Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Keeping My Arms And Head Inside The Duck

With C being over here I took a week off last week and did some mellowing and some touristy things.

Paris was one of them but there'll be more on that later. For now it's London, the city of my birth, my home and such a massive element in my life.

One of the things about living on the edge of a big city is, unless you work bang smack in the middle and commute there everyday, you tend to take it for granted. Well, you might not, but I do. You fellows who live in Colombo seem to have a mentality of being "in control" of the city in a way I find hard to imagine I could feel about London or one of the other physically big cities of the world.

I see people who live in Copenhagen and other places who talk, act and behave as if they own their city, not in an arrogant way, just that they're the boss. My relationship with London is one in which the city is very definitely the boss of me. A boss who I quite fancy and wouldn't mind seducing me in that Mrs Robinson way, but still a boss.

Whenever I'm in a plane landing at Heathrow and gazing at London I'm blown away by its size, the way that it covers my whole field of view and sprawls before me with its vastness, like when I spilled my lager in the pub last week and the puddle just kept marching towards the edge of the table as I stared helplessly. Luckily Academic Bro and C were there and saved the day by getting a cloth from the bar and mopping it up. I was frozen in shock and couldn't think my way out of the tricky situation. I'm better with the slightly less important type of crisis.

So last week C wanted to see more of London. My first idea was one of these double decker tours around the city. I googled something and found that one of them, on a big red bus, the type I travel on fairly regularly, going round the places that I do know pretty damn well, costs £37.50 (Rs 6750 approx) per person. Even I, with my liberal attitude towards spending money on rubbish, was startled by this. A black cab with two people in it doing the same route would very likely cost less than £75.00.

I imagined long queues of American tourists who would be happy to part with their dollars converted into sterling to do one of these trips, probably stopping off for ice cream that costs more than caviar and cans of Coke that cost more than a Diet Coke in the Transasia. We all know about tourist prices but this jarred with me.

£37.50??!! For a tour in a bus that would cost a couple of quid in a normal bus, just without the commentary seemed ridiculous. I would have paid it too if C had wanted to go but we settled on something I was far more keen to do anyway; the Duck. A duck, as well as being one of those bird things, is an amphibious vehicle as in the picture above. For some years I've wanted to go in one, in that boyish way of just wanting the experience regardless of the details of the journey.

Thursday afternoon saw us standing in the Duck queue in the shadow of the London Eye and more tourists than you could shake a hot can of Coke at. I promise not to talk about money any more but, at £20 a head, it immediately seemed like far better value than one of the bus tours.

We boarded the Duck and our guide Ruth did so too. She was a person with a very obvious and strong passion for London and a style of delivery that was funny and appeared spontaneous, even though that was unlikely. I didn't ask her but she had that air and ease of presentation that made me sure she was an out of work actress or comedienne, not porn though, she didn't have the looks for that.

Her introduction incorporated the line

"please keep your arms and head inside the Duck at all times, now there's something you'll probably never hear again!"

Off we went. I won't bore you with the details of the sights but we saw all the usual ones and were given a great commentary with little facts and humorous anecdotes thrown in that were that little bit off the main "and that's Buckingham Palace" type ones. At this juncture I've just been cruelly reminded why I never did that well in exams and the like. I'd fully intended to share one or two of these fascinating snippets with you now, but I'll be fucked if I can remember anything.

I recollect that Ruth lives above a shop, that there's a beautifully unusual statue of something hanging off one of the bridges, but can't recall which bridge and what the statue is. There was a story about a pineapple too. That's about it. I suppose it's decent information if you're into bridges, pineapples and shops in a not very deep way.

The thing is I was far too busy concentrating on the sheer beauty of my city than listening to the stories, not that I own it. It was sunny, the sky was blue and Londinium was at its finest. The architecture, both old and new, was breathtaking. I felt proud to be a Londoner as I witnessed, in between taking photographs, a Duck full of tourists gazing in awe at my hometown and taking photos of everything that they could see.

The Houses of Parliament gleamed with pride and splendour and Ruth told us that Big Ben is actually the name of the bell inside the clock tower, not the clock itself. There, I knew I'd remember something if I tried.

The violent and disruptive Tamil demonstration that many people believe is crippling London financially and infrastructurally (which may not be a real word) is actually about four old Archies, some blokes who looked a bit bored and some placards that could have done with a Viagra or two. I felt uncomfortable to see some big pictures of Prabakharan and posters that were clearly giving him hero status but, in light of the fact they were held by old ladies and old men, the scene just looked plain wrong.

Just after MI5, London's best known secret building, we turned off and headed down a sliproad into the water. For about another thirty minutes our new driver, as a specially qualified "boatman" is required to drive one of these things on the river apparently, drove, or sailed us up the river then turned us around and headed back.

I'm sure our highly qualified boatman was very skilled and boaty but, in a "who looks most like a sailor" competition that featured Captain Haddock and Erika Eleniak when she jumps out of the cake in Under Siege (surely one of the best film moments of all time), Erika would have won second place easily.

The adults men, the women and most people took this in their stride. I didn't and I sat there with the excitement and glee of a kid suddenly being asked to drive James Bond's Lotus underwater. The Duck was just driven into the water at what was quite a pace and then the driver (Danny) just kept on going and we were a boat. There were no retracting fins on the Duck, no bullets fired at us, nor did we surface on an exotic beach with bemused looking people all around us. I suppose we didn't surface at all as we weren't submerged but you know what I mean.

Then we were back at the start point.

We strolled around the South Bank for a short while, had a coffee and wended our way back. As the train pulled out of Waterloo and I smiled and winked at the London Eye and felt very warm towards London, which was nice.

Twenty four hours later we arrived in Paris.

You know, after going home, it wasn't because we'd got on the wrong train or something.

I'll tell you about Le Froggies later..

1 comment:

Electra said...

I do love London Town.

I hope I get to see it soon!