Sunday, 2 September 2012

Day 25 - London

Peter Pan
For Sue, France has always been Mecca, so the last three and a half weeks have been pay back for all those times when children were screaming and husband was annoying and she was wondering why the hell life had worked her into a corner.

For me, the UK provides the same repayment. It is the land of my ancestors, the first 25 years of my cultural experience and the home of cricket (England invented it, Australia perfected it). My uncles always talked to me of Hobbs and Larwood and Wally Hammond. My Auntie told me tales of the Mother Country and came back talking like one of them. She was so badly affected by her first visit to England as a young thing, travelling by boat on her own in the early sixties, that the scaring left a bloody plum in her mouth that she still can't spit out.

Coming here, is walking the streets of dreams. Because it was the journey Aussies took in the sixties when I was an impressionable lad, it became the place I would need to go. I thought, with all seriousness (no matter how great the delusion) that it would be in the company of other strong men in green caps but I have eventually and reluctantly had to release that dream for other youngsters to hold and cherish. My chance is served up as shepherds pie and washed down with warm ale while I turn 56.

Our leaving of Paris was protracted. Up at 6:30am for a 7:15 departure to Gare de Nord, the international railway station in the north Paris, leaving almost two hours to kill before departure ... or so we thought. Passport control and bag checks and the like used up the first hour and boarding the last 30 minutes, so we weren't bored. As always, we had the longest walk to find our carriage, No 1. The only thing left in front of us was the driver! We joined the platform beside car 17 ...

At least there were elevators this morning and not several sets of stairs. Both of our bags have been pared back but they still take some maneuvering. Will lots of help, we had everything stowed and began our rush to England. Our only day of rain in Paris was just starting as we left. For once, we became bored with the scenery ... and not just in the 20mins that it takes to cross under the English Channel! Sue read an English newspaper and I listened to music until moved to draft a new poem by watching a fellow passenger.

Our arrival at London St Pancras Station was heralded by a cockney voice instructing us to "urry along please an' 'ave ya pauseports ready for the governa up the end." No mistaking where we were and how nice it was to be be back among our language again. We had loved being immersed in French and Italian and Russian and Polish and several other languages during the previous four weeks but there was something comforting about having your native language around you.

Lunch in an English pub
We are staying only one night in London, rather strangely not at the hotel our tour is starting from but from memory there was a good reason for this but what it was escapes me. Instead, we are staying at the Corus Hotel on Bayswater Rd, across the road from Hyde Park. It a nice room but there are so many things wrong with how the place works. It appears to have a high number of Russian staff so perhaps it is Russian owned. Anyone who has owned a Russian car knows how good they look but how badly they corner and brake. We waited two and half hours to be given a room, after being told we were a priority - the last hour sitting in the lobby and ignored. When we finally got our room we were downgraded, two of the three lifts didn't work and we had to move cleaners gear in the hall ways twice to negotiate the corridors to our room. There is now a long wait to ride the lifts but eight floors of steps don't encourage alternatives. To cap it off, house keeping tied up the lift for twenty minutes this afternoon moving gear down to the laundry.

Whinge over.

Had lunch at "The Pride of Paddington", typical English pub fare. Sue had bangers and mash, I had a steak and ale pie and a pint of the local warm ale. Brilliant! Actually, didn't go much on the local brew, served at room temperature. For a second, I was offered a Fosters ... "thought you might prefer it cobber" ... but declined, informing the barman that Fosters was in England because Aussies don't drink it at home.

After we settled in, we went for a walk in Kensington Gardens. At the gates to Kensington Palace (in the park), a moving tribute is gradually being mounted for Princess Diana. The 15th anniversary of her death was this week. It was all heart felt stuff. It was the small tributes which we especially poignant. A single flower with a hand written note saying just a few words was among the most powerful.

We wandered along the Long Water, a lake divided by the Serpentine Bridge which also marks then end of the gardens. The water on the other side of the bridge is called the Serpentine and the park becomes Hyde Park. Beside the The Long Water, I stood with Peter Pan, a statue JM Barrie himself donated. It was lovely walking through large and small paths and watching established families and ones literally in their infancy playing on a late Sunday afternoon in this wonderful open green space virtually in the heart of London.

He was gorgeous,
rabbis not withstanding
The highlight was spotting our first squirrel! Of course, they are plentiful so it wasn't long until we had acquired multiple squirrel sightings. Sue carried on like a pork chop, making the Skippy noise in order to encourage one to jump on her hand until the fairies arrived to take its place. You won't be surprised to find out each squirrel ignored her. Kangaroos, koalas, sugar gliders, black cockatoos ... have all reacted the same to the Skippy noise. I dare say Bengal Tigers may be the only ones interested.

We walked back to the hotel in that other English tradition, mizzle. Its annoying but it brushes off.

Off to the pub for tea and then back to the hotel, where a bloke is playing piano and singing. His advertising says he specialises in Dylan. We shall see!

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