Low down in London

December 12, 2011

Kat: London, city of history, musical theatre and many red telephone booths. We’re finally here after various passport troubles and jet lag from crossing international time zones. Christmas is nearly upon us, but I haven’t felt like it despite the wreaths and carols on every corner. Maybe because it’s not hot (although I hear it’s 12C in Sydney). We’re in our fourth month of travelling and now in the routine of living out of our backpacks, navigating foreign cities and exchanging currency.


We’re staying in trendy Shoreditch, although on first appearances you may confuse the suburb with a Redfern housing commission. The remnants of poverty in the Sixties has been transformed into housing for hipsters. Street art, good coffee and numerous shoe shops filled with granny pixie boots. I feel under dressed!

British museum ceiling
The incredible ceiling of the British Museum

While I’ve visited London twice before and seen many of the major tourist attractions, Justin has not, so our first stop was the eponymous British Museum. The plunder of many ancient worlds can be seen in the extensive museum, a place only comparable to the Louvre in terms of its scope and content. Of course the best area will always be the mummies. Who doesn’t love those great dead wraps of bandages that chase archeologists in the night? We saw the mummy of Cleopatra and all the creepy cats, oxen and even crocodiles the Egyptians loved to send off into the afterlife.

crystal skull
Yes, that’s a Crystal Skull… no kingdoms though.

With most of the museums in London on our budget (read: free), we popped into the National Gallery the following day to gaze upon the great classical and impressionist masterpieces. While I can appreciate the beauty of a Rembrandt, my favourite artists will always be the romantic Impressionists: Monet, Manet, Pissarro, Cezanne. There are rooms upon rooms of famous pictures; it’s a joy to see them in reality, like Manet’s famous umbrella scenes or Van Gogh’s Sunflowers. I’m looking forward to being in France and visiting Aix-en-Provence, where many of the Impressionists painted and doing some watercolours of my own.

Outside the National Gallery in London

And so another museum was visited the following day – the medical museum attached to the Royal London hospital, in the basement of a church. The local pub’s title said it all: The Good Samaritan. The London has been home to some incredible moments in medical and social history. A young doctor training at the hospital saw the poverty of young boys living in Victorian London and founded a charity to help them… and that became Britain’s largest charity, Dr Barnardo’s! It also housed Joseph Merrick in dignity until the end of his life, better known as the Elephant Man. On a darker note, forensic medicine began at the London when doctors were called upon to aid in analysis of Jack the Ripper’s victims.


Next week I’ll be visiting lovely Ireland and Justin will be travelling to Wales. We’re going our separate ways so I can visit friends and Justin can see the Millennium Stadium (he can’t get on a plane because he has no passport!). I can’t wait until my mum and dad get here next week. Love, Kat


Justin: I love Churchill. He was a portly bulldog who spent most of his life asserting his will over others and working long days and nights, but you know what it really always for the greater good. I am personally prone to occasionally delve into Churchillian speech and prose because I find it, like Lincoln speech, moving, stirring and uplifting. What I learnt about Churchill confirmed this, he was able to make people look into the future with hope and positive vision in spite of current circumstances strongly pointing to despair and devastation. The war museum is located in a vast range of underground bunkers which housed crucial governmental executive branches protecting them from German bomb raids. The underground caverns were reinforced by steel beams. Like many memorials we visited in the states, this Museum was brilliantly preserved, you feel like you step back instantly in time – really well done. However we managed to get evacuated from the one place in London you don’t need evacuation from… a bomb shelter.


After the Churchill Museum we walked up to Buckingham Palace and the round about in front of it. I spent most of my time not reflecting on the majesty and history of the building, rather trying to work out if this was the roundabout used in a Chevy Chase National Lampoon European vacation film. Verification of meaningless pop culture references is profoundly crucial as a boy growing up in postmodernism’s nefarious grip.


London really is the centre for the arts. The amount of quality musicals, plays and art available is simply astonishing and there are plenty of places to get last-minute tickets. A few years ago my wife and a good friend went to see Matthew Bourne’s Edward Scissorhands. I was blown away at the style, panache, brilliantly jagged seamlessly transitioning sets and funky jazzy-electric choreography, he made Scissorhands sexy and stylish without losing Burton’s vision. So we got to explore Bourne’s supremacy again when we saw his version of the Nutcracker at Sadler’s Wells and it didn’t disappoint, I still vividly recall some of the vibrant fluoro sets and funky dance numbers. Well worth it considering we only forked out 30 quid each – bargain big time.

The ice skating rink on the Strand

So this trip has reunited me with my ‘little’ almost 7ft brother Jeremy. He’s living in Shoreditch, a trendy gentrified suburb nearish to London, in reconverted government housing. Entering his place the first time brought back memories of working with homeless clients who had moved into Redfern and Surry Hills. Thankfully the internal conditions are a little different. As befitting his height, Jeremy dabbles and dribbles in basketball and plays at a court nearby. We cheerleaded as his team the “White Heat” went down valiantly. The race balance in Jeremy’s team strongly reflected NBA best practice: lots of black guys and a couple of token white boys.


Earlier that day Jeremy took us to some local markets, wow so cool a band duo were drumming out some dance hits on a drum and double bass, a lot of locals sport that scraggly cool homeless chic look which I don’t mind as tall lanky lad myself with windswept travel hair. I camouflaged nicely. I like London, I’ve got English heritage so part of me feels right at home here. Caught up with a good friend from high school too and tonight we catch up with other friends in Sydney and do a Jack the Ripper tour… blimey it’s fun here. Justin

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