A week in London

Sat in the Great Court of the British Museum

I confess, I can be kinda terrible at this content planning thing (in my personal life, anyway – it’s kinda my job at work). It can be difficult to find the time, will and energy to write things to a deadline when you’re doing it for yourself. You can’t force the chatty voice or thoughtful mindset that comes as part and parcel of writing decent content. Autopilot is not an option when you want to create something you are happy with.

That’s why I went for a lovely trip to London a month ago and you’re only hearing about it now.

It’s difficult to process things like your friends moving away. I mean, properly, not-just-for-uni-but -for-life kind of away. I don’t know if the ominous feeling comes from the jolting reminder that we are all getting older, becoming proper adults with real jobs and real responsibilities, or just a selfish feeling of loss because the pool of people I can call up to grab a coffee with has started to diminish.

In any case, that’s what I value about trips like these – embracing the beginnings of adulthood, rejoicing in friendships that are successfully sustained across distance, and having an excuse to go and explore beautiful cities in good company.

KPMG building in London

So many people hate London, writing it off as a concrete jungle full of unfriendly commuters. I’ve heard it be called ‘mordor’ in casual conversation, without any participants asking for further clarification. In some respects, I agree. It’s pricey, and although it’s busy, it doesn’t always feel like vibrant or energetic bustle. People are always rushing to their destination without stopping to consider their surroundings. But I quite like that.

I like feeling a little bit lost, a little bit anonymous. I’m the kind of person who’s perfectly happy to sink into the background at times and just observe my surroundings, and I think London is the perfect place to facilitate that.

I spent a fair amount of my time this trip sat in cafes or pubs alone with my book, listening in on conversations and watching the world go by. It’s a lot of fun to sit there and make up backstories for these extras in your plot – people you don’t know; people you’ll probably never see again. 

When I wasn’t being a creep and people watching, I spent my time chilling with friends. There was a lot of talk of exploration and adventure, but actually, the relaxation was very welcome.

Frying pan of sauteed potatoes

Dinner at the dining table

From listening to Ana’s piano playing to cheffing it up in her kitchen (in between binge-watching episodes of The Good Place and gleefully racking up the fatalities on Mortal Kombat), I kind of just enjoyed the company more than anything. The only reminder that we were in London came when we sipped hot coffee on her balcony, overlooking a canal possessing the slightly grimy charm that inner-city bodies of water tend to have, with the sound of the DLR rumbling in the distance at intervals.

Hands playing piano

My week wasn’t reserved to sitting indoors, drinking coffee and playing videogames, however. Ana was stage managing a play in Camden, at Etcetera Theatre, and I went along to watch.

Theatre’s never been high on my hit list of ~cultural things to do. My attention span is not long enough to sit and watch actors talk at each other, and honestly? I tend to find theatre acting kind of cringy… However, I’m open to new experiences, and always happy to support my friends in their projects, so I was looking forward to heading to this small fringe play and witnessing some impeccable stage management skills at work!

Etcetera theatre, Camden

I’ve got to say, I was pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed it. A tiny room housed above a pub on Camden High Street, with a minimalist set and a skeleton cast, it could have been easy for this play to feel very obviously low-budget (and low quality), but it didn’t.

A tale of a woman’s journey as an immigrant to America from Nigeria and her interesting relationship with the strange family she ends up working for, On Monday Last Week is an exploration of cultural identity, self-perception and discovery. It handles complex social relationships, raises questions concerning the still-pervasive fallacy of the American dream, and documents microaggressions faced by ethnic minorities even in seemingly ‘liberal’ spaces, all in a thoughtful and entertaining way, and all in the space of a mere hour.

It was a really good experience, and has helped to shatter some of the preconceived ideas I had about theatre as a cringeworthy medium for storytelling.

Sat in a pub in Camden

After getting pretty wine drunk after the play, I went back to another friend’s place and filled my suddenly-ravenous stomach with some 2am pasta. It was an excellent call.

The next day, we decided to head towards the British Museum to be proper tourists for the day, stopping off first at a cute little cafe, where we feasted on hot breakfasts and sipped on delicately floral jasmine tea.

Bacon sandwich for brunch in London

Sugar cubes at breakfast

As we approached the British Museum, we noticed a cool looking red neon sign saying ‘not for sale’ at the entrance to a building manned with bouncers. To be honest, we thought it was some kind of arty porn exhibition, which is what piqued our interest, so we were a little disappointed to walk inside and see very little in the way of sexy art. Instead, it was a collection of non-commercial work by company ‘Mother’, exploring the evils of the marketing industry in a variety of ways – from a catalogue of paradoxically useless objects, to scathing mockeries of the plastic surgery industry and various other bits and pieces, seen in video advertisements set up like a silent disco. The most interesting things there (other than the admittedly very cool neon lighting) were a wall of photographs of differently styled pubic hair and a giant inflatable breast, an installation piece from the free the feed movement, a campaign against the stigmatisation of public breastfeeding.

Wall of bush, Not for Sale exhibition, London
Red neon lighting, Not for Sale exhibition, London

Free the feed inflatable breast, Not for Sale, London 2018

I love museums. I was never really into studying history at school, but the older I get and the more I learn about some of the more gruesome and weird aspects of history, the more I want to find out.

British Museum, London

The British Museum is huge, gorgeous and full of interesting artefacts. We could have easily spent hour upon hour in there, fawning over the jade and the jewellery and the Islamic art, but my more morbid side knew exactly what the main attraction for me would be – getting up close to mummified bodies.

Ancient Egyptian mummy in the British Museum, London

I think it’s completely normal to have a fascination with death, dying and dead bodies. It’s such a mystery to us, not actually knowing what death feels like, what happens to your mind when you’re no longer alive, and what happens to your body when your heart stops beating. I love the responses throughout history that people have had to death and corpses; it’s so interesting to learn about the various beliefs about the soul and different cultural approaches to funerals. We’re really quite sheltered in our culture, I think. Not many people I know have seen a dead body in real life – and trust me, I’ve asked!

Mummified body in the British Museum, London

That’s why it’s amazing to me that in the past, people formed entire rituals for death and bodies, of which the Ancient Egyptians hold what is undoubtedly the most famous and most fascinating. Finding out how to preserve the tiniest details of a human body, like the toenails or eyelashes, so that they’re still clearly visible today, is incredible. And I get so excited when I have the opportunity to see this up close.

Sat in the Great Court, the British Museum, London

Once I’d sufficiently sated my morbid curiosity, Kim and I stopped for a coffee, perused the gift shop (demonstrating some incredible willpower as we resisted buying many an overpriced trinket), and headed home.

I loved my little trip away from Southampton, mixing touristy activities with some pleasant downtime. It just goes to show – all that matters is good company!

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