London – The Quintessential London Experience

Alright.

So, technically, our first day in London was a day spent in recovery and catching up on a night with an immense lack of sleep. With that in mind, I would class this as our first day in London.

Today, we are off to catch up with a mate of mine that I haven’t seen in a good couple years. We met in Melbourne while I was knocking doors for a living. He’s Welsh, and his name is as Welsh as his passion for rugby. We get along pretty well and have kept in touch since he’s left Australia, so it’s only fitting that we catch up in his home soil.

As you would expect, our day stars late, but we’re not so fussed about it.

Its necessary.

We head down to the tube, and already, we are beginning to understand both visitors and local’s appreciation for the London underground. They do an exceptional job of their public transport system. It’s really bloody good. You’ll rock up, and usually there is a train pulling up that you can hop on right away. If there isn’t, then you’re only waiting a couple minutes before there is another one, and I mean only 1-2 mins (generally).

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Also! There are nearly as many busses as there are cars in London. It doesn’t matter where you need to go, there will always be a means of getting there. 10/10 London.

We catch the tube up to see Gez (short for Geraint, which in case you are wondering, certainly is a Welsh name) standing just past the barriers, leaning up against the tiled archway like he owns the place. It’s photo worthy, but I was too slow. He looks a touch scruffier than when I last saw him, but equally as easy to hang out with.

We do the usual “How ya going?” hugs and the inevitable “Its been ages” exchange of dialogue. Fortunately, however, Gez is the sorta guy that won’t linger on the superficial topics for too long.

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Its great.

These are the kinda guys I like to spend my time with. We talk and catch up on portions of our lives that each of us have missed since we haven’t seen each other, all the while making our way to Gez’s Uncle’s place. Bec and I are starving, because we knew we were going to be eating with Gez’s rellies, so we opted not to have brekky.

…rookie error…

We head on down to the house, and there is that awkward moment between the knock of the door and the waiting for it to be answered. I mean, once the door is open, its game time, and usually you are on point. It’s just the waiting bit before that which sucks.

The door opens.

This young bloke opens the door, which I quickly work out is Paul’s (Gez’s Uncle) son. “Come in. Come in”, is heard from the kitchen, where Paul is hanging about.

He makes his way to the front door and ushers us into his home, shakes our hands and introduces himself to us. Without a second thought, I like the guy. We hardly shake his hand before he is off back toward the kitchen to continue preparing. I love it. This is the kinda guy I wanna be like when I grow up, where anyone is a guest and everyone is welcome. There is no awkwardness and you instantly feel welcome.

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We head into the living/kitchen area, and we both say yes to a nice hot cup of coffee.

The plan is this, we hang out and chill here for a bit, then we rug up and go for a walk. What I didn’t know at the time was that the walk was actually a hike, but I should have known this, knowing Gez. He’s always been a really fit sorta guy, so I should have assumed that his family is fit too. Paul’s house is located at the bottom of Epping park, which is decently north of London. The plan was to walk to the top of Epping park.

Gay.

The reward, however, was that we were going to drink beer once we reached the top.

Yay.

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This made the walk all that more bearable, and lets be honest, its not like Bec and I haven’t been accustomed to our fair share of walking anyway. When we were in Montreal, we racked up a good 17km in one arvo. So, I think we can manage a substantial afternoon walk. Paul’s two young blokes join us as we begin, but I have a feeling as though it is a little more out of courtesy than willingness, and if it is the case, then they certainly hid it well. They were a good laugh and were running off and climbing and standing too far out on the ice than they should have.

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Paul tells me about how they moved out here when the boys were young, and that the forest pretty much became their playground. This is evidenced by the way they can navigate through the grounds. Trees stand as sign posts for paths that the untrained eye wound’t have even noticed, and experience tells the young blokes where and how far they can push their luck before the ice becomes their foe, over friend.

We end up splitting up, and the boys head home, upon the knowledge that we were continuing to to top of the park. We continue to walk the rest of the path, darting through bushes and onto paths that look as though they are reserved for stray animals and rabid dogs. Don’t be deceived, though. These are the paths that I would prefer to take. I love getting off the beaten track. This is where all the good stuff happens.

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We chat and talk, and whether it is with Gez or Paul, conversation flows with ease. Its just like catching up with mates you saw last week, all the while, we cross tank traps and pits that were remnants of Britain’s WWII plans to hinder the German invasion. Just casually walking and talking among history. Australia seems to not have this kind of history just in the middle of parks, hidden in cities. I may be wrong, and I would love to be corrected, but this is kinda my experience. My mind can’t help but imagine the events 70 years ago and what would have happened while these guys were building the barriers.

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I would love to be a fly on the wall and just observe at certain points in history. Its kinda cool to be around it.

We finally reach the top of the park, and out of the blue, we are walking through a little english town’s road, where the path on the side of the road is as thin as your wallet after a big night out. Might as well not bother, but for the sake of a laugh, we do.

We turn the corner, and lo and behold, there is our first British pub.

Ever so lovingly, welcoming us with open arms.

It doesn’t seem too busy.

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Bec with Paul

There are a few people relaxing in the British sunshine on the picnic tables outside, but not as many as I had expected. I mean, it is the weekend, after all. I kinda thought more people would be out for a frosty one. We open the door to the pub, and the overwhelming sound of chatter, laughs and conversation smacks you in the face, as though I should have expected anything less in a British drinking establishment.

Every table is occupied, most of the bar space is chockers too. There is even a dog in with one punter. Gez turns to me, “You can tell which pubs are good, whether there are dogs inside or not”. The roof is just above your head height, and its largely exposed dirty big rafters.

Love it.

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I order whatever Gez has, and unfortunately, Paul is dong dry January, so he’s on the orange juices… Genuinely gay. There is a huge push in the UK to encourage less drinking. I don’t know how effective it is, but points of effort. We grab our drinks and head to the table outside and continue chatting. Gez starts to tell us about his work as a sales guy for a travel company. We get talking about first class, and find out that to install one of the beds in the big planes for first class costs a cool 1 million pounds.

Thats $1.6 million in AUD.

To put that into a currency that everybody can understand, its fricken expensive. But, when you find out that everything is marble and gold plated, you can begin to understand. The tickets are like $20k/each at minimum, so fair enough.

We down a couple rounds, and Bec does the whole wide-eyed, eye contact, head tilt toward her beer to signal that I should be a gentleman and finish hers for her. Naturally, I oblige. This is the good thing about having a wife that doesn’t drink as much as you do.

Winning.

We don’t have to pay for a thing. Gez and Paul shout time and time again. 10/10 hosts. We get a move on, and head home.

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Epping Park

…or so I thought…

But little did I know, that we would merely be heading to ANOTHER PUB!!! The only catch was that we needed to head up a dirty pain in the ass hill to get there. As Paul put it, “You feel like you have earnt you beer by the time you get to it”. He wasn’t wrong.

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We pull up, order drinks and enjoy the English sunset. On a clear day, you can see right into the city. Today, we weren’t so lucky, but it was still a great afternoon. By some act of God, we are only about a 5-10 min walk to Paul’s place. I, in no way can get my head around how, but nevertheless, we are.

We wrap up, after 4 pints and a bloody decent hike and make our way home.

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We get back into the warmth of the house, and I tell Paul that I have never seen radiators (which are heaters permanently stuck on the wall) in a country before coming to NYC and London. He thinks this is hilarious. I very quickly learn that it is hilarious, apparently. In Australia, we have these things which are pretty much the same, except they do the opposite job, and they are rectangular, and stick out of your wall, and are called Air Conditioners.

By the time we get back, its time for another trip to the toilet. But the best bit, is that Paul has a toiler under his staircase. Instead of storage, you have got this little hobbit hole where you can do your business.

Best thing ever.

I want one.

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Were inside for no more than 5 mins, and Gez hits up Paul for the beers. “Thats what they’re there for”, he approvingly replies. Gez comes back with these long necks in hand.

Bloody legend.

I attempt to help with dinner, but Bec kinda just owns life, so she gets stuck into it. I take over at the appropriate time, to facilitate the peeling of the potatoes. A critical task, that is. The conversation never stops, whether it is about politics, and the eternal damnation, which is Trump or about travel, or work, or the tennis. Its smooth and easy talking. All the while, by an open wooden fire, beer in hand and the smell of pies cooking away in the oven.

You can’t loose.

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Ann (Paul’s wife) makes it home from a weekend reunion retreat with some lost long mates, and instantly, she owns the room. Not in an annoying in-your-face-way, she just has this presence, where you know that she is there. I mean, we hardly even introduce ourselves, and already we are finding out the latest goss about ‘that one friend’ that she caught up with after some years while she was away.

Man, it was entertaining.

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I didn’t even know the chick she was talking about, but my God. I do now, and I don’t feel bad about it at all. We polish off the beers, serve dinner, and the boys emerge from the teenage den of body odour for the first time since returning from their adventures in the sticks. As dinner comes out, so does the scotch.

Brilliant.

This is dining.

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The exchange of dialogue lulls only enough for everyone to savour the roast in front of them, but creeps back in once the flavours coat enough of the palette. We tell Gez that we would love to head to Wales with him, so without a beat, he picks up his phone, and books our stay with his mum.

Done.

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Wales is happening now. I have no doubt that his mum is going to be just as welcoming as the rest of his family. We wrap up the night with a glass of red wine, and a touch or brandy. Whoever thought that mixing alcohol was a bad idea, certainly hadn’t had an english dinner. Moreso, with the Mansfield family. Dinner comes to an unfortunate, but inevitable finish, as we begin to say goodbye. Paul, Anne, and consequently, Gez have been amazing hosts and we’ve had the perfect introduction to british culture on our first day in London.

Paul is an absolute saint, and goes the extra mile, by giving us a lift to the train station. Being that it is freezing cold, we certainly don’t say no. We make the appropriate goodbyes, and upon entering the underground station, we are met with open arms and open gates. We toss up whether we should just waltz through the gates without paying or not. The issue is that our passes only let us get to a certain part of the city before we have to pay extra. We are past where our passes will get us, and it will cost us money this time.

I tell Bec “What are they going to do? Kick us out of the country? Well ok then…”, and so we decide to waltz right through the gates like we own the place. There was nobody there to police us, and as the famous quote goes… “Its only illegal if you get caught”.

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Now, before you go crucifying me…

I know this was a big risk we were taking. I mean, for all we know, we could have got a slap on the wrist…

I mean, thats the last thing you want right?

God forbid that someone should tell us off for being naughty.

Anyways. We get on the tube home.

I can’t fully recall what we were discussing, but I got to meet this bloke, Gregory, who is a sailing trainer. So, I mean that he trains the teams that compete in the America’s cup and stuff.

No small measure.

We get talking, and as with most other industries, I want to know the nitty gritty. I dont really care so much for how many hours you work, where you get to go for your job (although that is kinda cool too), or all the benefits you get in your career. I want to know how does your career do things differently than the other industries I have worked? More so, how have you personally seen certain practices pay off in your profession?

I genuinely believe in networking.

Not networking with the intention of making money off someone, but networking with the intention of learning from those who have spent years in industries that you, too, would have had to invest years in to learn from.

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I get talking with Gregory, and he tells me about how if an athlete was to come to him and tell him about the 60% that he was good at something, that he wouldn’t focus on the 40% directly, but instead, would create games and tasks to achieve to fill the 40% void that was missing without them directly noticing and would continue to hone the skills that they were already good at.

This would, therefore make them a more rounded competitor.

These kind of conversations are the kind of conversations that I love engaging in. Its that much cooler when it is on a subway system on the other side of the world.

The closer we get to home, the more it fills. More and more, I begin to see that the tube is more a part of London than just a means of transport. People sneak up and surprise each other and catch up after a long days work. The Tube is more of a social gathering place than just a means of getting from point A to B. Couples part, as the lady insists that because she is 32, she will be safe on her trip home, as her boyfriend disembarks at the next stop.

A mere 2 stops further, and she disembarks out one door, as another passenger assumes her seat on the carriage through another door. No idea at all that someone else was sitting there mere moments ago.

The tube has this really odd kinda culture of it’s own going on.

Its just got this little bit of extra flavour that it adds to London.

Come back tomorrow,

Billy

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