We arrived early on Friday morning, mid-June, our pilot cheerily informing us that the day was forecast to be hot in London. I’m from Africa, so I sniggered to myself. Hot. In London. As the great doors of the BA plane were opened, a rush of warm air replaced the stale, over-breathed, sneeze-and-cough-filled air of the 12 hour flight from Cape Town. This pilot wasn’t having us on. My snigger wilted and left.
A frustrating no-show of the booked-and-paid-for shuttle and we were in a black cab*, heading through the centre of London during Friday morning rush hour. I’d forgotten about the chattiness of London cabbies. For the two-and-a-half-hour trip (eek!) he kept up a running commentary, and now I know his entire history, and all about his daughter’s relationship dramas. And his best friend, Clive’s. And their medical histories. In infinite detail. (Note to self: don’t mention you’re a pharmacist.) He also drinks down the pub with the terrorist attack hero dude that shouted ‘I’m Millwall’.
Past Buckingham Palace, along Pall Mall as she dressed up for the parade the next day, winding through green parks, the terraced buildings of the story books of my childhood interspersed with areas of barricaded shops, broken windows and graffiti, the streets filled with people of every nationality. London is nothing if not diverse. Yet oh-so-British.
Finally reaching Aimee’s house, we threw our cases down and headed to the bus stop to go to central London, where I had two appointments. Ah, London, and your accessibility. A ramp from the bus to the pavement, a place to sit (first facing the wrong direction, resulting in some fairly hairy stops – especially with the driver of the 10:37 89 bus to Lewisham Station, who could give Cape Town taxi drivers a run for their money – until we worked it out, turned me around, and got me stable). Admittedly, we looked a bit like Idiots Abroad for a while there.
The air is thick with heat and city bustle as we drive into the city on this bus with an ever-changing population and a soundtrack of the pinging bell for stops and almost-indecipherable teenage conversations of who’s hot and what’s happening this weekend. I am reminded that teen pregnancy is alive and well and living in London. One baby is called Chicken and her mum is proudly telling her sister that she’s just received her first dole payment. (Chicken may or may not have been a term of endearment.)
Stuck behind Friday afternoon traffic over London Bridge I watch the hundreds of handwritten notes to the previous week’s terrorist victims flapping lazily in the hot breeze that is doing nothing to cool the concrete walkways and buildings of the inner city. On the bridge, tourists take grim pictures of the flowers at the site. Here the air is humid and heavy with sadness as the muddy Thames rushes under the bridge, heading away away to the sea, seeking coolth and solace.
The ancients mix in with the young there in the city. I’m talking buildings, because, weirdly, there are almost no ancient people in the city. Except us. We make the two appointments by the skin of our teeth, stopping on street corners to marvel at the ancients and watch the people. The appointments are dull, the city not. It seems that here, work ends at lunchtime on Fridays … the pubs are spilling out onto the streets, cold beer, icy white wine in the hands of the suits.
We pop in to Leadenhall Market, a glass-domed Victorian market built in the 14th Century. It is gorgeous, intricate and heaving with Friday afternoon revellers. We stand beneath the main dome, enthralled, until our stomachs start shouting. It’s been a long time since the stiff old eggs on the plane at 5 am. Leadenhall Market is too full, we want an olde pub. Twenty minutes of walking about, we find one next to the monument. It too is heaving, and the one bar man disappears, presumably terrified by the mass of thirsty customers demanding his attention.
Hangry, we head over the street, past the Monument to the Great Fire of London (you can go nowhere in London without passing something amazing) and find The Hydrant, which has the friendliest waitress. A cold beer for GM – London Pride because London – and a cold glass of wine for me, the biggest Scotch Egg with Black Pudding I’ve ever seen (the chickens in the UK must be ginormous!), Potato and Leek Croquettes and Hummus, Tzatziki, Babaganoush and Pitas. We guzzle, it’s good, and our personalities reappear.
It’s time to get back on the bus to head back to Woolwich, to old friends and comfy beds.
*Accessibility in London
Transport is a breeze on buses and in black cabs. They all have ramps that go into them and space for you to be, remaining in the wheelchair.