Tuesday, April 15, 2014

London -- The Museum

Me playing at The London Museum (making museums fun!)
For my birthday last week, we spent a long weekend in London. My love-hate relationship with Londinium goes way way back--not quite as far back as the name Londinium (AD 36) but almost, in fact to 1998 when we lived there and the roof collapsed on the house we were renting. London fulfilled all the clichés then: It rained every day the first month. The public transport was stupendously unreliable. I'd wait 30 minutes for a bus to come, then three would come at the same time. Tube stations would be closed when I needed to get to the airport quickly. The food was bland and fatty. But that was then; now that I know London much better, I find ways to circumvent the clichés.

A student in one of my classes a couple of months ago harped and harped on "bad British food". No matter what we talked about, she always came right back to "bad British food". She was so critical that I found myself taking up for my London--my sweet wonderful Lundenburh, as the Anglo-Saxons named it. You see, you can find great food in London; you just have to know how to avoid.that bad food. I assume my student was talking about the bland and fatty food. Since I have celiac disease, I can't eat meat pies, Scotch eggs, savoury and sweet puddings, scones or fish and chips anyway. These rich traditional favourites can be delicious--or so I've heard--but British cooking has come a long way since John Montagu, the 4th Earl of Sandwich supposedly asked to have his fatty meat put between two pieces of bread (so he could play cards while eating).

St Paul's Cathedral with Bus on My Birthday

If you want to find excellent food in London, take the Tube to Camden Town and browse the Camden Market. The food stalls there are a foodie's paradise. Sure, the food at Camden Market is international cuisine, but that's what London is all about. If you want a quick and healthy bite, pop into the supermarket section of Marks & Spencer for one of their salads. They have an incredible variety, and it's much cheaper to buy one of these salads than to have lunch in an expensive restaurant. If it's sunny outside, you can find a bench down by the Thames.

Sadly, but not altogether unexpectedly, it rained most of the weekend on our trip.

A miniature of terraced housing in London which looks a lot like where we used to live in Clapham

What can you do in London if it's raining and you hate museums? Well, you can stay home and watch British TV. I love the gardening, cooking, painting, auction, comedy and game shows, but what if there's nothing but cricket, snooker and darts on? What if the Grand Nationals are on, and you can't think of anything more boring that watching a horse race? Go to the cinema? We saw Noah on Saturday at Leicester Square for 22 pounds each--a lot of money to pay for such a stupid movie.The acting was very good, but the story, those ridiculous rock angels and the quirky transitional gimmick with the snake and the fruit made me shake my head more than a few times. When we left the cinema it was raining despite the fact that God had just sent us a rainbow in the cinema.

A detail of a lift door at the Savoy Hotel on display at The London Museum
We went to the pub, but you can't spend an entire long weekend in the pub, can you? Or can you? We didn't. We went to a museum. Yes, I jumped over my shadow as the Germans say and went to a museum. I enjoyed it more than, say, snooker or horse racing, and it was educational. Those fun facts about Londinium and Lundenburh up there are straight from my visit to The London Museum. I already knew about the sandwich guy.

Is it incredibly superficial, yet completely honest, of me to tell you that the only reason The London Museum interested me at all is that learning who owned the bakery where the Great Fire of 1666 started might improve my chances of winning Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? if I ever were to appear on the show, which is unlikely? I've actually forgotten his name now. I know his last name starts with an F, so I'd probably get it right with the 50/50 joker. Googling it: Thomas Farriner. So there you go: Thomas Farriner--if you're ever on Who Wants to Be a Millianire?

Last weekend we stayed in Barbican, just north of The City. Something that struck me this time on our long walks around town--apart from the light rain pattering our faces--was that there are so many hang-out-style restaurants and cafés serving creative food in this area. They're everywhere here in this student quarter. We didn't hang out at any of them, but I did take note. We tended to make stops at Starbucks, where I found a gluten-free panini that was quite tasty. On Northcote Road in Clapham, I also found a gluten-free crépe at a place called Samba Swirl.

On my birthday, the sun finally came out, so we thought we'd go to the zoo but opted for the pub when we discovered the zoo would set us back 24 pounds per person. Yikes. This might have been worth it if we'd had the whole day, but we had only 2 hours for the zoo. We ended up eating the "two steaks and a bottle of wine" deal at the pub across the canal from Camden Market for 17.99. A grand deal, and we did get to see animals after all. On our plates.

I must be off,

Have you started writing your entry to The Second Annual I Must Be Off! Travel Essay Contest? It's free, and there's a bit of money to be won. Here are the guidelines.

Christopher Allen is the author of Conversations with S. Teri O'Type (a Satire), an episodic adult cartoon about a man struggling with expectations. Allen's award-winning fiction and non-fiction have appeared or are forthcoming in Indiana Review, Quiddity, SmokeLong Quarterly's Best of the First Ten Years anthology, Prime Number Magazine, Camroc Press Review, Bootsnall Travel and Chicken Soup for the Soul. A finalist at Glimmer Train in 2011, Allen has been nominated for Best of the Net and the Pushcart Prize twice. He lives in Germany.