Monday, November 22, 2010

England, an Anthropological Study Part II


At any one day, one may enter any British pub at any time and note a small crowd of cheery men and women who will happily complain about living and all that comes with it: the council taxes and the clerical positions that is a stop gap between them and their creative gardening career, the endless bills that litter the front doormat and the inevitable decision between buying a holiday to Tenerife or a second hand Citreon. The cost of living is bitterly debated in these small suburban pubs but the outcome is generally the same: ‘be happy with your lot and don’t get above your station.’ Of course such a mentality seems peculiarly British (and middle class and white for that matter too) and therein lies the gist, that the British seem to eternally believe that the grass is greener, more profitable and generally more comfortable on the other side.

But what, might you ask, of the immigrants that now make up a sizable proportion of Britain’s population? Well as far as I can see in our little Lambeth flat, where being white is definitely against the norm, contemporary multiculturalism is by far the oddest thing to be encountered. Particularly within the world’s most endeavoring and brutal imperialistic nations of the modern age there is the sort of inbred and unpleasant suspicion of anybody from any of ‘the colonies.’ And if you think about it, a rather startling proportion of British immigrants hail from countries that were once under Her Majesty's power. That, of course including Australians, who find themselves addressed as ‘you convicts’ more often than not. The interesting thing is that Britain’s modernity is to be owed to these Africans, Australians, Indians and Pakistanis, who potter about in the suburbs with a sort of willful glee. If it was up to the English, Britain would still be teetering about in outside lavatories, using gas street lamps and chowing down jellied eels like they now do fried rice and Fosters pints. More so is progress. Because you see, while those stiff upper lip Etonians and Oxford graduates were busy blowing each other up and writing silly whimsical poetry about the Boer War, the Indians and Africans and Asians and Lebanese and Greeks were busy making England their home and setting up shop. Some of them deservedly making small fortunes in the manner that the British rarely do; that is toiling away without a fuss and understanding the brutal importance of being ‘one’s own boss’ even if that does mean awaking at five o’clock six days of the week to sell white middle class papers to middle class whites.

It endlessly fascinates me that the English appear so utterly terrified to be their own boss. Allow me to continue a stereotype. Though Barry from the Lancashire mines and Crispin from the London merchant bank may feel they are as polar opposite as two men could be without actually living on the Poles (geographically speaking, not the Polish), they share one point which moots all others: ‘fear of owning one’s self.’ Yes, both Barry and Crispin will ceaselessly dream and envisage themselves in a future where they work for no corporation except their own, neither will actually bite the bullet and do it. Indeed Barry might complain loudly to his long suffering wife about his intentions to open his own carpentry shop, and Crispin will provide endless tirades to his Westminster chums about quitting the rat race and set up his stamp collection society but neither will ever do it. No, no, no, too much stands in one’s way in this cruel world. What about their children’s education, or the holiday to Athens, or the cost of living? Such things are for clever clogs, or people on the telly, or Americans or people with disposable incomes and intelligence. Working for the man is like a right of passage, a natural progression of adulthood into the working force and therefore, the British national character of pull your socks up and shut up. Moreover, it would be embarrassing. What would the boys down the pub say? And would Crispin’s Westminster chums desert him in favour of somebody climbing further and more judiciously up the ladder of politics, democracy or law making. Childish dreams, the lot of them, Barry and Crispin will eventually acknowledge. Nothing but flights of fancy that seem charming and hopeful when they were ten, but are now just tatty, embarrassing and frankly rather sad. I have never encountered such a country to be so content to be discontent, as though happiness is the ultimate betrayal of British-ness. One could shout solutions until blue in the face, but the retort will always be the same, “well it’s alright for you, you’re Australian. Us English have been through all the wars, Depression, the three day working week and Thatcher and we’ve got no room to mess about, have we?” as though they personally knitted socks, offered their children to the effort in Flanders and write for Solidarity. Of course, one could point out that Australians have experienced such things in their own provincial way, along with all the problems inherent with being a colony, but it will be pointless, because at least we have sunny weather when we’re toiling in the mines or living in our awkward suburban wastage. And all the Barrys and Crispins would mutter something about the ‘British national character’ and that delicious phrase of ‘well I’ve made my bed now I have to lay in it.’ All of this is utter rot, but one can’t help but suspect that the tenuous cogs on which Britain so precariously spins would be shattered if only the British national character woke the fuck up and remade their beds.

Owning, in Britain (or at least London, which I only have the vaguest of grasps upon) primarily revolves around several things. That is, the cost of living and the cost of class. All the British pomp and grandeur inherited throughout the ages from Kings and Queens and this odd concept of tradition, has left Britain in this bizarre transition between class and classless (if such a thing exists, which of course it doesn’t in any society no matter how Neolithic or sophisticated. Perhaps a more fitting term would be less-class). The politicians would like to have the nation believe that class is a thing of the past, positively pre-historic in the face of cheap cars and H&M and McDonalds, whilst simultaneously reforming the National Health System into a diabolical mess resembling the American health system and demanding the unemployed get up off their lazy arses and do some real work, such as collecting rubbish in front of Buckingham Palace.

Class, of course, being the subject of a thousand Billy Bragg songs and the inspiration for a thousand suburban symphonies of raps and the ‘grimey’ youth and so on, so forth. Class being one’s identity in London, from your postcode to how detached your house is, to where you shop and how you shop, and of course, which school you attended. Schools seem so much more vital (more precisely, their reputation, not your actual experience which is irrelevant in the real world, apparently) in Britain than in Australia. In Australia you are generally sucked in and spat out no matter the tuition fees, the only difference really being the degree of embarrassment of your uniform. But in Britain your school suggests level of sophistication, adeptness, beauty, success and cleverness. Cleverness is of course never measured by which school you attend or of your parents income. The amount of dunderheads that escape the school gates of Eton and Harrow is roughly the same as Brixton Comprehensive or Pontllanfraith High, but only Etonians and Harrowians feel it’s their natural born right to run HSBC or Fleet Street. Class is a subtle reminder of the centuries of distended hierarchy, and has been a hallmark of society since society existed. To say that one day there will be a classless society is like saying one day there will be a quiz show without Noel Edmonds. It simply won’t happen. As long as money exists there will be the haves and have nots, just like as long as an ageing British public exists there will be Noel Edmonds to fill the void. The entire Republic debate (in both Britain and Australia) is basically null, because if anybody believes that doing away with a figurehead like the Queen will make us more free is the most naïve concept I’ve ever heard. We will be no more free as long as the money and industry and racism and the unpleasant inequalities the we humans fiercely promote in one another exist

Walking back from Tescos today, laden with baguettes (quaintly labelled breadsticks in a further pah! to the French disposition) I note the rows and rows of empty, derelict and boarded up shops. Tescos, in its own garish chain-like way, is the only shining beacon amongst the post war brown brick of Lambeth. Looking from the balcony now, I see that Franks Fish and Chips across the road is no more. Neither is Caxton Care Training. Of the row of shops only the Off License, pizza joint and dry cleaners have survived. Every day a solitary figure struggles with a series of folding tables and sells fruit and vegetables, toilet paper and the odd chocolate bar. This sad little figure does little more than further the effect of brown brick, and Lambeth seems ever more the product of the Depression and the Blitz and all those things that seem so long ago and for an age not our own. But the truth is, this man who seems to never sell anything from his foldout table, appears the shining light for owning one's self in this modern age, even if all he owns in the world is a few rotten bananas, stolen DVDs and chewing gum.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Thomas gets off his arse and does some writing.

Some time to catch up on I think. Here's one for you guys. Settle in or tackle it in multiple sittings.


To clarify my process, I have decided to write each days entry on the following day (or later, depending on how things go. Boredom, chiefly), and so as it is our first day in this country, and nothing has yet happened, it seems prudent to conclude the events of the flight day. Trouble arose briefly at immigration when I was told 'Three months is an awful long time for a holiday' to which, somewhat flustered, I replied 'Yes, it is.' Nevertheless, everything eventually went smoothly, and we arrived at our flat at about 6 in the morning thanks to a cabbie who was exceptionally polite, even when explaining the large percentage of tip he expected, and his reasons for expecting it. We didn't sleep at the flat, but rather showered and prepared for our first day in England.


Can there be a worse omen than a cat breaking through a sturdy, locked catflap to get away from the new tenants, and then attempting to jump from a 3rd story balcony to avoid going inside with them again? If so, we haven’t experienced the worst possible omen. One of the two cats is perfectly an excellent pet, the other has spent twelve hours today hiding under a bed after having realized we aren’t going to let it kill itself. The flat itself reminds me very much of Australia because so far we haven’t managed to work out how to turn off the heating (despite having tried setting every switch in the house to off), so we are stuck constantly at a balmy 28 degrees.

The layout of London surprises me. None of the landmarks can be seen from any of the others, but you’ve only to turn any corner to be presented with another one. It’s almost as if someone wanted to pack the highest concentration of landmarks into a few streets, but retain the surprise factor every time a new one came up. But quite apart from that, I can’t resolve in my mind the way all these places fit together. There doesn’t seem to be enough distance between everything, and I feel like I’ve seen every square inch on TV. We have a great view of the eye from our flat. Well, Lucy and Tina have a great view of the eye from their room of our flat. Tasman and I have a poor view of a brick wall from ours. It’s okay though, because we don’t really need a good look at a brick wall anyway.

The apathy which surrounds the workers at Tescos is literally incredible. So much so that it deserves its own mention in a piece of writing which almost exclusively concerns itself with things which aren’t Tescos. The people here look at me funny, there is an odd abundance of porn channels, including one which runs parallel to childrens morning shows, and Big Ben is quite nice. In fact, very nice indeed.


Public transport in this country has basically the same problem in this country as in our own. Namely, that it isn’t very pleasant. Certainly it is an experience, and certainly it is more bearable to use the tube here than to use the bus system at home simply by virtue of the novelty of it, but that doesn’t really make the body heat and smell of a thousand frowning commuters any less depressing. Reminded me a lot of the Paul McCartney video for the song “Press”, except with fewer shots of Paul McCartney and everyone looked like they wanted to die, or at least, get off of the tube.

Went to Camden. That was good. Lots of shops, big market. Of course, for someone who can’t spend any money, the Camden Lock was always going to be the highlight, so we’ve some good photos of that. I notice I forgot to bring a camera, so I’ve been trying to edge into the background of other peoples photos to make up for it. Explored on my own for a bit, which was a mistake as there was very little to explore except a rather nice music shop I found which made me realize exactly how difficult only having one guitar and no other instruments is going to be.

A short one today then.


A lazy day in. Nothing makes you appreciate the things to see in a new country more than not seeing them. The reverse is also true, so I do seem to be developing a healthy dislike of Tescos. Pubs around here are quiet in the day, much like in Adelaide, and food is not inexpensive, which brings me to one of my favourite things so far. I love English money, and not just in the same way that I like all money, though I do feel that to a greater extent with money that is worth more, but in the way that the shapes and weights of the coins just feel right to me. It brings to my mind images of some bent-backed graying, balding and ham-fisted designer of coins who got to Australia last and lumped us with a 2 dollar coin smaller than its half-worth counterpart. The composition of the metal itself isn’t important to me, I want to see how much more my money is worth. To this end, I have been, so far, unwilling to spend much, except to break my notes so I could get some coins to look at.
We decided to venture into town to check out what was going on for Guy-Fawkes night. Very little as it turns out, but we did get a nice look at London in the pouring rain despite the irritatingly persistent warm and sticky weather. When it came to returning home, our revelations of London life were twofold: Tube rides are slightly stinkier at night, and they like to start their fireworks more or less at the point we all wanted to go to bed. Jet lag isn’t a huge problem, but it has thrown us all off by a few hours, meaning we get up at around six or seven, and sleep at whatever point in the night we lose the ability to keep ourselves from not sleeping. Weird.


Another sort of lazy-ish day. Everyone is very much jet-lagged, so mornings aren’t really productive. The most we’ve managed to squeeze out of any morning so far is the making of a bowl of cereal. Except once, a couple of days ago, we ate the cereal as well. Joke.

Everyone else went back to Camden this afternoon, but not wanting to retread the same ground while there was still so much I hadn’t seen in the local area, I opted to stay and explore around our flat. Around outside our flat I mean; I have already developed a passing familiarity with the inside. Not really much around as it turns out (outside I mean). The local area is a little frightening at night, and I am liking the pub at the end of our street more and more, but beyond that there is little of interest in our immediate vicinity (there are a few nice telephone boxes around). Essentially my exploits culminated in the purchase of a pizza from a small place which alternately does and doesn’t exist on the opposite side of our street. I guess it was okay.

It later transpired that everyone spent the last few hours of their own exploits drinking in the pub at the end of our road together without telling me. After I did their dishes too…


I am increasingly of the opinion that London is my favourite place in the world. Yes, I am aware that I have been to very few places, in fact, remarkably few places, but I don’t care. This is precisely the kind of statement that such ignorance allows me to make unashamedly. I can’t begin to remember all the places I saw today, but I did really get a good look around a substantial amount of London. To begin at the beginning, or at least, something approximating the earlier part of the middle, Tasman was overcome in the morning by a supreme wave of lethargy, and so opted to remain in the flat for most of the day. Coupled with this, once the rest of us had made our way into London, Lucy departed to visit a family friend, leaving Tina and I to basically explore one of the greatest cities in the world. And (despite the fact that the word ‘explore’ probably doesn’t accurately portray exactly how much time we spent lost or retracing our steps) explore we did.

I won’t lie, most of my own navigation was based on finding and sticking to streets mentioned in Dire Straits songs, and as a result, we got an excellent idea of the layout of the Covent Garden area (particularly Shaftesbury Avenue) making a few short stops in vintage stores and one in Paul Smith shirts, before finally moving on to Oxford street, which had always been our goal, but which I had forgotten to mention earlier. We stopped for Brie and Salad baguettes at a brilliant little shop whose name I don’t recall on a street I don’t remember, and followed that up with a sort of nutty-custardy croissant kind of thing, which was also brilliant.

Let me say, I have been misled. As a result of the writings of Douglas Adams, and decades in which people have had time to agree with him and taken advantage of that time, I had believed Oxford Street to be full of shoe shops. I’d like to take this point to make plain the difference between shoe shops and shops which merely sell shoes. Not a big deal, but one I’m prepared to use to flesh out an otherwise dull piece of writing.

The Christmas decorations here, and on Oxford Street in particular, very much put our own to shame. Seeing the changes around Christmas time when I was a child was always magical, but naturally, the excitement palled over the years. I can imagine finding the English Christmas exciting for the rest of my life. It’s not just decorations though, it just fits so much better in the winter. I recall long, hot summers at school colouring in pictures of Santa with a stubbie in shorts, sunglasses and thongs and thinking it was just wrong. It was. Now however, I have seen the light. Well, more a sort of Christmas than a light, but using the word ‘light’ seemed to make it a more emotive expression. A white Christmas would be just amazing…

After some 5 and a half hours of walking, shopping, being surprised by how many ‘River Island’ stores there are around Oxford street, and a short, fruitless attempt to find what can only be described as a ‘lion jacket’ (because that is exactly what it was), we made the decision to walk to Harrods. Fortunately, the way was paved with interesting buildings and shops (if not public toilets), because the walk was long and arduous, and ne’er hath a tourist followed it’s length and lived to tell the tale. I have no way of verifying that last fact, but neither can I rule it out, so for the sake of completeness, it remains.
Eventually we reached Harrods, thanks to a helpful man, and their no-expense-spared signs, with thirteen minutes to closing time (thanks to a detour to take photos in Hyde Park). We did get a great look at the toy department, if nothing else. Definitely somewhere to go back to.

And there my writing ends somewhat abruptly because other people want to use the laptop. Also because we then had dinner and went home, which is uninteresting.

In place of the entry tomorrow, I have decided to add a small amount more to the end of this one. This follows.

It is also important to me to mention the monopoly Stephen Fry seems to have over television voice-overs in this country. More interesting though, every single game show seems to be hosted by Noel Edmonds, so much so that there is scarcely an hour where it isn’t possible to find him on at least one channel.

Entry for 10/11/2010

It seems increasingly odd to me assigning days to these entries, not least because I frequently wait days between the events happening and me making note of them, so I have decided to stop doing that. I will let the dates speak for themselves instead.

The people on the streets in this country seem to be far less noisy. Walking down the street in Adelaide, it’s hard not to hear the details of everyone’s conversations, but here either everyone is much quieter, less friendly, or in much more of a hurry. Knowing Adelaide as I do, probably the latter.

Another day walking through London. I’m starting to worry that perhaps two months won’t be enough to see everything here, let alone branching out further which is clearly what we are planning. Went to see the music shops around today, and there really are some nice ones. Not in terms of range, rather in the way that finding a good instrument comes as a sort of pleasant surprise, and they seem to be very cheap and nice. I must make a note to look up ‘Vintage’ brand guitars when I get home, because I’d previously never heard of them and they seem to make excellent copies of Fender and Gibson guitars. Better than those brands themselves, and cheaper.

I’m afraid nothing of particular note happened elsewise. I did briefly stand next to Stephen Merchant while waiting for a green light at a crosswalk. For 6’7”, he isn’t as tall as I’d have expected (Actually, knowing his height, he is clearly exactly as tall as I’d expected, but the difference in height between us was less massive than I’d expected (Though it was still massive).).

Oh, and we had our first England gig. Brilliant. Can’t honestly say I was really in the mood for it, or for anything really, but I suppose everything went almost as well as it could have, all things considered. There were, of course, a multitude of problems to overcome. We weren’t set up as soon as we might have been, because nobody thought to tell us we were headlining the gig (and because as a result of this, we disappeared to explore, and found a nice military surplus store), we had to cadge amps and drums because the only equipment we had was two guitars and a bass, I hadn’t thought to buy an adapter for my Australian power supply, and the band who were on immediately before us hadn’t been on the bill and decimated our audience.

The venue was The Good Ship in (insert place name here), and was quite nice, I suppose. The music had more of a progressive nature than I was expecting, much more than Adelaide, but it was a sort of repetitive, noisy kind of ‘progressive’ music. I can’t say I thought much of any of the bands against those I know and have seen in Adelaide, but it was certainly different. Ordinarily that would have made it interesting, but not this time. Not this time…

I suppose we went down okay. A lot of people had left during the previous band (dammit), but those who stayed seemed to enjoy it okay.

And finally, it turns out that it is apparently quite easy to sneak on and off of the tube without paying. Not really a story there, but there you go.

Entry for 15/11/2010

I’ve been trying to take photos on my phone every day, but I checked them this morning, and it turns out I’ve just been Photographing Big Ben once a day. One day I ‘photoed’ the eye as well, but a substantial amount of the frame is still taken up by Big Ben.

Went to Baker Street today. Turns out it’s just a normal Street. No more Sleuths than usual. Not even any more Bakers than usual. Took a lot of pictures of signs saying ‘Baker Street’ because they were the most interesting thing. Madame Tussauds is right there though, so we’ll probably make our way back there at some point.

Also went to Lords cricket ground, where they wouldn’t let us in, and Abbey Rd, where we shamelessly took one of those photos that everyone in the world wants to take. We were beeped by a Bentley for being on the crossing too long, but the driver was quite old, and if he hadn’t yet learned not to take a road where tourists stand in the middle being photographed all day, every day, in the great many years he must have spent on this planet, I think it was his own fault.

Starting to quite like eating Quorn.

Oh, and my pharyngitis has been fine for almost two weeks, but I forgot to mention it because I’m in England.

Entry for 18/11/2010

In this country the shampoo is pronounced ‘Panten’. Reminds me of my metalwork teacher who thought Toblerone was pronounced “Toblero-one”. I don’t think he was English, though he may have been. He did have grey hair, and a lot of the people in this country have grey hair. Also shoes, but I don’t remember if Mr. Standing had shoes. Hardly conclusive.

Went to the Tate modern gallery today. Tasman and I walked, and Lucy and Tina took the bikes. Probably should have mentioned that everyone else has attempted the acquisition of bikes to use over here (except me), with varying success. At this point, there is one bike good for use, plus the bike belonging to the people whose apartment we are renting, which is a fold-up job. As the bikes were being locked up outside the gallery, we were beset (assuming my understanding of the word beset to mean ‘walked past’ is accurate) by Grumpy old man Arthur Smith on his way in. Not really important, but quite interesting.

Every single thing in the giftshop at the Tate Modern is something unrelated to art which you could pick up from any shop in London with ‘TATE’ written on it and the price doubled. Except for the poster prints which were quite nice, despite being of paintings which were not in the gallery.

The surrealist section first, since both myself and Tina are great admirers of Salvador Dali over other painters. Brilliant. Without wishing to bore the reader by simply listing the exhibits (and also partly because I don’t have a memory good enough to do that), I will stick to key points. Of all the exhibits in the gallery, the one I kept going back to was Dali’s 1938 painting ‘Beach with Telephone’. It never occurred to me that there could be any difference between looking at a painting in a book and looking at the original, particularly because I was already familiar with this particular painting, but of course it is. It is so much more of an experience seeing in such detail the composition of the artwork in individual brush strokes. A woman who stood next to me at the exhibition said as much. She also went to great detail to explain to me the intent behind the painting until I explained to her that not only was the Dali painting she was talking about not the one she was pointing at, she was pointing at a painting which was by another artist. Well, I say I told her, in fact I think my exact words were ‘Actually, I think it might be that painting over there. That looks like it might have been painted by Dali.’

Having lost Tasman and left Lucy at one of the other exhibits, Tina and I submitted our own artwork to the gallery and after this brief reprieve (and rejoined by Lucy), we found ourselves at the café. I will take this opportunity to warn once more about the dangers of buying anything at this gallery. Their iced coffee is just cold coffee! But more importantly, it’s 30p more expensive than regular coffee! Not only do you pay for coffee, you pay them to cool it down for you! I could do that myself in twenty minutes! Following this, Tasman and Lucy attempted to take the bikes home,


The fold-up bike had been pilfered! All of us angry (except me), we trudged home, having a nice conversation about racism along the way.


Helped (by which I mean ‘given an ingredients list’) by Tina, I cooked fritters for all and there was much rejoicing. Turns out Tesco Mayonnaise mixed with wasabi tastes exactly like Hungry Jacks mayo or KFC coleslaw.

To round the night off, we watched the Nutty Professor, noting parallels between the title character and people we know. The perfect end to the perfect day.


Friday, the best day of the week for vintage shopping!

Decided I would have a day away from everyone else, so I looked up some vintage clothes shops I might fancy visiting. In a flash, everyone decided to come along!

Despite the emphasis I put on this activity by using so many exclamation marks in the previous paragraph, not really much to say about it. Most people who give their clothes to thrift shops seem to be incredibly fat or have terrible dress sense or both, so I didn’t buy anything.

A more interesting thing which I suspect I hitherto have forgotten to mention is the fact that I have been sleeping on the couch every night, because Tasman apparently can’t fit in the bed we’re supposed to share unless he’s diagonal. We both seem happy with the arrangement. One problem is that one of the cats has taken to waiting until I’m asleep, then curling into a ball and sleeping in the small of my back. Since I sleep on my chest, this is getting to be a bit of a pain as I’m woken up every morning by a sore back or claws in my back or a cat jumping on my back. Makes for a good story though.

Had another gig tonight. This one at the Cavendish arms in Vauxhall. For a change, not all of the other bands were terrible. In fact, two of the others were exceptionally good. Also, Bartender gave us a free bowl of chips for a copy of a demo CD, so it’s not all bad.

I leave you by shedding some doubts (is that a real expression?) on the intelligence of our band. Between us, we were unable to work out how to tie a self-tying bow tie in twenty minutes of trying. How the hell is that possible! I literally have no idea how that is possible.


Late night last night, so late morning this morning. Not in astronomical terms, not even in terms which make sense, but they’re my terms and you’ll just have to except them.

We all seem less good at doing things on the weekends, so I decided to do a little exploring online last night to find somewhere I’d like to go. Turns out there is a Doctor Who shop in the Upton Park area, not too far from London, but too far to walk.

My solution was simple, look up the directions from the Upton Park tube station, and take the underground. I was careful to avoid telling the others because I didn’t want them to mock me, but it was eventually coaxed out of me by the cunningly worded question: ‘What are you doing today?’ Myself having answered seconds later, Tina decided she’d like to come along. (Does that sentence make sense?)

Resolutely decided on our course of action, we had lunch and watched the movie ‘Racing Stripes’ for no reason, then set out for what was sure to be the greatest journey ever undergone with the goal of getting to Upton Park. The walk to Lambeth North Tube station was uneventful and brisk, but nevertheless pleasant. We passed through the gate into the station with no problems and then it was time to board the tube train.

This is the point at which a rant begins to swell inside me. What should have been a simple 35 minute tube journey with only one changeover became an enjoyable day, but one with altogether too much tube riding. After getting off at the station where we should have changed lines to one which would take us to Upton Park, we found that the line we wanted was closed. Never mind, because there was only one other line which went to where we wanted, and we could catch that from another station. So we tubed there, and it became clear that that line was closed as well. Never fear, since there was another line which although a distance away, and one which necessitated two more changeovers, would take us to West Ham tube station, from where we could catch yet another tube train to Upton park, or failing that, walk.

After another exhausting ride (not helped by the fact that whoever runs the tube seems to feel the need to keep it freezing outside the trains and a billion degrees inside), we arrived at West ham and left the station, stopping at a post office for a drink, and to ask directions. We were informed that we couldn’t walk there, so we should take the tube backwards one stop and bus from there. Somewhat less enamored with the idea of another tube ride than we’d been in the morning, Tina and I opted to ignore this advice (as the stores in Upton Park would be closing soon anyway), and decided to simply take the train to Oxford street.

After some Oyster card troubles, we settled in for the long journey. Just as well, since it was about to become longer. After two stops, we were informed over the tannoy that all tube trains on our line were being held up while an ambulance came to collect a man from another train on that line. This was not a problem because we occupied ourselves with an entire game of chess in the meantime. Finally we realized that we had no idea which stop was closest to Oxford Street, so we gave up on that too, and stopped at London Bridge.

The rest of the day was not uneventful, but I dare say things along the lines of dinner, conversation and the eternal struggle to find a toilet make less than riveting reading.

With that we come to the present moment which sees me writing my diary in the bath while everyone else is out, enjoying the London nightlife. My final point is this: Assuming I read this years from now, the one thing it is important for me to remember is Tim Vine trying to catch a pen behind his ear. I probably won’t have any idea what I mean by that, but I’ve only to look it up on the internet to be amazed again by its brilliance.

P.S. Everyone else’s night out went less than well. The three of them looked around for ages trying to find a good place, then Tina and Lucy went into a DJ gig for eight pounds, leaving Tasman to make the journey home on foot because he’s was too cheap (and rightly so). The DJ gig was terrible, and when they caught the bus home, they caught it in the wrong direction, getting in at about three.

England, an Anthropological Study.

The following is a writing (essay, blog, thing?) that I wrote because I was quite bored and frankly, find writing journals pretty dull. I would just like to say before I begin, that I love England, even if this Study makes it appear that I do not.


The average English man and woman lives in much the same way as anybody else. Television, alcohol and the weekend are the chief hallmarks of life, not matter your postcode. The only differences may be that (if you’ll allow me a stereotype) Barry is watching the Manchester V Birmingham match and sipping ale and Crispin is dithering about in Chelsea watching the BBC news and thinking he’s sophisticated when he’s just a prude and sipping at expensive malt whiskey. The result is the same. Burger King exists on every street corner, tabloids cheerfully inform us of Katie Price and Strictly Come Dancing’s scandal, and the kitchen table has much the same discussion as in every other part of the world. Philosophy, religion, politics and what-colour-curtains-shall-we-buy rule supreme regardless of language or hemisphere.

Minimum wage is quite minimum (a little over five pounds, which equals under ten Australian dollars) and universities are generally standard (unless you attend Cambridge or Oxford where one-on-one tutorials presumably count for something), and people usually work in leaning skyscrapers in the City, or quiet suburban offices in well, the suburbs. Children go to school, adults go work. Weekends are set aside for going to the seaside (Brighton, Blackpool, and other overpriced and overhyped blackholes of culture) or visiting grandparents or entering those colossal Westfields that dot the land like gigantic pimples on a teenager. Sports (cricket and tennis in summer, football and rugby in the winter) are the people’s game and are played in every field and on every street and on every pub television. Music, too, and the old traditions of music hall and jazz still permeate the beachside towns and the nowhere villages like a perfume, and the top forty guides one briskly through HMV like a plague. The are pubs with garage bands and disco and tribute acts and crooners and jukeboxes and DJs. There are clubs with ‘celebrity DJs,’ and an entry fee that could be used in better ways (feeding a small country, for example). Pub fare food is cheaper than Australia and on the whole better, less trendy and more filling. There is no monopoly on supermarkets like in Australia – along with Tescos and Sainsburys are Waitrose, Morrisons, LIDL and ASDA and a host of high street shops that will sell you a whole platter of exotic sounding food from the far East. Newspapers are as equally terrible as in Australia, though there are moments of cleverness in amongst the terrible right wing-ness of the nation’s largest papers. Television is unabashedly terrible but there are shows like QI and Have I Got News For You that pull you through the muck. One does feel though, in London at least, that one is living in the epicentere of something (what, I cannot answer) and there is a sort of togetherness that feels rather lovely and jovial, and oddly heartwarming. Perhaps having come from somewhere as provincial as Adelaide, anything feels more happening than the Channel 7 news and the Malls Balls.

Living, it seems, is not particularly dissimilar from Australia, but the middle classes are financially closer to what we would describe as the upper working classes, and the upper middle classes are closer to what we may say is the upper classes. The difference between living in Penge or in Putney is tangible and so relevant it’s almost irrelevant. But then, the difference between living in Adelaide and living in London is so dissimilar it’s almost similar.


Thursday, November 4, 2010

Going To London


Speaking as a person who has comparatively little experience of travel, I Have to say I rather enjoy the novelty of undergoing conveyance by aeroplane. It is a constant source of amazement to me that man of engineering such a form of travel, and merely unfortunate that what preys on my mind as I actually sit aboard it is the fact that it is also a continuous surprise to me that the one I am on is still in the air. I notice then, that the experience of air travel is full of contradictions. For instance, having never been aboard an international flight before, I found every little thing that happened to be novel and, frankly, quite exciting. However, for the 90 percent of the time that what was happening was absolutely nothing, I struggle to think of a more boring experience. Compounding the problem was a massive headache caused by pharyngitis, contracted on the night before the flight, and compounded by the lack of sleep following the same nights gig. I had substantial difficulty concentrating. Even the most Mark Knopfler-related entertainment offered by Qantas was hard to watch. I remember thinking (something which now seems unlikely to my somewhat more lucid mind) that seconds seemed to be passing in clumps rather than one by one, as is customary. Fortunately I assumed that this was their own problem and not mine, and that they would sort themselves out which, I suppose, they must have.

I leave you with a short passage I wrote while quite tired and ill well into our day long plane journey.
‘It is the middle of the night. A perpetual night caused by the travel of our plane in the same direction as the sun. Rather like staying slim by running slightly ahead of a fat man, but not quite enough for that analogy to stand up to any scrutiny or indeed, any reading. I realize that I have a substantial flaw in the shape of my inability to sleep anywhere other than in a bed, at night. The only exception to this had hitherto been when I was ill, and yet one of the defining features of my present deluxe illness is a combination of cold sweat and an inability to swallow without intense pain which together make sleep almost impossible. Even so, I think flying may be my sort of thing…’

Love, Thomas J Williams