25. London


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Jun 16th, 2011
25. London

The minute we set foot in London, we have to face the dreaded Underground. With our too-heavy suitcases and draped with laptop cases, daypacks, cameras, handbag, etc. this is an obstacle course not for the faint-hearted.  We struggle grimly past the exciting posters for theatre shows, new movies or books that the Londoners take for granted every day, and feel alien, in transit. The UK news media deal mostly with the weather, or football. Even the venerable Guardian newspaper has succumbed, and publishes 10 pages’ worth of soccer every day. Outrageous. We stay a few nights with my aunt in Highgate. She takes us to tea at the charming little tea-house on Hampstead Heath. The splendid trees are in magnificent leaf. I learn that the summer concerts have been moved away due to residents complaining about the noise. In Cape Town, this would be the equivalent of Constantia householders getting the Kirstenbosch summer concerts banned…! My aunt lived in St Helena many years ago when it was a British colony. Turns out her house was/is the first one right at the top of Jacob’s Ladder! If only I had known, I’d have taken loads of photos for her. In spite of travelling 8000 miles across the surface of the globe, the minute we set foot on the Sceptred Isle the flu gets us. James is the first to go down, but he puts up a valiant fight. The month of June in the UK will be mostly about seeing friends and family, as well as some long-dreamed-about tourist attractions. It’s no time to fall sick. We are welcomed with a real African style braai-and-beer at our friends’ house in the Lee Valley near Broxbourne, north of London. The sun obliges us but nature fights back when the presence of a wasp’s nest of the classic paper-balloon variety makes itself felt near the wood-chopping area…

Mathew dealing ruthlessly with the wasp problem

While James tries to fight off the ‘flu, Saturday is marked by a delightful stroll along the nearby canals and waterways to a riverside pub, called the Fish & Eels. It’s a classic old coaching inn which would also have catered for the canal boat drivers and their horses in the old days. Interestingly we learn that the Lee Valley is where the 2012 London Olympics are holding the water-based sports e.g. kyaking, rowing etc. and the Lee Valley White Water Centre, which is supposed to offer the ‘best whitewater rafting experience of its type in the world’, is already open. We return to the Fish & Eels another night for dinner – Surprise! It seems South African cuisine is going global, for there is a dish called Lamb Chakalaka on the menu – sure enough, it was tender lamb shank done with apricots and a bit of chilli……yum! The annual London Green Fair is on in Regent’s Park. We all go (note: excellent deal on the train fares for groups) to see what the latest developments are – it is a smaller event than I imagined – or perhaps the exhibitors were dwarfed by the sheer size of Regent’s Park.

In Regents Park, we meet the Iron and Kettle recyclers

There are many makeup-free, badly-dressed but deadly earnest exhibitors of good-for-the-earth products, renewable resources, energy-saving devices, recycling, organic this and eco that, as well as a sound stage booming out 3rd World (why does it always have to be 3rd World?) live music. We tried the organic scrumpy cider, no preservatives, no chemicals (worms guaranteed?) which was cloudy and rather weak-tasting. Then it rained.

Camden town: Tattos, piercings and goths everywhere

On our day-travel-at-will transport ticket we catch a bus to nearby Camden Town and the Lock area market, in search of lunch and cheeky T-shirts. It’s just as vibey and interesting as ever. The tattoo and piercing businesses have multiplied greatly since we were last here 4 years ago and there are some truly bizarre-looking persons walking about. But Camden is not much fun in the drizzle, and it is starting to turn cold as well. As we head for the train home, the delightful English summer weather is in full spate. And it will soon be Wimbledon, so all is on track…

Café on Camden canal - the original drive-in eatery??

After his soaking in Regent’s Park, James wakes with v high fever and horrible flu. This develops into a nasty chest cough and a few days later it’s my turn to fall ill. But our pre-booked accommodation schedule dictates we must pack up our bags and go into the west, there to behold a few wonders.