“The London Eye is always watching you..”
Here we were, in the United Kingdom! In the city of London, where Australian dreams are supposedly made of. All those horror stories on the state of the weather in London seemed to be just mere Chinese whispers as we landed into London Stansted on a glorious, warm afternoon. It had seemed that we would not have had warm weather for a long time after the sweltering heat of Marseille, but this was a welcome surprise.
Chapter 1: Big Brother is always watching you
The first thing that caught my attention were the number of posters alongside the walls leading to the terminal, each of them blaring one message loud and clear – “This is the United Kingdom. We want to feel secure about ourselves at all times. Should you mess with us, you shall be prosecuted to the highest degree of pain possible. We are watching you, always.” I counted atleast 10 different posters, all relaying the same message which was capped with an interrogation by the immigration officer who suspected that we might want to follow the rest of the Australian crew in desiring to live in the UK despite the hostile welcome into the airport. Cannot blame him for thinking that, given that more than half of the people we know cite London as their dream destination to live. Over the next few days everywhere we went around London, and having just read George Orwell’s 1984, the thing that caught my attention most were the number of security cameras installed in every public space, right from outside of public toilets, to market places to parks.
Another aspect that we had not been privy to in the last 8 months was the rush and sometimes lack of character that a big city brings and in London we felt quite overwhelmed by the crowds and hordes of people. Everyone seemed to be in a rush for no particular reason, especially on the tube, which amazed me as there was one every 4 minutes! Maybe it was to get home as soon as possible, draw the blinds and pop that bottle of wine that been there waiting to be consumed for all of 12 hours. Why hordes of Aussies love to move to London, I shall never understand.
Chapter 2: London Dreams
As most kids of my generation who grew up in the sub continent, I’ve long harboured dreams of visiting London, walking on London Bridge, and of course lived in the hope that I would bump into Sherlock Holmes one day. So once in London, off I went to check these boxes with a child like thrill enveloping me each time I came across one of the aforementioned sights, well save Sherlock, because all I saw of him was a museum on 221b Baker street. Well London Bridge certainly was not as awe inspiring as I thought it would be, in fact I hear there are few other rivers going through capital cities that would match the pollution in the Thames.
We explored the city with Bree, my mate from Melbourne who as ever took us to a fine Mexican restaurant, and despite we having sampled some of Mexico’s finest in the recent past, we were pleasantly surprised to notice that the food served was as authentic as Mexican cuisine goes. Trust Bree to never ever disappoint us when I comes to the culinary delights. We make an annual pilgrimage to every year in search of yet another wonderful gastronomic experience and time and again we’ve sough Bree to help fulfil that, love ya mate!
On our second day there, the only thing on my to do list was to go to go to 13 Little Bevan Street, Bloomsbury, an address that you won’t find in most guidebooks, but one that I’d been eagerly awaiting to go to. At this address is a little bookstore that was used as the set to film the famous satire British comedy ‘Black Books’. An outrightly hilarious show that has a grumpy drunk Irishman running a book shop involuntarily. Dylan More plays the lead role and to my utter amazement, the bloke running the book store at London was a living impersonation of his TV character Bernard Black – grumpy, and fairly unfriendly towards customers. A great laugh was had.
Chapter 3: Wales and the cricket
The primary reason that we had planned a trip to the UK was to visit Dee’s cousins and nieces in Cardiff, Wales – our first sight of family in over 7 months! And what a treat it was to see this wonderful young family; let me go over the events that transpired prior.
As soon as we got to Cardiff, we made a dash for the cricket stadium to catch the Champions Trophy game between India and South Africa. Sridhar ‘Babarji’ had got us 2 tickets for the game, and we were thrilled at the opportunity to watch India play a game in the UK. The atmosphere in the stadium was electric, and with only Indian fans there to witness the game, it seemed like 2 Indian sides were playing each other. Corruption scandals, match fixing issues aside, rest assured the Indian fan will never cease to follow cricket. Being an ardent cricket fan myself, these issues off the field tend to make you lose your faith in the integrity that the game should be played in, but the only reason I was there at the game is personified by the photo below.
Having had a great result to the game, resulting in a comprehensive Indian victory, we finally made our way home to see the Kamath family. We were welcomed in royal fashion by Archana, the kids, Sanjana and Anika, and Saroj ‘amma’ (Saroj mom), the children’s nanny. We had been looking forward to a home cooked Indian meal for long and our taste buds were satisfied to the hilt with Sarojamma’s wholesome feast that was laid out in front of us – Lamb curry, naan bread, basmati rice, papads, raita, rasgullas.
It was refreshingly warm to be able to spend time with family, even thought I had not known them well from before. There is than invisible bond, those unspoken words that unite you tightly. During my travels I’ve come closer to my family back home in Australia more than ever before. Distance does indeed make the heart grow fonder. At the end of our 3 day stay in Cardiff, I felt that I had known Sri, Archu and the Sanikas since eternity and 3 days felt all too insufficient….. sooooo, back we were in another month!!! Even after having left Wales and going through Italy and Spain, we felt compelled to make a return visit to Cardiff, and so we did and spent another 5 days with an overjoyed family who were as excited as we were to see us given that most of our family members are located far away in different countries around the world.
The UK was the first English speaking country we’d visited on our travels and London probably the least favourite of all our places visited. The gloom and silent mad rush that envelopes this city was not very appealing to the small town lover in us and we left wondering what tempted so many Australians to give up their sunshine, beach filled lives to move into little cupboards in London. However, I’ve heard that life in the other cities of the UK is certainly a couple of notches better, so I shall reserve my judgement on the quality of life there till I visit the rest of the UK
We had a bit of a shocker with our train ride from London to Cardiff costing us 88 pounds each, but we learnt that the only way to get cheaper prices was to book a lot in advance. However, bus rides across the country on the National Express country are about 1/10th the price of a train ticket and consume the same travel time.
Next Stop: Italy again