mud-larking and hand-bagging in london

There is something about the history of London. It’s not only in the streets around you, but it seems to creep into the air you breathe and seep its way through your skin. It’s little things, like seeing bullet holes in monuments, evidence that war must have been very real and very close for its residents. Or that houses without a plaque to commemorate the length of their standing have housed generations and generations of inhabitants. You don’t get that in Adelaide. Here, buildings built in the fifties are heritage listed and our history is like a drop in the ocean compared to England’s.


When we arrived in London there were plague-like rains. Our umbrellas bought at a local 747 were unequipped to deal with the rain that seemed to rise upwards from the pavements. We had to walk in this rain, dragging sodden cases behind us like so many other tourists, stopping at every corner and sheltering our phones from the damaging wet to check the GPS. When we finally arrived in our hotel our trousers were not damp, but dripping wet, right up to the middle or our thighs. We changed quickly and made our plans; we had three days in London and neither of us wanted to waste a moment of them.


I was off to Bond Street, to Mulberry, where I was determined to buy a handbag and revel in the fact that I could actually feel and touch what I was buying rather than placing an order online. Mr Thomas was desperate to go mud-larking ever since our last trip when he returned home with a bevy of artifacts the Australian Customs Service failed to check.


I reached my destination quickly, bowled over the shop assistant with my enthusiasm and made a bee-line for the coveted Bayswater Tote. Oak. Beautiful. I should have browsed Bond Street, I should have marvelled at what was around me, but I was so focused, so desperate to be in possession of the one thing I truly coveted that I had blinkers on to everything else.


With a shopping bag too big to fit through any train door (or so I thought) I took a cab back to the hotel, transported all of my things – there are always so many things – into my new bag and immediately left again. I had what I wanted, now I wanted my husband. Alone, though I was sure, thoroughly enjoying himself under Tower Bridge.


A text from him: the tide is in. Right up to the steps. No foreshore to step onto then. No old china wear, roman roof tiles and goodness knows what else to sift through. I knew he would have been bitterly disappointed. Stay there! Was my command. I want to join you, am on my way. Yet it took a little longer. Trying to work out the difference between east and west when you don’t know a city particularly well (unless you are above ground and have your vision to guide you) I got on the wrong train. Moments later I had righted myself but had to endure almost the entire circle underground. This is an achievement. Before our last trip to London the thought of being underground for any period of time was enough to give me an anxiety attack. Yet somehow my love for this great city cured my fear and now I can ride the tube like a pro.


I walked out to blazing sunshine. Impossible after what we had experienced that morning. A quick check to know that Mr Thomas was in his usual spot, the tide now receded just like the rain, and I walked on to Tower Bridge carrying my shiny new bag smugly in the crook of my arm.


I could see the tiny red dot that was my husband from the bridge. I wanted to run across it to be reunited with him. His stance was as I expected; hunched over, eyes peering down between the rocks, bending down to pick something up every now and again, to either place it in his pocket as a keeper or toss it away as another piece of common nineteenth century litter.


It was so different from the time before. Then it was cold and fresh and snow still dotted the pavements. In many ways it was better back then – not so many people in the dead of winter – yet I appreciated the stark contrast between the two seasons. The green versus the white, the grey versus the blue.


I got a coffee and a belgium brownie that I grew a little too fond of during our stay. So much so that have finally begun a diet to try and rid those extra kilos. I was happy to find the driest bit of the foreshore to just sit and watch Mr Thomas go through the motions of his agenda. People would say to us, ‘what are you going to do in London?’ and we’d reply, ‘walk,’ because that’s the best way to see the city, just walk. But the first thing for both of us was very different. I wanted my handbag. Mr Thomas wanted his mud-larking. By the end of the day we had satisfied both.


We’re not one’s for touristy things. Warwick Castle almost had us vomiting with its organised-fun, pantomime atmosphere. We’d hated it. London for us was all about feeling the city, experiencing it, rather than seeing it. We overlapped from many of the things we did last time. We didn’t see a lot of the things we wanted to see. But that doesn’t matter; we’ll be back soon.


We walked around thirty kilometres in three days. We were pretty impressed with that feat until our friend Dave mentioned that wasn’t even close to the distance he ran doing his marathon. In four hours. Smug fit prick. My blisters have only just healed. The last bit of skin, holding on so tightly to the end of my little toe, finally gave way in a sock, the bed, or the shower. I was a little depressed at that. It was as if the last bit of London had finally left me.


London certainly was one of many highlights in our trip, but it’s one that everyone can relate to. The feeling of being in a place where the rest of the world seems to be. There are plans to head back next year. But I’m a bit worried about that. London next summer will be a disaster. I think I’ll leave it to the athletes.


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