Sunday, 12 February 2017

London Calling



Within the three weeks since my last blog post I was on a brief holiday in Austria. On my way back I took a slight detour via London. I have never been to the city before - unless you count Heathrow Airport, my personal Hell on Earth - but have wanted to visit ever since I did a presentation on its sights half a lifetime ago. It is also the setting of the YA novel I hope to get query-ready by the end of the year. While mine is an alternate, slightly futuristic London, I jumped at the opportunity to flesh out my Google Maps descriptions with real life experience and plunged myself into 26 hours of city adventure.



My journey started around lunch time on Sunday when my OH and I flew into Gatwick and I had the first of several moments where I felt horribly backwards and uncultured. I was riding a monorail to get from the north to the south end of the airport. A monorail, stopping in a tunnel separated from waiting customers by walls and built-in doors. I probably should not have been quite as excited about that as I was.

The train ride into London marked the beginning of a very long day for my OH, who patiently bore with me while I plunged into nerdy author mode, complete with notebook, camera, and far too wide a grin to be considered completely sane. The following comments, complete with time stamp, accurately portray the situation he found himself in for the rest of the day:

11.30  - This doesn't look anything like how I imagined it. My London looks better. Then again, we're in the south. I used street view for the west, so I should be fine.

11.43 -  YES! This is exactly what I imagined! Down to the graffiti!

Insanity continued - or got worse? - when I tracked down the site of my main setting. Green in present day it is heavily  industrialised in my alternate. Open to the public in my novel, it is private land today providing the playing fields for a school. By that point in time I was beginning to channel some dark author energies because the first thing I said when I found out the field was owned by a school was: "Sorry, school. No more playing fields for you. No more school, for that matter!"

Hatching devilish plots of greenery destruction.


The major downside of my chosen spot being privately owned was that I could not go in and admire the view. In my enthusiasm I had also forgotten that the view in my novel happens some 80 floors above ground. Sadly, spontaneously growing 80 storeys is above my skill level. The genie which would temporarily bring my imagination to life also failed to manifest so I made do with walking around the area, taking pictures, and getting a feel for the place. While on location, the huge grin refused to leave my face, prompting my OH to warn me not to look too creepy about taking my shots. Considering that two weeks earlier I had announced that "this is the building I'm going to blow up [in my novel]!" while walking around Edinburgh it was a fair warning. I assured him that I would gag my inner creep. Three pictures later I told him about a building I considered beautiful and liked a lot and immediately followed that statement with: "Naturally, it will have to go."

At this point in time I should probably apologise to London. I am, in fact, a nice person, very much in favour of education, conservation, and individuality and would never knowingly put humans, animals, or buildings in harm's way.

The rest of the afternoon was reserved for sightseeing, and while I enjoyed walking through streets my characters may walk on a regular basis, the inner creepy author was held in check. 

Originally, I had only calculated with one afternoon in London, but since my errand the next morning took 15 minutes instead of the 3 potential hours I had calculated with, I had some time to kill before I had to catch a train. Since we had nowhere to put our suitcases, we decided to traipse around Hyde Park. Much as I enjoyed everything else I had seen the day before, Hyde Park quickly became my favourite. A green retreat from the city surrounding it - and a place I could see both of my main characters enjoying time.

Evil Overlord Relaxation Oasis


The last thing I did before leaving the city was to hop on the Underground, which proved to be quite different from what I had imagined. Grander, somehow, and definitely deeper.

During my time in London I also observed that people do not seem to eat. Actually, let me rephrase that, because people definitely eat in what look like very fancy and massively overpriced restaurants. Pizza being a favourite. What people in London don't appear to do is cook or shop for every-day household stuff. I don't know how long I wandered through the streets on my first day in town  before I found a small Tesco Express, just big enough to get some water and a few snacks. In lieu of finding actual dinner-type food (rolls, some cheese, etc.) I decided to leave the actual shopping for later but even the slightly bigger Sainsbury's local I tracked down had little more than the bare essentials to feed two hungry and weary travellers. Having spent the next morning walking through a slightly different part of town I found only a Waitrose whose exterior looked far too expensive for my librarian's budget and put me off actually going inside. I didn't manage to get anything to drink until I reached the train station and one of its obligatory pre-travel-snack-stock-up-shops, which leads me to conclude that people in London are above such trivialities as food and drink.
All this made me genuinely curious though. How do people in London survive? If anyone from London is reading my blog, please enlighten me by leaving a comment.

Anyway, 26 hours and some 20 km on foot later I was glad to be on the train back to Edinburgh with a few ideas of how to make the real London bleed a bit more into my alternate story-verse.

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