Monday 10 July 2017
It’s been a week since I arrived back in Australia and home, and the time I spent in London is all but a memory. It’s surreal, actually, to think that just over a week ago, I was wandering around London, waiting for the big event – Adele The Finale Live at Wembley Stadium. And that event, in itself, was also surreal. 98 000 people in one spot, waiting for one person to perform. Insane.
The first touristy place I headed to was Westminster Abbey. Now, for once, I did this really smart thing and pre-booked some of my visits online prior to leaving. Westminster Abbey was one of those pre-booked visits. An online ticket allows you to go to the front of the line and get in quickly. Even better, if you pre-purchase your guide books, you won’t be waiting around for very long, unlike other people who purchase tickets upon entry. What can I say about Westminster Abbey that hasn’t already been said? Nothing, I expect. It is, however, as beautiful as you might have seen in photographs. Speaking of which, I have no photos of the interior of Westminster Abbey as photography is not permitted. Rightly so. After all, it is a functioning church.
The stained-glass windows are an absolute delight. The architecture is stunning. And Poets’ Corner, where you’ll find burials and memorials for Shakespeare, Jane Austen, the Brontë sisters, T.S. Eliot, the War Poets, David Garrick (the actor), Geoffrey Chaucer, Robert Browning, Thomas Hardy, Rudyard Kipling, Laurence Olivier, Richard Brinsley Sheridan, Alfred Tennyson, W. H. Auden, William Blake, Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Robert Burns, Lewis Carroll, George Eliot, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Elizabeth Gaskell, Henry James, Ben Jonson (not in Poets’ Corner, but in the nave), John Keats, D. H. Lawrence, Edward Lear, C. S. Lewis, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Christopher Marlowe, John Milton, Alexander Pope, Percy Bysshe Shelley, William Makepeace Thackeray, Dylan Thomas, Oscar Wilde. There are many, many more famous names interred or with floor or wall plates or memorials in Westminster Abbey. It is a remarkable place.
Skip to the other side of the concert, and I had my day at Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre, and a jolly good wander around Bankside, and Borough Market. Aaaahhh, Shakespeare’s Globe. It’s kind of like a Drama teacher’s Mecca. The Holy Grail of tourist sites for those enamoured with theatre. And it’s bloody brilliant. Okay, so it’s a recreation of the Globe Theatre, and it’s not located on the exact spot of the original Globe, but that’s not the point. The point is that you can tour around a theatre that replicates one of the most famous theatres in history.
Bankside is a busy location. Loads of tourists wander alongside the Thames, both sides of the river, taking photos of the Globe, Tower Bridge, the Tower of London, the Gherkin, the Shard, the Tate Gallery, Lambeth Palace, the Houses of Parliament, Big Ben. You know, the usual tourist sites. And a short wander from the Globe is the delightful Borough Market which, as you’ll all be aware, was the site of a recent terrorist attack.
The day I was at the Market, it was filled with office workers and tourists alike, partaking in the gastronomical delights on offer from the vendors, pubs, stalls, and restaurants. It was a seething mass of humans, and if I thought 98 000 people at Adele was something to contend with, I was surprised by the considerably fewer people at Borough Market because it sure as sh!t seemed as if there were 98 000 people getting lunch at the Market. I had to sidestep my way through the crowd. Again, it was insane. But the Brits, bless ‘em, are certainly not letting terror win. They frequent all the places they would normally go to, in spite of the potential for a terrorist attack. And this particular day, armed helicopters flew the skies of London. Gunships. Warships. Whatever the correct name for highly armed helicopters is.
Kew Gardens – now that’s a place to visit. I’m so far from being a gardener that it’s not funny, but Kew Gardens was on my ‘must see’ list of places in the world, and it didn’t disappoint. I spent three hours wandering around the grounds. Three hours looking at plants, and trees, and shrubs, and stuff. Yeah, I know, right? It’s hard to believe, but it happened. And boy, don’t I love Kew Gardens?! This is a place that I suggest everyone who goes to London sees. Spend a day there. It’s remarkable. My favourite place in Kew Gardens is the Palm House. The architecture of the Palm House is exquisite. I do suggest, however, if you choose, as I did, to scale the steps to view the plants in the Palm House from the elevated walkway, make sure you take and drink loads of water. The heat and humidity up there is oppressive, but it’s worth it. Unfortunately, the Temperate House was closed as it is being refurbished. It will reopen in 2018. Hmmm, looks like I might need to take another trip and visit Kew Gardens next year.
Adele was brilliant. She knocked it out of the park the night I saw her. I’m sure I’ll do a stand-alone review of the concert, but given I’ve been on about seeing her live at Wembley Stadium since November last year, it’s only fair that I at least mention how incredible the concert was. And it definitely was an incredible show and experience.
But I couldn’t talk about the extraordinary time I had in London without mentioning something that I saw that took my breathe away. The moment I first saw it, as my driver approached the area, I knew exactly what I was looking at. Grenfell Tower. I saw it from two directions – approaching the city, and leaving it – and neither was pleasant to look at. I also did something that I wouldn’t normally do when viewing the site of a disaster and massive loss of life. I took photos. Not because I wanted to show them off, and say ‘hey, look, this is what that tower block looks like, all incinerated’. I took them because it was horrific to look at, and I couldn’t see how anyone would believe my description of just how horrific it is to see if they couldn’t see it for themselves. Something that I didn’t expect at all was how seeing this building would affect me. I only saw the building and I’m struggling with what I saw.
Allow me to step up on my soapbox for a bit.
The residents of Grenfell Tower are suffering. They feel as though those in positions of authority and power are failing to listen to them. They are afraid that they will begin to be seen as burdens. They are now having to deal with intolerance from some areas of the public who believe the residents should be grateful and appreciative of whatever housing they are given. Would you go back into a tower block if you’d suffered the way the residents of Grenfell Towers have? Would you even want to consider living in another tower block that potentially has the same cladding and lack of fire escapes? There’s so much to consider regarding what housing needs to be made available to these people, and the parts of the general public that are ‘hating’ on these residents should f**k right off. As someone very knowledgeable and intelligent once said to me: nobody truly understands unless they’ve walked in your shoes.
With little or no possessions, the residents of Grenfell Towers are in purgatory at the moment. The council isn’t listening to them – well, not all of the members of council are being d!cks; some of them are standing with the residents. The May government is telling the residents one thing, promising them one thing, and the council has yet to make these things happen.
Not wishing to end this post on a somewhat sad note, I’ll go back to the positives. I’ve said it before, this trip was an impulsive, spontaneous, possibly flippant thing to do, but I did it anyway. I had an amazing time in London. It is a resilient, brilliant city that has risen time and time again from adversity, and its people still keep going out and living their lives. London is a city I recommend everyone experience if they have the opportunity to do so. Oh hell, London is a city that I feel completely at home in. I will be back.
Aaaahhh, London. See you next time.