Hello everybody, I seem to have got here at last, it's been a long long time but here I am and jolly glad I am to be here at last (to quote Amy Johnson). I've been in Blighty for almost 24 hours at this point; here are some random thoughts and observations. Of course these are based only on what I've seen today, and should not be taken as representative of London or Britain as a whole!
- the flight(s) went very smoothly (almost literally, only a few minor patches of turbulence), no major delays. I missed out on the window seat from Sydney but as it was dark for most of the flight that's no great loss.
- going through Customs/Immigration is not as bad as I expected (particularly given the recent bomb plot).
- public transport prices are ridiculously high.
- Tube trains seem a bit, well, poky -- very narrow. Presumably that's a consequence of it being cheaper to make the tunnels narrower.
- my first thought on the trip in from Heathrow was that the suburbs reminded me a bit of parts of inner Sydney. Except here it went on forever, in Australian cities good old suburban sprawl soon sets in.
- Bloomsbury is rather nice. Lots of nice old buildings and leafy parks. Quiet. And so clean!
- after I got settled in at Goodenough College, I went for a random wander. Found Oxford Street and made my way back to the British Museum, which is like 5 minutes' walk from the college. How cool is that?
- I evidently put the mozza 1 on Leo Amery a couple of years ago by remarking how often he turns up in my research. I've hardly ever come across him since then! But here he is again at last, not exactly in my research but as one of the founders of Goodenough in 1930.
- four-way traffic lights seem weird to me.
- I was surprised at how fast the traffic moves along Oxford Street -- without parked cars to act as a buffer, seems like it would be easy for a pedestrian on the footpath trip over and get your head split open by a double-decker bus. Of course, it was a Sunday, so maybe the traffic is jammed the rest of the week.
- I keep thinking I see familiar faces among the crowd when walking down the street. Since just about everybody I know is on the other side of the planet, this seems unnecessarily perverse.
- I can see I'm going to end up with pockets of loose change -- I'm bad enough at home! But now that I look at it, the coins are mostly similar enough in shape and colour to Australian numerical equivalents that I'll get by. 5p/5c, 10p/10c, 50p/50c are very close. £1 coins look like $2 coins. 20p coins just look weird. We don't have 1c and 2c coins anymore in Australia, I'll have to get used to counting in units of less than 5 again. And paper banknotes! That's a blast from the past.
- so many internet kiosks out in the street, like phone booths. Is that a sign of progress or the lack thereof? In Melbourne, the few there are don't seem to get used much.
- it IS possible to go the British Museum and not see either the Rosetta Stone or the Elgin Marbles. Like I said, it's only 5 minutes away ... I'll be back!
- I wasn't tempted by the overpriced food inside the museum, the hotdogs being sold out the front were very tasty and much cheaper.
- speaking of which, what's with all the hotdog vendors? It's not something I'd associated with English cuisine. Catering to American tourists, perhaps?
- speaking of which, it's true what they say about American tourists.
- I would just like to thank the many generations of British plunderers of the cultural heritage of conquered and otherwise downtrodden peoples for helping to make such a brilliant museum. You guys rock!
- so did the Aztecs.
- when both your mum and Douglas Adams tell you not to forget your towel, you should listen. You wouldn't believe how hard it is to find somewhere to buy a towel in this town.
- on the other hand, every second shop around here seems to sell luggage, among other things. OK, there's lots of tourists about, but don't most of them already have luggage?
- the concept of "service" doesn't seem to have made it into the philosophy of customer relations here yet.
- but the nanny state ethos seems ingrained: trains telling me to mind the gap between the train and the platform, markings on the road telling me which way to look when I cross, no taps in the shower to let me do something as radical as adjusting the temperature of the water to my liking (though to be honest that probably has more to do with the nature of student accommodation than anything else).
- biggest culture shock of the day: not being able to find anywhere that sells 500ml bottles/cartons of chocolate-flavoured milk (my currently-preferred way to get a chocolate fix). Neither Waitrose nor Tesco Express had any such thing, maybe this is more popular down under. On the other hand: mmmm, Milka. Hard to get back home.
- I got massively ripped off on a 5m ethernet cable on Oxford Street. On the other hand, I did successfully haggle for perhaps the first time in my life, so I consider it a moral victory.
- Royal London Homeopathic Hospital, LOL. Is there a Royal London Placebo Hospital as well, or would that be redundant?
- you call that a night?! It's 5am and already bright as, well, day.
- despite all my efforts and disruptions to my normal schedule, my body clock is evidently still on GMT+10.
Despite some of the grumbles above, it's fantastic to be here. As I said to a friend the other day, there'd be no point in coming if it was exactly like home!
Airminded will likely become something of a travel blog for the next couple of months, which will no doubt bore my UK readers (for which I apologise). But there'll also be more of the usual aeroplaney stuff too, particularly once I get stuck into the British Library ...
Edit: the photo was added two months later!
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- Austral. colloq., "jinxed".