It was late by the time my Uncle Hew and I got up – somewhere around 10. At least, late by my usual standards. My boss wouldn’t be too impressed if I waltzed into work at 11am, but thankfully on this occasion I was many thousands of miles away from work, on holiday.
After breakfast I had a shower, and for the first time encountered the extremely wacky shower controls in Hew’s house. It was another in a series of weird and (in my opinion) unsuccessful ideas that the plumbing industries in various countries have come up with to replace conventional taps.
Some of the ones I’d encountered in the USA a couple of years before involved joystick-like contraptions. But this was different. This one had two buttons and a dial controlling the temperature, an On/Off switch to turn the water on or off… and that was all. No way of actually controlling the water pressure, which was permanently set at the factory to something just slightly stronger than “piss weak”.
Anyway, after dressing we got into Hew’s car and drove up to the supermarket, a gigantic Tesco’s in nearby Purley (famous place, say no more!). It was pouring with rain when we got out of the car, which was of course far enough away from the entrance that we got soaked in a minor way just getting into the place. Some things are the same the world over.
We went through the supermarket aisle by aisle, giving me a chance to compare all the different products to what we have at home. They seemed to have pretty much all the same stuff, except that most of it had unfamiliar brand names and unfamiliar prices. I did spot plenty of Australian wine though, and it was good to see that some Australian alcohol had made it over other than the appalling Foster’s Lager.
I think Foster’s Lager is the beer equivalent to Home And Away. It’s well-known through most of the world, and where it’s sold, the locals lap it up. But most Australians don’t actually like it.
After dumping everything in the car, we went for a walk down to the high street. The main street in an English town or suburb is generally referred to as the high street, even if it’s not actually called High Street. But you can tell if it’s not called High Street, because people will use the definite article in front of it.
We got back to Hew’s place and after some lunch he dropped me at East Croydon station and I caught a train into London. Then I caught a tube to Willesden Green, where I was going to meet my old mate Merlin, who was over in England working for a year or two, something which is not an entirely unknown thing for Australians to do in their twenties.
He gave me the grand tour of the flat he was sharing with a couple of other blokes from Canberra, then we headed back to the tube station and caught a train to St John’s Wood. Our destination? Abbey Road. Yes, the Abbey Road; in particular, that crossing. It’s just a block from the station, and it’s not hard to recognise, because there were two blokes with a table full of Beatles merchandise standing nearby attempting to earn their fortune. And judging from the number of people milling round, it seems to be something of a Mecca for Beatles fans the world over.
We did the traditional thing – took photos of ourselves walking across the crossing, which took a little while, because you want to (a) ensure that other people aren’t crossing at the same time, and (b) ensure there isn’t too much traffic around, which is not easy, because it turns out that Abbey Road – like almost every road in London – is a reasonably busy road.
The view down Abbey Road hasn’t changed much since the album came out thirty years ago. I couldn’t help but wonder what kind of outcry there would be if ever some officious government official decided that this intersection should no longer be served by a zebra crossing. There’d be Beatles maniacs coming from all over the world to lie down on the crossing in protest, singing “Come Together” in unison.
A few metres from the crossing is the recording studio named after the street. EMI Abbey Road has a white wall around it, which is probably subject to more graffiti than anywhere else in Europe. I don’t know if they ever bother to clean it, but I’m guessing that if they do, it doesn’t stay clean for long.
We took a stroll down Abbey Road towards central London, and found Lord’s about a block away. For people from non-cricket-playing countries (shocking as it may seem, there are a handful), Lord’s could probably be described as the home of English cricket. As Merlin said, it’s where the English invite teams from all over the world to come and beat the shit out of them.
We walked back towards the tube station, but upon finding a clump of shops (that’s the correct town planning terminology by the way) decided to seek refreshment. We found a coffee shop that had a suitable ambience, slurped down hot chocolate or coffee as preferred, munched on some truly delicious cake, and generally relaxed for a little while.
And then we left, paying on the way out, and completely forgetting to leave a tip. It’s just not something us Australians always remember, coming from a place where tipping is comparatively rare. I remembered about ten seconds after walking out of the place, but it seemed too late to go back in and plonk a few coins down on the table. The deed was done. I can only speculate that they now have our likenesses attached to a “Warning: Bad tippers” bulletin in the staff room. Either that or they looked at one another and said “Huh. Australians.”
We found the tube station and headed back to Willesden Green. Then Merlin let me into a little secret: Cricklewood was only a short walk away.
Ah, Cricklewood, another on the list of semi-obscure TV landmarks. “No Fixed Abode, Cricklewood” was the home of The Goodies, a seventies comedy show probably better known in Australia than anywhere else because of seemingly endless runs of repeats.
So we strolled up and took a look. There’s not much to see, of course, just a bunch of shops and so on. But I did find an Off Licence (bottle shop) sign, which above the words declaring to the world that the premises was an Off Licence, had a big Foster’s Lager “F” logo. The net result, “F Off Licence”, I found pretty damn amusing.
I wonder what you need to apply for an F Off Licence? What benefits are available to the holder? Can you tell anybody to F Off without fear of recourse? It could be very handy.
Feeling slightly lazy, we caught a bus back to the flat, and formulated a plan to go and see a movie at Swiss Cottage. We confirmed a movie time by phone, and then went out to a nearby Indian restaurant for some dinner. I ordered Chicken Tikka – I could say that I wanted to try out the local interpretation of my favourite ever Indian dish, but perhaps the truth was that I just wasn’t feeling all that brave. Who was I to try and guess how hot a London curry might be? With my stomach being unaccustomed to such culinary delights, I didn’t want to end up out of sight of the movie screen, in the cinema toilet all night.
Having finished dinner, we took a tube to Swiss Cottage, which from my observations is one of several locations in London named after pubs. Which is a good way to name places, I reckon.
The movie, however, was sold out. We looked for alternatives, and decided that the best alternative was to go and find some beer. So we sat in the Swiss Cottage (which looks kinda like a Swiss cottage – funny that) and slurped down beer and talked about the old times.
After that I headed back to Croydon. It was late, so rather than badger Hew for a lift back to his place, I joined the taxi queue at the station. I had wanted to take a ride in a black cab anyway – it’s all part of the authentic London experience. I had no sooner got in and uttered the required address, a fairly small and probably obscure Close in South Croydon, when the taxi took off, without even a pause for the driver to have a think about where it was, and certainly without any recourse to a street directory.
So when people talk about how marvellous black cab drivers are, with their intimate knowledge of London streets (which is known as The Knowledge, as it happens – I’ve remembered that ever since I saw a TV show about it), they’re not really exaggerating.
The cab pulled into Hew’s street at speed, and I happily paid the driver (after getting out of the cab of course, just like you always see on TV) and let myself in, brushed my toothy-pegs, put on my piggy jim-jams and went off to Sleepy Bo-Bo’s without even needing a drink of Venom(tm) to help me sleep.*
*These are all Goodies references. Get with the program!