Londoners on a Sunday have a wealth of local hostelries, houses, hallowed National Trust halls and mind-boggling museums to visit. But residents, as it has so often been pointed out, do not make half as much use of the urban leisure facilities than the visitors to London do. We become nonchalant, because we can geographically afford to. Every morning, we flip our legs out of bed and bang our feet down on the ground of one of the greatest cities the world has ever seen and do nothing about it. On Sunday the pulse and shape of our world contracts and quietens. We lull about. Sometimes we pop into cars, brace the outer ring of the M25 and plough up and beyond, over the Chiltern crest of the M1 for lunch somewhere in the home counties, where accommodating family members furnish us with braces of beef, racks of lamb and we watch teeny nieces and nephews squabbling over hot roast chickens. But most of the time we buy the Sunday papers, have a quick stroll and set up camp on the sofa. It is our right on our day of rest, but am I the only one with the niggling feeling that my current London Tourist Attraction Report Card is due to say “Must try harder!”?
Personally, I just sit in the bath. But who is the maligned sadist who puts those free leaflets for holidays on Kos inside the Observer magazine on a Sunday? You know, the ones that are designed to fall out when you are reading the magazine, midway through your ablutions. I’d like to tell them a thing or two, you know. Things like when hard-working people are reclining in the bath on a Sunday morning they don’t want to hear about the beauty of the Sudan sand dunes. They want to shave their legs and feel smug that the terrifying monolith of Monday Morning has not yet hoved into depressing view. Cretins. And who is the really poor journalist who has replaced Kathryn Flett on a Sunday? The one who is submitting sub-Sixth Form wibble and dribble masquerading as original observations. Sack her, forthwith. A blow dry and a wry expression do not a writer make. I should know, I’ve tried. Whenever I pull a wry expression I end up looking like Queen Victoria on steroids. Sexy, no?
Altogether, London Sundays can be eerie. Although we have had Sunday trading in this country for nearly 20 years, Sunday still stands alone, quietly, with fuss, in some hellish weekend torpor. Torpor is the keyword for Sunday. Its bloated and hungover, and the fact it shares a border with Monday on the Ordnance Survey Map of the Week increases its sense of hellish awfulness. When I was a student, Sundays were flatulent, dreary and bagged up. Sunday was the day you returned from your parents house into the mawkish dread of student lodgings. I would, most often, be weighed down with fruitcake wrapped in tin foil and slices of chicken. A parent had wedged £50 somewhere about my person, which I would never spend on vegetables, at the launderette, hot meals etc, but which I would rather spend on on cheese sandwiches, crisps, Silk Cut cigarettes and bottles of Hooch. And I looked thin. And terrific.
Of course, students don’t have much of an excuse for not utilizing the splendid cultural experiences the city has to offer. Many of our museums are free (next week’s bloggery will be about the newly-vamped, entirely free and apparently splendid reopened Museum of London in London Wall). The British Museum is 3.5 acres of free-ness that beggars belief in its variance and may well be the most important museum in the world. All I seem to know about it is it has a nice cafe. Must Try Harder. The Royal Academy of Arts I am more familiar with, but not familiar enough. Must Try Harder. The Tate I can never seem to find from Pimlico tube station. The remarkable London Walks (a snip at £7 for two hours of walking entertainment) are fascinating and led by our best Blue Badge holders. I have only ever been on three, however. There are at least thirty more. The weirdest of the lot is, of course, the Jack The Ripper walk. It’s astonishing that so many people are obsessed with a series of heinous, depressing crimes carried out on some of London’s most tragic Victorian prostitutes, but that’s Ripperology for you. People just can’t get enough of the killing and the blood, and that stuff about him actually being Queen Victoria’s mother who was a Freemason, or something. It meets every night at Tower Hill and is full of bemused Americans who find it hard to envisage Mary Kelly’s one room prostitute hovel, as it is now a smart branch of Jones the Bootmaker in trendy-tastic Whitechapel. This walk is full every night. I used to quite like the evening London Walks, as it used to be one of the few theatrical entertainments which you could participate in whilst smoking.
But my favourite, favourite museum has to be The London Transport Museum. It has the best shop with a fantastic range of tube art on posters and prints from the 1920s and 1930s, and who could resist the splendour of a London Underground map apron? It also has ancient double decker buses that you are able to walk up and get on and pretend it’s 1931. There is a Georgian sedan chair, which I actually think would be my favourite mode of transport. There is a model of Shillibeer’s first bus service from 1829 and horse drawn trams. But it’s a perfect evocation of London’s transport system because it is entirely naff, no attempt at atmostphere has been made and it all looks as if it was done a bit on the cheap. The waxwork Londoners are peculiarly awful; the family of four travelling on the world’s first electric underground railway in 1890 look like the experience has been so shocking that it has given them a collective facial stroke. Over on the 1960s buses, ex-Madame Tussaud’s waxworks which look as if their hair is made out of bog brushes and who really should be melted down forthwith, sit on the lower deck, in 1964 Beatles-esque collarless grey jackets. An anaemic looking “Kings Road” wax girl sits slumped opposite them, as if she has passed out (the waxer forgot to put her spine in, I think). The 1930s Metropolitan Line train stinks of mothballs, because someone has dressed two 1930s housewives in cast-off hats that have clearly come from a mouldy provincial theatre’s costume department. The late 1970s Bakerloo tube is kitted out with waxworks of people who look as if they’re mashed off their faces, hanging on to those old springy, metal straps that used to hang from the tube ceiling with bulbous metal handles on the bottom of them, which used to scald West Londoners in the hot weather. Perfect for those mid-1970s heatwaves. Elsewhere in the carriage, on brown and orange patterned seats, nervous bell-bottomed commuters cast a wary eyes at the druggies, and then return to the gleaming screens of their new “pocket sized”, three foot wide Casio calculators. It’s like being in a scene in Life on Mars.
However, the worst thing about The Transport Museum is finding your way out. It’s impossible, because no one at TFL considered the logistics of having a museum full of signs that say” Way Out” and “Ladies Carriage” and “Exit Only”. The problem is there are hundreds of “Exit” signs and “Mind the Doors” all over the place. My first three attempts at getting out involved me firstly opening a small”Exit” door in red. “This is odd,” I thought. “although maybe just in keeping with the experience of old transport, what fun!”. Wrong. After climbing an ancient staircase I opened a trapdoor of some kind. Next thing, I’m twelve feet up on a 1880s hackney carriage roof where I stood above a plastic horse, whilst children on an outing laughed and pointed. I tried another “Exit” door next to a bus platform, where I was suddenly nose-to-nose against a brutish looking waxwork ticket inspector from 1973 and thirdly, most disastrously, muggins here walked through an “Exit” door next to a vintage fire engine that set off a fire alarm, alerted the museum to a suspected terrorist attack and got me into lots of trouble, because it was turned out to be an emergency exit, to be used only in the event of Al Qaeda explosions or Martian landings. Eventually, I just kept desperately pressing my Oyster card against a series of plastic walls whilst I wept, in a bid to break for freedom.
When I found the way out of the Museum, it was to an appalling dining area called The Upper Deck, featuring 1980s tube seats and angry tourists eating chicken nuggets. Like all aspects of modern transport with TFL, it was self-service. It’s menu has things on it like “London Pea Souper” or the “Tipsy Trainspotter” cocktail, in which something unthinkable happens involving vodka and passion fruit. “Underground Smoothies” sounds like group of paedophiles, but are actually fruit-based juices named for four of the tube lines, each one featuring fruits whose colours correspond to the tube line. The “District Line Smoothie” is a vastly disgusting sounding, bright green “apple, kiwi, grape and lime” concoction which may just as well be rebranded “The Bowel Loosener”. And the mind boggles at the suggestion at the bottom of the menu that we investigate a “unique take on suburban cuisine” with the Suburban Specials. God knows what that is. Kensal Rise Kedgeree probably, or an Ongar Omelette.
Now, TFL, I don’t mean to be bitchy, but it would be nice if the shop wasn’t actually better than the Museum. I cannot recommend the shop highly enough. (I almost always use it’s postcards, and I’m a sucker for pencils and erasers and pens with those fluffy bits on the end, but STILL) . I will report next week after my trip to The Museum of London, which unlike the London Transport Museum is free, where I hope not to be sucked into a space time continuum in the Victorian street mock-up, complete with urinals (yes, that’s apparently true) and where I hope the museum will be far better than the shop. The Museum displays have to contain the artefacts, but there is no point in the cafes making a mockery of them. So, next Sunday, with the extra Bank Holiday Monday as pay off, get thee to a museum, thee Londoners. I shall report back from The Museum of London, where, I hope not to find Tudor themed ciabattas and Georgian lattes served by Edwardian suffragettes. After that, I’ll be off to the Cabinet War Rooms, for the following week’s instalment. That’s nice. First of all I get to see the rich cultural and historical variety of this grand city that took 2,000 years to build and evolve and then I get to go to the Museum to tell me how the Germans tried to blow it all up. What fun! I’m off, notebook in hand, sensible museum shoes on, to delve through 2,000 years of history…..darling readers, do come back next week and see how it went.
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