the effluent off my head I proceeded to make for Oxford Street.
Now, the other thing the London A-Z doesn’t tell you are the streets to avoid – I should have realised something was not as I’m used to when I passed the first “Video Shop”. “What friendly people,” I thought as I passed all these nice smiling young ladies! “Must be the ‘Eau de Pigeon’ which is doing it!” *Heh heh* How was I to know I’d wandered into Sleaze City? Eh?
I first started to realise something was not quite right when this big black momma invited me to stop a while and visit her “massage parlour”. Now, strange as some of you may think, knowing me, I declined the “lady’s” offer, and went on my way – with her rejoinder still ringing in my ears – “Hey, Honky does yous know yous got pigeon shit in your hair?”
My, what sights there are to see. I didn’t know about these places! 🙂 There seemed to be everything imaginable (and probably unimaginable) catered for in the quarter square mile – the mind boggles! Even the phone boxes are very entertaining! There are literally hundreds of “business” cards in each phone box! All the world is here: French polishing! School Boy Correction (huh?) and the number of 19-year-old virgins concentrated in one place are quite remarkable!
Still, I had to move on to the delights of Oxford Street. Now, the words “Shop till you drop” spring to mind as you set foot in this shopaholic’s paradise – if you want to buy it, it’s here! I won’t bore you with the shopping, except for my foray into the twilight world of lingerie buying! *Ahem* – I thought I was back in “Sleaze City” as I trundled round Selfridges’ Lingerie Dept.
There seemed to be a lot of middle-aged men in raincoats skulking in the shadows, no wonder I stood out! 🙂 As I perused the wares I got the distinct uneasy feeling of being a dirty old man. The truth finally dawned… I am a dirty old man! – Sorry, I digress! Taking my purchases to the counter, I felt like I was 16 again buying some condoms in Boots (the chemist). Why do they always put the pretty young things on these counters? Red-faced I scuttled off, leaving the shadowy figures feeling the silk!
Once more I hit the street. Now, Oxford Street is VERY long, and you will find many varieties of busker along this boulevard. Those worthy of mention include: “Colonel Mustard”, a ninety-year-old tap dancer! “Don’t Laugh”, his sign said – I’m afraid I had to! There was a Scotsman in full traditional dress killing a cat. Well, that’s what it sounded like! In fact he was attempting to play the bagpipes – very badly, no wonder there was no money in his hat! The busker of the day, who I don’t think was taking it very seriously, seeing as he was totally drunk! was “George” who was sitting on an upturned milk crate attempting to play the mouth organ AND the spoons at the SAME time, an impossible thing to do when stone cold sober! Totally impossible when blind drunk! – He was soooo funny I just had to give him some change!
Now any trip to London would not be complete without a trip to Harrods, so armed with my trusty A-Z and a maniacal gleam in my eye, I set off for Knightsbridge. Harrods was entertaining in a window-shopping sort of way – there is NO WAY I could afford to shop there! Well, by this time I was flagging so I thought I ‘d pop into the refreshment bar for a sit down, and a fresh orange juice. – My bum never even warmed the seat! £5 for an orange juice! No way, José!
“Time for home,” I decided!
If only I could find my train ticket…
“Dorothy! Wake up!”…….”Oh, Aunty, I have just had the strangest dream………..”
© Squiffy’s House of Fun. No reproduction without permission