People drive on the left in England, no surprise there. After all, Malaysia practices left-hand traffic (LHT)  and Malaysia is an adaptation of England. From our education, litigation, and political system to our electrical outlet, we are a shadow of jolly old England- a testament to nearly 2 centuries of colonisation. (Funny though, Malaysian youth tend to lean towards American pop culture, as observed by the writers of Billion Dollar Whale.) Fun note, shadows are sometimes bigger than the object itself.

Now, excuse me if I think the British are slightly confused. Under a LHT system, we always keep left, may it be on the road or the escalator at the mall. However, this curious sign between the bidirectional escalators of a tube station suggests otherwise. “Stand on the right” it says.

Stand on the right, says the sign by the escalator of the tube station.

I arrived in London in the late afternoon. Ahead of time, I booked a room in Shepherd’s Bush, where Demeter from Sophie Kinsella’s My Not So Perfect Life lives. Within a few hours of landing at Heathrow International Airport, I make an interesting observation- a significant number of conversations around me are not in English. Even those who speak English do so with a foreign accent. What happened to the Benedict Cumberbatch drawl? This speaks to immigration. Do not be mistaken- I am actually of opinion that intermingling and inter-race reproduction is healthy; shake the world up a little, tear down cultural barricades, take a peek of life beyond our secure borders.

Our world could use some shuffling.

 

LEICESTER SQUARE LEGO STORE

After dumping my bag at the hotel, I take a direct tube to Tottenham Court Road station for Leicester Square- under request of the man I love (Broady). You see, Leicester Square Lego Store is the largest in the world. They sell an exclusive Lego mini figure unique to this store. As an avid Lego collector,  of course he needs a piece of this apprized item.

The Leicester Square mini figure.
Picture credit: www.pinterest.com

I emerged from the underground tube station into the cool London air, pleased with the pleasant walk weather. The vibe I received is similar to that from Sydney and Melbourne City. Do we attribute this to the fact that Australia was also a British colony or that it was first inhabited by British convicts (discounting the aboriginals, of course)?

I finally arrive. Now, would I become the geeks’ enemy number 1 if I say the store resembles any other Lego store? Save for the Lego exhibits, of course:

The Leicester Square Lego Store

 

Lego Big Ben

 

Lego dragon

 

Lego post box

 

Lego telephone booth

 

Lego train

 

Lego train map and conductor

Purchases in hand, pictures in my phone; and thence conclude the duties of a geek’s wife.

 

IMPERIAL WAR MUSEUM LONDON

I was raised by a man who won’t wait 5 minutes for a table at a restaurant, but would stand in the freezing cold for two hours to visit the Anne Frank Museum. By an early age, my siblings and I covered nearly every museum and historic site in the Klang Valley, so you could say museums were engineered into my system. Perhaps, this explains my homing for the Imperial War Museum early the next morning.

Two 15-inch naval guns salute my arrival (wink!). I recently learnt from wikipedia they once served onboard the HMS Ramilies and HMS Resolution battleships. I can almost see them, mounted on the maritime vessels, proud and intimidating, firing at their adversaries- totally bad ass.

The Imperial War Museum London

The first thing that catches my eye upon entry into the exhibition hall is a Harrier Jet suspended from the ceiling. This awakens the aviation-chick in me. The Harrier is designed to achieve vertical takeoffs and landings, because, you know, who needs a runway? (I do. The Airbus 320 needs a runway) This particular Harrier was in service (if memory serves me right, in Iraq) until recent times when severe damage rendered her un-flyable.

With the Harrier.

Not far behind is the Spitfire, the Marilyn Monroe of aircraft- iconic, legendary, exquisitely proportioned. According to the museum’s website, she flew 57 combat missions during the Battle of Britain in 1940.

And the Spitfire.

An exhibit of scarfs caught my attention for one big reason. They were introduced when women got involved with the war. This, I believe, is a sign of progression- a step towards inclusion. In every scenario, the first step to championing women rights is awareness. But awareness isn’t everything, we also have to integrate the women. How do we accommodate women (in the workforce, political system etc.)? Do we tweak the existing systems? Or do we expect women to blend into a male-tailored structure? Is the system male-tailored to begin with?

I don’t know the answers. But I do know this: Despite my earlier words, we shouldn’t “champion women rights”. Nope. Instead, we should strive for an environment that is conducive for both genders.

Scarfs for women.

 

Abuden. How long want to give you colonise wor?

 

I love this quote. “What do we perceive justice to be, what role ought it to play in our society and whom should it exist to serve?”

Two hours in the Imperial War Museum helped me realise something. It’s intriguing to note how perspective shapes a people’s narrative. Almost always, a nation cast themselves as the protagonist of the story. The Robin Hood. The Green Arrow. The Superman. Even if public opinion suggest otherwise.

Yet we know- One man’s hero, another’s villain; one man’s god, another’s devil.

Perspective is a powerful fulcrum.

 

RIDING THE LONDON BUS

Riding the London Bus

The plan was to pay Sherlock Holmes a visit at Baker Street next. So, I hop on a red double decker London bus… for the first time in my life! Of course, I take, like, a trillion selfies. This is done from the front seat of the upper deck, of course, as per the picture above.

For some reason, everything looks nearer from that height, which is weird because higher means further. Perhaps, the dimensions gave me a more acute angle of sight. A couple of times, I cringed with anxiety as the bus made a (what appeared to be) tight turning, the bus’ body inches from death.

As we drive down along, the sight that welcomes me is exactly how I imagined London to be. After years of Sophie Kinsella novels, I constructed expectations, and the scene before me does not disappoint.

There are cobbled streets and random statues- statues of people, statues of horses, and statues of people on horses. Apparently, urban legend has it that equestrian statues where the horse have one hoof up means the rider sustained serious injuries in battle, possibly dying later.

Statue of person on horse. Upon some serial googling, I learn that this is the memorial of one Earl Haig, who evaded serious injury. Guess not all legends are true, huh?

 

THE HORSE GUARDS

We past a crowd of tourist clustered around queen guards on horses. This is when I jumped off the bus. Baker Street can wait, I want a piece of this action!

Only after I exit the bus do I gain orientations and learn that I’m standing at Horse Guards, an 18th century building that acts as stables and barracks to Household Calvary. Two queen guards sit at attention on their horses, ignoring that trickle of sweat and their urge to sneeze.

Selfie with a queen’s guard.

On my way out, the queen guards were rotating shifts, as they do every hour. Unfortunately, where I gain in brains and looks, I lack in vertical dimensions, and was unpleasantly obstructed by these burly tourists in front of me. Thank God for the internet though, s0 here’s a video of the exchange I missed.

Behind the stone-walled building is a stretch of empty sandy land. This is the Horse Guard Parade where tournaments used to took place during the time of King Henry VIII. Present day, annual trooping the colour ceremonies are held here.

Horse Guard Parade

 

ST. JAMES PARK AND BUCKINGHAM PALACE

I walk across the Horse Guard Parade and arrive at St. James park. A sign here informs me that a 9 minutes walk takes me to Buckingham Palace. The weather is cool, wind is light, conducive for a nice stroll. Therefore, I set off for an audience with her majesty, the Queen.

St. James Park

Okay, not really. I don’t get past the palace gates. Nobody does, but that doesn’t stop swarms of tourist from peering through the grills, phones snapping away. In front of the palace is a huge structure/statue construct, as can be seen in the backdrop of my selfie. It’s the Queen Victoria Memorial. It consist of statues that represent courage, constancy, victory, charity, truth and motherhood- a majestic sight.

Buckingham Palace is huge! But have you seen the Dowager Sultana of Perawak’s palace? It’s bigger than Buckingham Palace (or so Kevin Kwan claims in the third book of the Crazy Rich Asians series- Rich People Problems).

Buckingham Palace

 

BAKER STREET AND THE SHERLOCK HOLMES MUSEUM

When I finally do get to Baker Street, I’m ecstatic. Can’t wait to meet Sherlock Holmes! (His address in the books is 221B Baker Street)

At Baker Street!

I hurry down the street in search of unit 221B… only to meet a long line of waiting tourists. Located between 237 and 241, a Georgian house is officially addressed 221B Baker Street, and is the Sherlock Holmes Museum.

Next to the line awaiting entry into the museum is a charming little gift shop that sells all things Sherlock, from novels to t-shirts and figurines. A museum attendant directs me to purchase an entry ticket from the shop. Actually, I overhear a museum attendant pointing a visitor towards the shop for a ticket. So I oblige.

But… if the line outside the museum wasn’t long enough, the one awaiting ticket purchase does no favours!

Patience is a virtue, but not mine (I am not my father after all). So I content with browsing through the gift shop.

The Sherlock Holmes Museum

 

MADAME TUSSAUDS

Since the Sherlock Holmes Museum didn’t work out, I opt for the Madame Tussauds Wax Museum instead, given its close proximity to my then location.

This museum has a dark history. Marie Tussaud (nee Marie Grosholtz). During the French Revolution, she was imprisoned awaiting execution but was later released thanks to the interference of a few influential friends. Upon release, she was forced to prove her allegiance to the revolution by making death masks of executed nobles. Survivor that she is, she complies. After the revolution, she turns her wax models into a business. And that is the story behind the Madame Tussauds Wax Museum.

I got goosebumps reading that story.

But so much for the glum disposition, because the 21st century Madam Tussauds display begins with a flash. Literally. I enter the exhibition room to a bout of flashing cameras. I’m walking a red carpet, clutching my satchel bag. “Welcome to the 2018 Academy Awards!” booms a cheerful female voice, or so I think she said- I was too busy shielding the blazing lights and fending off paparazzi (okay, not the paparazzi part, but they sure know how to make you feel like a celebrity).

The room before me contains wax figures of various celebrities. They looked so shockingly realistic that I took to peering curiously up Nicole Kidman’s nose to check for nose hair.

The exhibits include celebrities from Hollywood, Bollywood, Congress-wood (politicians!) and many others.

As per SOP (Standard Operating Procedures), I nearly max out my memory card with selfies.

With my buddy Han Solo

 

And my buddy is in a fix. Or rather, in frozen carbonite.

 

With Rey.

 

A scene out of a porn video.

 

DINNER AT FLAT IRON

I met my sister, Ern in time for dinner. We had steak (food of the gods- I dare you challenge me on this). Ern was very anxious. She rang up Flat Iron, our restaurant of choice, and they don’t take reservations. This is a problem because every eatery in SOHO entails an exorbitant amount of waiting time.

So I went ahead and observed absolutely no line outside the restaurant. I proudly relayed this information to Ern before confidently strolling towards the front door… where I discovered that the wait time for a table will be 1 hour and 20 minutes.

I won’t bore you with the details, but we did eventually get a table.

With my steak at Flat Iron.

Was it worth it? Maybe.

After the meal, they offered us free salted caramel ice-cream…

And then it was worth it.

With our free salted caramel ice-cream.

 

THE LION KING PLAY

 

The Lion King

After dinner, we do a London thing- we watch a play: The Lion King.

I must say, I’m very entertained by their portrayal of animals, the giraffe for one. I admit to being very stressed when 2 actors appeared onstage on stilts, balancing on four limbs, dressed like a giraffe. Please don’t fall, please don’t fall, I mutter under my breath.

And they don’t! Very professional, I concur. Naturally, everything is well rehearsed, all the way down to Simba’s abs.

The creative use of props doesn’t end there. I think the antelope-bicycle-machine thing was particularly fascinating. So was the human-grass. Are theatre props always this amusing? I should totally attend more!

With Ern in the theatre.

BRUNCH AT FARM GIRL, NOTTING HILL

The next morning, we venture to Notting Hill for food, nourishment for the soul. Apparently, there’s a movie starring Hugh Grant and Julia Roberts that made Notting Hill famous.

I’ll sum Notting Hill in one word- delightful. The buildings are a colourful assortment of pastel colours, it’s beauty boosted by random colourful flowers. This is obviously the more atas part of London.

Pastel colours + flowers = delightful!

 

Farm Girl

We arrive at Farm Girl, and Ern is eyeing a particular table outdoors because, quote, “soooo instagramable!” And after a 30 minutes wait, during which we selfied with the wait staff, we actually score the coveted table!

I order avocado toast with a side of smoked salmon, and it arrives. A healthy portion of avocado is piled on the bread. I’m really impressed by their generosity.

Avocado toast with a healthy portion of avocado.

 

Ern’s blueberry pancakes.

 

Our brunch summed with a picture.

There’s this bowl of brown cubes that I assumed were cookies, like appetisers to munch on. So I confidently chucked one into my mouth.

Nobody cared to mention they are sugar cubes.

Nobody.

Somebody please label those. How would anybody know they are sugar cubes?

 

PALACE OF WESTMINSTER AND WESTMINSTER ABBEY 

We hop on a tube into the heart of London.

After a bit of random walking, we arrive at a life version of a Lego set Broady covets- the Palace of Westminster. How convenient that there’s a cement barrier situated right in front of the building that we can sit on to take narcissistic photos.

I’ve learnt via google that the statue in the backdrop (of the picture below) near my armpit is that of King Richard Couer de Lion, a brave warrior and military leader, may he rest in peace.

Posing in front of the Palace of Westminster

 

BIG BEN

Next, we go in search of Big Ben, a majestic clock tower that towers over all the surrounding buildings. We navigate with google map, only to arrive at… erm, a metal structure with a clock? There’s a sign. It says: “The Elizabeth Tower, also known as Big Ben, is currently undergoing essential conservation work…”

The Elizabeth Tower (Big Ben) is currently undergoing essential conservation work.

Ah well, at least I’ve seen pictures of it in its glory. I even passed by during the previously mentioned London bus ride the day before, and snapped a quick picture of it. Guess that solves the mystery of what’s that weird Mt. Midoriyama structure with a clock thing?

Big Ben under renovation 🙁

 

Here’s a picture I ripped off the internet of Big Ben in her majestic glory.
Photo credit: www.videoblocks.com

Fun fact: “Big Ben” is actually the name of the massive bell inside the tower, not the tower itself.

 

THE LONDON EYE

I spy with my little eyes, the London Eye.

Since it’s London and the London eye is such an iconic landmark, we consent to being stuffed in a composite tin with glass windows, then raised to 443 feet above ground level, and eased into a giant circular motion. Since my legs were killing me by then, it was a blissful 30 minutes that I could sit idly and stare at a miniature London.

View from the London eye.

 

DINNER AT BARRAFINA 

My favourite meal in England has got to be dinner at Barrafina, a Spanish Tapas bar in SOHO. Surprisingly, we score seats within 5 minutes of arrival. The restaurant consist of a long bar table, where customers perch at on bar stools. Chefs work on the other side of the bar table so we have literal front row seats to the making of our food.

Note the long bar table we’re perched at.

There is regular menu, and there’s a special menu. The waitress describes each item on the special menu patiently. Honestly, I had to strain a little to understand her Spanish accent, but that’s probably how most people feel about my Malaysian accent also lahh.

And then we order.

The special menu

 

Lemon sole

 

Pumpkin fritters

 

Octopus with Capers

 

Gluttony. Sound so bad, taste so good.

 

EAST LONDON 

Day 3, a one hour plus tube ride brings us to east London. Ern warned me to expect “smelly and dodgy”. But then I realised that though we grew up in a same home, we have different standards of “smelly and dodgy”.

From the Aldgate East station, we walk a short distance from the main street into a smaller lane. Soon, walls of graffiti swim before our eyes. From a few patches of random scribbles to whole webs of geometry, many which escape my logic, but appeal tremendously to my raving instincts. Walls and walls of it. I taste mad sense of freedom, an expression of the soul. It says, the world is my oyster, I’m gonna dance in my oyster, scream in my oyster, get drunk in my oyster, puke all over my oyster; and nobody has a say in it. My right brain is firing like crazy. I’m drenched with inspiration.

Geometry has bred poetry.

 

 

SALTED BEEF BAGEL AT BEIGEL BAKE

Salted Beef Bagel

On Brick Lane within east London, is Beigel Bake, known for their salted beef bagel. I’ve read reviews and heard that the shop attendants can be quite rude, but I’m happy to report that my customer service experience was uneventful.

Their salted beef bagel is served warm in a paper bag. Sandwiched between two bread slices, pieces of salted beef is complemented with mustard and pickles. On its own, the beef is a tad bit too salty, but consumed in its whole? Scrumptious.

Salted beef in stomach, we head back to the hotel for our bags, for we have a train to catch to the ancient city of Exeter.

 

When a man is tired of London, he is tired of life. ~ Samuel Johnson

I think London is sexy because it’s full of eccentrics. ~ Rachel Weisz

 

To be continued… here