Life-changing London

Taking the Piccadilly line from Heathrow to Gloucester road I found my way without trouble. I stashed my bag in the luggage room and then went on to explore the city. Kensington Gardens were nearby so I went there. It was Halloween and the city had a strange feeling, as it does every year. I had never seen Kensington when it wasn’t raining or wet or grey cloudy skies. Today the sky was blue and there were people sitting on the grass as they had done in the summer in Central Park, New York.

Back at the hostel I was just organizing my stuff while the eastern lady skyped when a young man entered. He had a strong accent which I couldn’t place. By 7pm that evening the 3 of us turned off the lights and just collapsed. I was unaware of the rest of the occupants entering, but I woke to find a European girl in the bed above mine and two teen agers in the beds at my feet. I had slept for 11 hours straight.

I left early to go and see the Peter Pan statue in the early morning light. The park was beautiful, soft and fair. In front of Peter there is a small river, the ducks were sitting on the wooden poles trying to warm up by the feeble light of the sun.

By 10am I was in front of the Harry Potter theatre. I stumbled upon it accidentally and then rather to my own surprise was able to purchase tickets to the Cursed Child’s play for the following day. I also went to Jamie Oliver’s restaurant across from St. Paul’s. The food was delicious, but overpriced. The pricing seems schematic though, the place was filled with business reps and CEO’s, and it was stylish and edgy. I also visited Borough Market. A favorite for food lovers, where I purchased cheese for a Jamie recipe and some pies for dinner. At the cheese sellers the gentleman offered me two kinds of parmesan to taste and I took the one with the stronger taste. There was an entire stall selling only olive oil. I never imagined that so many kinds of olive oils existed.

That evening I hung out in the room and got acquainted with Raul, the young man from the previous night. He was apparently Spanish, I’d never met anybody from Spain, but I liked the music he played and he was surprised at my superpower of listening to music in a foreign language and knowing almost instantly what the song spoke about. Sometimes I wonder why God gave me this gift.

The second morning my jetlag had me up nice and early. I went down put on the laundry got back in bed, an hour later I got up again and moved the clothes to the dryer. My right arm was really cold. The lady sleeping above me had opened the window and I had fallen asleep under the draft. The fresh air was really necessary though, in a room with 6 people.

While the clothes were drying I went for breakfast and Skyped with Mum. Today was the Harry Potter day. I would see Part 1 at 14:00 and part 2 at 19:30. In between there was a little gap, I spent quite some time calculating the amount of time I would have, trying to work out if there would be time to go back to the hostel and have dinner. Perhaps I should just hang out near the theater and have dinner there? My mind spun aimlessly. The show began and I focused. It ended with the dementors swooping over the entire audience and had me leaving the theatre feeling elated, but rather ominous. I took the tube to the hostel, I had time to shower and nap before going to get dinner. Raul had been in the room and he joined me for dinner.

I still can’t believe I got to see that play on stage. I had thought it would close down before I got to London and then when I realized it was still on I checked the ticket prices online and read about one person who had spent $10,000 on a ticket. This just made it seem like I wouldn’t be able to see it, then I accidentally found the theatre and almost instantly purchased ticket for 40 pounds in total!

Now I can’t remember everything chronologically, so this is more like tit-bits or things that happened.

I had to move to a new hostel for one night. I can say that in comparison to the first this one was not that nice. The mattress was rather lumpy and in a room with 12 beds there was only one shower.

It felt a little like a movie walking over the Westminster Bridge with St. Paul’s to the left and Big Ben right in front of me accompanied by the Spanish guy. Completely blank on what I did today. Think I went to Piccadilly yeah, wait no, first Leicester square, but the cheap Les Miserable tickets were sold out. Yeah, then Piccadilly and then I’m blank.

I have read Sherlock Holmes now and I love the series with Cumberbatch. Actually knowing the story made me want to visit 221B Baker Street and see the museum there. I rather enjoyed it here. But I don’t think I’ll ever want to visit a wax museum. They have a collection on the third floor of the apartment, famous scenes from the books. It’s a tad creepy having something look so alive without being alive.

That afternoon I was frozen. It was raining in London and icy cold. I didn’t have a room yet, check in time was later. I ended up going to the movies. I went to see A Street Cat Named Bob even though I had never heard of it. I loved it, the whole movie was sweet, but gripping, nothing silly or pink about it. A strong story.

The following morning I walked down the South Bank. There was a skate park with great street art. Some guy was playing Amazing Grace on bagpipes. A little distance away someone was playing Hallelujah on a violin. It was really pretty just walking there.

One day in the tube station I found a man with a Yamaha keyboard singing John Lennon’s “Imagine” a favorite of mine. As his voice echoes in the long hallway I vividly remembered the last time I had heard the song. A small clearing in a group of green trees in New York City came to my mind. Strawberry Fields in Central Park where Beatles music is played almost continually.

Here’s where I met Mo. I walked to the train and met an Algerian guy who offered to take me to Kingston, he showed me a picture I thought it looked cool and so somehow I ended up on a train with him. It was gorgeous. My South African mind kept an eye out, there were people around the whole time, he never touched my drink, I opened my own drink, and we weren’t going into a quiet place. The other part of my mind was fascinated by the beauty of the place. After a late lunch of spicy chicken I took the train back. I rather enjoyed this afternoon, but I still can’t see why it happened. We spoke of nothing of great importance, we didn’t do anything big, except that I saw something beautiful.

On my way home I really wanted to use the restroom. I had no cash, I do have a credit card, I mean no cash and to use the restroom you have to pay 20pennies… As I walked by the change machine 20p suddenly fell out of the slot and nobody was there to claim it, so I got it…

Columbia Road Flower Market is one of my favorite spots in London. It only opens on Sundays, stalls appear and people bring and buy flowers, and bulbs and plans. Loud voices fill the air and Cockney accents call out as the vendors advertise their products. Me and Mum came early and enjoyed the atmosphere.

I had read about another market, Brick Lane Market. After the flower market I thought I would go there, trouble was I had no idea where it was. At the bus stop I had a strong feeling I might be very near it, so I started asking around. Yes, say an Asian girl, it’s only 10min from here. I greeted mum and went to the market.

It was fascinating. I found a vintage stall selling real 1918 cups and saucers, there was vintage clothes and fake art and jewelry. Leather jackets and silver along with junk. All these stalls filled up this little old street. I liked walking up this street, buying a little silver ring and then I walked down an alley into a small parking lot and found street art more beautiful then I’d seen before. Faces were painted on garage doors. The size helped to show the beauty.

Different artists had worked together in this small space, you could see them answering each other’s work. The artists had enormous talent, but their work wasn’t paid or seen, it was hidden away in a place where the homeless sleep at night. I asked directions to the tube station or bus stop, any way to get home. This was when somebody told me that Jack the Ripper had lived in Brick Lane!

I met Mum at Trafalgar Square and we went to have lunch at a pub type place before going back to the hotel. I had some kind of salad and still wanted to review the place, but of course, the next day I couldn’t remember the name.

Oh, sometime in the past few days I went to see The Lion King on stage. Our hotel was 5min from the theater and it seemed silly to watch it another night, when I was so close now. I liked the addition of “He Lives in You” which was in the second movie, but I liked hearing it on stage.

Raul had never been to the theater, I loved going to Les Miserable. I invited him and so today I set out to buy the cheap seats before they sold out. These tickets can only be bought on the day and there’s a limited amount of cheap seats so it’s good to get there when they unlock the doors. These aren’t bad seats either, they’re just higher up, but still have a good view of the stage.

One afternoon on my way home I got off the tube and was trying to transfer to another train to get home. A station official was telling everybody to get out. The train wasn’t working, as I left the station a police officer came running in. I started jogging feeling unsure, suddenly I heard a helicopter approaching the station and 2 police vans passed me. A bomb? A terrorist? A gunman? Theories chased themselves through my mind and I tried to get my way home.

Later on mum told me that it had been somebody who was injured. The helicopter had been an ambulance and the train service was stopped until they had rescued the person. No attackers, but an injured human. How horrid it is to live in a world where bombs are the first thing to come to mind.

A mentally disabled man told me which bus to take and I found my way home very easily. When I got off the bus I went into a tiny, very quiet pub. There was only one other occupied table, a young man with orange hair and his boyfriend who had bleached blond hair and great make-up, were having lunch with an elderly gentleman who was wearing a button-up shirt. The elderly gentleman was the father of the orange-headed young man. I found it really beautiful that all three of them wanted to have lunch together.

On one of my days in London I met Mum at Harrods for tea and scones with clotted cream. Quite an interesting store. The British version of what Macy’s use to be in New York. The scones with cream were really good and I understood why it was a famous British thing to have this with tea.

I really wanted to go to a viewpoint I had heard about, I told Raul and he said he knew the way. I met him in Camden and we walked up to Primrose hill, the entire London stretched out in front of me. St. Paul’s, the London Eye, you could see everything from that hill. It was beautiful.

I had managed to get a ticket to Ian McKellen’s version of No Man’s Land. If you had told me back in South Africa that I would be seeing the actor who played Gandalf on stage so close to me I could probably have touched him if I tried, I would have said its craze. The play itself was strange, it’s an absurdist piece, but I felt I could understand parts of it.

I read about Brixton market, and so I set off to find it one mid-morning. Found the best spicy chicken there. It’s influenced strongly by Afro-Caribbean culture. It’s got a great food selection, fresh fish and veggies. I passed butcher stands with heaps of tongues and calves feet. You could buy almost part of an animal there. Chickens hung from hooks still with their paws and heads. You could buy small buckets of chilies.

Me and Mum went to see a stage play and then got on the train home with a group of really drunk Scottish high school boys. I had spotted many Scottish men in the streets today wearing kilts. I went to ask one of the boys why there were so many Scottish people in London today. It’s because of the football he told me. Right, sport, ok. One of them was holding a glass of bear on the tube. How he had walked away from the pub and onto the train while holding a glass I have no idea.

A man who seemed to be the father of at least one of the boys was treating the compartment like a pub, talking to everybody. By the time they had to get off the train he greeted everybody. I enjoyed them, drunk and silly, but happy.

Mum took me for a walk down Fleet Street. There was a store called the Demon Barber of Fleet Street. I remembered the cover of the Johnny Depp movie. Never had I thought that it was a real street, but I ahd also never watched the film. We passed many fascinating building and went into the Royal Courts of Justice for a moment. Mum also took me to see the Knights Temple Church. Incredible that it exists and is still standing.

On my last day the weather was beautiful and dry. I met Raul and we bought some food from Tesco and went to have a picnic in Kensington Gardens. The next morning I was on a plane to Dubai. While I was in London my life in Dubai seemed surreal, and when I got back home London felt like a dream.