London: Good Service on the Piccadilly Line

 

In London I thought about Margaret Thatcher. I didn’t wish to.

Our hotel lift was of the talking variety, and in the awful, condescending vowels of the late baroness, it’d declare things like

“Going down.”

“Doors closing.”

“I usually make up my mind about a man in ten seconds, and I very rarely change it.”

That last one was a shock, especially when the lift then scolded me. “You. Yes, you. Colonial man. You’ve been a disappointment to so many, many people.”

*

Slung from the Eurostar, we got into a black cab outside St Pancras. It was instantly welcoming. Like bumping into old friends at the cricket, and sliding straight into some happy banter.

The Gherkin loomed into view along with provocative youngster The Shard. Nattering about kids, our cabby said, “A mate of me old man reckons you should treat boys like dogs. Run ‘em ragged all day, then feed ‘em and put ‘em to bed.”

And that’s why we love London.

*

A decade back and living north of the city, we’d take visitors, without telling them much, on the Northern Line from Kentish Town to Westminster. We’d scale the stairs, rush out into the light, and right there in front of them, to their surprise, would be London’s most lovable landmark, Big Ben.

We did this with Alex and Max too. For them Big Ben’s initial significance was through the film Cars 2, as the place where Professor Z traps Finn McMissile, Holly Shiftwell and Mater. But you already knew that.

It was New Year’s Day. So we found a spot on Whitehall to watch the traditional parade. Suddenly it began, with rousing music from that most cherished British institution, the University of Texas Longhorn Alumni marching band.

Once we’d enjoyed the spectacle for something approaching seven minutes the wife decided we should pop into a nearby pub for lunch. “Think of the children,” she said.

The Silver Cross was a bright opening to our Ashes pub tour. Like Justin Langer getting a solid forty in the first dig, I had a Staropramen pint, and there was a lager and black for the bride. Having fended off the new ball, we played our gastronomic shots. Scampi and chips, steak and ale pie, and kids’ serves, which were good if unspectacular, like a second XI middle order.

A hospitality company, Taylor Walker has run English pubs such as the Silver Cross, for two centuries. If he hasn’t, the new Adelaide Crows captain should claim this etymology. It’d fit within his robust narrative: Broken Hill boy, not uncomfortable within a boozer, former global beacon for the mulleted.

*

London Eye. Up we go. The river shrinks, and the cityscape stretches. Now, multiple interactive touch screens litter the capsules, and there’s vaporous Wi-Fi. Shouldn’t we simply look out the window, and enjoy? Are we so addicted to the digital that even London can’t sustain our gaze?

The rain became ridiculous at the zenith of our ride, and we could just see the Houses of Parliament. Remarkably, it was the first bad weather of our fortnight in Europe. The capsule was a glass submarine, but the boys left buzzing.

Cantilevered observation wheels aside, sightseeing remains best by foot. Our hotel sits within the shadows of the Monument (to the great fire of 1666) and heedful of the cabbie’s son-raising philosophy, we go up and down the Thames. Daily. Maniacally.

Like scamps, Alex and Max run and parkour between the Tower of London and Blackfriars Bridge. St Paul’s. HMS Belfast. The Founders Arms (Coopers Sparkling Ale now available). The iconography! The Tate Modern. The Globe. The new Nando’s at Bankside. At dusk, with the tide out, they dash about on the riverbank, and throw stuff at the freezing water.

*

With Kerry and the boys ice-skating, I’m solo in London on a Sunday morning! I walk. Time can appear elastic, and gazing at Trafalgar Square’s bronze lions and Norwegian spruce tree, and across to St. Martin-in-the-Fields, it seemed we’d only been away for a long weekend, and not nine summers.

I dive into Soho. Losing my usual spatial bewilderment, I know precisely where I am. I round the corner and spot the youth hostel we once stayed. Was it fourteen years ago? Had the Adelaide Crows really lost four preliminary finals since then? Had only nineteen Spiderman films been released in the interim?

I then photographed Berwick Street as it features on the cover of (What’s the Story?) Morning Glory by Oasis, and imagined Noel and Liam and I in the gutter, happily bashing the fook out of each other with expensive guitars.

If you let it, nostalgia can kidnap your life, so I snapped back to the moment. I strolled over to Oxford Street.

*

London’s Natural History museum is magnificent. The Volcanoes and Earthquakes, and Entomology sections investigated, we steer Alex and Max towards the blue whale. Grrr. Another gift shop.

When Kim Jong-un takes command he’ll annihilate every single gift shop using the same precision his late father displayed with a Hot Dot: a 38-under par 34, for 18 holes at the 7,041m Pyongyang Golf Course. Eleven holes-in one. As witnessed by his seventeen bodyguards.

The blue whale looks old because it was completed in 1938. Weighing six tons, it dominates the room, and is impossible to capture entirely in a photo.

Orbiting the whale, I’m startled that coins are thrown onto its massive fluke. Do the punters flip a quid and wish for West Ham to beat Chelsea? For the stockroom assistant to win Big Brother? For a Susan Boyle CD?

*

Down into The London Dungeon! Jack the Ripper, medieval torture, Guy Fawkes, Sweeney Todd, and a gift shop combine into a woolly performance, and it was excellent.

“Giant leeches were used to protect people from the Great Plague of 1665 by removing bad blood,” cried the doctor. Our seats wriggled beneath us as if these parasites were urgently seeking somewhere warm and moist. Being an owner of warm and moist, I leapt up. Alex loved it.

It was terrifying, but timid next to Margaret Thatcher. Years ago, before her passing, I asked my mate Barry if they’d erect a statue of her in posthumous tribute. “Yes, they will,” he said, “And I’ll head straight there and turn it into a fountain.”

 

 

About Mickey Randall

Favourite film: The Shawshank Redemption Favourite song: Khe Sahn Favourite holiday destination: Gold Coast Favourite food: steak Favourite beer: VB Best player seen: Dogga Worst player seen: Frogga Last score on beep test: 3.14159 Favourite minor character in Joyce’s Ulysses: Punch Costello

Comments

  1. Sounds like you are having a brilliant time Mickey. Jealous.
    I’ll redouble my efforts to return the favour in September.
    Was that your wife talking in the lift in the first para?

  2. Thanks Peter. As it’s late summer/early autumn in September that should be a good time to be in Europe, but anytime of year is wonderful there.

    It could have been any of countless people talking in the lift. The invention and development of the talking lift is a tremendous waste of human effort. We don’t need narration to accompany going up or down in a building. Silence is now a sin, isn’t it?

  3. G’day Mickey,

    Your London story is great to read and I can feel the city has deep atmosphere with a long history. Seeing a New Year’s Day Parade seems interesting and nice. I would love to visit the UK one day.

    However I don’t like the hotel lift speaking itself. It happens here in Japan too and hearing such stuffs from a speaker is annoying for me too. I understand how you feel.

    Cheers.

    Yoshi

  4. Thanks Yoshi.

    London is highly encouraged. I maintain that it’s the world’s best theme park. There’s much to see and do, and like all great cities, it’s lively and fascinating. It’s among my favourite cities. Beyond London there’s much to see throughout England too.

    As a sports fan London is great too. You’d love going to the soccer, cricket and tennis., I really enjoyed going to the greyhound races one Friday night. It was brilliant.

    Regards

  5. Ben Footner says

    I am both loving and hating your travel reports Mickey!

    My wife and I did a pre-family 2 month tour of Europe nearly 5 years ago now. You’re writing is bringing back some wonderful memories.

    I loved London and would go back there in a heart beat. When we were there we had the fortune of there being a test on at Lords, England v Bangladesh. We watched the morning session of day five on a ’10 pound ticket’ and then had even more fortune when they opened the playing surface to spectators at the lunch break! The stars aligned and I got to walk on the Lords turf, all unplanned and completely by chance.

    It was wonderful.

  6. Phillip Dimitriadis says

    Great stuff Mickey,
    You make London come alive for the reader. I was last there in 1998 and was perturbed by the fact that such a polite and ordered society took so much pride in displaying a bloodthirsty history to tourists. Due for another visit I think.

  7. Thanks Ben. We’ve done the tour at Lords, but unfortunately haven’t attended live cricket there. Great that you got to walk on the playing surface. I was amazed at how much the ground slopes from off to leg. Excellent that Abbey Road is just around the corner too. Agree that it is a magnificent destination.

    Thanks also Phil. It’s certainly a city I’m happy to visit regularly. Another change I didn’t mention is that a decade or so back, if you walked (or ran) into a pub there was a big chance you’d be served by an Australian doing the working holiday/ rite of passage experience. This time the pubs seemed to be staffed with Eastern Europeans. Fosters and XXXX beer seemed to be less available than previously too! A good opportunity for another Australian brew to act as our liquid ambassador. Cheers.

  8. Dave Brown says

    Nice, Mickey. Still a bit dubious about your decision to resist the Coopers opportunity, however. The trouble with shooting 38 under is you know it is never going to get better than that. Do you think when alone and at his most maudlin he wished that maybe it was only 35 under so he had something to strive for?

  9. Thanks Dave.

    Kim Jong-il’s personal golf coach recently said, “I’ve worked with Tiger, The Shark and the Golden Bear, and there’s no doubt that if the Highest Incarnation of the Revolutionary Comradeship had lived longer he would soon have played a complete round in only 18 strokes. His bodyguards assured me of this.”

  10. Glen Potter says

    Fabulous piece, Mickey. I really love your humour and how well you detail your account. A couple of days back I read your lovely piece from the Almanac (Round 15, Melbourne Moments) and felt the same.
    On London – I spent a week there in ’03 and dearly wished for it to be a month. So much to do and see. I watched a county game at Lord’s and noted the slope. Abbey Road was an essential stop and I was struck by how dangerous that intersection was. The photographer for the album cover clearly had traffic held up, back around the bend behind them. Did you manage a family, fab-four crossing photo?
    Glen

  11. I trust that was the Wembley greyhounds Mickey. Magic.

  12. Thanks for your kind comments Glen. London is astonishing Glad you got to enjoy some cricket at Lords. One day we’ll do this too.

    Years ago the wife and I visited Abbey Road, and it was fraught. We eventually took some photos, but it was a challenge. The graffiti on the walls and pillars outside the studios was amazing, and a symbol of how loved the Beatles are.

    John- I can’t lie. It was the Romford dogs in Essex on a Friday night. I reckon a fish ‘n’ chip supper was part of the admission. I enjoyed that betting was different to home, and especially loved the track announcer, “Ten minutes to the off.”

  13. Mark 'Swish' Schwerdt says

    Wowee, Romford, as made famous by Billy Bragg

    https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=Vn4mjq_00so

    Forget Colonial, I thought you were an Amco man Mickey.

    You never disappoint.

  14. Thanks Swish.

    Of course Billy Bragg is an appropriate counterpoint to Margaret Thatcher too. I’m sure that he’s on the syllabus of modern institutions in courses such as “A Social and Political History of the 1970’s and 1980’s in England.” As he should be. I note that he’s playing Adelaide’s Womad in March.

    Whilst it was for their long hair and not their politics, the Bee Gees once had trouble getting into Singapore to play a concert, so I’m not hopefully that Billy might stop off here on his way through and perform at a small club.

  15. Malcolm Ashwood says

    Thanks Mickey and for some 1 who has been over seas , I have been to KI . Love how you paint the picture of London and it is a place I definitely on the wish list .

  16. Thanks Malcolm. I reckon you’d enjoy London and England, especially during an Ashes tour. I went to The Oval during the 2005 Ashes and it was a different experience to cricket in Australia.

    The best day of my professional life was spent on KI. I flew over on a Friday, did what I had to do at the local school and was finished by lunchtime. The only flight back to Adelaide was late afternoon. As it was the opening day of the Brisbane Test I had lunch at the pub, then wandered around Kingscote and the beach in the lovely spring weather. It was a great day’s work.

  17. Luke Reynolds says

    Really keen to get to London. Thanks for further whetting the appetite Mickey.

    38 under par, sounds almost the same as Mr Burns playing a round with Wayland Smithers as his bodyguard/ball spotter.

    Great stuff again Mickey. Need you to holiday far more regularly if stories of this quality keep appearing!

  18. Thanks Luke. I reckon you’d love London’s holy trinity of cricket, music and pubs. And there’s plenty for your boys too. Cheers for that.

  19. Peter Fuller says

    Micky,
    I’ve had two brief visits to London, totalling about ten days, essentially on the way to somewhere else. I’m confident that your tour guide will enhance my next more leisurely visit. Alas it’s not on the current horizon.

  20. Wonderful memories Mickey.
    Dr Johnson was right: he who is tired of London is tired of life.

  21. Thanks Peter and Don. London is ceaselessly amazing. I could happily spend years just walking, catching the Tube, and checking out the punters. It’s life at its richest.

  22. Emma Westwood says

    Mickey, surely there has to be a book in your wonderful travel stories? Bill Bryson, eat your heart out.

  23. Thanks for your kind thoughts Emma.

    Bill Bryson is fantastic and his latest “One Summer’ was among his best. He’s constantly a source of inspiration although I’d love him to write another travel book!

  24. Geography Police says

    Romford is in London, in the London Borough of Havering.
    Romford hasn’t been a part of Essex since 1965.

  25. Trucker Slim says

    Hi Mickey

    I missed this at the time but thanks to Geography Police I can relive it. Romford might not be in Essex but Roydon is. Staying with a good friend a few years back at his folks place in Harlow. He mentioned that Ray Winstone lived down the road in Roydon. So we got a jog on and got to Roydon and parked ourselves at Ray’s favourite pub, And waited and drank. No Ray but a good day was spent at The Crusader, a pub with a very low ceiling and lively locals.

  26. Thanks Geography Police for the information.

    Cheers Rick. One of my favourite scenes in Coogan and Brydon’s “The Trip ” is the one in which they impersonate Ray, complete with sneer. Noone says “muppet” with the meaning that Ray invests it.

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