Friday, 19 August 2011

London Baby - Day Two Part One - On the Steps of Old St Pauls

Friday morning dawned and, after a good night's sleep in the surprisingly comfortable Travelodge bed, we made our way to the first place on our day's itinerary. I have a compulsion to over-research and over-plan any trip I intend to go on, which actually ends up being a good thing because the Yorkshireman and I are both indecisive and easily bored when we have nothing to do. For this trip my research had led me to a tour of BBC Television Centre, the birthplace of so many shows we grew up watching (and still do!).

So it was back down to Fulham Road to Fulham Broadway station (with a quick detour via Krispy Kreme and Starbucks, sugar and caffeine being the only way to start a busy day of sightseeing) and back into the Underground. At least for today we were free of our monkeys, which made it a lot easier to get around. We emerged at White City station and, hey presto, there across the road in all its glory, just like you've doubtlessly seen on TV, was Television Centre itself. We checked in at reception for our tour and waited around for our guide alongside the group of bored-looking college students who would be joining us.

The tour was pretty cool but, in my opinion, too short. We started off outside where we got to see the actual Tardis from Doctor Who (well, one of them anyway), which was pretty cool. Then we were off to the news area, where we got to sit around a conference table in a completely transparent meeting room in the middle of the news room, gawping out at the hardworking journalists like they were an exhibit in a zoo. Or maybe we were the exhibit... Either way it was pretty cool.

Also? The guide told us that, when you see the journalists all working hard in the news room in the background on the news? It's all CGI! They're not real journalists! Something about the real journalists not wanting millions of viewers worldwide to see when they fall over their handbag or drop ketchup on their shirt, which I suppose is fair enough, given that if I worked there, that person would be me. But still, I will never watch the news the same way again!

Other highlights of the tour included:
  • The circular outdoor concourse in the middle of the Centre that is affectionately known as the "concrete donut" and contains a fountain that they have to keep dry because the sound of the running water makes all of the BBC employees want to wee constantly.
  • The superdupermegastars' dressing room as used by the likes of Elton John, Justin Bieber and Lady Gaga.
  • a huge studio with a billion lights suspended from the ceiling which they apparently call "the comedy studio" because a lot of comedy shows have been filmed there
  • The corridor outside the weather offices where we saw actual weatherman Liam Dutton en route to do his thang.
  • An Interactive Studio where poor unsuspecting visitors are bullied by eager tour guides and meanie spouses to take part in a pretend quiz show and lose to a sixteen year old (who was so totally cheating by the way).
  • The gift shop.

It only took about an hour and I would loved to see more of the place, for example a studio all set for filming (or even being prepared) or some costumes (we had been thrilled to see one of Kryten's heads from Red Dwarf randomly on display in the Interactive Studio), but it wasn't to be. The tour was still worth it though and I think it would have been better if you were in a group who were actually interested and asked questions rather than just awkwardly staring at the floor beside the guide's feet and staying resolutely silent like the college students in ours. BBC Television Centre is apparently now up for sale so if you'd like to see a true piece of entertainment history you'll need to book a tour before it's too late.

Next we decided to pay a visit to St Paul's Cathedral. Actually that's stretching the truth a bit. I'd decided I wanted to go to the shopping centre One New Change because I'd read it had a cool rooftop terrace open to the public with great views of London and, also, a recent episode of The Apprentice had featured Lord Suralan descending in the awesome glass lift they had there, with a view of St Paul's in the background, so I wanted to look stern and grumpy in the lift too. Just for the craic. But we happened to be passing St Pauls on the way from the Tube anyway, so we stopped to take a look and for the Yorkshireman to take a billion photos (as he is often wont to do). We couldn't see inside (they were consecrating a Bishop or some such that day apparently) but we did see plenty of pigeons on the steps, which meant I went around singing Feed The Birds from Mary Poppins for the rest of the day.

After getting a bit befuddled with directions we eventually found One New Change. It was all very posh black and metal and glass and I quite liked it, although it seemed a bit intimidating. We made our way up to the roof garden (although there were disappointingly too many people in the lift to pretend to be Lord Surlan) and checked out the view, which was indeed quite cool. After another few photos we pondered our next move and decided that lunch would be the answer.

We descended once again in the glass lift (this time I even got to try on my surly Suralan pose) and after some deliberation of our options chose Eat for lunch. We don't have Eat in Northern Ireland so even though it was a chain (like most of the places there) it had a certain novelty value. However I went into Apprentice overload when I realised their menu included pie, mash and mushy peas! Like Tom and Helen's MyPy! So, of course, that is what we went for, served up in the same cute little brown boxes Tom and Helen had originally chosen for their pies. I also had a vanilla cupcake (all contenders are eligible for the title of "best cupcake"). We then ascended back up to the roof garden and sat eating hot pies, mash potatoes and mushy peas in 20°+ heat. Perhaps sandwiches may have been more weather-appropriate but the food was very nice anyway, although the cupcake tasted disappointingly mass-produced (which I suppose, in fairness, it probably was).

After lunch we sat and deliberated our next move. We had originally planned to visit Vinopolis to taste some wine and beer and generally have a (quite expensive) merry old time. However neither of us was really in the mood for wine (both finding ourselves in more of an ale frame of mind at the time) and it seemed a shame to spend so much money on something we would probably enjoy more at a later date. But what to do instead?!

There was a whole huge city out there (we could see it from where we were sitting!) and my Time Out app was listing thousands of things to do in London that day but yet our choices still seemed minimal. We'd already done most of the usual touristy stuff on previous trips and we didn't want to pay the extortionate amounts of money or queue for twenty years to do anything we'd so far missed on the tourist trail. We looked up tour times for brewery tours but they were too late or too far away. We considered the IMAX but the only thing showing was Harry Potter (no thanks!). In the end I declared that we should get out of the sun (my legs felt like they were on fire in my black trousers) and go find a nice shady pub with alcomahol in it to consider further.

However there seemed to be some kind of breakdown in communication somewhere along the way as I dutifully followed the Yorkshireman through the streets of London (I am useless at directions without the aid of a map) to what I believed was going to be an area thriving with pubs. But no! I discovered en route we were actually somehow on our way to the Museum of London instead! What?How?When?Why?! Ale, man! I clearly demanded a pint of ale! Not a museum! How did that happen? You wily Yorkshireman, you! Trying to make me be all edumacated instead of drunk! Why I oughta..! In the end we compromised - we sipped our pints of London Pride in what was clearly a popular businessman's lunchtime haunt close to the Museum and then headed in for some culture.

Actually, for a museum, the Museum of London was pretty good. It wasn't a massive museum but they've managed to somehow cram exhibits about the whole history of the city from prehistoric times right up to today. Like all museums it had some pretty dull exhibits and some more interesting ones. My favourites were probably the Victorian Walk and Pleasure Garden (always a fan of interactive exhibits at museums and these were very pretty) and the film exhibition about London in World War II (heart-wrenching but really interesting). Admission is free so if you're interested in museums and you've already done all the major ones in London, it's definitely a decent way to pass an hour or two and learn more about the history of the city you're exploring.

Having exhausted the exhibits at the Museum, we set off back to our hotel to get ready for a night out on the tiles. Apart from the football match, this evening was what I has been looking forward to the most for the whole trip.

To be continued…

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