Monday, October 08, 2007


London's famous landmarks, Congress and Large Bill.

As fun as the continent was (oh yeah, I’m using their terms), it was time for us to move on to London. The real London, this time. Sure, the one in Ontario has its Covent Garden, River Thames and underground subway system, but these are pathetic imitations of the real things. London’s a real fucking city, one that makes your entire vacation beforehand seem like nothing more than a useless, forgettable preamble to the real thing.

Trafalgar Square at night. Andrew worked not 2 minutes from here, which hardly compares to a summer in the SubWay at King and Townline.

Lucky for me, Andrew had just come from living and working at a pub there for two months. He’s really quite knowledgeable about the city, knowing all there is to know about attractions, plays, pubs, clubs, sights, the underground, directions… everything. Quite how he picked it all up in two months is beyond me. In addition, he even developed a nice little circle of co-workers/friends that we were able to hang out with for a bit. Undoubtedly, having him there made things pretty easy and enjoyable.

I could go on some more about London. And I will, lucky for you!

Nelson's Column, as seen from an angle no tourist has ever attempted to capture. Until now.

The nightlife is a mixed bag. Near as I can figure out, this is how things work: First, you’ve got a clear separation between pubs and clubs – something I don’t think you can necessarily say of over here. In general, people seem to go out to the pub until last call at 11. And when they say last call, they mean it. They’re like the SS when it comes to serving after the bell (minus the… killing you bit). There is simply no budging them, even if you worked with them for two months. After the pubs are done, people make their way out to the clubs for the dancing and whatnot. These, as with most establishments in Europe, don’t close until the wee hours of the morning. And don’t think that’s so great, either. I mean here, at least you know by at the latest 2ish if you’re going to be, erm… splitting the cab fare, if you know what I mean. In Europe you’re left wondering until 3, 4… 5 o’clock in the morning! And, Jesus, your back is killing you, your hair’s a mess… who the hell wants to put up with that?

This is the National Gallery, looking north from Trafalgar Square.

I find on busy nights that you really have to get out of those pubs well before last call in order to get a decent spot in line for the clubs afterwards. Doing this means you miss out on a nice evening at the pub, unfortunately, so I can’t say the system they’ve got working is the best in the world. Sometimes you like to just get to a place, stay there the night, and leave at a reasonable hour.

This is where Churchill and his cabinet ran the War. That man has been standing there since 1945.

Luckily enough, my visit coincided with the Great British Beer Festival (or somesuch). Extra lucky is that it was being held at the convention centre at Earl’s Court, not 3 stops down the Piccadilly Line from Hammersmith! One shows up, rents a glass, and goes around sampling the… hundreds of beers and ales and ciders on tap. I know nothing of the brewing industry either here or in England, but I gather they have a shitload of independent brewers, whereas we have… one? Two? One could go the whole week and not sample every drink they had to offer there, whereas I think in an evening here you could blaze right through Lakeport, Steamwhistle, Carling and Keith’s pretty damn quick. To top it all off, they had an all-housewife string quartet (who had previously performed for the Queen!) to play a bunch of old standards, including a Bond song. Just about a perfect evening, if you ask me, and I even managed to screw a girl on the underground on the way back home.*

As initially scheduled, I only had a day and a half in London. After doing what little I was able to, though, I just… had to stay the whole week. Just had to.

I have to do it. Just have to. I have to talk at length about London’s underground. First, I mean, I love it. At no point did I ever stay anywhere remotely near the action; tube rides were usually 20-30 minutes if I wanted to get somewhere, yet I loved every minute of being on that thing. Even going home after a long day walking around, it was exciting to walk down into those stations and hop on the train. Westminster station, hell, you could just sit there and look at it all day. It’s like the set designer from a Michael Bay movie made it.

Which of these is Toronto's subway map? You decide!

I really like the signage they’ve developed for the whole damned operation. Everything in the same font, every stop noted in the distinctive Underground-style manner (the blue bar through the red circle). Individual stations have their own character, unique designs in the tube walls (yes every subway station in the world has this, but Baker Street, appropriately, has a Sherlock Holmes motif going on). Every line has a cool name and its own colour (again, not unique to London but they invented the damned thing). An automated voice tells you what stop’s up next, and whether you should “alight” there to check out various points of interest. It’s so simple to calculate a route from one part of the city to the other through multiple stations on multiple lines. Hell, the oyster card. Why the TTC doesn’t use this is beyond me. Even the “O” in “oyster” is a clever little reference to the Underground logo.

And the newspapers! Sure they’re fairly tabloidey, but immigrants hand them out for free outside the Underground entrances! Everyone reads the stupid things cause there’s nothing else to do down there. As such, you’ve got a populace always plugged in to the same info (which can be not necessarily a great thing, I understand). Reading them makes me feel like I’m part of the wider British society, marching in lockstep beside them. Kinda like what Mosley must have had in mind.

Looking south from Trafalgar Square. It sure was nice of people, not offering to take photos of me along with this stuff.

It’s nice to finally get that out of my system. Seeing London, I mean. It’s in every book, every movie, ever TV show you ever watch. And now, finally, I actually know what it’s like. From my childhood till this summer, I had these mental images of what certain Londonian landmarks looked like. Some I was pretty close to, but others (Trafalgar Square, in particular), I was way off the mark. But it’s weird, how these little places I carried around in my mind for 20 years no longer exist. The city itself is a huge, hulking behemoth. Everything has a certain weight to it that I hadn’t anticipated. I’ll have to get back sometime soon.

* Replace “a girl” with “my left hand”, and this statement becomes more accurate.


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