Biking in Britain

London is pretty incredible.

We’ve been getting around with a great automated bike hire/exchange set-up in the central city. You stick in your debit card, unlock a bike, take it and just lock it into another stall somewhere else when you’re done. You get charged a few pounds depending on how long you used it, or no charge for under 30 minutes.

Helmets aren’t provided, nor are they apparently a legal requirement here, which makes me a feel a bit naked on the bikes. Drivers are incredibly understanding and tolerant, but pedestrians are fucking dicks to people on bikes. Hardly a green light goes by where you don’t have to dodge people crossing – if you’re not a car, you’re not going to stop them getting to the other side.

Everything is massive and old here. It feels like there’s no such thing as a new, purely functional building. Sex-toy stores and superettes lease streetfront properties that look like they should house centuries-old banks and courthouses.

I feel sorry for people who grow up here, acclimatised to the… weight of it from birth. Puking at 3am on the wall of a building that Isaac Newton built by hand, stubbing out a smoke right on the spot where Nelson shot Hitler dead with a crossbow, etc. Like people being born on the moon and treating Earthians with an amused disdain when they make a big deal about being about to jump so high.

That’s my metaphor and I’m standing by it.

I say, “Look, honey, another English pub!” a lot. Initially because the pubs are all so overwhelmingly English that I felt compelled to comment, and now more or less because I think it’s funny that Diana doesn’t think it’s funny any more. They’re all called things like “Lord Harrowmont’s Rooster” or “The Wyvern and Echidna” or whatever. They smell of wood and beer and friendliness.

I expect we’re leaving tomorrow, through the Tannel (another joke Diana assures me is not funny) to France.

I like London. I can imagine living here, though how I’d get anything done while spending every day feeding almonds to squirrels in St James Park is a whole other mystery.

Lucid Dreaming in London

So I didn’t sleep on the plane, and more or less haven’t slept since landing at Heathrow at 5am. There was maybe an hour in the afternoon before a fire alarm went off. It’s all lent the day a surreal quality.

A few trains got us from the airport to Westminster, and we dropped our backpacks at the hotel at 7am, but couldn’t check in till 2pm. Which meant wandering around for hours. More like sleepwalking.

But! Good sleepwalking. Caught some of the usual sights – Buckingham Palace, Big Ben, etc. They were fine, but it was the little things in between that were the real highlights. Opposite Buckingham is a bunch of sculptures, one of which is a big bronze labourer with a sledgehammer standing next to a lion with life-size testicles poking out the back, entitled: “Gift from New Zealand”. Possibly more importantly, today I had a squirrel stand on my hand take a nut from me.

London highlights so far mainly about nuts.

It took me a while to work out why London feels so familiar. At first I thought it was a bit of similarity to downtown Wellington. Then I realised. There’s construction everywhere. It’s annoying as all hell, switching sides of streets, scaffolding all over things. It’s like Auckland was for most of the last year, frantically preparing for a massive international event. I wonder if Parliament will have to seize control from the City of London if the 2012 Olympic opening ceremony doesn’t go according to plan.

Ooh! Also, first random old lady scamming me today. Told me she was raising money for the ‘ospital. The ‘ospital. For Christmas. The ‘ospital, you see. I gave some change and she looked me in the eye and said, “They usually give notes.” Bless her scammy old soul.

Sleep now, I think. Also, photos tomorrow.