I’ve just finished a 7 and a half months stint in London after accepting an internship at a London PR agency. I don’t look back particularly fondly on my time there, and I think that’s a shame. Work was miserable and I found being lonely in London a horrible, depressing situation. There were a couple of instances where I got on a plane back home for a long weekend and very nearly didn’t get on the return fight. Although I felt much better about the city towards the end of my time there, I still didn’t fall in love with it as many people I know have.
I’m not prepared to give up on London though, in fact it looks like I might be heading back there for a bit in September time. This is really exciting, as I’ll have some close friends moving at the same time (there will be plenty of blogs about the frustration of flat-hunting I can imagine!) and I’m sure the city will be much more open to explore when I have a job I am enjoying. So I wanted to try and assess my time in London with a positive spin, rather than my typical negative one.
So here it is: My 10 Great Things About London….Part 1
I. Love. Hammersmith. Or at least I liked most places with an SW postcode. Anything was better than central London (where I worked, and therefore got bored of quite quickly) or north London (which I visited on occasion and never really got to like). The parks, the open spaces, the greenery, the general laid-back attitude. It’s so easy to get to anywhere in London and feels central without all that cramped confinement. Ok so Hammersmith isn’t technically ‘south of the river’, but it is right on the river and it certainly gives it that sort of feel. My favourite weekend walk was to Bishops Park; to wander the grounds of Fulham Palace, then mooch along the park itself watching the geese on the Thames, scoping out the boat clubs of London’s big universities on the other side of the river. If there’s a football game on it can be pretty impossible though, unless you fancy walking against thousands of Fulham supporters all heading to Craven cottage. I also loved the blossom; we lived close to Fulham cemetery, which come spring time was dripping with white and pink blossom, and down the little side streets (where the traffic noise faded away and there was always a cat to meow hello to you on your way to the corner shop) there were blossom trees dotted down the pavement. Even with our flat being right under the path of planes arriving in Heathrow, I couldn’t knock it.
I also had amazing flat mates in Hammersmith. Hammersmith is full of antipodeans, and these guys have all come over to work, drink, travel and generally be very merry. I lived with four Kiwis and they were brilliant to as flatmates. They were a great example of a nation with a travel itch; every bit of money and every holiday or weekend was a chance to go and explore somewhere in UK or Europe. They gave me a great boost in my dream to start travelling. I met so many twenty-something Kiwis and Aussies I’m amazed there are any left back in Oz and New Zealand. Although all of the British 20 year olds that are holidaying over there probably cancels it out.
2. The V&A
Ah, the Victoria and Albert museum. My trips to you kept me sane. The V&A is great because of its sheer range of things to see. It has the great combination of strong themes and creativity, meaning it’s fascinating and richly diverse, without being slap dash. There’s sculptures, paintings, costumes, jewellery, even an enormous piece of wood paneling from the front of a 15th century house. My favourite things to see/do are to wander up to see The Upas, or Poison Tree, on the Island of Java by Francis Danby. Painted in the 1820s, it is an enormous canvas depicting a unique death sentence; sending criminals out to where the Upas stood, where they were quickly poisoned by the tree and their bodies left to rot around its roots. Gruesome, but I couldn’t take my eyes off it.
The costume section is great, with costumes ranging from stage productions to the outfits from Adam & The Ants Stand and Deliver video. For a break, the best thing to do is head to the courtyard cafe, grab a cup of tea, and marvel at the amazing building that houses all of these treasures.
There’s a new ball gown exhibition that opened recently, which is top of my list of things to visit when I return.
3. Bavarian Beerhouse
I visited here with my friends for a last hurrah before they went off on their three month trip round the world. It sits in an underground ‘tavern’ on Old Street; there are those long wooden tables and benches that you see in Oktoberfest pictures, and when we were there a German football game was playing on the big screen. The waitresses wear dirndls (the traditional female Bavarian outfit, the male one being lederhosen) and apparently have to be able to speak German. I had a big plate of Leberkäse (a sort of meat pate) on a bed of fried potatoes. Apparently Germans haven’t yet discovered any vegetables other than the potato. They also offered enormous vats of beer, the kind you have to lift with both hands for fear of breaking your wrist. It washed down the meal nicely and left me feeling very numb-lipped and happy, which usually means I’ve had a good night. We stayed there as long as we could before paying up, and heading to the tube. My friends set off a Chinese lantern in the back garden of my flat as a final goodbye to England, and we watched it dreamily float away into the midnight sky above Hammersmith; me desperately hoping that planes had stopped coming into land at Heathrow.
4. Seeing where they filmed Sherlock
To give you an indication of how big a Sherlock fan I am, this is what I did when I saw the location they had used for 221b Baker Street.
“Oh my god…that’s…that’s Speedy’s café…that’s the flat….ahhhh!” I then immediately ran off with my arms waving to fill my camera with photos of it. And that’s the great thing about London. Big things happen here, whether that be something truly ‘important’ like government, Shakespeare, royalty, births and deaths of the rich and famous. Or something more frivolous like the filming of your favourite film or TV show. I hadn’t seen a single ‘famous’ person whilst in London, but it didn’t matter. I saw where they filmed Sherlock. I stood on the pavement upon which His Mighty Cumberbatch, Martin Freaking-Awesome Freeman, Mr Rupert ‘Scudder’ Graves, The Mighty Moffat and the Marvelous Mark Gatiss stood filming one of my favourite TV shows to date.
5. The Oxford/Cambridge Boat race
I’ve been watching the Boat Race for as long as I can remember. Like rugby and the Tour de France, the boat race has been a staple at home forever. This year, I got to see it live from the banks of the Thames. We only had to go five minutes down the road to Bishops Park to see it too, grab a spot against the barriers and watch the park and the roofs of the boat clubs across the river fill up. The spectators were a mix of what my friend called ‘the red trouser brigade’ (the upper class fellows who work in City banks or took a day trip from Oxford or Cambridge to see the race, laden with champagne in their picnic baskets, pinstriped blazers and frighteningly posh accents), earnest boat race followers (swaddled in a raincoat and others appropriate riverside clothes), annoying sports photographers (one who tried to get his shot through the crook of my elbow), and those Londoners who will flock to any crowd to join in the fun.
And what a year to see it live! First there was that complete prat who decided it’d be a great idea to put everyone’s lives at risk by ‘protesting’; a broken oar after a clash; and then the poor Oxford bow being carried off the boat at the end after passing out with exhaustion. It was the most dramatic one I’ve ever known and seeing it all live from Bishop’s Park was thrilling.