Wednesday morning my sister and I separated for the day. I had arranged to meet up for a lunch date with an old friend who is now living in London; my sister went to learn about London on one of the many free walking tours.
Just to be on the safe side, I got to our arranged meeting place an hour earlier, and browsed around Oxford. One of the most amusing things about London is the way they name things here…dirty, droll or alarmingly ordinary, they never fail to make me laugh.
I had a foodgasmic lunch at an Indian restaurant called Dishoom, where the most interesting thing I ate was a Memsaab‘s Mess (think Eton mess with rose syrup). It’s really an indescribable feeling when you meet up unexpectedly with people from home in foreign countries, even more so when you can fall into a familiar, comfortable dynamic, so this catch-up was a real treat (I appreciate it more than I can express, Tasneem).
Again, I can’t quite articulate how amazing I felt, navigating the streets of London by myself. I feel safer here than I do back home. Again, Mr GQ’s words come to mind, that people here are tolerant and basically leave you in peace to live your life as you choose. And in keeping with my mother’s wishes, I spoiled myself a bit with some retail therapy.
My aunt had booked a teatime cruise on the Thames for this afternoon. We had some time to kill before then, and after much nagging, my sister persuaded me to join her for another walking tour this morning.
I may not have been in the mood for it this morning, but I do not regret giving in to persuasion. Our tour took us past Big Ben, Westminster Abbey, Downing Street, Buckingham Palace, St James Park and Trafalgar square (our guide, Glenn, affectionately calls it the “Royal” tour). Instead of the usual, boring facts, Glenn told amusing and quirky annecdotes surrounding each of these landmarks, adding interesting depth to the already colourful history of Britain. I got a practical demonstration of how traitors were hanged, drawn and quartered; learnt about Guy Fawkes’ foiled plot to blow up the houses of Parliament (and by extension, the birth of Guy Fawkes’day) and the birth of the horse guards after the English Civil War; laughed like a loon at the wine diet given to Henry III’s elephant, the Duke of Wellington’s horse blocks and Michael Fagan’s early morning chat with the Queen in her bedroom.
Our guide was funny, charming, dry, well-informed – everything I’ve come to expect from a proper Englishman – and has given me an unforgettable memory.
After saying goodbye to Glenn, we hopped onto a train to meet up with our aunt for our teatime cruise. Again, we were a few minutes early, but it afforded another opportunity to explore. We came across another garden (London has as many gardens as there are buildings)…but with a slight twist…
Yes. You are seeing two men playing ping-pong in the middle of wherever during their lunch break (I hope I’ve captured a bit of the intensity – these two were having quite a go). This is by far the most random but cool thing I’ve discovered here. And I love that no one gets judged for being quirky and weird (in fact, quirky and weird are qualities that are embraced).
The past two days felt particularly English to me, and I couldn’t be in England and not experience a proper English tea. The sights in London are beautiful, no doubt. But they look even more amazing from a ferry.
My uncle asked me this evening what the best part of my holiday has been so far, and I gave him sort of a list of some of the things we’ve done and experiences we’ve had.
In hindsight though, I realise that the best part has not necessarily been the experiences themselves…rather the child-like wonder with which I’ve been experiencing them.