London – the first impressions
After a twelve hour flight from Singapore I got my first glimpse of London from the oval window of the plane. I liked what I saw. Beautiful coast line, rectangular pastures, ships entering the open mouth of a river, rows of houses, lines of trees, snaking roads almost clogged with traffic.
Yay! I was in London.
Our plane was on time but it had to wait for fifteen minutes in sky queue for it’s turn to land at Heathrow.
Once inside the terminal, my husband and I raced the old people (younger one didn’t care) to get to the immigration line first. We were duly rewarded by securing one of the earlier spots behind a mile long line. We snaked through the barricades nine times, to get to the eGates. Heathrow was making history today. eGates were opening today as self-service immigration checkouts. All in all we were out in twenty minutes.
After collecting our luggage we joined another race. This time to catch the Heathrow Express to Paddington station. Train was waiting for us at the platform when we got there. Equipped with WiFi and live TV; occupied with very civilized passengers, it deposited us at Paddington station in fifteen minutes. Impressive again.
Paddington station was almost as majestic as I had seen in photographs. Arched glass ceiling covering a number of platforms it looked like a giant hanger. It must have hailed as an engineering feast when it was built.
Railway staff was efficiently exiting the passengers from the shortest possible route. For us, they choose the longest possible one – via lifts.
Dragging our suitcases we reached the lifts, where my highly held impression of English politeness came crashing down when a massive (English) man with a massive duffle bag and equally massive backpack pushed his way through in already full lift, cutting a lady before him and squashing all those inside.
Outside we queued in another long line for taxis. What looked like 1956 model, brightly shiny black cars with no boot were picking the passengers at snail’s pace. It took half an hour for our turn. We found the reason for the slow service pretty soon. Our taxi driver informed us that famous London Tube wasn’t working. “You see all these people on the pavement, they are walking to their work.”
After a while I stopped watching people and started watching the old buildings. they were a visual feast.
Taxi driver needed to talk. After the first usual exchange about weather, flight and ‘where are you from’ we got on to economy. He told us that at one stage he was looking to work in Australia as a truck driver in mining industry.
“If you could have spelled ‘mine’ and had a license they would have taken you straight in.”
“Yeah, now you need special license to drive a truck,” he said, “which is not a big deal, I would have got it, but I didn’t pursue.”
“It is very hard now. All big companies BHP, Rio Tinto etc. are using ‘driverless’ trucks.” my husband said.
“Bloody robots! They keep brining those. I ask them what will people do? How will they feed their families. I tell you in fifteen years time there will be so many unemployed people. Those big companies are there just to make money,” he ranted.
“All these ‘driverless’ things I tell you, you won’t get me in any of those things. What will happen if the computer goes berserk.” he continued.
“It does. Not so long ago BHP had to derail one of the trains which had gone rogue. It costed them millions of dollars to repair the damage,” said my husband.
Our driver was born and bread in London but was not living there any more. “London is too expensive. I live in Thailand now, near Bangkok. I work here for eight to nine weeks and then go home for a few months. I have a young son, he is going to be six in August. It is getting harder and harder leaving him back. I thought it will get easier but it is not. But what can you do. You got to feed your family.”
My heart went for him. A Londoner who can’t afford to live in his own city.
The three Rs
Three Rs one ought to see while in London. The red phone booth, the red letter box and the red double decker bus. I spotted them in the first ten minute of walking the streets. There were many of each one of them. Out of those red phone booths were a mystery. Why they were still there when apparently everyone has a mobile phone. Letterboxes are becoming obsolete too, nobody writes a letter these days. But the buses were amazing. There was one passing every two second, sometimes a whole row of them. London transport system seemed to be very efficient, better than many metropolitan cities (except when Tube breaks down).
I loved the massive trees lining the streets of Islington (and all of London as told by the taxi driver) where we were staying. It had leave like maple trees. Our friendly taxi driver told us that they were the cause of his Hay Fever. “Everybody is allergic to them,” he said. I got to find out the names of these trees. There is one right outside the balcony of the place where we are staying.
In about twenty minutes walk, we came across two multicultural food markets that are open everyday. The queues of people in front of the popular stores was long. It seems Londoners love queues. They will wait patiently as if they have all the time in the world. We thought may be it is because one particular food stall was better was than other but when we bought chicken wrap from one with no queue, it was equally good.
Berries seems to be in season. Strawberries, blackberries, blue berries all were one pound a punnet. I bought each kind and they were delicious. So were the tomatoes. I have never seen such red and delicious tomatoes anywhere.