All that optimism may have been stripped away, just as quickly as it arrived. We rode from Heathrow, to Camden on the tube. Passing by towns, and suburbs which displayed poignant economic inequality, from our view from the train track above. As if, an elongated low socio economic area, with no hint at where it would end.
We’re not in Aus anymore, Toto. No more suburban streets, lined with well-maintained front yards. This was congested living quarters, of old Victorian town houses, and ex housing commission apartments living side by side. Some streets would be heavily divided. On one half, lay rows of beautiful freshly painted white town houses, with dark red doors, and Mercedes Benz parked out front. And, on the opposing side lay apartment blocks of brutalist degraded brick-style buildings, with dark stained cement balconies. Washing hangs from DIY fixed lines across these cramped balconies. Bottles line the streets, and rubbish piles up on the curb. Welcome to London mate.
It didn’t take long for the disparity, and poverty to confront us personally. As we approached our Airbnb, located only a short walk from Camden Town station. A lady in fingerless gloves hands covered in smut, and dirt, with a scarf across her mouth, came up close to us, and asked if we could spare any change. She opened her dirty hands, which held less than a pound in small denominations. She protested our decline to help.
‘It’s my birthday, you know.’ The truth to this statement could never be clarified, yet, I would later discover the homeless in London, seemingly always have a birthday on the same day they confront you. But, given there are now over 8,000 people living out on the streets here – a number which has doubled in only five years – there still may be some truth to their declarations of celebratory days. I mean, the odds would weigh in their favour.
Our few days in London, before our next departure was short and sweet. We were fortunate that it did not rain the entire time, as we rushed around the touristy parts of the city. Smashing out the Camden markets, Westminster, Big Ben, and Buckingham Palace in just three short days. All these locations, seemed somewhat underwhelming. I am not sure what I expected to feel, as I stared through a camera sensor taking photos of locations which have been snapped millions of times before. I suppose, with all the hype around these historical monuments, you imagine there will be some great feeling within you, which occurs as you peer up at a clock tower with a such a prestigious, and long running reputation. Yet, underwhelming would be an adequate way of describing it.
This concept of witnessing something up close and personal, which you have viewed thousands of times before in magazine pictures, newspaper articles, Instagram posts, and television programs. As a way of igniting a feeling of accomplishment, and or excitement, did nothing of the sort for me. It was disappointing, and unfulfilling, and this underwhelming notion lingered in my frontal lobe, from then on out. I would not say, I was ecstatic on the prospect of viewing these locations beforehand. I didn’t exactly pine after ticking them off some well-planned bucket-list, like many others in my travel demographic. Yet, when you go to a city like London, for the first time, there is somewhat of an expectation that you do these things. But, after these experiences any interest in the usual tourist attractions faded away, and my interest centred in viewing the city, how the people of the city viewed it.
It probably didn’t help that while I was busy taking photos of Big Ben, and weaving in, and out of the thousands of tourists that were out doing the same thing. I missed a mass Anti-Trump rally. I caught a glimpse of an assortment of people, packing up their picket signs. As we trawled on through, just as any other international tourist.
Signs read: Xenophobia + Myopia = Dystopia. Love and peace. No Trump, No war, No more.
This was my first taste of the disillusioned English, and European citizens, holding their handmade signs sketched up on cardboard cut-outs, and, I was busy taking a photo of a clock tower. Yet, while the volume of citizens out excising their right to political protest, was far greater than anything I could hope to see in Brisbane – or even Sydney. The number of apathetic, and indifferent tourists happily waving their phones around, and uploading snaps to their grams, was also significantly larger than at home – and I was one of them.
Our time in London ended, and we made our way to Kings Cross Station, to climb aboard the Eurostar. We were destined for departure at five thirty in the afternoon. This late departure, and even later arrival rides high in my thoughts. As we stand waiting to enter customs for St Pancras International. Surroundings us, stand professionals carrying only light luggage, perhaps heading home, or returning from a day conference. Some only carry a soft leather briefcase, or a laptop bag. A couple dance slowly, practising moves for what I can only guess is a performance, or even a recreational dance class. They stride slowly, and softly, to no music but their own. The gentlemen stares deeply into his partner’s eyes as they move through each step. They share a warm smile as their moves culminate to the end of their routine, and I choose to assume they are Parisian, if only for my own narrative.
As I work my way through the easy customs, I recall an article of an English employee who commuted across the channel each day, via the Eurostar. The commuters reasoning, was the rent were cheaper, and more liveable over the other side. I contemplate this throughly, as I depart London Town, for a short trip through its soon to be ex-counterpart EU capitals. When I return, I will be faced with the task of having to secure both work, and housing in one of the most unaffordable cities in the world. I make a conscious effort not to mull over this for too long. As just the thought of such an audacious task, makes me incredibly anxious.
The train is most notably boarded with Parisian, and French families, or couples. There are a few stray professionals, but their nationality remains hidden – except for those proudly displaying French literature in the hands. The train is quick, clean, and easy, and before we know it we are in, France.