Rule Britannia!

I realise the irony of the post title considering I am living in Ireland. Well, maybe not irony, unless we’re talking about the definition of irony when used in an Alanis Morrisette song, but… something. Insensitivity? Crassness? The point is, I’m living in Ireland, this blog is meant to be about the great time I’m having whilst in Ireland, and I’ve headed this blog post with a title that celebrates the colonial power across the water. And not just any colonial power, the colonial power that did some seriously shitty stuff to Ireland over the years, including, oh, not helping out during the potato famine, taking away the native language, burning down all their churches, sending much of their population to Australia as convicts, and just basically not letting the Irish people rule their own country for several hundred years.
But, the unfortunate fact of the matter is, I went to London on the weekend and it was pretty freakin’ fabulous. And if that makes me a totally worthless, ignorant, pro-colonialist, pro-military, royalist, conservative, right-wing, panderer to the established classes, well, then, so be it.
Rule Britannia!
I have been looking forward to this trip for a long time. Ever since I booked it in fact (bada – BOOM). But more so since about late September, when I began to think I didn’t want to be an au pair anymore (and even more so since October when I finally admitted I didn’t want to be an au pair anymore…. Au Pairs Anonymous: ‘Hi, I’m Jenny, and I… don’t want to be an Au Pair anymore. Its been about 6 weeks now since I last found something a kid did ‘cute’…..’). So, its been a while. Of course, a watched pot never boils, and a watched calendar never… turns its pages, or something, but every few days I would take down the calendar, or type ‘2011 calendar’ into google and then count the days and weeks left until my long weekend in the UK.
I left on Friday night, straight after work. My host dad rushed me to the bus, which was very lovely of him, considering there was absolutely no rush, I had plenty of buses to catch, plenty of time to catch my plane, but it did mean a glorious few hours sitting around the airport, drinking a glass of wine, eating dinner in peace, reading my books and/or newspapers and just generally being a grown-up adult type person (who has no children).
We flew into Heathrow, which I prefer to the other airports, not only because its closer to the city, but because it doesn’t have the ‘cut-price airline’ tag that is attached (in my mind) to Gatwick and Stansted. That’s right. I’m an airport snob. I bet you didn’t think it was possible to be an airport snob. But, that’s just another benefit of reading this blog – to find out that its possible to be snooty about things like which London airport you fly into. I want to make a joke about first world problems here, but I am also aware that the first world problem of cheap air travel is something that genuinely worries and upsets me in a broader sense (in terms of the damage its doing to the environment), whilst still not wanting to change my own current habits and opportunities (did I tell you all I’m going to Amsterdam in December???) so its something I’d prefer not to be flippant about. Should I make a flippant joke about first world problems, or should I not make a flippant joke about first world problems? Ahhh… #firstworldproblems.
Anywho, I flew into Heathrow and took the express train into Paddington station, where a friend was meeting me. I was being put up in a creative Antipodean flat in East London (apparently there are more artists in London per head of population than anywhere else in the world – fun fact!), to be specific, in London Fields, just near where a lot of the riots happened in July. That didn’t really weird me out. What DID weird me out was when I got to the apartment and they had been having interviews for a new housemate, and they were talking about one of the people they had interviewed, and I thought, ‘Hmm… he sounds familiar,’ and I asked what he looked like and it turns out they had interviewed my buddy from Actors Centre. It then turned out that one of the girls knew many other folk from the Actors Centre, at which point I had a great desire to talk about 6 degrees of separation, Kevin Bacon and sing, ‘Its a Small World After All.’ All of which I resisted, as I was in an uber-trendy East London flat with creative Antipodeans and I didn’t want them to think ill of me.
The next morning, I got up early and headed to King’s Cross station, as I was off to Cambridge to do an improvisational storytelling workshop with Shon Dale-Jones from Hoipolloi (oh, why, yes, I do sound like a wanker). Beforehand, however, I met up with a friend from high school, who had very kindly invited me out for breakfast before my workshop, to swap stories on the past 10 years, particularly as they related to men. Not that we women only talk about men, of course, before all you men out there start getting big heads/start getting paranoid, but there were some strange coincidences cropping up in Michelle’s ‘men stories’ and my own ‘men stories’ (not of the 6 degree of separation variety – thanks be to God), and we needed to compare notes. Breakfast turned out to be not even close to long enough (though it was deliciously French), but, luckily, we had arranged to meet for a cheeky drink afterwards before I headed back to London, so there was still time.
The workshop itself was wonderful fun, with some lovely people, and I ended the day feeling I had learnt something. The problem, I find, though, with going to workshops with people I admire is that I’m always kind of hoping that at the end of the workshop, they’ll turn around to me and say, ‘You! You are wonderful! Talented! Amazing! You must be in my next play/film/book/radio piece etc! You must especially be in the etc!’ And I will modestly agree. When it doesn’t happen, I always end the workshop feeling slightly depressed, even if the workshop itself was great fun and a big success. So, I know to check myself early these days, and stop attempting to get the workshop leader’s attention/approval/praise/love/adoration at the beginning of the day, and at the end of the day, I tell myself to stop being silly and to just leave and to stop hanging around the door in case the workshop leader was just waiting for everyone else to go before telling me that he wants to cast me in his next play. Having a friend to meet and drinks to consume straight afterwards certainly helped.
I missed (deliberately) the train I had been intending to get back to London, and then missed a few more, as Michelle and I were having such fun in the lovely Cambridge pub with lovely fairy lights and creeping vines and attractive young intellectual folk. She told me I was welcome to stay on her blow-up bed (which you can inflate with a hair-dryer! Though, once the air gets cold, it will deflate a little. Gosh, the things they teach you at Cambridge!), but the lure of the city was too great, and I jumped back on a train to East London, where a creative, Antipodean house party was in full swing. My ACA buddy was there, and it was kind of delicious to be surrounded by Australian accents for a night. A little too deliciously comforting for a person who considers herself to be a committed and experienced traveler and searcher-outer of different cultures, lifestyles and people, but I gave in and had a fabulous time. I even went for a peaceful walk through Peacer’s Park at 3am and saw three foxes and kicked up the gigantic fallen autumn leaves.
Except, that, of course I didn’t go for a walk at 3am around the area in London where the riots were, Dad. And, if I did, I wore a bullet-proof vest and went with a large group of very trustworthy, burly men, all of them highly- trained in the various martial arts.
Ahem.
Sunday was blissed out and peaceful, starting with a great, big, long sleep, and when I finally got up, it turned out to be a beautiful, sunny day in London. I headed straight out to the park again, but it being too small for my purposes, I started to wander further afield. I found a canal and followed it for about an hour and a half, listening to ‘The Clash’, going past lovely riverboat houses, parks, apartment blocks overlooking the water, and generally being happy and whimsical and excitable. The one thing I will say about London that is a bit sad, is that nobody smiles at you in the street. Even if you smile at them! Even if its clear you are having the best day of your life and absolutely everyone else should be included in your joy! No! They look at you as if you possibly have escaped from a nearby mental institution, or that you’re about to attempt to sell them a series of books about Ancient civilizations, or that you’ve just found Jesus or something. They scowl, or they look away quickly, or they look confused, as if they feel they should know who you are but they can’t remember. Its a shame. You can smile at everyone in rural Ireland when you walk down the street, because even if you don’t know them, there’s still a sense that you share something. Somehow, in some bizarre twist of fate, out of all the people and the places in the world, the both of you have found yourselves walking towards each other at the same time, in a tiny little Irish village on the Celtic Sea, and that deserves to be celebrated with a smile. In London its like, ‘Oh, you’re here too? Yeah, so’s 10 million other people. Get out of my way.’ Ah well. I continued to smile at every passing stranger in the hope that I might brighten their day a little. At least they’d have something to talk to their kids about later that night. ‘You know, in the street today, a girl smiled at me.’ ‘No? Really? Did you know her?’ ‘No! That was the weirdest part! I’d never seen her before in my life! At least, I don’t think I had… ‘
Sunday night, I managed to catch up with an au pair friend of mine (we met in Bandon, but she’s now working in London) at my favourite frozen yoghurt place in Leicester Square – ‘Snog’. I’ve had more ‘snogs’ in winter than in summer, and this should prove to you how good they are. Even if you’re lips are turning blue, if you’re in London, you have a snog (ha!). I then headed to Brick Lane to meet another friend, but I was pretty wrecked by that point, due to my traverses across the city, and she was pretty wrecked due to housemate interviews all day, so we kind of slumped in chairs and drank water and talked instead of going out or doing anything more complicated.
The next day I saw my brother!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Which, the amount of exclamation marks should tell you, is a very, very good thing.
I haven’t seen my darling brother Chris since I left in January, and I was exceedingly excited about seeing him again, IN LONDON on the weekend. There was a slight problem, however, in that in my walk and snog induced haze the night before, I had left my mobile at my friend’s house in Brick Lane, and meeting up with someone in a city you don’t really know suddenly becomes that much more difficult without a mobile. Having a mobile phone around has clearly made me lazy and ruined my survival skills, as I forgot that if I wrote down my brother’s mobile from his Facebook message before I left the house, it would be relatively easy to call him from a pay phone at Victoria station and work out where he was. But, I went forth to Victoria station thinking there was NO WAY IN THE WORLD TO NOW KNOW MY BROTHER’S NUMBER, as I no longer had my portable phone and address book. I thought, ‘Well, it was easy to find my friend at Paddington, hopefully Victoria is similarly easy. I’ll just wait near the bus stop from Oxford.’ No. No, no, no, no, no.
Anyone who has lived in London, or even, possibly, just visited London, will be shaking their head in frustration at this point. Victoria comprises of the Underground, the train station and the bus station. In a place like Sydney, that might be doable, if you don’t know where you’re meeting someone, you can kind of find a central place, vaguely related to the place the person you are meeting is coming from and hang there until they arrive. At Victoria, the underground is separated from the bus station by a walk of some 15 minutes. On top of which, the departures of the bus station are separate from the arrivals. My only hope was that my brother would get to Victoria and NOT MOVE until I finally found where he had arrived. Of course, this did not happen, and eventually, I had to find an internet cafe, get his number, ring him on a pay phone (with my credit card – I mean, who carries around spare change these days??) and then head back to near the underground. The important thing is that we got there in the end, and it was absolutely delightful to see my brother, who is fit, exceedingly happy and totally absorbed with his new life at Oxford (and no, I’m not at all jealous. NOT AT ALL).
We had a lovely catch-up in a cafe with the slowest service in all of London, possibly the UK. Luckily, this suited our purposes, as we had 10 months of activities to catch-up on. We then headed back to Brick Lane on a search and rescue mission for my mobile phone, and spent the rest of the day around East London/Shoreditch/Hackney, where my brother had never been (thus suggesting, for only the first time in our lives, that perhaps I was cooler than him), I bought a beautiful, bright red flapper-style hat with what appears to be a Christmas flower attached to the side from the ‘Hat Man’ at the Spittlefield Markets and felt exceedingly happy, so happy that I refused to take the hat off whilst we went for a drink in a pub, probably breaking all sorts of proprietary and etiquette rules, meaning I won’t be allowed into the UK next time I try to go there for a holiday.
Unfortunately, though I was having an absolute ball, feeling like a million pounds (of money, not weight – that would be a whole other feeling), this was my last afternoon in London. The later in the afternoon it got, the less light, the more desperate my thoughts became. ‘Just call them, and say you’re not coming back to Ireland! You’ve got all the important stuff with you, who cares about all the stuff you’ve left there!’ Or, ‘Don’t call them! Just stay in London and switch off your mobile phone and no-one will ever need know!’ Or, ‘Don’t call them, go back to Ireland, but just don’t go home!’ Or, ‘Just, please, miss your plane or something? At least, just miss your plane? And go back tomorrow? Please? Please?’ The thoughts were getting more and more pleading as I got off the Heathrow Express, walked through Terminal 1 and headed to the check-in counter. The thoughts got very angry at the Aer Lingus sign, even angrier at the sound of Irish accents. They were furious by the time I was heading towards security, and even when I had gotten to my gate, they made me sit there, staring at the gateway to my plane until the very last minute, til the ‘All passengers to Cork, this is your final boarding call…’ They made me sit there, staring angrily at the Irish stewardesses in their emerald green uniforms because the voices couldn’t quite believe I would go through with it. ‘You can’t be serious!’ screamed the voices. ‘You can’t seriously be going back there? You are absolutely insane! I have no respect left for you!’ The voices kind of felt that if they started abusing me, they might get a better response. But, to no avail. I boarded the plane, and actually shed a few desperate tears as we flew off from Heathrow and I watched the lights of London disappear below me.
The week since London, it is fair to say, has been going slower than all the weeks leading up to London combined. I’m continually doing calculations in my head. How many days until Christmas? How many days minus the weekends? How many hours? No, that can’t be right, try again. Count with the calendar. No, it has to be sooner than that. Little Man, when he’s been grumpy with me has been telling me to ‘Go back to London’, which I feel is just rubbing salt in the wound (he also asked me, ‘When do you leave?’ I said, ‘Christmas.’ He said, ‘No, go now!’ I snapped, ‘Little Man, if I could go now, I would. Believe me, I would march out the door, right now.’ I’m hoping he thought it was a joke and won’t be scarred for life by my grumpy mood).
So, anyway, next year’s destination is now, most definitely, London. I had a brief fling with Edinburgh, but I can’t deny the long-standing passionate and heartfelt love I have held for London, a love that has stretched from my childhood days, watching ‘Yes, Minister’ with my parents and admiring the grand watercolour drawings of Big Ben, Westminster and the Thames. I feel a little grumpy that I’ve decided to go now, I have to say. So many brilliant years behind London and the UK, and so many hard, hard, miserable ones ahead. Why did I put it off until now? Sometimes when I get really low about it all, I figure maybe I’ll be able to make great art out of it (always my consolation when bad things happen) and I’ll be like that filmmaker who made ‘This is England’, who only ever makes films about Thatcherite England, and that living through the collapse of the Euro whilst in Europe will somehow be the making of me.
Nonetheless, for whatever the reason, whether its my bad luck, bad timing, my stupidity, my fate, something to do with the Olympics, my Saturn’s Return, or because it’ll be the making of me, 2012 is the year for London and the UK and I’ll just have to make the most of whatever happens when I get there.
I can’t wait to get there.

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