Since returning to Western soil in September my blogs have been anything but regular, that is to say, they haven’t been at all. Life in China writes itself, but returning to the homeland means the stories and nonsense doesn’t come in so thick and fast.
This weekend however, saw a change of locale, as me and my other headed off to London for a sneaky weekend. Having won the competition on a radio station we never listen to, we were feeling pretty jammy about the trip, which included our flights, accommodation as well as tickets to the UFC Fight (Silva/Bisping) on Saturday night at the O2 London. We headed off Saturday morning on a flight first thing and we rocked up to find the hotel a midst Dolce and Gabbana, Louis Vuitton and other such shops with doormen wearing fancy hats, who seemed to be trying to master sleeping with their eyes open. I suppose their time wasn’t entirely wasted; the longest time for not blinking did just win an Oscar boys (well done again to Leo, at long last).
We were put up in The Millenium Hotel in Knightsbridge, on a street which boasted the presence of merely one pub (that’s nothing to brag about where we’re from…). Having stayed in The Millenium Hotel in Beijing following my breakdown after three weeks staying in hostels (“I NEED to have a hot shower”), I had grand ideas about the kind of room we’d be residing in. Ideas they were, we arrived to the room to find the “double” bed no wider than three feet, squashed neatly into the corner of the room. While it may sound cosy, cosy it was not, with a temperature similar to that outside, which for anyone unfamiliar with English springtime, was about 4 degrees Celsius this particular day. Cosy!
My counterpart was dead set on hitting Camden, so after a short, much needed and refreshing nap, we hit the Tube station, a speedy 3 minute walk from our shoe-box room in the too-swanky-for-us hotel. We reached Camden quickly and soon learned that not only had the Emo Movement been living its days out here, but also that Camden was quite the popular place for visitors on a Saturday afternoon. We were welcomed above ground by a band having a jam on the street and a bunch of people bustling to get nowhere. People were spilling from the pavements on both sides of the road, and as my comment about pedestrianizing the area was uttered, a car zoomed past me at an uncomfortably close distance.
Our destination was the food market, which we found easily following our noses. It was tucked away nicely next to the canal and in a space that wasn’t incredibly large, were packed an abundance of tiny street vendors. There were many choices available to the palette, and while I’d expected an Asian domination, I was surprised to see many South American places, which were a feast for the meat eater. There were also some obscure choices I hadn’t expected, like Ethiopian and Tibetan Mountain food.
We opted for a saliva provoking vegan Indian curry, for just six pounds, it was about the only thing cheap we got in the English Capital.
After digesting our food watching the Ireland V England Rugby in the pub (before shortly ordering dinner), it was time for the fight. We tubed it to the O2 Arena, which strangely, is not just an arena, but also houses restaurants, bars, clubs and an eleven screen cinema- and let’s not forget its just a giant tent.
It was crunch time as we picked up tickets, wondering if our seats would reflect the delightful cell like room we’d been gifted. Luckily, they did not. Fine seats they were, with a good view of the octagon and located next to some particularly friendly mid-thirties British chappies, who had traveled from Southampton for the fight. Both were hammering beers as they expressed their delight to be child-free for the weekend.
There was a strange silence from the crowd of 20,000 initially and the fights before the biggie weren’t of much remark. Even the co-main event got whistled and booed as the restless crowd became more drunk and more fractious. The pounding of beers from the guys on our right soon brought them rapidly downhill, and as tension built up moments before the big fight, both men battled to keep the eyes in their lulling heads open. I was particularly in need a distraction myself, as yet another comment was bellowed from the seat behind about the octagon girls’ bosoms.
As an erratic viewer of UFC, this was my first time seeing Silva fight. As he made his entrance, “Silva is something special” was whispered in my ear and I quickly understood why. He was like a real live Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle and I waited eagerly for him to bust out a praying mantis. He didn’t.We were certainly entertained, and with primal instinct at the top of its game, I found myself leaping out of my seat, involuntary roars leaving my mouth as the action heated up.
Nervous about the departure of the last Tube, we edged our way to the door, hanging there until the end of the fight was sounded. Then we ran. We took off at a high speed hoping to beat the crowds. Forgetting our seats were right on the far side of the area, we were actually attempting to outrun thousands of people, which didn’t work a treat. Despite that, we found some bumspace on the Tube easily and headed straight for our hotel. We’d had great plans to take London town by storm, but our tiredness consumed us, and how could I break it to this face that we were going anywhere at all but to sleep?
On the morning of Day Two we awoke feeling hungover (despite the absence of heavy drinking) and after a bit of a hooplah checking out of the hotel, we made our way for a much needed breakfast. As h-anger set in on both sides, we barely spoke on the Tube ride there, as we both pictured the first meal we would consume that day. Sadly our recommended destination must have been as yummy as we were told, and all of London knew it.
The Breakfast Club will have to wait a little longer for our custom, since our stomachs couldn’t wait in that queue. We had a mediocre breakfast elsewhere and since they had no crepes, my day was close to ruined. I tried to put it behind me and look forward to the show we’d be attending; Stomp at the Ambassador theatre.
On the way there we saw a queue stretching for several blocks. Frightfully thinking people were queuing all that way for a Marinara Sub, a quick interrogation of a girl in the queue told me they were waiting for the band The 1975, who were doing a Pop-up show and meet and greet. What is with people queuing in this city!
Stomp hadn’t been my first choice (but who can justify almost 100 euro for Lion King tickets), but as I stepped into the tiny, slightly grubby theatre, I was instantly charmed. For anyone who hasn’t heard (which I hadn’t) Stomp combines tap dancing, along with drumming and creating music using any mundane item imaginable (including giant inflatable rings, metal sinks chained to the performers and flexible dryer hoses). At the end there was that bit of audience participation which I dread- but rather than the awkwardness that comes with that territory, I instead found my co-ordination racing to keep up with the clapping and clicking sequences we were being shown, feeling like a marvel when I got didn’t totally stuff it up.
Stomp was an exceptionally clever and impressive work of theatre, which turned my initially gloomy and crepeless Sunday, right around.
Finally we visited Chinatown (lest I go a day without mentioning my second home), which filled me with a wonderful warm feeling. Surrounded by sounds and smells familiar to me, I took in the China-ness offered in the lantern lined streets of the London quarter, wondering why Dublin didn’t have something similar to sooth the intermittent pangs of missing my Oriental home.