Mark Tanner - Adventurer, Writer and Amateur Beatboxer

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Big red buses and the Big Ben

28 September 2000

 

One trip across the Atlantic and a customary portion of gourmet airline cuisine later, I secured my footing on the well-trodden floor of Heathrow Airport, London, England. It was the proverbial tone of the English accent that broadcast arrival details over the terminal's loud speakers that made me realise big Dodge pickups and elephantine portions at fast food chains were a million miles away.

 

It wasn't a welcoming party of bimbos wearing revealing Union Jack frocks, wielding half a dozen corgis to greet me, rather the familiar face of my old school-mate Ben Wheeler, patiently waiting in the arrivals section of Terminal 4. He helped me and my bags back to his place in East Acton on what was to be the first of many experiences on the tube.

 

Over the next six weeks I enjoyed the surprisingly sunny tail end of London's summer, unfortunately not lounging around plush London hotels, but crashing on the floors of Wheeler's flat and Dewe's, Clarke's, Quaido's and Cowboy's flat in Willesden Green.

 

London provided an excellent opportunity to catch up with a good portion of my mates from back home, who like a lot of 20-something-year-old kiwis, spend a few years in London on their 'big OE' (Overseas Experience), as a base to see Europe and earn the pound, a currency where a weeks wages will get more than a pint and pate in Paris, and to experience the excitement of one of the major cities of the world.

 

New Zealanders and Aussies, or Antipodeans as they are known as (people from the other side of the world) and South Africans, have formed quite a community and reputation in the United Kingdom's largest city and are for synonymous for drunken, loutish behaviour and squeezing sometimes more than 40 people into a family home in suburban London, sleeping anywhere there is space in order to keep the costs of living down in this expensive town.

 

The Antipodeons have such a presence in London, that in certain neighbourhoods, it is unusual to hear an sentence that doesn't finish with "mate". There are a number of newspapers specifically catering for the transient population and more Kiwi/Aussie/Saffa pubs than there are Catholics in Rome. Like in a lot of cities where there are large minority groups, most of the Antepodeans tend to hang around with one-another with little intermingling with the locals. It is no surprise, as they have a lot less in common with a resident Londoner than another traveller and birds of a feather do tend to flock together.

 

As London is similar to New York in profile and stature, I was expecting to see a lot of similarities between the two metropolis's, but the similarities were few and far between. While both cities were a buzz with a hive of activity, and very cosmopolitan, while the New Yorkers were animated and colourful, I found most of the people in London to be impersonal and sour looking. When you actually talked to the locals, they were very helpful and friendly, but walking down the street or on the tube, most people wouldn't look you in the eye or even acknowledge your existence.

 

It was interesting exploring the dog-poop lined streets of London, which lived up to the common cliché of being grey and dirty, but it was fabulous to see the well-known streets of Central London made familiar from the Monopoly board which were graced with grand, historic, intricately-detailed buildings and filled big red double-decker buses, red mail boxes and phone boxes and black cabs.

 

Dewes and myself made sure we saw a good part of the city with a cruise down the Thames and an open-air bus tour. Over the next 6 weeks, I was to see a good part of the Capital city from the exorbitantly-priced Harrods, to the Notting Hill Festival, Picadilly Circus, Covent Garden, Hyde Park, The Big Ben and Buckingham Palace but what surprised me the most was how much I enjoyed the controversial Millennium Dome. The Dome, built near the new and sleek Canary Wharf, was an ambitious project for the UK to celebrate the new Millennium, by providing a huge interactive museum/educational centre and incredible, contemporary circus that would be open for 1 year only (year 2000). It was subject to a lot criticism from Britain's ruthless press due to the huge amount of public money that was used to built it, and although it became Britain's most popular tourist attraction, could never recoup the costs of construction, let alone operating costs.

 

I was on the lookout for a job in London, when I was contacted by my old neighbour from Wellington, Gav, who was in Ireland working for a mobile operator similar to Vodafone in UK and NZ who had a position to fill with someone with my characteristics.

 

It was a tough decision to make, whether I would stay in London or take the job in Dublin. London is a fun city, fill of people from everywhere and is a fantastic hub to get quick, cheap flights to Europe from, however I felt more of a connection with the friendlier Irish, and felt like I would be more likely to become immersed into the culture as I wouldn't have the comfort zone of my kiwi friends. Ireland is at the height of an economic boom, the Celtic Tiger, so I thought it would be an interesting time to be in the Emerald Isle. I decided it would be an interesting time to be there, so I made my decision to make the short shift over the Irish Sea, after a trip back home to New Zealand.

London and the boys from Willesdon Green

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


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