On our first day in London, we awoke to a grey sky and drizzle. This was the London I had expected, the grey muted tones I recognised from any outdoor scenes of Press Gang. Neither of us mentioned the weather, after all, what is the point of moving somewhere new if you’re going to spend all your time loudly comparing it to your old home and finding it lacking. This was a good theory, but I was to later discover that discussing the weather (and finding it lacking) is something of an English national pastime. Also, the first response of many Londoners when we mentioned we had moved to London from Australia was “why on earth would you move here?” When we emphasised the easy access to theatre, art, museums and the rest of Europe we’d get “oh I suppose so”, but they had that faraway look people get when they mentally picture Summer Bay.
By the time we ventured outside, the sky had cleared and the sun was out. This was our first lesson in London weather, it’s changeable. It can pour with rain, but if you pop into a shop for five minutes it will clear. A friend of a friend suggested that the weather contributed to the Heathrow Injection. The Heathrow Injection is a metaphor for the inevitable weight gain that occurs in people who migrate to London for an extended stay. Some say it is caused by the fast-paced lifestyle which results in eating out or getting take-away. However she suggested that expats unprepared for the changeable weather were forced to duck into pubs, cafes (pronounced caffs – but I’d already picked that up from Press Gang) or bakeries to wait for a shower to pass. Due to their cultural upbringing, expats would feel obliged to buy something to eat or drink while they waited for the weather to change, leading to weight gain. I prefer to call this the ‘weight while you wait’ effect.
Down at the tube station we bought a couple of Oyster cards. Blue and the size of a credit card, these can be preloaded with money and then swiped when entering buses and tube stations to pay fares. We swiped our way through the tube station gates like we’d been doing it all our life. By the way, it’s one Oyster card per person, I recently heard a tale of a couple holidaying in London who misunderstood the advice to get an Oyster card. They spent a few days using public transport swiping one Oyster card to open the gate and then both squeezing through.
Down on the platform an electronic sign showed that the next tube would arrive in two minutes, and then another in three minutes, and a third three minutes after that. This explains why tube timetables are not used, you just get to the platform and a tube is at most a few minutes away. This was a wonderful surprise after using Brisbane trains, particularly the Airtrain which ran every half hour. We would soon understand why Londoners huffed in annoyance when the next tube was more than a few minutes away, in comparison to what they were used to the wait seemed eternal. We hopped on the tube and one change later; “Baker Street, mind the gap”, we were back at Paddington station. The screen of Nato’s phone had been smashed in transit, so our first stop was a phone shop to buy a new mobile phone. While he was busy, I browsed the Paddington bear stall, which had everything from books and bears to cards and wrapping paper. I bought myself a little Paddington Bear, knowing I’d be back to this stall to buy gifts for friends back home.
With the sun still shining, we jumped on a tourist bus to get the lay of the land. Is it just me, or is the layout of London not unlike the layout of Brisbane? Both have a Southbank, which in Brisbane is home to the Queensland Performing Arts Complex and Gallery of Modern Art including Cinémathèque and in London is home to The Royal National Theatre, Hayward Art Gallery, and BFI Southbank.
Both Brisbane and London have a maritime museum at the eastern end of Southbank. In Brisbane the Queensland Maritime Museum houses the HMAS Diamantina whilst in London the HMS Belfast museum ship is moored as part of the Imperial War Museum.
Ninja: “HMS Belfast, shouldn’t that be HMAS Belfast?”
Nato: “Um Ninja, what does the A stand for?”
Both Brisbane and London have a pedestrian bridge at Southbank. The Brisbane Goodwill Bridge was plagued with issues including a budget blow out, while the London Millennium Bridge swayed so much when the first pedestrians crossed that it had to be closed for a year for repairs. At Southbank Brisbane there is even occasionally a Ferris wheel operating, perhaps it should be called the ‘Brisbane Eye’. Finally, gazing at the murky brown Thames, (I’m sure it didn’t look like that in the Eastenders credits), I was reminded of the murky brown Brisbane river and London didn’t seem like such a foreign city.
We walked back along Oxford Street to the tube station. Ah Oxford Street, sixty-two shoe shops and only one pub: girl heaven, boy hell. I promised myself that once I started earning some money I’d be back to replace all the shoes I had to leave behind in Oz.
Exhausted by our day of sightseeing, and still feeling the effects of jetlag, we were ready for bed long before the sun finally set around nine pm. I was reminded of my childhood in Adelaide, being sent to bed when it was still light outside due to daylight savings. Just as I had in childhood, I struggled to stay awake until the sun went down, and again I was unsuccessful, drifting off to sleep while the light still showed behind the drawn curtains.