"One of the gladdest moments of human life, methinks, is the departure upon a distant journey into unknown lands. Shaking off with one mighty effort the fetters of habit, the leaden weight of routine, the cloak of many cares and the slavery of home, man feels once more happy."
- Sir Richard Burton
I'm typing this in Sasha's bedroom, trying to type quietly coz the Russian Drunkard is still asleep despite it being almost 1 PM. Downstairs, his housemates are yelling at the TV in their comical Pommy accents, and outside, there's a steady flow of motorbikes, cars and trucks (sorry, "LORRIES"), which is helping block out the sound of me clattering away on the keyboard. If I'm not mistaken, Sash was meant to fill out an application form at his Uni before 1 PM today, and considering it's now 12:58 this could prove to be quite a challenge, especially for someone who'll probably want to decapitate himself once the hangover kicks in.
The weirdest thing about England is that it doesn't feel like a foreign country - or, to be more precise, like somewhere between Australia and Europe. With an outside temperature of about 25 degrees, I may as well be on a trip down the Mornington Peninsula, on some kind of "International Speak-In-An-English-Accent Day". Like Australia, it's also quite multicultural here: last night we had dinner at "Thai Food" for example, and for lunch today (if Sash ever wakes up from his coma) we'll probably go to "Turkish Food" for a rat meat kebab (and yes, as you can see, they're not too original with restaraunt names around here).
Anyway, wind back the clock to Tuesday the 14th of June, and I'm in the car with Nath speeding to Tullamarine Airport. After checking in and having a few drinks in the lounge, I passed through The Gates, spent half an hour flicking through Ralph, then boarded the plane to find myself seated next to a Macedonian woman - who, upon discovering that I'm Polish, kept talking to me in Macedonian despite the fact that I couldn't understand a word she was saying.
The plane trip was pretty uneventful, which I guess I should be happy about. The movie selection was crap so I spent the entire time listening to my CDs (yes, I actually remembered to bring them this time) and staring out the window. Seriously, air travel is the closest we ever come to God, if there is one, and from that height you can see why He never bothers to do anything - from way up in the sky, the world always looks serene and beautiful no matter what's going on down below. Because we were flying in the same direction as the sun, I got to admire a three-hour-long sunset, lighting up in the sky in Apocalyptic colours as if the edge of the world was on fire. As darkness set in and the cloudscape cleared, I could make out thousands of tiny yellow pinpricks below; the lights of small south-east Asian cities that indicated we were not far from Singapore.
At Singapore, I suddenly realized how many Slavs were on the plane. While everyone else sat at the terminal like a gathering of the living dead, staring blankly at the Singapore news channel with baggy red eyes, about twenty or thirty Slovaks, Russians and Yugoslavs were laughing, joking and making announcements to one another. At one point, one of them -- a tall, moustachioed guy who looked like a Soviet Realist statue - got out a bunch of sausages and a Swiss army knife and made sandwiches for all of his comrades. As usual, the couple of women among them were pretty and the men fell into one of two categories: either lanky and smart-arse-looking or big and oafish. There were a few Aussies on the flight as well; I laughed when one of them (a pretty weary-looking dad sitting right next to me) goes to his son, "Andy, mate, don't stress me out... just - look, just PUT IT IN THE BLOODY BAG!"
After another twelve hours of reconstituted food, German- language announcements and trying unsuccessfully to sleep, we arrived at Vienna International Airport. I felt amazingly relaxed, and landing in Vienna again seemed like the most natural thing in the world; like coming back home after walking the dogs. One of the first things I saw as I made my way to Gate 45 was the brightly-lit "Travel Value!" store, which gave me an intense sense of deja vu.... the first thing me and Paul did when we got off our flight last year was go there to see if they sold video camera cassettes (for his camcorder).
After flying around and around and around in circles, my plane finally touched down at Heathrow airport at 8:30 in the morning - apparently there had been a shortage of runway space so we were up in the air 20 minutes longer than expected. At Heathrow I waited for another 45 minutes just to get my passport stamped, and then got subjected to an interrogation that made me wonder if I hadn't arrived in Baghdad by accident. Everything from my mum's occupation to Sasha's nationality was asked, and it got to the point where I was just waiting for the guy to come out with it and say, "So, how do you explain all the marijuana in your bottle of shaving cream?"
By the time I got out of Heathrow airport I was pretty fucked; I hadn't slept for about 35 hours and really felt like a drink. Me and Sash caught the bus to Southampton, where we spent the entire hour-and-a-half talking to some skinhead about animals, films and travelling. The guy was covered in tatts and looked like he ate barbed wire for breakfast, but he was actually surprisingly knowledgeable and talking to him gave me my first taste of English friendliness and joviality.
It also gave me my first taste of a much-peddled truth: that talking in an Australian accent turns you into an instant celebrity here. Last night was a perfect example of this: after downing a couple of predrinks at "The Hobbit", me and Sash arrived at Jesters: a cheap, cheesy but very popular student night club. We went to the beer garden and sat down next to some girls, and the moment they heard me open my mouth, they asked me about pretty much everything you can imagine and got me to say "ketchup" repeatedly - apparently the way we say it ("ketchep" instead of "ketchUp") is hilarious. They found it even more hilarious when I started mocking their own silly Pommy accents, and we spent the next half-an-hour playing some bizarre drinking games that I didn't understand (which meant, of course, that I got a lot of drinking done). Sash then wanted to go and dance so we did, but all of a sudden the lack of sleep started to hit me and I went back to the beer garden, where I sat down for a minute with my head in my hands, wishing I had some Red Bull. All of a sudden, a group of rowdy drunk guys sat around me and started making conversation, and again, the moment they noticed my accent they couldn't get enough of me. They thought I was a hero for going out and drinking despite not having slept for so long, and kept offering me beer and calling me "The Don". One of them, every time I said something that made him laugh he'd shake my hand and say, "Mate, you're the Don." Lol.
I have to say that the British really do have a great sense of humour - something I've always said anyway but it's nice to have it confirmed. The British are as funny as Americans aren't, and one of the things that really strikes me about British humour is how unashamedly blunt it is. At one point during my time as "the Don", for example, I light-heartedly asked the guys where all the attractive British girls were. Immediately one of them pointed to a girl right in front of me and goes, "What about her, isn't she hot enough? You got to admit she's got nice tits."
The other thing about British humour is how random it is. Me and Sash went to a Thai place for dinner the day I arrived in Southampton, and the guy who ran it seriously looked and talked just like Vinnie Jones. Anyway, I was extremely hyperactive and giggly at this point, and when I asked him if I could have some water he immediately caught onto my mood, and pretended that it was a big deal that he actually had water in the restaraunt. He then asked me if I wanted it in a jug or a bowl and goes, "We have a toilet here too, you know." "A toilet AND water?" I replied in mock surprise. "Yeah mate, and the toilet's even got water inside it!" Lol.
Anyway, Sash has finally woken up now and, yes, he looks like he could use a Panadol or two.... now he's just realized he lost his coat and glasses last night, lol. Now he's.... he's rubbing his head and groaning - I swear, it looks like this is gonna be a loooong day for our favourite Ruski :-) Actually, I forgot to mention how I got home last night - you see, I actually couldn't find Sash when the club closed last night, so I walked back to the house alone only to remember that I don't actually possess a key to the front door. So, in my drunken ingenuity, I tried climbing up the facade to Sasha's bedroom window (much to the alarm of several passers-by), and when this didn't work, I began stacking wheely bins on top of each other until one of Sasha's housemates, wondering what the fuck was going on outside, realized that it was me and let me in before I attempted to do so something that probably would've landed me in hospital. Lol.
Anyway, I'm gonna sign off now coz we gotta go to Sasha's Uni then maybe check out Chesterville, a nearby medieval town.... there's heaps more to write about but I've gone overlength as usual and most of you probably stopped reading halfway.... We're off to do some sight-seeing in London tomorrow, which should be awesome, so I'll send out plenty of photos next time I write. Hope you're not too cold and miserable over in Melbourne and if you're jealous of me then, well, so you should be! :-P
What would Wil do, indeed - this is the question me and Sash have been constantly asking ourselves throughout the last couple of days, as our Slavic stupidity and love of alcohol got us into all sorts of trouble....
* * * * *
Last night, me, Sash and three of his housemates went to "The Cube", which sounds like a science-fiction torture device but is actually an on-campus student nightclub at Sasha's Uni. I wasn't really in the mood for clubbing (the time difference makes me feel pretty dead after about 9 PM) but Sash insisted that I come, probably because having an Australian guest with him increases his chances of picking up. So we dressed up, skulled some Russian vodka & orange juice then walked to Southampton Uni, where the campus had become a living ocean of legs, tits, and more legs & tits.
About five minutes after we got there, I'm standing with Sash at the bar when suddenly a high-pitched voice screams "KE-TCHUP!" right into my ear. I seriously nearly had a heart attack, and turned around to see a girl from Jesters (part of the group that kept asking me to say "ketchup") laughing her head off and asking me if I recognized her. I don't even know how she recognized ME from behind but she seemed pretty damn pissed, and for the rest of the night, at the most unexpected moments, I'd have "KETCH-UP!" yelled into my ear by her or one of her friends (which at least helped keep me awake). As usual, Sash got smashed within the first hour and kept trying to get me to dance, but I wasn't too enthusiastic about this since someone on the dancefloor kept farting, which made the whole experience rather unpleasant. The place closed ridiculously early and, since neither of us were in much of a state to walk home, we just plonked down on a bench outside the entrance and watched all of the girls walk out, tripping over their high heels and scanning the ground for lost earrings. As we were walking home, drawing swastikas & Communist symbols on frosted windscreens, Sash decided that he was hungry, so we walked some three or four kilometres to "Charcoal Grill" to get chips with mayonnaise - something I've never had before and which, I gotta say, isn't as bad as it sounds.
Today we went to Winchester, a medieval Norman-built town about 12 miles north of Southampton. It was an unbelievably hot day - seriously, I'd woken up covered in sweat this morning thinking I was back in Australia. Of course, for me, the unexpected heat and sunshine was an absolute pleasure, but all the pasty Poms reacted to the sunlight as if it was nuclear fall-out, clinging to shade in case their white skin actually developed some colour. Anyway, we got to Winchester and all of a sudden I couldn't stop sneezing; my old nemesis Hayfever had returned so, our first stop of the day was "Superdrug", a very promising-sounding place which turned out to be nothing more than a pharmacy. We then did the usual sight-seeing thing and checked out the main cathedral, then bought ourselves ice-cream and went to find the local castle.
We were wandering around aimlessly laughing at our own jokes when suddenly, the people started to look and sound really posh; everywhere we looked there were clones of Simon Atkinson talking about the weather and horse breeding. It took us about five minutes to figure out that, in our Slavic incompetence, we'd actually wandered into the middle of a private school on its annual Sports Day. We started to retrace our steps when suddenly, I spotted a stand handing out what seemed to be free beer. Sash was nervous about my intentions but, clearly, this was an Opportunity Not To Be Missed, so we went over and, yes indeed, they were handing out FREE BEER! I told Sash that if anyone got suspicious about our non-formal-looking clothes (not to mention behaviour), I'd tell them that I'm an old boy of the school - then realized that my Australian accent would render this pretty unlikely. So I forced Sash to order instead and, having received two plastic glasses of Carlsberg, we sprawled out on the lawn, slowly turning brown in the sunshine and feeling wonderfully, perfectly content. Nearby, a group of parents were drinking chardonnay and chuckling loudly about something; probably the deaths of some working-class people in a recent factory accident. As usual, the combination of beer and sunshine made me feel very drowsy and light-headed, so we sat on the lawn for almost an hour speculating on when we'll get caught.
Eventually, we got tired of free beer and cricket so we continued our search for Winchester Castle, eventually asking the local petrol station assistant for directions. The castle, as it turned out, wasn't actually there anymore - it was just a bunch of ruined walls, with an inflatable jumping castle and several porta-potties right next to it (which kind of spoiled the atmosphere, I felt). After strolling around these ruins we did some more sight-seeing, listened to the choir at Winchester Cathedral for a while, then caught the train & bus back to jolly ol' Southampton.
Anyway I'd love to write more but we're about to watch The Man Who Wasn't There and I don't want to miss out on Scarlett Johansson, so I'll leave it at that and send out some photos of London tomorrow!
I don't have much time to write anything but, if a picture is worth a thousand words than this e-mail is worth at least 13,000 words anyway (so about normal for me). All I'll say for now is that London is a FUCKEN COOL city; full of amazing Old World architecture but at the same time very lively, modern and cosmopolitan, and packed full of people from all over the world (ESPECIALLY Poles - not half an hour passed without me hearing Polish conversations on the Underground, on the street or in a supermarket).
Basically, the stereotype of London as a grey, depressing sort of place is about as accurate as calling Auschwitz "happy-go-lucky"; from my experience it's an awesome and aesthetically beautiful city, and the only problem I have with it is that it is ridiculously, RIDICULOUSLY expensive. I ran out of money so fast today that I thought I'd have to sell a kidney just to be able to get back to Southampton.... scary.
Anyway, there's so much more to tell but everyone's calling me from downstairs and I still gotta pack for tomorrow and have a shower and try to actually get some sleep for a change. So for now, please enjoy the photos and I'll write again from the Shire of Finland!
Promenade leading up to Buckingham Palace. To the left is London's equivalent of the Botanical Gardens, which on a sunny day is the ideal place to have a picnic, do some bird-watching or just soak up some rays.