St Paul’s Cathedral, Tower Bridge, Big Ben, the London eye, Madam Tusuad’s and all the museums, exhibits and brilliant stage shows on all the time. London should be the most beautiful and inspiring place in the world with so many opportunities to see, even smell and touch history like a 3d story book. Or that’s the way it should be, unfortunately in my experience (which is so far short lived) everyone around you is too busy, too stressed or to scared to enjoy this amazing city to it’s full potential.
Don’t get me wrong I love it here. I think country England would be more my scene. But when you stand at St Paul’s, holding the hand of a woman you only just met (more of that later). Staring up at this magnificent building, an awe-inspiring site with the night sky glowing behind. How long has it been there? What changes through history has it seen? And how many people of the world have stood in this very spot. But to the side, a sign warns that ‘pick pockets operate in this area’. Now your suspicion grows and everyone around makes you uncomfortable, draining the experience of wonderment a little and replacing it with a quiet touch of paranoia. Once again, if I sound like I’m bagging this place, I don’t mean too. I can only tell you how I have seen things that are so beautiful and historic, that when I return home, I will soon have forgotten about that little sign. Remember my travels and find myself inspired again.
But for Backpackers when the air gets too cold and the night is still young the historic culture takes a side seat to the social interaction that London has to offer and we find ourselves at speed dating. Yes speed dating! Like the London people and the traffic weren’t busy enough. The latest thing to do in the UK is to cram as many dates into one night as you can! The night we attended (the things we do for a story!) was three days before Valentines Day, so it was sure to pull a good crowd. The night began with all the daters and datees being assigned a number, given a score card (I kid you not that is what it was called) and a chance to get a drink or two to calm the nerves.
45 women and 42 men (three decided not to show) wait poised with a scorecard and pen in hand. A bell rings signaling the start of your date. The room came alive with people saying things like ‘my name is…’, ‘I work as a…..’, ‘what is your ……’ All just literally small talk and you have a total of three minutes to find out as much about this person jot it down on the ‘score card’ and give them a tick or a cross deciding if you would like to meet them again or not, harsh but with some people three minutes is a hell of a long time. By the end of the night, 40 dates under your belt, everyone is pissed and the thought of explaining what you do and where your from seems almost painful, as the bell rings for the last time. Walking through the room, all these people you know quite well, but only just met and there is an awkwardness knowing you are holding a scorecard with your opinion of them inside. I need another drink. The end of the night comes as fast as the night began with everyone invited to an overly expensive night club for an after party. Really it’s for the drunken ones who found someone who tickles their fancy and want to get to know them better. Unless you happen to be an up and coming “Charming” TV host wannabe like Mick, who disappeared half through the night only to return the next morning.
That next day I log onto the website and with scorecard in hand I mark the names of the lasses that were up to my high standards. The idea is then you can wait a couple of days and check again to see if you like someone that likes you. If your ticks match then your details are exchanged and you are free to contact each other (and hopefully the next date lasts longer then three minutes).
The wait was too much for me and in the few days between speed dating and Valentines Day I met a nice girl all the way from the US of A. She is studying here in England and like myself, was here with no one to share Valentines day with.
Being both single on the night of romance, we ended up arm in arm on Millennium Bridge. Looking down the river at Tower bridge with the view up the river at the London eye and inland at the magnificent St Paul’s cathedral (which is where I began this tale). Totally overwhelmed by where we were and that we were sharing this moment, it felt like we were the only ones in London! This is one of the magnificent and awe-inspiring places London has to offer! Very romantic. Now I can’t wait for the second date, so many places to go and share (travel tip Guys: its so easy to be romantic when your traveling)
But if speed dating or a romantic chance meeting with a yanky girl its not what your after, we also found a place where good old getting drunk and dancing your way into each other’s lives still lives. This place is even open Sunday, but you had better be in the mood for hardcore drinking because ‘the church’ only opens Sunday, for three and a half hours. But with cheap drinks, good old Aussie music, on stage drinking games, a comedian MC and a stripper it’s hard not swept up into the action. The church has been a Sunday institution since 1979 and is frequented mainly by Aussie, Kiwi and South African travelers. It has the feel of a huge house party, and with the copious cans consumed there plenty of sordid sites not limited to the occasional exhibitionist London lasses out to show some skin in front of a crowd of cheering strangers.
When the three hours are up everyone catches the provided bus to another pub appropriately named ‘backpackers’. Here the DJ spins into the night and more drinking games including the dentists chair, a chair designed to recline gently to a point where the bar tender pours a double shot of what ever you request down your throat but then proceeds to shake your head and through you out of the chair into the crowd. Watching it from chair side it’s enough to make you think twice, but as with most things in London the atmosphere takes over and its all you can think of doing, a must for anyone who like to go the hard yards.
Another quiter night that followed left JAG in the dentist’s chair for a different reason and a crash course in why travel insurance is important.
Returning home from dinner, JAG was recording a piece talking to the camera. Jumping to miss being hit by a charging London Taxi, Mick slammed into JAG with quite some force, ramming the lens into his face and chipping his tooth. JAG spent the rest of that night with half a tooth in his mouth and the other half floating around somewhere in his stomach. The morning saw an emergency visit to a dentist, who not long after came into the room to deliver the bad news. His tooth had been damaged to the point were it needed to be replaced with a crown. JAG who was horrified by nothing more that the thought of the upcoming root canal surgery, is now far calmer even after seeing the 1 inch long drill covered in blood from his mouth. The lesson learnt: Always take out travel insurance. After 9 days it has saved JAG $1,000AU. Lucky to, as our bank balances are starting to look quite shabby. The weeks of waiting for JAG’s tooth surgery has taken its toll on our journey and it looks as though we’ll be here longer than we expected.
London has much to offer in the form of a fast life, some magnificent buildings, fast dating and fast drinking. Unfortunately this means a fast shrinking bank balance, so if you plan to stay a while you’ll need to earn some fast cash, which is what we have to do over the coming weeks. Get a job and earn some pounds for the journey that lies ahead.