Tuesday 9 September
Unfortunately our bags didn't make it to Heathrow. Surprisingly, it had nothing to do with the fact that we had arrived at the infamous British Airways Terminal Five (One two three four five); simply that our Frankfurt connection was fairly quick and our luggage was left behind. The good news was that now we didn't need to lug eight items half way through the London underground system, which would have been a big challenge despite the fact that Lara had made the pilgrimage out to the airport specifically to help us.
The more tricky question was exactly when we would next see our bags again - the airline couldn't be more specific than within the next day. It turned out to be about 1am the next morning, by which time we had paid a visit to the very impressive Colliers Wood Sainsburys / Marks & Sparks centre for emergency supplies. To its credit, British Airways came through with a refund.
Lara is an old friend of Dave's, who he met on a tour in Syria and who has remained one of our good friends ever since. We used to catch up quite often when we were living in London and she did the big trip out to New Zealand to attend our wedding. She also put up with us when we were last in London in 2004. We'd warned her about Charlie, but she quickly realised how un-child proof her cosy flat was despite the precautions she had made. Luckily none of her eclectic treasures from her many trips were broken.
The next few days we reacquainted ourselves with London's finery and drabness. On a grey Wednesday we rendezvoused with Tamara at Kew Gardens, enjoying the beautifully manicured lawns, the hot houses, giant water lilies and encounters with peacocks and swans. Charlie was quite keen on our ascent up over 100 stairs to the newly opened, 18m high canopy walk, which offered great views and an informative ramble through the tree tops.
Thursday saw us wrestling with the UK banking system as we attempted to close our UK bank accounts, a hangover from our residence in the mid 90s. Dave's process was actually relatively painless, but Flick wound up needing to source additional information from home, which necessitated a second trip to the bank the following week. Dave is usually the one with a pretty short fuse when it comes to bureaucratic nonsense, but this time it was Flick's turn. She spent over an hour with a customer service representative who we believe was genuinely trying to be helpful, but was so thoroughly incompetent (in terms of identifying the correct forms to use and then filling them out correctly) that Flick just about lost her rag.
Later we took Charlie (along with Lara and Tammy) to the Natural History Museum, where he was enthralled by the dinosaurs, funny mirrors and life-sized stuffed toy animals. Poor little guy, he did some serious time in the back pack during the trip, but seemed to prefer it to the stroller and it was certainly a lot more convenient getting in and out of Tube stations and so on. Being up at adult height he could see a lot more, and was close enough to pull Dad's hair and ears when he was bored - what a great game! As long as we had his blankie (comforter) he was even able to get himself to sleep in the back pack. And at lunch or dinner time we could simply hook it over the back of a chair so that he could be part of the conversation.
Friday saw Dave and Charlie out early for a scenic walk along the Wandle River (a tributary of the Thames), past a working farm and wetland to Morden Hall where we did some squirrel spotting. In fact, we did quite a bit of squirrel spotting on both sides of the Atlantic and even saw the odd chipmunk. Do English and Americans go as gaga for possums when they come to Australia as antipodeans seem to for nut-eating rodents with bushy tails?
During the first couple of weeks Dave was still in work mode in the mornings due to an impending project deadline. The normal routine was a couple of hours of emails and phone calls generally accompanied by a level of stress and frustration before switching to sight seeing and socialising mode for the rest of the day. The holiday really began for Dave in Paris - deadline over and the laptop left behind at Lara's place. While it came out again in North America it was mainly to keep the email build up under control, with relatively little requiring immediate response.
Late morning we took a trip to the East End, Flick's old stamping ground when she sold fabrics wholesale (by the kilometre) to the cut make & trim sweat shops that made cheap knock-offs of designer clothes. Sometimes she collected payments on her way back - one time in particular she had over £30,000 in cash in her backpack and was feeling extremely vulnerable as she made her way to her firm's office in North East London, keeping Dave informed of her progress by mobile. She observed that these days the East End seems like an altogether nicer part of town. If not gentrified, then certainly no longer as slummy as it used to be.
Flick had arranged to meet with her former customer Mr Claire, a delightful Indian gentleman who shouted us a tasty lunch at a nearby restaurant. Afterwards, Charlie had fun crawling around Mr Claire's store and playing peepo through the racks of skirts and dresses.
Next we wandered over to the Spitalfields Market, enjoying a particularly fine chocolate brownie and admiring the intricate corsetry at Fairy Goth Mother. Tammy hooked up with us for the last time (she was about to head off on a holiday to Thailand) and we enjoyed a drink and snack at a Las Iguanas restaurant. Charlie was given a balloon and seemed to enjoy sucking on the limes from Dave's caipirinha Dave in turn had a trip down memory lane, going past 135 Bishopsgate to Liverpool St Station - where the East End meets the financial district.
Dave cooked nachos that night. Lara had invited over a work colleague, Chris, a web designer who was planning to migrate to New Zealand and wanted to get a local's perspective (if you can still call us locals)…
Click here to check out our weekend in Northern Ireland, otherwise keep reading for our second week in London.
The rest of the week was a blur of people- and sight-seeing in which we introduced Charlie to London's main sights and caught up with old friends. Tuesday's line up (after watching the sobering images of Lehman's demise, affecting 5,000 UK-based employees) included lunch at the Barbican with Tom, Flick's one-time babysitting client when they were neighbours in Cambridge. Now living in an apartment in the distinctive arts centre (where we enjoyed Shakespearean performances by the RSC when we lived in London). Charlie was more interested in the playground where he discovered that slides are almost as fun as swings.
We then made our way via the elevated walkway system to the London Museum where we were just in time for a guided tour of the Great Fire gallery - a most interesting and effective presentation. We then made our way to Threadneedle St in time to catch the early wave of commuters heading home from the Bank of England and surrounding institutions, grim faced as the full extent of the credit crunch started to hit home.
Wednesday morning saw Flick picking out some great maternity bargains at Gap with Lara, met later by Dave and Charlie for an inspection of Hamley's toy store on Regent St. Then it was on the big double decker sight-seeing bus for a city tour. In the late afternoon we wandered from Picadilly Circus via Trafalgar Square across the Thames on Charing Cross Bridge to the Royal Festival Hall to meet Andrew and Natalie for dinner at Giraffe, which had child friendly wait staff and balloons for kids, much to Charlie's delight.
The next day we completed our sight seeing with a Thames river cruise from Westminster, for which we were somewhat under dressed given overcast skies and a stiff autumn breeze. Retreating into the covered part of the boat Charlie enjoyed crawling around on the seats and tables until we disembarked at the Tower of London.
From there we tubed it North East to Turnpike Lane to lunch with Rachael and part of her family (son name) in their relaxed terrace home. An Aussi girl, Flick cornered Rachael on an exercycle at the gym we used to go to while we were living in London. Once Rachael had established that Flick wasn't a stalker and was simply looking for some antipodean company, they became good friends. Some time later we dragged her to a party hosted by a former NZ Treasury colleague of Dave's where within an hour or so she had hitched her future husband, a Kiwi we knew named John. We attended their wedding in Goulburn shortly after we moved to Sydney, but they have set up their home and family in London and show no signs of returning to this part of the world.
In the evening we caught up with Andrew and Mariana in Clapham for a delicious Italian meal. Andrew was in Dave's year at Wellington College and remotely organised our 20 year reunion, which was held in early 2008.
On Friday we lunched with Miranda at Yard, a funky pizza restaurant in Tabernacle Street. Dining in a quiet cellar area (with great wash rooms featuring beautiful original ceramic tiles, Charlie was able to crawl around on a large sofa and seemed to enjoy his pizza. Miranda is an old school friend of Flick's and has been based in London for some years. After lunch Flick worked out that we were within walking distance of Spitalfields so we trooped back for some more brownie. Then it was round to Regent's Park for afternoon tea with Dave's cousin Alec, who started off as a roadie for bands and now manages acts such as Oasis and Neil Finn. In the evening Dave cooked nachos (again) and Lara introduced us to a colleague who was planning to migrate to New Zealand and was keen to get some tips.
Saturday was a beautiful day with a summery feel to it. We'd arranged a casual pub lunch at the Windmill in Clapham Common, which was attended by Drew, Lucy (a fellow Karori-ite and Marsden old girl) and her partner and two fellow Vietnam tourists from our trip there in '06 - Kym and Dave (along with his partner). Several refreshing lagers and some bangers & mash later a few of us retired to the common to sit on the grass with ice creams. Charlie had a play on the swings.