Family loving and tricky magic in London

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June 8th 2012
Published: June 14th 2012
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There’s not much I can say about the 14 hour British Airways flight from Singapore to London– the food was poor, the service was indifferent and the plane was falling apart. We always forgive poor service and dodgy surrounds when the food is good, but the flight couldn’t even offer us this. I boarded in a college with 90 other students when I went to Uni in the 80’s, and the food that emerged from the college kitchen was far better than the food on this flight. However, we slept well and woke reasonably refreshed about two hours before landing.

We’ve come to London to spend a few days with Ren’s sister Romy and her two children Kirsten and Jared. It will be a great time, as we haven’t seen them for five years. It will also be great to stretch out in a normal bed.

We landed at Heathrow around 5am. It was raining and overcast, but it wasn’t cold. We had an easy path through airport security and customs, and Romy, Kirsten and Jared were waiting for us as we emerged from international arrivals. Romy had organised a taxi to their home in West Harrow, which was very thoughtful. After breakfast and showers, we all caught a train to International Magic (a tiny magic shop in Farringdon) that was promised as part of our belated birthday present to Jared. After he picked a number of new card and coin tricks which were comically demonstrated by the two guys running the shop, we headed to a nearby sushi train restaurant for lunch. We then jumped on a train and headed back home for a long and exciting game of Electronic Monopoly that eventually finished in the late afternoon. After a delicious chicken and rice meal that Romy had prepared for dinner, we sat back and relaxed with a glass of wine and chatted and laughed into the evening. We eventually crashed at 9.30pm. It had been a fantastic day.

It was a jet-lagged night. We made at least five trips to the toilet and we were wide awake by 3.30am. We drifted back to sleep and eventually woke at 8.30am. We (Ren, Jared and I) decided to walk to a nearby park to see how well Jared’s birthday boomerang worked, and we also fitted in a great game of basketball. We headed back home for a late breakfast, and after chatting into the early afternoon, we all decided to catch a train to the London Eye at 2.30pm. This was a bold move for Romy and I, as we’re both nervous of heights. However, once we were in our ‘pod’ and the Eye had started its slow and anti-clockwise journey, we were both walking around taking pictures and enjoying the incredible views of London. The group photo at the end was cheesy and hilarious, so we had to get two copies. The 4D experience was heaps of fun, and it also had a cheesy photo that we had to have. After a few photos behind a William and Kate wedding board (the Eye is incredibly cheesy), we caught a train to Westfield Shopping Centre where we had dinner at a Caribbean restaurant. The food was fantastic, especially the braised oxtail in gravy. After dinner we headed to the main shopping centre to pick up a pump for Jared’s basketball (along with a couple of soccer balls). We caught a train back home and arrived at 8.30pm. It was time for a game of makeshift Pictionary, which was absolutely hilarious. We then decided to compose a few comical group letters, where a topic is suggested and each person can only add one word to an ever growing sentence. Not surprisingly, the laughter grew louder as the night progressed. We eventually crashed at 12.30am. It had been another fantastic day.

We woke at 5.30am. We had slept through the night without a toilet break. Our body clocks were finally adjusting. We caught up on our trip notes and logged into the Qantas site to book our seats on the flight back to Melbourne. We crawled out of bed at 7.30am and chatted with Romy until the kids woke. We feasted on a sensational breakfast of pancakes, eggs, chicken and prawns (all cooked by Romy) and then headed to the park for a game of basketball and soccer where we were joined by two young neighbours. After a competitive basketball game we had a very energetic soccer match. I twisted my ankle and stretched my thighs, but I had a ball. Reverting to childhood is so much fun – I just love playing games! We really enjoyed our time with Romy, Kirsten and Jared. It’s so important to have family who you love to laugh with.

With time against us, we headed back to the house to shower and pack. We left at 2pm and caught a particularly crowded bus to Heathrow’s Terminal 3, switched to a train to Terminal 5, checked in and dined on fantastic Italian pasta with Romy and the kids (ravioli, linguine and penne) which I washed down with an Italian beer. We said goodbye, headed through customs and were abruptly stopped by security staff when they discovered the small bottle of red wine I’d kept from our flight to London. My backpack was confiscated and I was escorted to a special counter. Passengers are only allowed 100ml of liquid, and my Spanish red was 187ml. If it had been soft drink, I would have been allowed to drink it there and then, but that didn’t apply to the responsible service of alcohol. After carrying it half-way around the globe, I had to surrender it. However, I didn’t mind in the least, as we welcome all forms of air security. It was just very embarrassing.

We hadn’t been able to reserve our seats online due to a mistaken booking reference (our mistake), so we found ourselves seated apart. This was the first time this had happened in all out travels, and Ren was not impressed. On arriving at the gate lounge, she asked if we could be re-seated together, and the British Airways staff bent over backwards to help us. After calling two single passengers and asking if they would consider changing their seat allocation (which they willingly did), they seated us together. What a difference excellent staff can make. I’m a fan of British Airways again.

We were on our way to Turkey, and we can’t wait to start our eastern European journey. I just hope my soccer injury (ankle) holds up on our all day walking tour of Istanbul tomorrow.

After a fabulous Qantas flight from Australia to Singapore, we were bitterly disappointed that Qantas was code sharing with British Airways on the flight to London. The food, the service and the plane seemed straight out of the 80s. Enough said. Despite the fact that we were surrounded by three children under five, we managed to get a lot of sleep. I estimated that I slept for 10 of the 13 hours – I think I’ve beaten my own record!

There are so many reasons to love London, and I do love it - very much. I called London home for a little while many years ago and it’s still one of my top five favourite big cities in the world. We arrived at London’s Heathrow Airport Terminal 3 at 5am, and surprisingly moved through all the airport processes in under 20 minutes. Thinking we were early we decided to do some duty-free alcohol and chocolate shopping, only to have my name called out and catch the smiling faces of my sister Romy, our niece Kirsten and nephew Jared who were standing just outside the door.

We were only here for three days on this leg of the journey, so we didn’t have much planned apart from hanging out with Romy, Kirsten and Jared, going shopping and indulging in some all-important eating. To the shock and horror of most people we speak to, we aren’t here for the Queen’s Jubilee or the London 2012 Olympics. The whole city seems to be in the grip of Olympics fever, which is lovely, but we are glad we won’t be here when things start getting really hectic. 😊

We hadn’t seen the kids in five years and it was a bit of shock to see them all grown up! But it was also very lovely to see how much they had matured in that time. The last time we saw them we watched Sponge Bob Square Pants with them, this time it was old episodes of Friends and the Simpsons that we watched together. Our days had been planned, and taking Jared shopping at the International Magic shop in Farringdon for a belated birthday present was high on the list. Jared stocked up on his card and coin tricks and later performed a few Magic shows for us at home – he was actually very good, and it was very entertaining.

We had a sushi train lunch at Yo! Sushi at Kirsten’s request, and then made our way back home for a relaxed afternoon of playing Monopoly, which Andrew won convincingly; followed by Romy’s special chicken curry for dinner. We had to call it a night embarrassingly early at 9:30pm; however we both had body clock issues and woke first at 1am, then 3am, then 5am, then 8am. We sat around drinking cups of tea and chatting with Romy, and when Jared woke up we took the basketball to the local park and shot hoops until breakfast time.

Romy cooked a lovely full English breakfast, after which we made our way to the London Eye. We had meant to go the day before, but the weather hadn’t co-operated. We got a little startled when we walked out of Waterloo tube station and saw the very, very long line for the London Eye. We made a call to get fast track tickets and lined up for 15 minutes instead of two or three hours. The kids were eager to go on, but Romy and Andrew aren’t very good with heights, so I had prepared to step into the taker-carer role if needed. However, as I suspected, the carriages on the London Eye were so large and steady that there was absolutely nothing scary about it. When we got into the capsule, they both sat firmly on the middle seat while the kids and I were hanging out against the glass walls taking photographs; but within a few minutes they were pushing us out of the way for the prime photography spots – it made me very happy to see them enjoying something they had thought they were going to dread. As touristy as it is, it really is a fantastic view of London and I highly recommend the 30 minute ride, but only if it’s a clear and sunny day. If not for Jared’s urging, we would not have watched the 4D experience that came free with the London Eye tickets, but we were all very glad we did – the footage was brilliantly put together.

We had informed Romy that we would like Jamaican cuisine while we were in London, which made Kirsten happy as it’s her favourite food. Andrew had not tasted Jamaican food, and my experience only went as far as jerk chicken and curry goat. So it was really beautiful to have the kids (who also have Jamaican genes) guide us through the buffet at Caribbean Scene Restaurant with their ‘to the point’ recommendations. We managed to try most of the wide selection of dishes, and my favourite was the curry goat and callallo (spinach like leaf) with onions. The Jamaican rum cocktails also went down quite smoothly. We waddled out the resultant a few hours later with very full and happy tummies. 😊

Andrew devised a simplified version of Pictionary for us to play that evening as we didn’t have the board game handy. The kids had never played it, and the boys vs. girls game was as hilarious as it was entertaining. This was the icing on an absolutely fabulously day! As lovely as it is to have a global family, we really miss hanging out with our niece and nephew.

Kirsten is displaying a very healthy curiosity about other countries and cultures, and I suspect that she may very well carry our family’s itchy feet travel gene for another generation! I think travel is a fantastic catalyst in facilitating the development of empathy in kids, and I really wish that our society encouraged young people to travel more widely into cultures that are different from their own. Having said that I think it’s pretty poor on my part that it’s taken me so long to properly explore a Muslim country. However, I grew up in close proximity to Islam in Nigeria, so I have some understanding of it, albeit through a child’s eyes.

The next day, after a breakfast of pancakes, we all wandered over to the park to play basketball and kick the football. The next door kids joined in as well and it was very hot and sweaty – probably not the best idea before a long flight, but it was so much fun! We caught the #140 bus to Heathrow Airport and after a quick lunch at Carluccios, we said a temporary goodbye to Romy and the kids and advanced into the bowels of Terminal 5 to await our flight.

After three days of chatting, shopping, eating, drinking, playing board games on the carpet and ball games in the local park, we are all set to leave for Istanbul.

We will be in Turkey soon!


7th November 2012

My sentiments exactly
We had a ball and loved having you guys too. It's the most fun we've had in a long time and it was great to hear Kirsten and Jared laugh hysterically - thanks to Andrew's creation of Pictionary and story/letter writing game! Love the way you've captured London with blue skies, buses and brilliant heights. Never thought I'd see London from the top of the eye! Thanks Cucks for convincing Andrew and me. It was not until I read your blog that I realised how much we packed into that weekend. It will most definitely go down as a memorable weekend in our lives as you two know exactly what Kirsten, Jared and I like - quite simply good food and laughter! Finally, I am so glad that you liked my food. I did not expect the details to feature on the blog but it shows you did enjoy it, Thanks guys! Wander who's drinking Andrew's bottle of red? You should have asked them to make an announcement and I would have gladly collected it!
7th November 2012

Re: My sentiments exactly
Rom, we had as much fun as you did, - possibly more. Looking forward to more food and laughs soon! xx
11th December 2012

very nice picture and very beautiful city London
19th February 2013

Re: picture
Thanks Manjit. Yes London is a very beautiful city!

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