London July 2001

Travel diary (non-fiction).

Once again I went to London! This buzzling city which never closes. But speaking about it, I remember a visit about ten years ago in winter time, also that visit in conjunction with a business trip- we went together to Hipodrome and I decided to go home earlier- that was quite late as well- so it happened that I walked most of Oxford street and it was almost empty, I was more or less alone. Maybe not so advisable to walk that street alone in the middle of the night, who knows!? Else, I can't think of this city but as an crowded city.

Once again I stayed at Hotel Oliver in South Kensington/Earls court, a hotel I find expensive which does not give value for the money. So why stay again? Well, I've had the same conclusion at many hotels in London and more or less any hotel in the inner city is expensive... it's good with a hotel I find my way to and with direct access to Heathrow. I reckon many in the staff as well, that's a good feeling, even if they don't show any sign they have seen me before, they at least reckon me as I stay there and I don't even need to tell my number to get the key.

This time I asked for a quiet room, maybe downstairs, I had a room downstairs many years ago. But I got a quiet room upstairs instead. Nothing bad with that expect that one of my fears came real: At another stay I was allowed to choose between two rooms when I took the cheapest one... the expensive had a bath in stead of shower but but the toilet seat was so extremely close to the bath I could hardly imagine how to use it! I didn't get that room this time but a similar room. I smiled to myself when I saw the toilet seat and had a fun time to try it. I could sit down, spreading my legs as good as possible until my left knee hit the corner between the wall and the bath tub and my arse just possible to squeeze at the very back of the seat... no problem to pee but how to pooh? Impossible sitting so far back! Tried turning 90 degrees at right... maybe maybe but really a too narrow seat, it could end up with a mess. Sitting backwards, no, it was too narrow to that wall. The last option was to pull legs over into the bath, but with both legs in that strange high position I felt like falling backwards with no chance to do what I should do. The only working option was to have the left leg in the bath and the right on the floor, that was ok if not sitting so many minutes, I managed this way. But I also relaxed and used the only public toilet in the entrance a few times. So toilet was not so enjoyable and I still can't understand why they built this way and it was even newly renovated! Imagine if they had turned the toilet to the other wall or installed a shower in stead of the tub, then it had probably worked in a decent way. So next time I need to not only ask for a quiet room... this time I was to shy, lazy and not in the mood to discuss.

London is more than the hotel! Late openings at Tate Modern, but there wasn't really anything new for me to see, so next time I would better go to a new museum. Maybe the old Tate! Or maybe the famous British museum I still haven't seen. What I for sure will revisit are the bookstores and sit down and look at random books even more than this time.

Coffee! I remember how I've been struggling to get coffee in England, not to mention decent strong coffee. Nowadays it's really easy, Starbuck's have many shops in London as well as other chains and independent cafés. I have come to like Starbuck's although it's a big chain and American to that, but that means it's easy to know what to order and also nice they often have relaxing chairs and sofas to sit down in just like at home. My first Starbuck's this time was at Greenwich, I had had a quite long walk from the underground and then under the river Thames through the tunnel walkway as I didn't know it was allowed to use the Docklands Lightrail on my ticket, so I really needed to sit down and the timing was just perfect as it began to rain. To my surprise they serve the coffee in porcelain mugs, in US they do use paper as far as I know with my little experience. When the rain was gone and my mug was empty I was ready to head towards Greenwich observatorium and the big park. I didn't stay crossing the famous zero-meridian because that required to pay a quite high entrance fee to the observatorium, and being alone I would have to ask someone to take a photo. So I was happy to take a photo of the meridian through the surrounding fence. After that I had a long walk in the park looking at the Rose garden and the deers. Although it was interesting to walk under the River Thames in the old and a bit wet tunnel I took the easy way- the Lightrail- back to the centre.

My 2nd Starbuck's was close to Portobello Road. I really can't remember I've been to Portobello either. I was a bit late so they were about to close the street market but I could have a walk around anyway before the coffee, this time I had a window seat so I could watch the passers-by.

My 3rd Starbuck's was at Oxford street, just east of Charing cross road. My first visit here I sat very comfortable in a comfy armchair upstairs with good music from the loudspeakers so it was just to kick off the shoes, take up the book- read- drink and enjoy, just that it was a bit dirtier and with air cooler compared to home and of course some other persons to watch. I returned to this Starbuck's I believe two more times because it had a good location and had many seats, and because the other times I took a seat downstairs where I could study passers-by, when I looked up from my book, the fashion, the bodies and characters and trying to judge who was a Londoner and who was a visitor. And there was as well some pretty views to study inside the café.

My 4th Starbuck's was close to Piccadilly, nearby "Book's etc" and opposite the big "Waterstone's". I went there an evening when I was tired to do so much and more wanted to sit down somewhere. This was a really small Starbuck's without any soft chair, it wasn't so much going on, most exiting was to watch the staff clean and drop a plate banging into pieces and an American (?) family who was interesting to study.

That was all my Starbuck's! I had an excellent coffee also in the crypts of the church "St Martins in the fields", this place has been a waterhole for me and is nowadays a must to return to when being in London. I had lunch there, soup of the day, breadroll and num num apple pie with vanilla sauce, that's why coffee was ordered.

When I went to Brixton I didn't have any coffee at all... oh oh why that you may ask? I stayed in Brixton for just only an hour. Brixton, the afro-caribian suburb in southern London. I believe I will see Brixton again! Indoor and outdoor market with all kind of goods is available in Brixton and it feels genuine where people who live in the area purchase and with sellers that has a really fascinating english accent, at least one old lady I recall was fun to listen to. In a small shop nearby the these markets, maybe it was on the famous Electric avenue (as I remember was the first street in London with electric light), I bought a modern maybe hip or hop Tee not made of cotton to a decent price for a swede. After my first walk in the markets I had liked to walk around, but thunder and rain made that less attractive and for any reason I got bored and returned to the underground, so now I for sure have reason to explore more of the markets and surrounding another time. Maybe eat something exotic.

Soho is an area which appear to never close, there are so many on the streets even when theatres, cinemas, pubs, restaurants, record stores and so on are crowded. In this area I saw an outdoor pee-station (what do the call them?), designed for male use. Haven't seen one like this before, it was placed on the sidewalk with four peeholes in a circle with other persons walking very close. So there was almost no privacy, but I didn't stop to see if you could actually see the peeing, nor did I try it myself. Something to explore another time. And the English is said to be puritan and old fashioned!

Henrik Hemrin

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