You may have noticed that I have changed my blog site banner to a picture of the Millennium Bridge in London.  Why?… because it’s emblematic of my love for London.  The bridge itself links the south side of the Thames to the north but it also links the ancient to the modern.  St Paul’s and Cheapside linked to the Tate Modern by an innovative piece of engineering, it personifies the link between old and new.

I have been returning to London most years since the mid 90’s and I always take the same walk at least once.  I train into London Bridge, then something to eat in Borough market, meander along the Bank side, visit the Tate Modern, cross over the bridge and wander along Cheapside to the Leadenhall Markets.

“As I walk I literally start to breathe again. It’s almost like it’s the only time in the year that I stop and take a breath”

Towering above the London Bridge Station is the ‘Shard’.  Such an amazing structure and where I celebrated my 50th birthday 31 stories up at the Aqua Shard.  If ever you want to see the clear juxtaposition between the classic London and modern London, it’s from there.

The Borough market is alive, it’s like a beating heart.  The oldest fish markets in London, the history just envelops you.  The fruit and vege, flower stalls, cafe’s, gift shops and wine merchants are a delight to the senses.  The smells, colours and sounds are almost intoxicating.  If you ever go there, just sit in a cafe outside and close your eyes, you’ll get what I’m talking about.

As you wander along the Bank side you pass the Globe theatre and some beautiful restaurants, then you come across the wonder that is the Tate Modern.  I implore you to go if you have never been before.  I know there are so many choices of gallery including the Tate Britain and the National Gallery, but to me there’s something special about the Tate Modern.

The Tanks, the Turbine Hall, the viewing platform, each an amazing venue in themselves.  You can see so much in the free displays that challenge your thoughts and preconceptions of art.  I love it.

As you cross the Millennium Bridge with it’s slight wobbles, you are confronted with the magnificence of St Paul’s Cathedral.  It dominates the eye line and is framed by two buildings that flank the approach.  I love St Paul’s, there’s nothing that says class like black and white ‘chequer-board’ tiling lol.

The beautiful memories of Diana floating down the aisle are timeless.

An interesting note, there are 18000 marble tiles that make up the ‘chequer-board’ floor. They are in need of restoration and you can adopt a replacement tile for the princely sum of £150. Click here if you’re interested.  By the way, you get your name etched into the edge of the tile, imagine having your name in that hallowed space along side Nelson, Wellington and Wren!

Just past St Paul’s is my favourite shopping area, Cheapside.  Everything you need is there, mainly Ted Baker lol 🙂 .  The area is largely for the suited gentlemen as it’s in the commercial sector, and the shopping is definitely for the well heeled!  As you make your way toward Leadenhall Market you pass some on the most beautiful buildings in London, that have literally stood for hundreds of years.

The Mansion House, home to Lord Mayor and the Monument that signifies the Great Fire of London, are two of my favourites.

I love Leadenhall Markets as when I lived and worked in London (at Bank) I often went there for lunch. There has been a market there since the early 14th century and Dick Whittington himself, gifted Leadenhall to the City.  When you come from a country that has a colonized history going back 200 odd years, seven centuries of existence is magical.

I know it seems like this is a bit a of a travel blog, it’s not meant to be entirely. I am returning to London in a couple of weeks and it’s made me nostalgic. I know a lot of my friends and family wonder why I always go back there and not other exciting destinations, so this is just me trying to explain?

When I came to London I was so young and had never really ventured far from home.  Apart from a trip to Australia, Palmerston North was about it.  I was terribly apprehensive when my cousin Kim and I boarded that Singapore Airlines plane, but somewhere deep inside was a spark of joyous discovery. I just knew, beneath the fears and self doubt, that it was the right thing to do.

I will never forget the view from the plane as we approached Heathrow.  Oh my goodness it was magic.  The flight path along the Thames is magical and the rows of red brick houses looked just like Coronation street, everything I hoped it would!!! When my girlfriend Julie (see previous blog ‘Lifelong friends’) met us I was bursting with excitement. It was a sensory overload! The frantic morning tube full of workers who held the supports with one hand and the paper with the other.  I noted how cleverly they folded the paper, almost origami like, to provide one reading panel at a time.  Hundreds of people confined in a such a small space, and yet no one seemingly aware of anyone else at all.  I loved it and to this day I have honed the art of ‘non engagement’ on public transport lol.

Our first night was spent sleeping on the floor, either side of a double bed that pulled out from the wall, in a tiny bedsit in Chelsea. It was so small but perfect.  Julie and her now husband, put us up when we arrived and we were so grateful, but as many of you will know, in the late 80’s everyone dossed down on someone’s floor when they went to England.

Of course there were elements of home sickness, but that was for people I missed.  I didn’t miss New Zealand at all, not one single solitary, iota. 

I felt like I had come home!

I had some the best years of my life living in London.  That really is a series of blogs when I think about it, but here’s just a few treasures lol.

When we left Julies we lived in a few places, but one of the most hilarious flats we stayed in was way out in Harrow.  Kim heard about a room so off we went, well it was with three Irishmen named Eamon, Daemon and Declan!

I kid you not and they were hilarious, filthy but hilarious.  They were labourers from memory.  As was the way in the 80’s there was carpet in the bathroom and the toilet!  Those boys couldn’t hit a 6 foot wide hole from 2 inches away I swear!!!  The absolute rancidity of it all comes rushing back to me as I write.

I love the Irish people, one of my best friends in the UK was Irish, Peter Jennings.  What a lovely lovely guy and funny as hell. Not one serious word would come out of his mouth.  I loved my trips back to Blackrock in Dublin to his family.  Four sisters and a widowed father. Seriously, in those days you simply couldn’t be coloured and walk around Dublin without a comment, especially from the kids from the poorer areas.  It was the first time in my life I’d ever heard racist comments, but I have to say… I laughed my head off, almost uncontrollably.  We were on the bus heading into the city and two young lads walked past me then turned around and said ‘Oi nigger lips!!!’  I just looked at Peter and we pissed ourselves laughing.  Basically there was one coloured person in Ireland that people loved and that was the footballer Paul McGrath.  So we just told people I was his cousin!

It appeared to me that you weren’t known by your name in Ireland, you were known as an entity in relation to the person they knew.  For example, when we walked into the local pub, Peter wasn’t called Peter, he was known as Joe Jennings son.  Stands to reason I was known as Joe Jennings son’s friend lol.

Peter and my mates from the business house softball league, knew I desperately wanted to go to a ‘Hi-de-Hi’ camp. So off we went, 17 of us, to Butlins in Bognor Regis.  I absolutely loved it and we spent two days completely drunk!  On one occasion we entered the roller skate derby and my mate Peter had a serious ‘Frank Spencer’ moment.  He came round the corner so fast he lost control and skated up the wheel chair ramp into the Bingo Hall and out the other side! I kid you not you couldn’t practice that shit!

Anyway my readers (what do you call a blog reader, a bleader???).  I head back to London soon and you can rest assured that I will take this walk and revisit my other favourite haunts along the King’s Road.  By then I hope I’ve learned how to embed a video…how very dare you !!!