Day 50 of 80 — Tally-Ho!

Around London in 80 days: day 50. “I’m glad you joined us, otherwise it’s just whiskey and moustaches”
I just joined the team of Tally-Ho Cycle tours, without a doubt the most fun cycle tours in town. With a fleet of beautifully tweedy guides and bikes made in Shakespeare’s hometown, Tally-Ho! offers “quintessentially British experiences”. Yet they were open-minded enough to give this mad Belgian a chance.

Day 49 of 80 — Olympics

Around London in 80 days: day 49.
I’m visiting London for a weekend, sometime in 2012. The Olympics are in full swing, the town’s centre is constantly overcrowded. I have never seen so many people, all the time, everywhere, in every little street, on every little square. I’m making my way through the human density when —wouldn’t you know it— someone recognises me. “Jennifer ?”

Day 48 of 80 — Sporks

Around London in 80 days: day 48. Wembley Stadium. It’s a match day. Black trousers, white shirt, waistcoat: I’m ready. I have joined the ranks of hospitality.

Day 47 of 80 — Hats

Around London in 80 days: day 47. I first came to London at age 15 and will always carry these first impressions with me. Seeing a musical for the first time, chasing the squirrels, admiring the lights. Looking at the living statues of Covent Garden, standing in the reading room at the British Museum. And laughing, laughing so hard that weekend, especially at night at my dad’s Basil Fawlty impressions on the carpet-muffled stairs of our B&B. I fell for this city there and then, the start of a very long love story.

Day 46 of 80 — Books

Books are my anchor. They always have been. In my room I keep a box of “key books”, first on the rescue list in case of an emergency. I chose them carefully: a couple of novels, a couple of plays and that book I’ve had since before I can remember, a catalogue of absurdly brilliant inventions which reminds me of the power of imagination.

Day 45 of 80 — Bal Folk

Around London in 80 days: day 45.
A sunny afternoon in Hyde Park. Rendez-vous at the bandstand. The park is massive, the bandstand minuscule so it takes me a while to find. On the way I notice messy families, besotted couples, rushed office workers, acrobats on wheels, street jugglers and amongst the flower beds, a few lost daydreamers.

Day 44 of 80 — Labyrinths

Around London in 80 days : day 44. I’ve spent the last few years conquering labyrinths. The confusing grid of small streets that makes up the City of London. The intricacies of tube stations, never as clearly mapped out as the tube itself. And of course, the strange geography of our Museums.

Day 43 of 80 — Curry

Around London in 80 days : day 43. Believe it or not, when a group of Brits are asked what the UK national dish is, they all respond in unison: “Chicken Tikka Masala”!” Fish & Chips come second, or even third after Bangers & Mash.

Day 42 of 80 — Canal boats

Around London in 80 days : day 42. You only need to step out of the park to be transported into another London. A quiet, almost provincial one, a London of alternative lives, cyclists and canal boats.

Day 41 of 80 — Leicester Square

Around London in 80 days : day 41. Charlie Chaplin is no longer lonely.

He’s been joined by a crowd and there are now many stars having fun on the Square through the day, through the night.

Day 39 of 80 — Tube

Around London in 80 days : day 39. 6.30 am. Four tubes have come and gone already, full of hundreds of compressed commuters. They’re almost falling out every time the doors open. Upon the fifth try, I finally manage to make my way in. Boarding a London tube in the morning is an art. A subtle mix of firmness (“no, you won’t cut the queue”) and politeness (“but have a lovely day all the same”). It’s all in the eyes: no time to talk.

Day 38 of 80 — Stand-up

Around London in 80 days : day 38. My heart is pounding. I go over my notes once again. I shouldn’t be so nervous, I’m used to being on stage. But this is different, there’s no filter, no instrument. Nothing between me and the crowd: just me and my words. The previous act is wrapping up; my turn to shine or crash.

Day 37 of 80 — TV

Around London in 80 days : day 37. 4.30 pm in Hammersmith. I join my friend in the long queue of people already standing in the cold. In a moment, the doors will open. We all have tickets, but we might not all make it to the show. The tickets are free, you see, and always overbooked. They work on a first-come, first-served basis: for a BBC recording, you have to come early.

Day 36 of 80 — Breeze

Around London in 80 days : day 36.
Valentine Day, 2021. The whole world is at home —so am I.

As a walk through Victoria Park near my house in the East I see a lonely heart gently move with the breeze.

I stop. It does too; so does time. A minute of magic on a cold Valentine’s.

Day 35 of 80 — Musical lift

Around London in 80 days : day 35.

South of Waterloo Bridge stands the National Theatre. West of the National Theatre stands the BFI. And next to the BFI stands the Royal Festival Hall. A massive and complicated building which to this day remains a mystery for me. Concert venue, library, dance studio, bar, bookshop, café, museum, restaurant, market… the Royal Festival Hall is the swiss knife of public buildings. Built in 1951 for the Festival of Britain, it is an open space for people to congregate, with seating for whoever needs a rest, tables for whoever need to write, calm for whoever needs to think.

Day 34 of 80 — Red Velvet

Around London in 80 days : day 34. Ah, Borough Market and its culinary treasures! Whether you’re looking for a fine piece of meat or for a heart-warming tartiflette to go, Borough Market is the place. Any day but Sunday, you’ll find a heaving marketplace with tastings at every other stall. If you play your cards well, you could almost turn them into a free tapas-style lunch before deciding what treats to buy from this endless collection of delicatessen.

Day 33 of 80 — Lock-in

Around London in 80 days : day 33. 1 am in South-East London. A true Irish pub lock-in. At the back, a group of men play pool and laugh loudly. I’m sat at the bar with the regulars. I’ve never been here before tonight’s gig, but they seem to have adopted me. A few card tricks and a taste for Guinness go a long way.

Day 32 of 80 — Great Russell Street

Around London in 80 days : day 32. A first-floor flat, all carpet and trinkets. On Great Russell Street, no less. Around the table, two gentlemen. One is 76, the other 85.

Day 31 of 80 — RSC

Around London in 80 days : day 31. A couple of years ago, I booked tickets for a Don Quixote performance at the Garrick Theatre. I had fond memories of my last evening at that theatre. But this was different. A special occasion: this was the first time I was going to see a RSC production. The prestigious Royal Shakespeare Company’s take on this famous tale of windmills and chivalry.

Day 30 of 80 — Tower

Around London in 80 days : day 30. “Is that the Tower of London?”
“No, that’s Big Ben”
“Oh, okay. Oh wait, is this the Tower then?”
“No, that’s the Shard”.
I don’t blame tourists for being confused. There are many things in London that look more like a tower than the actual Tower of London indeed.

Day 29 of 80 — Squirrels

Around London in 80 days : day 29. Before my first weekend in London, I had only seen squirrels in Spirou & Fantasio and in Disney’s The Sword in the Stone.

Day 28 of 80 — Magic Corner

Around London in 80 days : day 28. Taped to a lamp post on the corner of James Street, there is a list of names. Scribbled, crossed out names, on a worn-out piece of paper. Most people don’t notice it, distracted as they are by the glimmering lights of Covent Garden.

Day 27 of 80 — Last Orders

Around London in 80 days : day 27. Contrary to popular belief, London isn’t one of these cities that “never sleep”. In fact, it certainly sleeps more than Brussels ! At 11 pm, most pubs close, leaving their clients to face a dichotomous choice : go home or go wild.

Day 26 of 80 — Theft

Around London in 80 days : day 26. Moving from Brussels to London is like moving from a tiny friendly village to a big scary city. You can’t afford to be too innocent in London, you have to keep on your guard, as I learned the hard way : in my first year in London, my bike, my bag and my saxophone got stolen from me.

Day 25 of 80 — Run

Around London in 80 days : day 25.
I keep running, running, I’m not very quick. I run for fun, you see, I like the rhythm. Under my feet London’s pavements flash by. I keep running, running…

Day 24 of 80 — Coach Station

Around London in 80 days : day 24. Victoria Coach Station is the most confusing place to find in London. Okay, maybe not the most confusing — London is full of hard-to-find, secret places ; it’s part of its charm after all ! But as sign-posted public places go, Victoria Coach Station is the most confusing to find.

Day 23 of 80 — Royal Albert Hall

Around London in 80 days : day 23. South of Hyde Park, near Kensington and its museums, is one of London’s most stunning venues : the Royal Albert Hall. Named in memory of Queen Victoria’s soulmate, Prince Albert, the Hall opened in 1871. Twenty years after the Prince’s “Great Exhibition”, ten years after his death ; exactly 150 years ago.

Day 22 of 80 — Lost

Around London in 80 days : day 22. “What happens in Canary Wharf stays in Canary Wharf” says my friend as we run like lost souls through the glass corridors of this futuristic part of town. With its tall towers and endless underground connections, Canary Wharf sure is a strange place ; very different from the better-known “Old London”, it features a lot of public art, modern public spaces, strange-looking new builds, a floating railway station, and the Museum of London Docklands (which I would argue is the more interesting branch of the Museum of London, with exhibits about the history of the Docklands and thought-provoking displays about the slave trade).

Day 21 of 80 — Serpentine

Around London in 80 days : day 21. One day, a few summers ago, I had a go at the Serpentine Lido, where only members of the Serpentine Swimming Club can swim, everyday between 5 and 9.30 am.