This is my first overseas trip beyond Asia and my first chance to meet face to face with some of our sister organisations from other countries. We land as the sun is rising in a clear sky. I take the shuttle bus to my hotel on the South Bank and along the way get to experience so many quintessentially London sights – unarmed bobbies in traditional helmets patrolling in pairs, Marble Arch, Parliament, men in bowler hats striding with furled umbrellas, and school students with blazers and straw boater hats.
It turns out my room won’t be available until late afternoon so I go for a walk in search of lunch, preferably with a pub attached. I find just such a pub, with a beer garden overlooking the Thames and breast the bar. I ask the barman for a beer and, hearing my Australian accent, he presumes I’d like a Fosters. I tell him I haven’t travelled half-way around the world to drink our world-famous cat’s piss and would he be so kind as to educate me in the ways of English beers. He points out that they have forty beers on tap and another hundred brands of bottled beer. I tell him to start with A and we’ll see how far I get after I’ve finished my fish and chips.
Only a few hardy souls are braving the beer garden with its unseasonal scorching 25 degree heat, the majority of customers having taken refuge inside. I savour the magic of being in London on a sun-drenched day, sipping on a beer and watching the Thames and its traffic go by. After enough savouring and imbibing of cleansing ales, I return to the hotel.
As I undress from my flight clothes to revel in a hot shower I realise I’ve actually got sunburnt. In England. In October. Fully cleansed, I lie on the bed, naked, like a nude pink whale-calf and close my eyes for a brief snooze. I am on the outskirts of the Land of Nod when the door opens and a young man enters to re-stock the mini-bar. It’s a line ball as to whom is the most taken aback but I am too tired to care and roll over to resume my nap.
The next day, I’m on way to a meeting at Canary Wharf. All is going well in my ride in that most civilised of vehicles, a traditional London cab, until we are confronted by a roadblock manned by Police. A major demonstration has blocked almost every thoroughfare from here on. I explain to the cabbie that I have to get to this meeting, one that’s been scheduled months ahead with an important contact who’s flying out later this afternoon. ‘Do me best, sir’ he says and manages to do a U-turn in the space of a shoe-box.
A few minutes later he turns the wrong way up a one-way street and we are almost home free when an impressively large policeman steps off the kerb and holds up his hand in a stop sign. The cabbie winds down his window and says ‘Look I know I’ve done the wrong fing but my passenger’s an old feller who’s got an appointment for an urgent operation on his leg and if he don’t get there he’ll have to wait munfs for his next chance. Do us a favor mate?’ I try my best to look old and in agony and the copper relents. We make the meeting venue just in time. I thank him profusely and offer him a generous tip but he refuses, saying ‘All part of the service, mate, and besides me mates won’t half get a larf out of this story.’