Well, my love affair with the United Kingdom is in full flight. I've just finished a wonderful week and half in London, and the whole time I was wandering around feeling like I was in a postcard, revelling in the sheer volume of history around me, and feeling my heart stop every time I went on the tube and heard a man talk who sounded like Mr Darcy/Colin Firth. Exciting times.
So in a serendipitous coincidence, I happened to check into my accommodation in Notting Hill on the day of the Notting Hill Carnival. The festival was an absolute riot of colour, featuring wonderful salsa, reggae, jazz and hip hop dancers parading along the street in amazing costumes, and is celebrated every year to mark the end of slavery in England. The neighbourhood around the carnival turns into one big mosh pit for the days it is held; Mia and I ended up getting caught up in a massive dance party in the middle of the street, complete with people passing around bottles of rum, Jagermeister and other assorted spirits. The highlight of the mosh pit was seeing DJ Pineapple Express; so named because he was quite adept at crushing whole pineapples on his head and showering the crowd with chunks of the fruit. What a character. Oh! And I did see Hugh Grant, skulling a beer at the festival. VERY EXCITING.
Our second day in London, Mia and I went on a free Sandeman's walking tour and saw some of the big sights. We dropped in to say hello to the Queen at Buckingham Palace, and tried to spot Harry's bedroom, but apparently he's still in disgrace for those Vegas photos and is hidden from the public eye. We also walked past Kensington Palace, St James' Palace, 10 Downing Street, Big Ben, Westminster Abbey and the Houses of Parliament, and strolled through Green Park, which has a rather interesting history. King Charles II was apparently quite a charmer, and told his wife every day that he was off to walk around the park just outside Buckingham Palace to "smell the flowers"- actually a euphemism for heading to the brothels and getting merry. Apparently he fathered 100 illegitimate children (and awkwardly, none with his wife. Error). Anyway, when his wife eventually found out about his affairs (and really, you'd have to be blind not to see 100 illegitimate children popping up around the place), she went absolutely crazy, took a sword, and stomped around Green Park in a fit of rage, cutting the heads off all the flowers that bloomed there, and afterwards decreed it illegal to grow any flowers in the park. Apparently she thought that if she could remove his excuse, she'd stop his bad behaviour; you really have to admire her naiveity! But it has remained illegal to grow flowers in Green Park since, hence the name. Oh those royals. How I love them.
In another feat of royal worship, we visited the Tower of London, which proved almost too much excitement for this history lover. The Tower is full of fascinating tales of murder, intrigue and treason; like the mystery of the two Princes in the Tower, who were (supposedly, but this has never been proven) smothered with pillows by their evil uncle Richard, heir to the throne, and buried by a priest under the flagstones of the Bloody Tower. Or the Duke of Clarence, who was drowned in a vat of wine. On alcohol, did you know that Nelson (as in the hero Nelson, of the statue in Trafalgar Square), died at sea, but considering his hero status, was bought back to England to get a state funeral? Well his body was decomposing on the ship, so they decided to pickle him in a barrel of port to keep him fresh and juicy for the journey home. Only problem was… the sailors got a little thirsty and ended up drinking the alcohol! Apparently this is where the phrase "to have a stiff drink" comes from- the body turned so stiff in the alcohol that they had to break some of his limbs to get the corpse out of the barrel!
I also learnt a lot about gruesome medieval tortures in the tower. Perhaps the most famous torture was the rack, the only way a man could stretch from 4"6 to 6"4 in 24 hours! Personally I think the rack's sister, The Scavengers Daughter, would be a worse punishment- victims were forced into the foetus position, with a metal contraption fitted about them, and they would be slowly shrunk or squeezed to death, breaking all the bones in their body until eventually their internal organs would be crushed. Messy. Of course they also had the whole favourites, like hanging someone from thumbscrews, removing fingernails (no need for red nail polish I guess) or that lovely Tudor execution, hanging, drawing and quartering. This was reserved for the vilest of traitors- like those responsible for the 5th of November Gunpowder Plot (Guy Fawkes, I'm looking at you). The unfortunate candidate would first be hung by the neck until they were half dead, then disembowelled, and their genitals cut off, and burnt in front of them. Then they would be put on the rack and stretched, before being cut into quarters and beheaded. After that, their heads would be mounted on pikes and put on Tower Bridge as a warning to other would be traitors, and the four parts of their body would be tied to horses and sent out to the far corners of the Kingdom. A bit like a farewell tour really.
I did do other things in London than just revel in ancient tortures, however. Holly and I went to Henry VIII's palace at Hampton Court, where we garbed ourselves in medieval cloaks, and I got crowned Queen and got to sit in Henry's throne. They had this amazing interactive display where you sat in Henry's throne in the Privy Chamber, and participated in a debate over Protestantism/Catholicism with his councillors; Holly said I got embarrassingly into it, but I merely feel I was being a fair and impartial judge for a tricky issue. After all, what is a Monarch for if not to listen to the grievances of her subjects? At Hampton Court, we also got lost in the oldest maze in England, and made friends with George Boleyn. Amazingly, he seemed alive and kicking, but we know he was about to meet a pretty messy end- he was executed for witchcraft, sodomy and incest with his sister Anne Boleyn.
So what else did I do in London? Mia and I went on a Jack the Ripper ghost tour around the Tower of London, where we saw the actual bench where Jack the Ripper dumped the mutilated body of one of his victims. My theory is that Jack the Ripper was actually Jill the Ripper- psychologically this would make sense; an unhappy and infertile woman, unable to bear children, taking out her crazed rage and frustration on women able to have children but throwing that privilege away. It would explain the missing uteruses in all the victims, that's for sure!
Holly and I also visited Sherlock Holmes' house at 221B Baker St, where we read all the letters written to him (not Arthur Conan Doyle, but to Sherlock Holmes as a person) to solve their own personal mysteries. My favourite was from a 10 year old from Oxford, who wrote "Dear Sir, I wonder if you could please help me with a small detective problem? My cats keep disappearing at night, and then reappear the next day as if nothing has happened. Then spend all day sleeping! Wishing you a happy new Year". Cauuuuuttte.
We also went on a Harry Potter walk, and saw the original Leaky Cauldron, Diagon Alley, Platform 9 ¾, the street the Knight Bus drove along, the buildings the Order of the Phoenix flew over in the fifth movie, and the Millenium Bridge, which the Death Eaters destroyed in the Half Blood Prince. The whole time we were walking over the Bridge, I was calculating how close to the bank I would need to be to survive a Death Eater attack; obviously I could also use accio to fetch me a lifeboat if worst came to worst.
Other highlights of London included seeing the Lion King in Covent Garden (definitely sang along quite loudly to Hakuna Matata and I Just Can't Wait to be King), visiting the James Bond exhibition at the Barbican and falling ever so slightly in love with Sean Connery (I got to touch his tuxedo from Goldfinger!), picnicking in Hyde Park, admiring the art deco ceilings and ridiculously expensive goods in Harrods, wandering through the Portobello Rd Market in Notting Hill, dancing to One Direction in Leicester Square and finding my inner calling (and the limit of my bank account) at Topshop on Oxford St. Alas, there are no Segway tours in London (it's illegal for them to go along all the heritage listed streets), so that was a MAJOR disappointment, but do not fear, I have found a Segway tour around a castle near Edinburgh, so that dream is most definitely still going to be achieved.
I am currently speeding through the English countryside, admiring stone walled fields and quaint little villages with enormous steeples and dilapidated manor houses, on the train from London to Edinburgh. My train conductor looks exactly like the Fat Controller, complete with bowler hat, so that is most excellent. I am very excited to settle into my new home, and cannot wait to stroll the streets of a city that inspired Harry Potter and produced both Gerard Butler and Sean Connery. Surely it is unfair for one city to have such a wonderful pedigree?
Lots of love,