Last Saturday was 08/08/09, or to put it another way, one year since the opening of the unbelievable 2008 Olympics Games. And thanks to a long-time friend and wing mate, my day was almost as eventful as the nonstop TV coverage last year.
I awoke to irritating sound of my toneless mobile phone vibrating ceaselessly on my chest of draws. It was my friend, Dee, calling to invite me out for the day. After stumbling out of bed, speeding to get ready and hurrying to train station, I meet Dee on the platform along with another old friend. We took the tube into Central London and disembarked at Waterloo station.
We rushed through the mess of crowds (who were jamming up every entrance and exit, as usual in London) and made our way outside to the street. There it was, the BFI London IMAX, home to the largest cinema screen in the United Kingdom. We had to navigate several busy roads before passing through one of the many subway tunnels that led under the street to the cinema entrance. Of course, had we been paying more attention we would have realised that we could have just entered the first tunnel directly in front of Waterloo station as we came out. Inside the circular building, we approached the reception desk where a typical-looking sales assistant completed our request for three tickets to the evening showing of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince.
Next we hastily made for the streets and headed towards the north bank, crossing over the Jubilee Bridge as we went. This was the start of our long day trip that took us from Waterloo, passed four tube stations, all the way to Tottenham Court Road and back. We cut through a park (full of couples and families relaxing in the boiling heat of the Sun – best weather we’ve had in days here) and some alleyways before coming to Strand street. We had planned to visit some kind of festival, but our stomachs quickly changed our minds and we began searching the many eateries for buffet lunch deals. Pizza Hut was on the list, until we remembered they’d finally got wise and stopped serving their all-you-can-eat-buffet meals on weekends, so we exited sharpish.
A change of plan was in order as we headed further into the centre of town, away from the river bank and into the quaint streets of the theatre district. Instead of going to some festival we thought it would be more fun to wander the streets in search of strange sights and cut-price bargains on gadgets and games. We carried on passed Leicester Square towards Covent Garden. Amid the cobbled streets filled with pedestrians, arching playhouses and small traders, rickshaws flitted about the streets. Their riders, young men (mostly foreign) with loose fitting T-shirts and battered trousers, shouted and gestured to each other as they raced their passengers up and down the streets. There was even a horse and cart.
Russell Square was as lively as ever. With so many market traders, old fashioned delicacies and musical entertainers around, we could almost have stepped back in time to the Victorian London of Charles Dickens’ novels. Soaking up the atmosphere as we made our way between the many traders and market stalls, I was stuck by a wonderful feeling of adventure and discovery. The busy markets of old London are exactly the kind of environments I relish visiting, with my party of motley travellers, in RPGs.
Dee stopped off to grab a pancake from one of the vendors – freshly prepared right in front of him and for a generous fee too. Upon entering Covent Garden, the traditional haven for entertainers (and swindlers) of all description, we were greeted by yet another bizarre sight. A lady in nothing but bright yellow furry shorts and a black bikini was balancing precariously on a small metal platform. She could be sent at the centre of a large crowd, announcing loudly to them as she attempted to leap into the arms of her fellow performers below the platform. We didn’t stay to see the outcome of their crowd-drawing antics.
I then embarrassed my cohorts, and myself, by asking them to sit down amongst the curb-dwellers so that I could photograph them. A lengthy spell in the HMV store immediately beside us didn’t yield any deals, but it did throw up some interesting conversation about Little Boot’s song ‘New in Town’. Props to Cranberry, of Fly FM’s Legally On Air show, for getting me hooked on this infectious pop treat. It reminds me of a mix between visiting Camden Town, the fictional Haven City (from Jak II), arriving in Nottingham and an old friend I knew in college. I don’t rate the promotional video, however.
Now, I’m sure you must be wondering why I used a photo taken in my fridge to be the main image for this post. Well, what you see before you in that image is indeed a real life can of ‘Slurm’ – the fictitious alien beverage from Futurama. I came across this remarkable product in Cybercandy, a store that seems set on spoiling ones teeth with some of the planet’s most sugary substances available from one outlet. Slurm wasn’t the only licensed drink on sale. Energy drinks for Nintendo characters, Betty Boop, Resident Evil, Street Fighter and even The Simpsons’ ‘Duff’ were on offer. I almost coughed up digital cherries when I saw the Pac-Man energy drink. It even said ‘power up’ on it for heaven sake! All of these cans were a merger 250ml, but nevertheless I coughed up the (admittedly shocking) £2.05 for the Pac-Man can and the Slurm can. I’ve willed myself not to consume either of these, but hopefully I’ll pick some more in the future and maybe I’ll have a Bombcast-style taste test.
Our next major stop was Chinatown. As customary to our inner city jaunts, mild practical jokery set in as I posed nonchalantly in front of a Chinese restaurant and pretended to be thoroughly engrossed in a Chinese newspaper. Chǔncái! By now we were extremely hungry and decided to get a bit to eat from one of the resident Chinese restaurants. That wasn’t my first choice I should add. I’ve often been wary of eating food from the greasy, unclean spoon of London’s many independent fast-food joints. This time my uneasy feelings were confirmed after I found a disgustingly long hair in my noodles. Yuck! Buffet or not, whoever prepared the dishes should have been wearing a hair net. I chose not to continue my meal after that encounter. My advice is steer clear of Young Cheng restaurant if you’re ever in London’s Chinatown.
We wandered passed the music stores and record dealers on our way to Tottenham Court Road. Forbidden Planet kept us amused for another half-hour as we browsed rare figurines, comic books, manga, and more. There was a jet black dressing gown with the classic Batman logo stitched on the back that I was totally ready to snap up if it had been cheaper – you know, I’d be walking around the house in that thing all the time. I scanned the shelves for video game comics, while my friend read out some absurd jokes from a book about Chuck Norris. Free of high-priced geek heaven, we made fools of ourselves in a women’s fashion store (that was formally Zavvi – I’m convinced the building is cursed, as the store in question was closing down when we visited), trying on different hats and sunglasses.
We were very low on energy by time we made it to Tottenham Court Road (we’d been walking up and down London for more than six hours). Tottenham Court Road and the surrounding area is essentially London’s electric emporium. The many independent stores sell big name brands like Sony, Samsung and Toshiba for competitive prices, in an effort to win customers’ wallets. This time we were only there to browse. Laptops, PC components, graphics cards, RAM upgrades, flat screens, noise-reduction headphones, digital cameras, games consoles, memory sticks – we faintly admired the shiny newness of it all before disappearing to the quiet backstreets of town to find a dust retro game store. Game Focus is the store we called at last, thanks to Dee’s directions. I was less than impressed by the lack of titles on the shelves that are on my collector’s list. In the end, I left empty handed, which I’m sure was for the best. Finally, we spent a short spell in Burton’s for some new threads, ahead of dragging ourselves back to the underground, where we took the train back to Waterloo.
Returning to the IMAX cinema to see Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, my friends and I were pleased to have seen so many sights on our walkabout. This was in fact my second time experiencing a film in the IMAX theatre (the first time was in 2007, when I went to see 300). We settled on some comfortable chairs in the lounge as we waited for the doors to the screening room to open. When the steward finally did unlock the doors I heard him say the film would be presented in 3D, which prompted me to exclaim a bit too loudly “I don’t wanna watch this film in 3D!”. Ahem, with an expletive that I shan’t mention here. Fortunately it turns out that only the first twelve minutes were in 3D with the rest of the film appearing as standard – expect for the super-jumbo screen. To hear more of my thoughts on the film itself, take a look at my film opinion post.
Once the film was over my friends and I took the tube back to our domiciles. It was a very long, very tiring and very eventful day. Thank the lord for a good night’s sleep.