London, Baby!

I’ve arrived safely in London after a huge amount of stress over the end of last week. I’m sure most of you already know, but for those of you who missed the updates, last Monday I was told I had to leave Ireland on Friday and there was no way to get another extension of my visa. I was ok with this until about Wednesday, when the UK embassy had still not returned my passport from my visa application. I attempted to cancel my application via fax and did not get a reply. On the Thursday, I attempted to cancel my application again. When I still did not have a reply by 3:30pm, I panicked and called everyone I could think of, eventually getting the UK embassy to call me back. They informed me that my passport was in the UK, where all visa applications must now be sent for a decision. Turned out, very luckily, that my passport was in the next mailbag, arriving Friday, but they were still uncertain whether or not it would arrive in the morning or the afternoon. My flight was at 5pm, so I had a little bit of leeway, but not much. I spent Friday half preparing to leave Dublin and half deciding what I would do if my passport wasn’t returned in time. At 2:30pm, I got a call from the UK embassy to say not only was my passport returned, but my visa was approved, which made me deliriously happy and I then spent the next 20 minutes running around the house madly, alternately giggling and squealing and in between times attempting to remember what things I still needed to pack. I left the house at 2:50pm to find a taxi. I had to get to an internet café and print out the email from the UK embassy, then get to the UK embassy to pick up the passport and then get to the airport in time for my flight. Of course, there were no taxis in sight and I ended up running all the way to the internet café with my giant backpacker’s backpack on my back and another in my hand. Then, I attempted to get a taxi from the internet café to the UK embassy, but, apparently, no taxis in Dublin take credit card, so I had to run to find an ATM, where I panicked and pulled apart both backpacks on the floor of the convenience store, thinking I had left my wallet in the internet café (I hadn’t), finally collapsing in a sweaty, red-faced heap into the next taxi that came along. I got to the airport (admiring my very fancy UK visa all the way), dropped off my bags and got through security 5 minutes before my gate was supposed to close, but luckily Aer Lingus was 10 minutes behind, so I even had time to buy a drink and gobble up my egg sandwich dinner before boarding. Luxurious.
By the time I got to my favourite hostel in the whole world (Palmer’s Lodge Swiss Cottage), I was so utterly zonked I couldn’t even begin to focus on anything as ‘complex’ as my Bill Bryson book, so ended up staring uncritically, mouth open, at the whatever movie the hostel was showing, which I think was some kind of paranoid, terrorist airplane thriller thing called ‘Red-Eye’. All I really remember is the girl shoving a pen into Cillian Murphy’s windpipe, which keeps making my throat feel very vulnerable.
Yesterday, I was so excited about being back in London that I actually broke myself.
When I’m in cities for the first time, I prefer walking around them to taking public transport, because I think it gives you a better idea of the place, it helps with your sense of orientation and you often stumble upon many amazing things that you overlooked or ignored in your guide book. Even though I’ve been to London before, I think that the approved visa gave me some strange sense of ownership over the city and I was all, ‘Yeah, I’m gonna walk all over this town! You hear that, London? You’re my town!’ Forgetting that London isn’t really a ‘town’ that you can walk from end to end and see the majority of it, but is more like, oh, shall we call it a ‘mega-city’? Which does not encourage walking.
Anyway, ignoring this little fact, I walked from my hostel in Swiss Cottage to Sloane Square. Here is an approximate map of the route I took provided by google:
I’m getting tired just looking at it.
You may well ask what the hell did I think I was doing, there is a perfectly good underground system, and what was I trying to prove by walking that far and didn’t it waste heaps of time that I could have been sightseeing in and surely there are nicer places to walk then central London, anyway. In my defence, last April I walked from Swiss Cottage to Covent Garden and it was a most pleasant, spontaneous and colourful journey, in which I bought a pink and lacy top and took a boat ride on the lake in Regent’s Park (see post here: I thought it would be similarly delightful this time around. Of course, I forgot that the last time I did this walk it was charmingly balmy, with a ‘burning’ sun and blue skies. Yesterday, it was grey and cold. And the ‘stroll’was quite a bit longer, clocking in at 2 and a half hours. By the time I got to the Royal Court Theatre (which was my quarry), my thighs were chafed, my knees were aching and I was experiencing a slight dizziness, which I can only attribute to extreme hunger and/or dehydration.
The only upside to the walk was that I unexpectedly came across Thames House and the MI6 building (I think, really, considering what they do, the only way that one should come across Thames House and the MI6 building is ‘unexpectedly’). I’ve been going through a revival of my obsession with ‘Spooks’, so I was utterly delighted to find myself outside of the British intelligence headquarters. I kept smiling at the CCTV cameras outside Thames House, wondering if someone was inside watching me; and then worrying that if someone was inside watching me, they might get suspicious if I was smiling unaccountably at the CCTV cameras; and then attempting to ‘act normal’ and not look at the CCTV cameras no matter what, which I’m sure made me look even more suspicious and it all just went down hill from there. Well, downhill, in that I would have looked like a lunatic, not, downhill in that people came out of Thames House and disappeared me. I mean, obviously. Its not like they’d allow me to blog from an MI5 safe house. Unless they did let me just to confuse you all. NO, but, really, anyway… On the upside, the MI6 building is really very impressive. Its as if, when they designed it, they sort of thought, ‘Now, if Hollywood was designing a spy building, what would it look like?’ And then they designed exactly like that. I was so inspired, I went back to the hostel and looked up online whether or not I would be allowed to join MI5 or MI6 on my youth work permit, and, I don’t think you’ll be surprised to find out, I’m not allowed to. But, as some of their workers end up dead inside gym bags, and my anxiety is sometimes so monumental that I can’t even get through the daily newspapers without needing a little lie-down, this is probably a good thing.
I booked some tickets at the Royal Court and then headed back to Charing Cross to see a Lucian Freud exhibition, which was absolutely brilliant, if a little crowded. Lucian is a very famous British portrait painter who had many lovers and many babies and also happened to do incredibly raw, vulnerable and exposing paintings. And, I mean, exposing in a psychological way, though many of them are exposing in the physical way as well. I’ve always loved portraiture, as opposed to landscape art (which I sometimes find boring – though not Monet, Turner or van Gogh), or conceptual art (which I often find confusing). After 2 hours of the art, I was back on the tube for Sloane Square and a 3:30pm matinee at the Royal Court – a new play about the Nigerian-British community, quite funny, quite interesting, really harrowing ending.
Then, because I felt like I really hadn’t walked enough that day, I walked back to Swiss Cottage, via Covent Garden, at which point I collapsed into the kitchen of my hostel and devoured two large salads, a baguette and a large yoghurt with cherries. It still wasn’t really enough.
Today, all I have been doing is recovering from yesterday. I’ve spent the time sitting around staring at my compute and looking into London jobs and accommodation, which is more than a little exciting. But, also intimidating. Part of me still doesn’t believe that I’ll be living here in just a few weeks time. It’s going to be quite the culture shock from Ireland. The city is so overwhelmingly huge. There are so many people. Its so expensive. I’m a little scared.
In Dublin, you can’t pay for a taxi with your credit card, in London, I can buy a 1.95 pound tea with a credit card. In Dublin, if you ask for milk with your tea, they simply hand you over a jug, in London, they look at you waiting for further direction. ‘Milk? Yes? Soy? Full-Fat? Skim? Low-Fat? Hot? Cold?’
I don’t know, I don’t know, I just want milk!
Ah, first world problems. 


Filed under London

2 responses to “London, Baby!

  1. this one is one of my favourites. especially about the spies 🙂
    i am jetlagged and laughing loudly in my house at 219am unable to sleep!
    kt xx

  2. Aw, thanks kt. Glad to know you are home safe and sound. It was so so nice to see you over here. 🙂

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