• How To Fail At London Tourism -By An Expert

    by  •  • London, Travel

    My first recommendation would be to make plans with a one Megan Lloyd, like I did yesterday. Then personally suggest and execute a string of alternative options based along London’s least reliable tube line. Then realise the expedition needs a complete do-over and try again the next day. Creepy Instant nachos optional.

    Let’s begin at the beginning.

    Megan’s on half-term at the moment and I certainly don’t have anything going on so we arranged to meet on Friday morning at Embankment to entertain ourselves with a little walking tour called ‘Eccentric London‘.

    The tour was due to start at 11am so we arranged to meet at 10:20ish, have coffee, and bitch about those of you we both know. I get there bang on 10:20am and immediately start sending ‘funny’ texts about how I’m totally going to leave because Megan hasn’t shown up.

    And then she continues to not show up. I busy myself taking phone photos of police horses. It gets much closer to 11am. The tour group begins gathering around the front of Embankment Station.

    I loiter just outside the group but still within earshot, even though I am terrified of looking like one of those cheapskates that follows tours around but technically aren’t part of them because they want to save a measly seven pounds. (Note: I’ve never actually seen someone do this but it is a genuine phobia of mine. I particularly hate it when tour groups swarm around me in museums/historical sites and I inadvertently get some “free tour information”. It’s awkward and I tend to move on to the next exhibit/site much earlier than I intended to.)

    Anyway, I am also within earshot of the tube loudspeaker, which continues to announce that there are “severe delays on the Piccadilly Line”. The thing is, a tube only has to be five minutes behind schedule before it constitutes a “severe delay” so I was optimistic Megan would still make it. (By then I had guessed she was on the Piccadilly Line. Either that or dead. I texted her a joke about this and mentioned that I don’t actually know her mother’s phone number so I’m not going to be much help. But then neither is the text message, when you think about it.)

    11am came and went -and so did the tour group. And then twelve minutes later (twelve!) Megan shows up, apologising profusely. Or she might have been swearing profusely. Whatever, it was profuse and she had been trapped in a metal box underground for half an hour and I didn’t really mind anyway.

    Her first suggestion of somehow “catching up” with the group was immediately dismissed. Firstly: lame. And secondly: it’s half term and I was there long enough to see at least ten different walking tours/European school groups go past and I didn’t fancy playing “are you my mother” whenever we saw someone with a flag standing in front of a crowd of people.

    Plus neither of us had been here so that was our Plan B:

    Westminster Abbey is actually just a couple of blocks upriver and the day was supposed to be about being tourists in our adopted city so it would do just nicely.

    However, as previously mentioned: half term. Also it was getting on for midday when tourist sites are at their busiest. Sure enough there was a queue. We joined it. I kept our spot while Megan wandered along to make sure we were in the right queue. This is Britain, you see, and there are lots of queues. I’d hate to have to stand in line for forty five minutes only to arrive at a counter where we would be forced to register our civil partnership or something.

    She came back with bad news. It was fifteen pounds entry fee. That’s more than two walking tours! After briefly discussing whether it was feasible to borrow someone’s kids so we can get in on a reduced rate (leaving small children unattended in a church, what could go wrong?) we opted to bail and take the “walking tour option” -ie walk around the outside of the building like the cheap Australian scum we are.

    This option led us straight into the gift shop. Sure, we hadn’t been inside the abbey but I could still buy a tea-towel or mousepad of the place, right?

    Turns out, no. We emerged empty handed. Although, Megan may go back for those playing cards she had her eye on.

    So if you’re keeping score of the day so far:

    1) Walking Tour: Fail

    2) Westminster Abbey: Fail

    3) Westminster Abbey Gift Shop: Fail

    My suggestion was for visiting the Imperial War Museum which was to be our activity for the Saturday. No harm in bringing it up to Friday? Good. It’s agreed.

    So off we go back along the District Line to South Kensington where you “alight here for museums”. Which we did.

    Only to find the platform was a zombie swarm of people trying to get up the stairs and -presumably- into the museums. I’d never seen it like this and the District Line is the tube line I use the most -what with living along it, and all.

    So before the doors to our train had closed, we made another snap judgement. Megan has never been to Richmond which is where this train terminates. (It’s waaay out. It’s not even technically in London.) But I know this cute little pub on the river where old people and geese congregate and by the time we get there it will be lunch.

    With that, we leapt back into our carriage, leaving the last few pieces of the dignity we’d packed for the day back on the busy platform.

    We went here -except there were more geese on Friday.

    In fact, this is the spot where we invented “Megan and Gordon’s Anti-Riot Technology for London 2012 Olympics”. (Patent pending, patent pending, patent pending.)

    The technology? Geese.

    Fuck this ‘mounted police’ shit. Just use geese. Release them in the direction of the angry mob. Ain’t nobody going near that. Aren’t they supposed to make really good/delicious guard dogs? This is basically the same thing.

    So the sun was out, which meant we sat by the river yammering until it instantly got extremely cold. The nachos were average and scarily quick. (And I mean scary. We had sat down for maybe ninety seconds before they arrived.)

    Anyway, it was a great afternoon but unfortunately, as a day designed to provide an alternative activity to simply sitting in a pub for hours like we always do, it failed completely. Unless you count the fact that we sat outside.

    Saturday was going to be better.


    Saturday was better. It was touch and go for a few seconds in the morning when I was very tempted to cancel -having gone out drinking with former work colleagues the night before.

    But no! The Somewhere Else London Walking Tour needed me, probably. Plus I had been waiting to use up all the Simpson’s quotes relating to walking, tours and relevant entertainment that I had compiled for Friday. There are quite a lot of them:

    - “This is better than a movie, how?!”

    - “I’ll have you know, I wandered away from the tour!”

    - “I had no idea history was so filthy/lot’s of prostitutes there”

    - Miming taking a suicide pill the second I’m asked to walk anywhere.

    On the tube ride in, part of me actually hoped that Megan was somehow delayed again. If only to make for a funnier story. I prepared some Simpson’s quotes for that eventuality, as well. (“I’ll go a little later, I’ll go a little later.”)

    Much to my extreme disgust, this was not the case. She was already there, drinking coffee like a jerk.

    I ordered a coffee.

    The tour got underway, hosted by a former zookeeper -which gave me a couple of extra quotes. (“Zookeeper! Zookeeper!”)

    Continuing the string of failures, we find out along the way that the Imperial War Museum we were planning to visit yesterday is, in fact, in South London and easy walking distance from where the tour concluded. Please note this is several miles and one large river from where I forced Megan to go on Friday. Dodged a bullet there. (Little war humour for you. What? War humour is totally a thing.)

    Now, I’m not going to say much about the actual content of the tour because it was awesome and it’s not my intellectual property. But I have linked to their site twice and I really recommend you take one if you are/are going to be in town. There are also no photos because we basically just crossed the river, wandered along the Thames and then went for a stroll through Lambeth before ending up out the front of the Old Vic Theatre. The value of the tour is not in the sights you see but the way in which you see them.

    And this is what is so wonderful about London. It’s something that Megan and I remarked on over lunch at a pub that was one of the sights on the tour and the home of possibly the best veggie burger in the city. You can basically run a tour like this anywhere within zones 1 or 2. It may not reference lavender men or Charlie Chaplin but wherever you look there are layers upon layers of story -you can get drunk on it. Just today I found out that the park outside my tube stop was apparently the sight of a pitched battle with Cromwell. It is an amazing feeling to live here -to be part of an enormous narrative stretching back ten thousand years -it makes you feel like a tiny fish in a gigantic, purposeful ocean.

    London rocks. Even if you spend two days failing at trying to see exactly how it does so. Yes, yes. The moral of the story is that you technically can’t fail at exploring London. We all saw that coming.

    In other news, Megan lost an earring somewhere on Waterloo Bridge. So, if you see it, please just email me. The details are on the About Page.

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