Sunday, 31 March 2013

A Northerner in London Town - Euston & Bloomsbury

I’ve had a break over the past couple of weeks and ended up in London for a few days.  I thought it would make a change if I did a series of posts about a Northerner’s experiences in London.  So here it is – the first of five posts called A Northerner in London Town.

Every so often we go to London to see the sights, catch a show and walk the streets of London.  The best way to get to London is by train.  Ever since I accidentally booked first class tickets years ago, we try to go by first class, dependent on what cheap deal we can get.  However on this trip I’ve discovered that whilst first class is all very nice, it doesn’t stop you from getting travel sick.  I spent at least half an hour with my head in my hands praying for London to come quickly.  On the way back, as we were travelling by night, I didn’t get travel sick. My travel sickness is caused by visual movement in the peripheral vision, which makes me go green.  Although above all things don’t take the bus to London – with its palpable threat of violence and torturous length it’s a level of hell I never want to experience again.
 
We’ve stayed in some dodgy dives in London in the past, so now we just go for functional when it comes to hotel accommodation.  We normally stay in the Ibis Hotel next to Euston Station – literally a minute from the station, which is great as you don’t have to drag your luggage across London on the Tube.  It’s nothing special, but it does the job and is better than a Travelodge.  The staff are nice, it’s always clean and the room are uniform so you know what to expect.  We never get the breakfast as it’s overpriced, but when you have London on your doorstep it’s a shame not to sample the delights of London.  Neil got quite addicted to the Cornish pasties at Euston Station.

On this trip I was fed up of going up and down Tottenham Court Road, so headed into the West End down Gower Street.  The buildings along the street are lovely and impressive.  It’s very rare that I wish to be younger but going down Gower Street and passing by the buildings of UCL (University College of London) and RADA I just can’t help but think that being a student in London would be a wonderful thing.  You can so understand why these places attract foreign students and other than New York where else would you want to study? 
On Gower Street there is a fantastic Waterstones with a branch of Fopp attached.  I left Neil browsing the records in Fopp, whilst I explored Waterstones.  Foyles on Charing Cross Road is the best bookshop ever, but this branch of Waterstones comes second.  Academic bookshops are always more interesting than the standard ones as they have a wider range of stock.

We ate at Wagamama just off Gower Street.  You can’t go wrong with Wagamama and this branch was no exception.  I had firecracker chicken which was very spicy and Neil had to finish it off.  For a long time in Manchester we always chose Tampopo over Wagamama, but Wagamama has improved its menu so we are back.  It also helps that they don’t do great prawn starters – I’ve discovered I have a mild allergy to prawns, so I no longer can have coconut prawns from Tampopo.  Believe me I was gutted when I found this out.
Ed’s Easy Diner at Euston Station is always a place we have a bite to eat at.  Neil likes the chili dog, whilst I always go for the burger.  The food comes out when it’s ready, so your companion’s meal can come out before yours and your chips can come at the end of the meal.  It’s a busy, bright and cheerful place - although the toilet doubles as the staff changing room.

We’ve drank in a number of pubs in London, but our favourite pub is the Fitzroy Tavern on Charlotte Street.  The beer is cheap for London and apparently it’s a favourite haunt for Doctor Who fans.  I like the fact it’s always busy with students and office workers.  It’s a proper local pub and a trip to London is never complete without a visit to this place.  Even Neil likes it despite the fact it doesn’t have a jukebox or quiz machine.
 
Since I’d done my Achilles in dancing at Smile the previous Saturday, my usual levels of walking was severely curtailed so we had to use the Tube.  I have come to the conclusion that the Tube is one of Dante’s seven circles of hell.  We tried to use it off peak, but even then it got busy round the centre of London.  God forbid if you stand on the left hand side of the escalator, otherwise you get pushed out of the way.  You have to be incredibly focused to use the Tube.  My biggest word of the advice is to go to the far ends of the platform as you tend to find the quietest carriages there.  I did find that smiling at old people on the opposite escalators is a nice thing to do as it takes them by surprise.  I think London is hellish for older people and anything you can do to show some humanity to them is welcome.  The Tube does test your Northern patience and good humour though.  I much prefer the borderline passive aggression of the Paris Metro to the outright aggression of the Tube.

One of the most disturbing things I found in London was the lack of women in their late 30s and over in the city.  When I was wandering I just couldn’t help but notice the lack of women of this age.  There are lots of younger women, but for whatever reason I found it hard to find these women except in groups in restaurants or in the theatre.  It’s funny how spaces in a city can be differentiated by age and gender – Soho is very male, Covent Garden is more family orientated, Hampstead is older and female, and Camden is young.  My feminist gene was getting rather disturbed by this phenomenon.  Maybe it’s because I don’t give a damn and will go anywhere.  It does help I’m tall and sturdily built with a determined look in my eye, which means I never get hassled.  Although in supermarkets small people always ask me to get items off the top shelf for them.
Over the years I’ve had a love/hate relationship with the place.  A long time ago I had considered moving there, but there is something so hard about the place which goes against the grain of this Northerner’s soul.  After this visit I’ve come to the conclusion the best way to live in London is either as a student or a multi-millionaire – you need either hope or money to survive this city.  Otherwise the only way I will see this city is as a tourist and to be truthful I’m happy to keep it that way.
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