London Calling

The Clash, The Rolling Stones, The Sex Pistols, Iron Maiden − modern music might lack much of any edge if not for London, home to some of the biggest catalysts in the history of punk, rock and metal. As a fervent fan of these styles I had long looked forward to seeing the same streets that had birthed so many legendary acts. At last I was on my way to walk those streets myself.

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Paris to London was a train trip across land and through a tunnel below sea, taking us to St. Pancreas station where we once more hoisted our heavy packs upon our shoulders, making our way via the London Underground to our rented flat of the coming few nights. The flat itself, though clean and generally well-suited for our needs, did turn out to have a couple of drawbacks. One of these was the front door. Tricky locking mechanisms were a frequent bane to us throughout our European travels, but this one turned out to be the trickiest. The owner upon meeting with us walked us through the procedure to unlock it: turn the key counter clockwise, press the latch up (hard, or it wouldn’t work) and hold it there, turn the key again, press down, push the door open. To lock it was a separate, equally complicated set of steps. We practiced a few times and thought we had the technique committed to memory, but we did once end up locked outside and had to call him back to demonstrate again.

The other issue with our accommodation was our upstairs neighbours. Late on our first night there we were rattled by what sounded like a domestic dispute overhead, with angry shouts, bangs, and crying only somewhat muffled by the ceiling. A couple of bobbies responded to the noise, their arrival causing us to realize that we still hadn’t mastered the operation of the front door, which they found ajar and entered through based on the misconception that our space must have been the source of the commotion. We redirected them to the upper level, and soon our door was successfully closed with no more noise to be heard from above. From then on our time spent in the flat was peaceful and our mastery of its front latch accomplished. Our attentions were freed up to focus on what was to be found outside.

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Much of our London exploration occurred within and around the neighbourhood we were staying in, close to Portobello Road where in the coming days we would peruse its many shops and kiosks in discovery of t-shirts, toys, pocket watches, leather-bound notebooks, and all other types of keepsakes. We also checked out a few of the pubs in the area, where mostly adult humans were in attendance, but also a couple of dogs and children. This the norm at multiple pubs we visited while in London was in contrast to the restrictions of such establishments back at home, where neither kids nor animals are permitted indoors to the detriment of mine and my wife’s social lives, since we own a dog and the majority of our friends have young sons and daughters. Therefore it is often difficult to meet up for a simple round of drinks, but here we could easily indulge in as many as we chose. In either case we had left our responsibilities on an entirely separate continent, and so indulge we did.

Though souvenirs and watering holes were in abundance within walking distance from our temporary residence, the more famous sights of the city were located far beyond the reach of foot, so we ascended to the top floor of a double decker bus and visually perused the streets of London on our way to Buckingham palace. We arrived just in time for the changing of the guard, but too late to gain a decent vantage among the crowd gathered for the spectacle of horses, drums, brass, and coordinated marches. On tiptoes we saw what we could of the prolonged pomp until impatience and the promise of a sunny day compelled us to the neighbouring St. James’s Park. Feeding squirrels along the way we walked through the park and onward past Big Ben, then across the River Thames for tea and scones at an eatery by the London Eye.

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There were also other must-see spots for us to visit besides these more traditional landmarks. One of these was Abbey Road Studios and its adjacent crosswalk, made famous by the cover of the Beatles album named for the same street. Like several other groups of tourists milling about with cameras we documented our own crossing of the intersection. It only took two takes to replicate the iconic “Fab Four” image with my brother-in-law in place of George Harrison, my wife as Paul McCartney, and her parents filling in for Ringo Starr and John Lennon.

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This unfortunately was the closest we came to experiencing London’s music culture first hand, since on the night we had reserved for finding a local concert our immune systems finally succumbed to the wear of weeks spent in perpetual activity. Instead of enjoying a live performance, we spent our final London night with severe colds, nursing ourselves with scrumpy nestled cozy watching tele in our flat. It was one of the more subdued evenings of our vacation, but was also quite refreshing after being on the move for so many days on end. We only wished we had time to recover and see more of this metropolis we had really only glimpsed.

London, you were marvelous. I do however rue that sickness spoiled a chance at greater intimacy between us. One day, in better health, we’ll pick up where we left off. I still hear you calling.

    – Cory Magnus Stumpf

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