London: the next level

As you all know, my parentals have come to London town. Yegads! But once the planes, trains and automobiles were booked, the accommodation hastily arranged, and my room ‘sanitised’ to a parent-friendly level, I had to consider the things I needed to tell them to keep them, well, alive.

I write about LIVING in London, which is why I bitch and moan and generally wank on about my ‘feels’. But suddenly I had to think about London from the point of view of a tourist, and even worse, a tourist who’s NEVER BEEN ANYWHERE. Of course, two years ago that was me, wide-eyed and freaking out about the smallest details in the face of a giant adventure.

So now that I’ve got a craptonne of countries and a year of living abroad under my Heathrow-injected belt, here are some things I would like to go back and tell myself, or anyone new to the big city, based on the past week with my parentals.

London: tourist mode

  • Stand on the right on escalators, walk on the left. If you stand on the left, a secret buzzer goes off and all commuters within a three-station radius will automatically head in your direction, to stand behind you yelling ‘exCUSE me!’ You will be lucky to survive the resultant stampede. Many do not. Others come back in wheelchairs or suffering from lifelong tremors.
    Bonus points if you sass another tourist making this fatal error.
  • If you are lost, don’t think standing still, looking about you and glancing at a map will invite those about you to offer help. The key is to aggressively leap in front of the passers-by and make the most sympathy-inducing puppy eyes. This will cause an enormous 20% of Londoners to remember that they are human beings, and you WILL be given directions.
    Bonus points if you make someone remove their earphones to help you.
  • Learn the lingo. DO NOT expect people to infer meaning from context. This is a skill you have learnt by osmosis by watching international television all your life. If you ask for ‘trim milk’ at a coffee shop, the barista WILL assume that you have had a stroke and are speaking ‘word salad.’ Stop him calling the ambulance and then explain that you meant ‘skim’ or ‘skinny’.
    Bonus points if you slip ‘jandals’ into conversation and don’t get questioned.

London: secret levels unlocked!

  • Smile at and speak to bus drivers – other people on the bus will assume this means you’re either terminally ill or have special needs, and will probably give you their seat.
    Bonus points if an old lady with a cane stands up for you, you poor dear.
  • Carry a survival kit. You may never be trapped underground but if that train grinds to a halt with your carriage still in darkness, you will suddenly realise that you are hungry, thirsty, dry-lipped, and entertainment-less. For this reason, always carry water, a snack, chapstick, and a friend or other distractor – Candy Crush being my current Raison d’être.
    Bonus points if you ace the level while a snooper watches over-shoulder.
  • Do not feel at home because you see a Flat White on the menu at the coffee shop. This version of home has been raped and pillaged by orcs, and all beans sent to a bitter death in the hell-fires of Mount Doom. Don’t take sugar? You will. I saw my caffeine-addict-but-not-coffee-snob mother THROW OUT a full coffee yesterday.
    Bonus points if you kick the habit altogether because it’s just. Not. Worth it.

I asked my parents what else they’d learnt in the last week in London, and the immediate and vehement response was ‘EVEN OLD LADIES ARE BITCHES!’ My Other Mother learnt this most obvious of London lessons on day one in town when an old piece of animated crepe paper shoved her into a baby in order to squeeze her lizard-skinned arse onto an already packed lift. Mind you, this was in a fancy-pants department store, so whaddya expect, right?

The other major lesson they’ve learnt is that EVERYTHING IS SOOOO OLLLLLD! I knew this would be ‘a thing’ for my mother since I spent many a late evening as a 14 year old passionate about Latin (yup, geek-fighter here) trying to make her comprehend the timeline I was working with. When I tried to contextualise by saying my favourite Roman author Ovid wrote about the same time as Jesus was around, I saw the brain gaskets blow.

My mother is a super clever cookie, but coming from NZ and not being a uber-dweeb, it was almost incomprehensible how old things are in London. Things that you can just walk over and touch and spit on and lick if you’re so inclined. This is probably my favourite thing about having parents in London – exposing them to things that blow their minds and make their eyes widen and give them a taste of that passion I have for the how-we-got-here, the complete WTF of where-we-are-now in the scheme of things, and the holy-mother-of-god of the where-we-could-go.

Plus, now that they have experienced at least one rush-hour tube journey, they understand the true love-hate-love relationship that I have with London.

A heart in one of the places I heart - Brick Lane graffiti heaven.

A heart in one of the places I heart – Brick Lane graffiti heaven.

 

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4 thoughts on “London: the next level

  1. goldfish

    By the way, the escalator thing is the same in the US. Slow traffic to the right unless otherwise noted. Strange since we do almost everything backwards.

    I got to do the “everything is so old” bit with my folks when they visited me in Boston. And the oldest thing there is from the 1600s I think.

    Reply
    1. shapelle Post author

      The oldest still-standing (Western) thing in NZ would be from about the early 19th Century, and my mothers have now become fascinated by the history over here. Sadly, my passion for history and classic never did it, but the Tower of London, the Antonine Wall, the Cathedral of Notre Dame and a bunch of other old churches did!

      Reply
  2. Basketcase

    We did a few rush-hour tube journeys and the one that sticks in my mind most (other than when we took the tube into the city on our first afternoon at about 4:30 and met absolute chaos in town), seemed like it should have been horrid, but was actually a blessing..
    We had been on a bus tour to Windsor, Bath and Stonehenge, and were sitting in the back row with a couple and their kid. Said kid vommed all over himself just out of Stonehenge, and it stank. So we got off at the very first stop that was offered in the city, on the edge of Zone 1, even though it was a 15-min walk to the station. Just for the fresh air.
    The line had delays, and instead of a service every 5 mins, it was 15 before the first one arrived. We were the first to get on it. The family with the vom kid got on a few stops later at the close end of the near carriage. The train was absolutely packed, hot, sweaty and generally yuck but it was such an improvement on the stinky bus!

    Reply
  3. jo mckenzie

    You captured it so well in words! Every time I turned a corner, i said “wow” and whipped out the camera to snap a pic of yet another “old” building or tower. I loved how you included the graffiti heart, as one of the stunning things about seeing London with you was that you took us to places we never would have seen or experienced as “tourists” on tour. Makes me feel very lucky!

    Reply

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