Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Postcard from...London

Greetings from London...We come in peace!

Yes, it finally happened. We've been on a visit to the Big Smoke! At 8.30 yesterday morning, whilst planning our final relaxed daytrip to Dunwich, I glanced up at the sky. Put off by the grey colour and the forecast of rain on the Suffolk coast I bounded up the stairs to disturb 21st C Dad's shower routine and belted out "Shall we go to London?". It was a quite a demand, since I'd yet to get myself ready, let alone the children, and we probably wouldn't be able to set off until at least 10am. However, the chief executive of the Bank of Dad, said..."Yes"!

We've been hankering after a visit to London for ages, since Easter in fact. However, we have always found many an excuse not to go, ranging from the fear of terrorist attacks, poor transport connections, mixing over-tired children with over-worked commuters to more recent excuses of it being far too hot to be bearable! So I was pleased that we decided to take the bull by the horns and with the weather no longer being issue, we killed all the other fear-ridden birds with one stone...and drove...right into the heart of the West End.

Stepping out into China Town gave the children their first real experience of London life, a capital city full of unfamilar sights and sounds. The boys were particularly taken with the unfortunate sight of the roasted birds, all strung up in the windows (must be a male thing). Having arrived at lunchtime, we decided to head towards the Rainforest Cafe, somewhere I'd always said I'd avoid before kids (too touristy, too contrived and too expensive). However, with a 15% discount voucher in hand and two children mentally worn out from counting red buses, its appeal changed somewhat. It lived up to my expectations, but with everyone fully nourished and being able to eat in a stress-free environment, I couldn't complain and we were ready for our exploration to really begin.

After taking in the sights of Piccadilly Circus and Trafalgar Square we continued on foot to Downing Street and the Houses of Parliament. The weather was sunny and the boys were happily entertained by the vastness of the buildings and the regularity of the buses, black cabs and police cars. As we made our way through the streets of London down to the South Bank, I couldn't avoid being bombarded by memories of my career there. After 6 years of visiting library clients in London, followed by another 6 years of being based in the capital itself, there were plenty of memories of both of novelty value and daily routines, too much to go into on a postcard so I will save that for another day!

Our destination on the South Bank was the London Eye, an opportunity to see the extent of London from on-high! Both boys had a fabulous time in the glass pod, most of it spent commenting on the colours and the frequency of the trains that they could see at Charing Cross and Waterloo stations. They also experienced great excitement spotting a carousel further along the embankment, and consequently began planning their next activity.

As we ventured along the embankment, it was hard to ignore how much the area has changed as a result of the London Eye and the development of County Hall. From what was a bland, anonymous part of London, has emerged a major tourist hot-spot, accented by a myriad of street entertainers, dressed up as aliens, performing tricks or acting as human statues, coming alive at the sound of coins clinking in they collection pots.

After a quick whizz on the carousel, we relaxed with some refreshments on the terrace of the Royal Festival Hall, which has also experienced a major makeover since my last visit five years ago. I love this part of London, the festival hall always has the ability to make me feel cultural and arty, without even trying. The atmosphere inside is incredible, even if there is no performance or exhibition. The recent makeover has managed to bring it into the 21st Century, and has added to its appeal.

Our journey continued over the river, crossing the Thames on foot, using the new bridge towards Charing Cross. I remember the bridge being under construction and the temporary narrow crossing that made walking over to Charing Cross a bit of a squeeze at rush hour.

After crossing the Thames, we picked our way to my favourite Royal Park, St James Park, where following our previous blow-out experiences at the Rainforest Cafe and the London Eye, we could enjoy the part of London that is both beautiful and "gratuit". With nothing to pay but our attention, we were able to enjoy the sights of the wonderfully planted borders and peaceful lake as we meandered slowly through to Green Park, passing Buckingham Palace en route.

Some more free entertainment ensued thanks to a display of some huge metal dinosaurs outside Burlington House, home to the Royal Academy of Arts. We enjoyed our brief diversion to look at the metal sculptures and to splash amongst the floor level water fountains, before heading off to our final destination...Hamleys, London's major toy store.

Hamleys was a wonderland for the children, immersed in the magical environment of soft toys, action figures, cars and games
on six different levels, with grown up men acting like kids themselves, demonstrating the latest craze.

However, as an adult, you can see through the facade and see it for what it really is, a toy shop selling over-merchandised short-lived plastic tat, using sales techniques targeted at children to guarantee that parents part with great amounts of cash. However, some of the techniques were very questionable and thankfully not very successful, e.g. the guy with the tone-deaf voice, attempting to sing (shout) the theme to star wars whilst demonstrating a remote control helicopter, which he managed to trap somewhere on the ceiling. Then there was the other bloke who approached us suddenly, shouting "Eh, bet you haven't seen this!", shooting me in the abdomen with a lorry that converted into a gun. I am sorry, but making mummy the target is not the best sales technique!

After an hour's entertainment of testing out toys, getting to sit in a big car and laughing at the silly men, the children were treated to one small toy each. Hardly enough to make the tills ring loudly, but enough to keep the childhood magic alive. We ventured down the magical back stairs, decorated with imagery of Narnia before heading back to the car.

After what was nearly a seven hour walk around a very busy city, it was lovely to have a sit down in comfort, even if it was the front seat of our car! After navigating through the post rush-hour traffic of the East End, I was able to relax in the memories of an exciting day.
With our youngest soon falling asleep, we left London to its sunset and drove home to two hours of excited chatter from our eldest.

The visit to London provided the icing on the cake to our "holiday from home" experience. We have had the most fabulous time.

As it's the last postcard in this series, all that's left to say is...

Wish you were here...to enjoy the sights, sounds and sheer wonder of it all. Enjoy the rest of your own summer adventures...lots of love, 21st Century Mummy. xxx


a.n.other said...

Your day in London sounds as if it was great fun. You certainly packed in loads of things.
As a child, my family holidayed in London every year, and I still love going there.
In recent years, I have been fortunate enough to have visitors from America...it was great to see things through their eyes, and share the excitement of people who had dreamed of seeing London all their lives!
Great that you had such a good holiday from home, have loved sharing your postcards.

Paul said...

I really enjoyed this post 21CM, and am full of admiration for your ability to make so much of your day - and all at short notice. Where/how did you park?

IngeniousRose said...

London Hooray! I adore London, there is a real buzz about the place and so much to do and see (as you've discovered.)Your blog was a lovely trip down memory lane as I lived in the south for 13 years. Your boys may like the book "The London Eye Mystery by Siobhan" that I've been reading for research recently although it for kids.

Nigella said...

You are truly a yummy mummy, what a wonderful couple of weeks. I have been unashamedly stalking you and stealing your ideas for myself, your blog is as always imaginatively written and conjures up great pictures, keep up the good work. BTW - weren't we going to take in a show and supper in the big smoke one of these days?

21st Century Mummy said...

Hi a.n.other - It was such a great day and to see the looks of wonder on the children's faces was just brilliant. I didn't visit London until I was 15, when my sister and I booked a day-trip from Wales, much to my mother's horror. We had to phone her every hour to reassure her that we were safe. I really regret putting her through that now, but at least I got to see Carnaby St before it was pedestrianised and still a bit rough around the edges.

Paul - I work best at short-notice. Give me time to plan and I procrastinate like mad, always leaving everything to the last minute anyway. The great thing was that we knew what we'd wanted to do, so was able to pay for the congestion charge online as well as buy the London Eye tickets, so that saved a little bit of time on arrival. The one thing we forgot though was our trusty London A-Z, which meant I had to try and pick our way through to the West End. Thanks to a former boss who used to drive into London in the 90s I remembered there was a multi-storey car park just off Shaftsbury Avenue, just at the top entrance to China Town. Thank goodness my memory served me well. It was still there and it was a safe place to leave the car and was close enough to everywhere we planned to go! ;-D

Ingeniousrose - I am up there with you with your love of London. I used to love working there and enjoyed the buzz that you mentioned. Even yesterday, there was a part of me that hankered after that element of my life again. However, in the cold light of day the reality of the commuting, the expense of keeping up with the lifestyle and the busy nature of it all makes me blissful to remain in Suffolk where tractors can be a prominent feature of rush hour. With that said, after yesterday's visit I've realised how much I miss London and wherever we live, I would like to keep her close enough to visit, so I can indulge my inner "city girl" once in a while! Thanks for the recommendation re the book, I'll try and hunt it down. ;-)

Nigella - I am just the instigator, the perfect 21st C Dad is the one who really delivers ;-D

Now that show and supper sounds fabulous and we ***really have*** do it soon. I know the perfect place for supper. Check out http://www.sarastro-restaurant.com/ In the meantime how about some "Nigella & 21st CM go exploring" adventures over the next few weeks. There is a huge climbing frame in the shape of a deer in the middle of the forest just past Thetford and looks a must ;-D

Ruby in Bury said...

Sounds a fantastic day out! It's brilliant the way kids marvel at the hooj buildings and buses etc. And the enormously long escalators going into the underground. Being brought up in BSE means you've never seen anything like it.

Lovely post - enjoyed reading about your day!

David said...

4. Well, my first impression of London: NOISY. My second,little boxes. There is no space anywhere, although to give the poms their due, they do allocate green spaces, where there are parks and benches which allow you to sit outside, eat your lunch (quickly before the pigeons grab hold of it), and inhale the wonderful scents of the big city smoke, diesel, hugeLimo London vehicles, dust and the wonderful aroma of the Thames River!! We went on the London Eye, which is this huge Ferris wheel thing. From it you can see most of London and the surrounding areas. It is bloody high, and it seems jumping off the Gouritz bridge (Western Cape, South Africa) has done little to allay my fear of heights. It was quite spectacular though.
Thanks for the wonderful blog, Keep up the great work!

21st Century Mummy said...

Hi David - It does sound as though despite the noise, smell and dust that you enjoyed yourself. I agree that the London Eye is spectacular. I used to work just around the corner from the Eye and we could see one quarter of it from our office window, it was quite hypnotising watching it go round and round and round ;-D

Limo hire said...

The London Eye is always worth, to tell the truth it scared me.

SEO said...

I enjoyed the London Eye, nut the wife was terrified.