By Bike

30 June 2011

London, UK

Obviously thankful for me getting him to bed yesterday evening, a fully dressed and showered Ivan shakes me awake before 7am. At least he does it with a smile on his face. “Hey. I’ve been awake for sooo long.”

Camden Lock is the trendy vintage-ridden place to go for young tourists, but not before 9am, when we find nothing but empty cobblestone streets and Londoners complaining about other Londoners. The canals make for a great setting for a marketplace, and every so often a big hook or pole will be sitting around right next to the stallkeeper’s ashtray.

But the real memorable thing that I want to remember is when we got to Euston rd., forced a credit card, pushed a few buttons–and voilà: two sets of two wheels for just a pound each for the entire day. London by bike–how is it that I’ve never done this?

The muggy London air blows through your hair until a black cab zooms past and you’re forced to inhale its exhaust. We squeeze through miniscule gaps between two red double-decker buses. We take a left, a right and the cars disappear. The tall facades of the building cast a shadow over the wide footpaths. Now our bikes dominate the roads and the footpath; whichever we feel like on this journey to Oxford st.

Oxford st. opens up to double width, and the footpaths are crowded with Top Shop-bag-touting tourists. We hit the road and cruise around, criss-crossing lanes as if it wasn’t one of the most famous streets in one of the most famous cities in the world.

The water of the Thames looks especially brown when looking down from one of London’s many boring, utilitarian bridges. On the way to the Tate museum we go through an underpass and three Latin Americans, with their guitar, accordion and trumpet, make as much noise as possible so it echoes through and out onto the streets.

It’s the thousandth time I’ve been to this modern art museum, and although a few things have changed over the years, the same stereotypical pieces are being viewed by the hordes. Across the river is St. Paul’s Cathedral, the same as ever–still can’t get inside without being called back by the staff. Rain and a chilling wind sets in, and we doubt God will take us into his warm cathedral without paying now.

For some reason, I still don’t get Covent Garden, but maybe Ivan will. Market stalls use hand-written signs and there’s no plastic used anywhere. Traditional music just makes itself heard over the general hustle and bustle and dragging of feet over pedestrian-only cobblestone. They stop all of a sudden and stare at the huge crowds surrounding the professional buskers, who perform right in the huge piazza. We leave and go back onto the working man’s streets. Whilst looking for another bike stand, Ivan flicks around suddenly. “Oi! Ivan!!” “What the–Boeri!” “What the fuck!!” Conversation continues like that until we’ve worked out that nobody knew each other was overseas at all. Which is funny, because we all are friends who live within five minutes from each other back in Australia.

Small world? No, it’s a small world because I made it one by taking us to this place.

The world won’t seem so small as night falls on the way to East London, where there are only Londoners around as it’s famous for racial enclaves and extremely high crime rates. And, according to friends from London, it’s got an up-and-coming nightlife. We down the warm beer, and Ivan pisses right back out again in a dim corner on the train platform. This must have been a huge relief, because he passes out on the train on the way to wherever we’re going. The two girls opposite can’t stop laughing, and even when they shout “Ivan!”, it doesn’t stop his head flopping down onto my shoulder.

Shoreditch is not a sight to behold. Neon lighting shows dimly through mist, and your shoes are soggy from all the filthy, invisible puddles. My small bottle of vodka is by my feet, in the gutter, and the line to get into this bar is promising. God knows how we found this place.

Inside, it’s old and wooden, with a big dimmed window looking out to the streets, but I shouldn’t be able to see any of that, because these vast spaces should be full of people. “This is really unusual. Every Thursday we come here, but it’s never like this.” says a Swiss couple living in London. We leave.

The vodka is by my feet three more times, and after walking out of three more empty bars, I leave it in the gutter. It’s time to end the day the way we started it: on bikes.

East London all the way to Central London. I’m not sure if we’re riding such a long way, but it feels like an epic journey with the cold night air drying out my eyes. I blink to get vision back and swerve out of the way of a van’s side mirror.

When we put the bikes back into a rack, a backpacker seemingly steps out from the shadows. “Hey ‘scuse me guys. Do you know any hostels around here?” I give him directions to our hostel, and give him a couple of other places to ask about. Some other guy comes walking–just about–up the same street and stands right next to us. He sways and stops himself from falling by hanging on to a sign post. “I’m lllllooooking for a hostel toooooo” “No problem; walk with John! He knows where to go now.” “Come on, man, let’s go.” “Ccc-cc-come on, man.” He’s grasping the post with two arms now. “What?” “Whattt?”

I have no idea what’s going on, and John the backpacker doesn’t either. We shake hands and I ride off with a hugely alert Ivan back to King’s Cross, where we meet John the backpacker again (still unable to find a bed) and talk incredibly bad Spanish with hairdressers.

January 27th, 2012 3:32pm