Until Next Time London!

Another grey day dawns over the Home Counties in South East England, the terraced inter-war houses of the London boroughs streak past as the train rushes to Victoria.  Thousands of homes, thousands of lives, each going about their own business, each with hopes and dreams, and worries and fears, and each trapped in their own small world, a harbour, an oasis from the vast stormy oceans, and baking arid deserts of the real world.

A large sweaty man in a blue vest cracks open a can of energy drink, the strong stench permeates the carriage, reminds me of unpleasant nights out, and ruins the imagery I’ve just constructed (aided by a bloke with a broken arm and a Big Mac who enters stage right).  This is London, the real London, not the London that is polished and made presentable to tourist boards and foreigners the world over.

The train arrives, the crowd surges towards the ticket barrier like some frenzied swarm of hornets.  A sudden thought strikes me, is my ticket valid before 10am?  I put it into the machine. And hope.  “Take ticket, seek assistance”, are the words that greet my eyes.  Ah.  I frantically scour my pockets for my railcard and show the inspector.  He waves me through.  I breathe a sigh of relief, and descend into the labyrinthine abyss of the tube.  That venerable underground rail network, keeping London moving for a century and a half beneath the streets, like arteries throughout the body.  Two stops, two lines, and I’m out, out of the baking heat, the stale air, and the cramped, crowded trains.

I emerge in St. James.  The tall Georgian buildings standing proud, built as a testament to the wealth and power of a long forgotten and hushed up era, when this tiny island really did rule the waves.  The only reminder of the past that dares to show that chapter of history today.  British embarrassment and awkwardness have taken hold, making the subject seldom spoken about in the 21st century.  War memorials and statues of famous leaders greet me as I pass them on the way to the office, a monument to Crimea, and a Viceroy of India.

Looking towards Regent Street from Piccadilly Circus.  Note statue of Britannia above the clock, and generic fancy looking buildings (click to enlarge).  Fun fact: Britannia featured somewhere on all British coins made between 1672-2008.

Looking towards Regent Street from Piccadilly Circus. Note statue of Britannia above the clock, and generic fancy looking buildings (click to enlarge). Fun fact: Britannia featured somewhere on all British coins made between 1672-2008.

The medical is over, and once more I’m spat out, back into the sprawling metropolis.  I sit in a café and nurse a cup of tea, waiting for my friend XYL.  She, like TKC, is returning home after university. However, she is from Shenzhen.  The result?  Much greater difficulty to meet up if she stays in Mainland China.  We both require visas to visit one another’s country.  Great expense and hassle for all parties. A good friendship put at risk by two powerful governments with an obsession, reverence, and adoration of the gods of bureaucracy. Modern life is fraught with complications.

We elected for 火锅 for lunch, and it was a feast for both eyes and stomach.  Lots of food, with plenty of variety were boiled in the bubbling soup, and we lunched and chatted for around 3 hours.

火锅

火锅 in London – Yum yum yum! (Click to enlarge)

Time now for the return journey, back through the warren of the underground, followed by the slow journey through the suburbs, back to the verdant Surrey Hills.

All in all, a good day!

Strange Dreams and a Restless Night

I didn’t sleep too well last night (see my previous post entitled “TKC” for an explanation), and now that I’m alone with my thoughts, one anonymous face amongst millions on the commuter train to London, I start to remember the dreams.  Those peculiar and illogical visions that plague, haunt, or delight us.  One can dream of one’s greatest desires and then be woken to discover that it was merely an illusion, eliciting sympathy for poor old Tantalus.

One dream involved a car hitting me, I survived and was unharmed, but my friends and I had a whip round to pay for the damage ($230 if I recall – definitely US$ not £).  Things then got out of hand for some reason (I think someone said something sarcastic), and we ended up in a strange version of the UL, pursued by the driver of said car who was angrily chasing us with a gun trying to shoot me.

The next dream involved me being in London, outside some church (a representation of Westminster Abbey perhaps?).  Anyway, if you said something of a seditious nature, bulbous lightning rods appeared on the walls and roof (they looked a bit like if a tesla coil met one of those springy wall mounted door stop things you get to stop the door hitting the wall), and produced an arc of light that made the nearest person disappear.  Testing this out, I stood well back, and said some things (of a seditious nature of course), and a couple of passers by got caught in the cross fire.  I became bolder and went closer, but it was too close!  I tried to dodge, but to no avail.  I was hit!  So what happened next I hear you ask?  Well, I was transported to the early 80s.  I guess it was a bit like the effect of those creepy weeping angels off Doctor Who mixed with Ashes to Ashes.  My first thought in the 80s?  “Hong Kong is still a British Territory, I could emigrate there much more easily now than in 2013!”.  Yes, quite…

Dream the third involved me being in a large tent (the setting of Downing May Ball now that I think about it), although I think it was supposed to be Hong Kong.  Anyway, someone there decided that I was to be quickly and efficiently disposed of, so there was a lot of me trying to evade death again…

The final dream involved me living and working on a building site with some friends.  We had a portacabin to live in, and one day I was the only person inside.  Anyway, someone came along to demolish it, so once more, I had to escape being killed.  Everything inside was destroyed, but I survived (along with my phone), so that was alright.

Psychiatrists, feel free to form an orderly queue…

TKC

I’m seldom the sentimental type, but today was indeed a sad day, for it marked the departure of my best friend TKC from Britain for the foreseeable future.  Thinking in real terms, not a lot will change, courtesy of modern technology.  I mean, we already have the ability to communicate whenever and wherever we are, at no cost (wooo Skype/WhatsApp/etc.), however the great distance between London and Hong Kong can hardly be deemed to be negligible.  Fortunately, we’ve both agreed to ensure that we don’t lose touch, and so in reality, there is nothing to worry about, and we’ll try to visit each other as much as possible, and she’s considering looking for a job in Britain after her post-graduate law course anyway, so fingers crossed :D!

I arrived at her flat just after 11, just as she was moving out, and, after a nice chat over some tea at a café, we grabbed a delicious steak lunch.  Then, it was off to the tube to get to Heathrow.  Check in was rather exciting, as she was over her baggage weight limit, so we spent some time repacking her stuff, but fortunately, we managed (although various things had to be jettisoned).  Some charity should set up a shop at Heathrow, as I’m sure people would rather donate their excess stuff that they can’t take, rather than bin it, so charities, if you’re reading this, take note!  After a quick drink at another café, it was time to part (and give her an au revoir letter to read on the journey of course – not goodbye, as I’ll see her at some point soon (or die trying)), which is always the most unpleasant experience, especially with someone who is very close to you.  It was then time to take the long journey home.  This wasn’t the first time that I’ve dropped someone off at Heathrow, and taken the tube back alone, and I’m sure it won’t be the last (although this time was the saddest by a large margin).  The journey back is like a trip to the gallows (in terms of enjoyment), but of course, I’m very glad I was there to take her to the airport, and see her off, and I wouldn’t have swapped it for the world.

You may have noticed that I’ve tagged this post under “Family”. Simply put, that’s because to me, she is just like a sister (and no, I’m not exaggerating).

Don’t worry readers, tomorrow’s post will be far less sentimental, no need to panic!

Back to London

It’s the final day in June, and for once, it’s bright and sunny.  What better way to spend the day than ambling around London, enjoying all the sights before I disappear off?  I met up with MW at Victoria, and after a quick afternoon lunch in Chinatown (of delicious 小籠包), we went for a walk around the city.  Trafalgar Square, Parliament, Whitehall, the Embankment and St. Paul’s were all visited (as well as a quick detour to Covent Garden and Foyles).  All in all, a relaxing and fun day!

A Night to Remember

After arriving at TKC’s South Kensington flat, we nabbed a quick meal at a local Italian place, and then headed back to get ready for the Imperial Summer Ball.  We headed over to her friends’ flat, and chatted for a while, after which we went to the ball.  It was really good, with lots of fairground rides to enjoy, as well as a decent cash bar, and fireworks.  The main stage was very well done, and we danced, drank and chatted until the small hours.  Unfortunately, a couple of them had a little too much to drink, but after some lovely negotiation with a cab driver (with lots of help from the very helpful St. John’s guys), we made it back to TKC’s friend’s flat, so we missed the after party, but that was definitely for the best.  One of the guys and I kept an eye on those who were a bit worse for wear (thereby giving me a second day with only one hour of sleep – well why not?), before I took TKC home, and went back to Surrey.

Corpus Christi May Ball

I’ll be honest with you, Corpus May Ball, as per first year, was the best, by a long way. This was the May Ball at which I never felt tired, and at which I always wanted more time at. Bear in mind that this in in spite of the fact that I didn’t even listen to much of the music at all, the food was excellent, the drinks were excellent, and the generic fun was also excellent. I had a tarot card reading (in fitting with the “Phantasmagoria” theme), which was suitably vague (I reckon that the fact that my summer job is in the Atacama Desert probably helped the vagueness – I reckon she wasn’t expecting that as a summer job!), but apparently, I’m going to be robbed, and have a long term relationship soon, so watch this space…yeah!

After the fun that was Corpus Ball, I packed the final things from my room, dumped a couple of them at my sister’s (at Queens’ College), and walked to Cambridge Rail Station (easier said than done after a night of unlimited food and alcohol – and clearly absolutely no sleep). However, as I write this, the 7:30 ish Cambridge to King’s Cross First Capital Connect service has just left, so it could be worse!

The plan now is to navigate (somehow) across London (from King’s Cross to Victoria/London Bridge), and get the train home. Update: now on the 09:02 Southern service to Bognor Regis and Portsmouth Harbour – definitely worth remembering to get off and change at East Croydon, as an impromptu visit to either terminus would not be ideal at the moment! From my home station, I shall walk to my house, sleep, and then get back from there to South Kensington by 4pm, in order to have dinner with my dearest friend TKC, prior to going to the Imperial College London Summer Ball with her. I don’t really know what time this finishes, and so there’s almost a 100% chance that tomorrow morning at about 3 am, I shall be on a train to as close to home as I am able to get (probably Purley from looking at the timetable), before swapping to a night bus/taxi to get back to my house – as the final train direct to my town leaves at about midnight, but who knows!

Anyway, at the moment, I am absolutely shattered, (and between you and me, still could do with some more time to sober up), and am on the way back home. All in all, it’s been a really fun and solid 24 hours!

I’ve now made it back home, and have had a lovely one hour of sleep, and shortly I’ll be heading into London again for the Imperial Summer Ball.

Fun Fun Fun

This morning warranted a trip to London for the induction day.  It was really interesting, and a great chance to get to know more of the others doing the internship (even though they’ll be spread across other countries and continents, as well as finding out some answers to various questions, and meeting new people.  After a boring train journey back to Cambridge, it was time to get ready for the May Ball tonight, which will be huge fun.  I’m thinking about starting a new mini series on this blog, so keep your eyes peeled!

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London’s Calling

For the first time in far far too long I headed to London. Arriving at 11 ish, I nabbed a cup of tea and went to get vaccinated against typhoid fever before going on a casual explore. 

First stop was Chinatown to pick up an exercise book with squares in so that I may practice writing hanzi. After that I had a rather scrummy croque madame and an Orangina at Café Rouge. A corner shop was next to buy Private Eye and New Scientist which I then read in St James Park.

A brief tube ride to South Kensington ensued where I spent a lovely couple of hours reading and drinking more tea before the highlight of the day, namely meeting my best friend TKC. We then headed to the embankment for a chat before grabbing a delicious dinner at Boyds Brasserie. It was so nice just to talk and pass the time together, and I had a wonderful time. She’s returning to Hong Kong in a fortnight for the foreseeable future, so I’m grateful for any chance to see her before she goes (as it’ll be very sad when she departs the UK).

Dinner having come to an end it was time to head home. I said goodbye to TKC and got the train to home home. I’m spending the night here as I have an induction morning tomorrow at the office, and it’s easier to get to central London from here than Cambridge.