Monday, September 24, 2012

London 2012 Part IV: The Killers in Leeds

In Dave Grohl’s biography, This Is A Call, biographer Paul Brannigan says that there was a song that changed the young Grohl’s life. He played this song over and over and over again on the record player, and that’s when he knew that his life would never be the same again. That was the beginning of his journey towards being what he is today – one of the greatest legends music has ever know.

Now, I’m not saying I’ll ever be one of the greatest anythings, but I did have a similar experience. If I’d never heard The Killers’ ‘A Dustland Fairytale’, I have no doubt in my mind that I would still be studying science, in a lab somewhere, not in Cape Town working for a TV show. I don’t feel like elaborating, I’m too lazy, but that’s the truth, accept it.

I love this band so much, to me it’s not just that I enjoy their music – it’s that they’ve made my life so much better over the past three years, and I’d do anything for them. When they produce a hit, I’m as proud as I would be of my best friend. And they never disappoint me. The day after I saw them live in Cape Town in December 2009, I started plotting how I’d see them again. I promised myself that I would travel to the UK to see them when their next tour began, and it was a promise I was determined to keep. To me, every moment of every day since that hot December night in Paarl had been leading up to this concert in Leeds.

And it was tomorrow. I had to do something to kill time all day. Jess, Bubba and Alice were to arrive sometime in the afternoon, and they were staying at the same Travelodge as me, but for now it was barely 9am, and I was unable to sit still.

Leeds, as it turns out, is probably my favourite of all the towns I visited in the UK. But that may be because I saw The Killers there. Or it might not be. I often battle to differentiate between what’s real and what’s superimposed by my memories and emotions. We set off on foot through the town and soon come to something called the Corn Exchange. I have no idea what it is, but it’s pretty. And then we keep walking, past shops and restaurants and just about everything else. I do quite a fair amount of clothing shopping – finally – but our real mission is to find the O2 Academy, where the concert will take place tomorrow night. Although thanks to our shopping, it takes a good few hours to get there, it must be less than a mile’s walk from the Travelodge. When we finally get there though, I’m gobsmacked. It’s tiny. Tiny, I tell you. I mean, I knew it could only hold 2400 or so people, but hearing a figure and physically seeing the venue are two hugely different concepts. To put this in context, the last time I saw this band I was one of 19 000 people on a polo field between the mountains, and when I see them again later this weekend at V Festival, I will be one of 80 000. The O2 Academy is probably smaller than the average university pub. Not that I’m complaining.

On the way back to the hotel, I spot several Starbucks outlets – I must bear this in mind, surely Rob will need a latte sometime tomorrow, perhaps I can tweet him the location of the nearest coffee place.

When I get back to the Travelodge, I spy three girls huddled on a couch in the corner, giggling. I’ve never met them before, but I’d recognize them a mile away. My Twitter buddies. I take a deep breathe. I’ve been chatting to these girls about our common interests which include not only the band we’re in town to see, but also The Gaslight Anthem, Taylor Swift and cats for years, and now we’re in the same room. It just does not feel real. But it’s real enough when I walk up to them, grin and say hi. We all hug and squeal for a bit, and they tell me they’re waiting for Sinead, who is still on the way from Portsmouth, and their rooms are in her name. I tell them to lie and say they’re her and then I go back to my room, promising to see all of them later.

I don’t have to wait long, because I soon hear giggling outside my door and pop my head out. Yes, the girls are in the room next to me. It’s fate. We gather in my room to fangirl a bit over the fact that both The Killers and Brian Fallon are in the latest issue of NME, which I bought at an actual record shop in town. Then we talk about cats and take photos and squeal some more, and everything in the world is wonderful. They bond very well with my mom – I think she’s secretly planning to adopt all of them. I meet Sinead a few hours later, when she finally makes it from Portsmouth, all the way in the South. We’re all so excited! “What time are you guys going to queue?” I ask. “Around 5.” They reply. “5am, right?” I ask, and we all lapse into ridiculous giggles. Because we’re so excited that everything is at least 50 times funnier than it would be under normal circumstances. BUT OMFG, MARK’S ON A TRAIN!! I don’t know if he tweeted it, or instagrammed it, but there was Mark Stoermer, and there was a train and we simply had to get down to the train station! But I was too lazy and instructed my young friends to text me if they located the man of the moment. I mean, he’s at least 9 feet tall, he’s be pretty hard to miss at a train station. But sadly, he was never found. Sightings of The Killers would have to wait until tomorrow.

My common sense tells me that I should go to sleep early, but that’s no easy task. I eventually drift into a restless sleep and awake at 2.30am. There’s no frikken wi-fi in the rooms though, what do people even do when they wake up if they can’t check Twitter?! I’m feeling very out of touch. That’s it, I’m done. Can we go queue now? Seems my neighbours have had a similar idea. Soon I hear the unmistakable sounds of a door opening and closing and of more giggles. I check the time: it’s 3.38am. I stick my head out the door and observe what the four girls are up to. “Where are you going?” “We’re going to The Killers!” and we all giggle yet again. I’m starting to feel very sorry for anyone trying to sleep nearby. Maybe they put all of the Victims in adjacent rooms for that very purpose. I promise to be in touch by text in the morning – oh wait, it’s already the morning – and then I go back to bed, but never quite fall asleep again. The day has finally arrived. I’m seeing The Killers today. I never thought that this day would actually come.

A text from Jess around 8am tells me that there are about 30 people in the queue already. Now as much as I’d like to bound out of bed and run all the way to the Academy in my PJs, I recognize that this probably isn’t the best idea I’ve ever had. And so I get dressed in the outfit I’ve been planning for a year: my Victims shirt and black and white skirt that matches the text on my shirt. The last time I wore this skirt was my 21st birthday party last year, and a few pink and orange feathers are still clinging to it. Because yes, my theme was Las Vegas, and yes, it was inspired by the very boys I’m in town to see today. Today. I’m seeing them today. I put on my lightning bolt earrings and then we hurry down to breakfast.

Ugh. I’m a terrible eater on concert days, I just get too excited, but I manage to force down some bacon, eggs and toast and then after a few minutes of lobby wi-fi, we race out the door and into town. Amii’s just bbm-ed to say she’s arrived at the Academy. I’m very excited to meet the girl who is probably my closest internet friend, although she claims she’ll be too shy to even talk to me. Fine, I’ll talk enough for both of us then. I tell her I’ll be there in ten minutes.

Oh, it also happens to be raining, which is apparently an every day occurrence in Leeds. Good thing we finally bought that umbrella yesterday. Um. Turns out it’s windy too, and umbrella’s don’t like the wind much. The thing is inside out and useless before we’re half a block down the street. Sigh. Good thing it was only a Pound, then.

We dash down to the Academy – noting that the closest Starbucks is probably about 400m from the place – and I pace up and down the growing queue of people a few times, staking them out, and most of all trying to identify them from their Twitter display pictures. Amii’s near the end of the line, so I plop down next to her and say hi. And might I just say (I know you’re reading this) you are so not socially awkward! We have a great time chatting for a bit, and then I duck out of the queue for a bit to go for a walk. It’s 10.30am and the doors are set to open at 7pm. I have a short attention span at the best of times, and now I’m nothing short of impatient. Also, I need wi-fi. Starbucks seems like a good option, so off we head up the road. On the way, we bump into Sinead and Alice, they’ve got a place at the front of the queue, and had gone back to the hotel. Jess and Bubba are still in the hotel, seemingly feeling the effects of the previous night…

With Sinead and Alice are Ryan and Sam, who I will be seeing again at the two festivals. Ryan tells me how he lives on a tiny island in the English Channel and had flown over for this. Ha, I’m not the only one who got on an aeroplane for this band. Whilst we’re all getting acquainted, we’re joined by Emma, who had just arrived from Sheffield. I had literally been speaking to her on Twitter less than an hour before. There’s that surreal feeling again. It’s like reality is shifting below me… I’m not quite sure if I’m awake or not. I’ve dreamed of seeing The Killers again many times.

But time surely doesn’t drag like this in dreams! My arrival back from my Starbucks mission sees my re-uniting with Emma – now holding a stack of paper mustaches, which she holds out for what will become my favourite photo of the day – and meeting Andrea. Then I’m back with Amii, whom I chat to until I feel the need for another walk. This time, we go around the other side of the building, and run slap bang into Alice, Sinead… and The Killers’ equipment boxes. We take photos of and with them as they’re being unloaded, and then Alice spots a security guard and, pointing to one of the cases, asks “Can I lick this?” He seems to think she’s joking. She’s not. He informs her that none of The Killers have ever even touched these boxes. Awww.
But I believe my mission was wi-fi, and there’s none of that around the back of the Academy, so it’s back to Starbucks. I’m sitting outside – on a bench that miraculously reaches the free wi-fi – when I wonder if Rob’s around yet. Haha. Maybe he’s getting a latte at this very Starbucks.

OK, so I’ve watched The Killers live at the RAH about 50 million times, and Rob and all of the other roadies are on the behind the scenes bit, sipping lattes, roundhouse kicking bottles off of each other’s heads, and generally being entertaining. They could have left it at that: retained some form of annonimity, and been known only by those Victims creepy enough to take photos of the sides of the stages at Killers gigs, and analyse them for the presence of roadies (I have never done that. No, wait, that’s lie). But nooooo, some of these road crew peeps just had to go and become besties with all of the Victims on Twitter. Yes, Rob, I’m talking about you. You reply to us, chat to us, friend us on Facebook, plus you happen to have an awesome little band called Most Thieves that we support, well, because they make great music. Plus there’s the standing joke that Rob likes coffee so much that his twitter handle is @RobLikesLattes. Yes, it’s true. I’m sure it’s no surprise then, that the biggest Victim in-joke is that if you hang around Starbucks long enough on the day of a gig, you’ll surely run into Rob (another lie, the biggest Victim’s in-joke is that Mark is at the effing airport). 
Anyway, in the three years since I last saw The Killers, running into Rob at the Starbucks always seemed like a highly-entertaining pip-dream that could never happen in real life. Much the same as meeting Victims I knew from Twitter and trying to identify them from their display pictures. I never thought it would actually happen, nor did I think I’d run into the man in question at the Starbucks.
So anyway, there I am, on the bench outside, giggling and joking about Rob being in the Starbucks, when suddenly I get a message form Amii:
“I just walked past Rob! I grinned at him and he totally knew I knew who he was!”
I bet he was going to Starbucks.
“I’m gonna pop my head in the door and see if Rob’s inside.” I say. Let me point out here that I’m STILL JOKING.
So off I go, stroll right in, sweep the place with my eyes… when suddenly. Oh, that looks a lot like my favourite roadie! And BLP is with him! (Bobby-Lee Parker, fellow roadie and Most Thieves member). Ahhhhhh adrenaline rush! But I’m a media professional, I deal with celebs at work on a daily basis, and I’m not intimidated by them at all! So what do I do? Run out of the door, of course, squealing “Omg, I can’t do this, omg.” My poor mother is sure I’ve lost my mind due to Killers-related psychosis, and shoots me a concerned look. Once I’m able to speak again, she convinces me to go back and say hi. Rob is, after all, practically a member of my favourite band in the entire world, and it’s an opportunity I’d regret missing. Plus, he’s cool.
So I stride back into Starbucks, make my way to where the two roadies are now gathering sachets of sugar, and say very calmly: “Hi, Rob?” he turns and looks at me and I continue “I’m Farah.” He looks mildly puzzled for a split second and then smiles at me “Oh yeah… South Africa, right? That’s a quick trip!” he raises an eyebrow. Good Lord. I’ve spoken to the man on Twitter before, and I wrote a rather lovely review of a Most Thieves song, which he got hold of and shared on his Facebook page, but I wasn’t expecting him to know who I was! I mean, the roadies have hundreds of Victim followers on Twitter, surely they don’t know all of them by name?!
“Yep, 20 hours, on the plane and then we drove like 4 hours from London.” 
“It’s worth it!” he says. And I agree, before asking if I can be “really creepy” and ask for a photo. 
“I’m going to hold the lattes for comedic value!” He says, and makes a comment about getting rounds of coffee for everyone.
I hope I said “Have a good show”, I know I meant to, then I left the Starbucks wondering if that had really happened. Meeting Rob at the Starbucks was as iconic as meeting Brandon Flowers at the Flamingo hotel would have been. 
I must say that my self-esteem took a sharp upward turn at knowing that a touring member of The Killers knows my name.

Anyway. I rush back to the queue, and it turns out everyone is having a bit of a Rob-fangirling moment. He’s bought Emma a latte, which she is now savouring, as she and I both gaze at the Starbucks cup marked with the word ROB is capital letters. Day = made.

Within the next few hours I also meet Jade, Natalie, Duncan and many others, and everyone is jut lovely. On another wi-fi expedition, I swear I can hear a soundcheck but it turns out to be a CD. Aww. The band are expected to arrive around 5.30pm and a group of us gathers behind barriers to await the tour buses. For those fifteen minutes, every car is theirs… every second is the second they’re going to pull up…. But when they finally do, it’s unmistakable. The first bus pulls up and off walks Mr Cool himself – Brandon Richard Flowers in all his glory. Goodness, he’s even better looking than I remember. He grins that self-conscious smile and then heads directly for the swooning fans. The front row get hugs and handshakes, but I’m just one row too far back. Who even cares though, I’m still there! Brandon Flowers just got off his tourbus in front of my face, and I might die. I’m shaking. The second bus lets off Mark Stoermer, and I’m sure I hear a shriek from the other side of the road, where Alice is standing – Mark is her favourite person in the world. I’m not sure why I didn’t stay to watch Dave and Ronnie get off the bus, I think I was just feeling entirely overwhelmed.

Not long after this, we’re instructed to start condensing the queue and moving forwards. We’re also suddenly handed pizza, which was probably arranged by the venue because of our dedication to queuing. They must know – Victims mean business. Although doors are opening in less than an hour, and the concert will start in about 2, so much could still go wrong. They’ve used a paperless ticketing system, meaning that the card that bought the ticket must be swiped upon entering the venue. We’ve used an international card, what if it doesn’t work?! But – sigh of relief – it does, and we make it to the second on, right in front of Mark’s microphone. (Even if I didn’t know which side of the stage he stood on, it would be quite easy to figure out, seeing his microphone is at least 15 feet off the ground).

And then we wait. We’re assuming they’ll start at 8pm, but Amii says it’s more likely to be 9pm. Ohhhh why are they torturing us like this?! I glance around the room and find it filled with people in Victims and Killers t-shirts. It’s so amazing to be at a show just for real fans – not filled with randoms who are just there to drink. We’re all united in our favourite band here, I can’t imagine how they must feel knowing that we’re all there – from all over the world: SA, Rio, France, The Netherlands – just for them. Music truly is extremely powerful.

And then… there’s a 50s song playing – so typical of Brandon – lights dim, a collective scream echoes through the small venue, and suddenly the four men that I’ve never met, but I’d do anything for explode onto the stage.

(This is not a concert review, it’s my personal account of what happened. I don’t need to detail why they’re the best live band in the world, we all already know.)

Runaways. A remarkable song in general, live it is nothing short of awe-inspiring. We’re all signing at the top of our lungs, screaming, dancing, jumping and flailing. I take a lot of pictures during the show, but most of blurs of light, my hands rendered useless by shaking, unable to even click the shutter to focus.

In the almost three years since I last saw this band, they have improved exponentially. Put quite simply, they’re perfect. Everyone in the audience knows every single word to every single song… and wow… those songs.

They storm straight from Runaways into Somebody Told Me, and suddenly we’re all sneering young men, insulting our ex-girlfriend’s new boyfriend. The synth intro of Smile Like You Mean It is enough to send me over the edge. It’s such an emotional song and it’s pure heaven. And then they pick things up a bit with Spaceman, and we’re all jumping and shouting OH OH OH OH OH OH OH OH OH and Brandon is giggling and grinning live a two-year-old in a sweet shop. He’s clearly having the time of his life.

Next we’re treated to some new songs  - The Rising Tide, first debuted in England just over a year ago, and Miss Atomic Bomb. Oh and the latter is surely going to end up being one of my very favourite songs in the entire world because it is amazing. Brandon’s vocals, Ronnie’s drums, Mark’s bass and Dave’s guitar … they’ll all so powerful. I can’t wait to hear the album version of this.

Someone hands Brandon a bass and we all scream again. He giggles. “Anyone wanna guess what song we’re gonna do?” not ‘song’ though, it comes out ‘so-o-o-ong’. He can barely complete a sentence without singing the end of it. It’s endearing. ‘FOR REASONS UNKNOWN’ we all reply, because we’ll all Victims, and we all known that’s the only song he plays bass on.

Bling (mom’s favourite), Shadowplay (I wish they’d take this out and put River or Sweet Talk on the setlist), crowd favourite and previous opener ‘Human’ (in that moment I’m back in Paarl) and then…. Then….

“We’re gonna do Dustla-a-and.” Is that really what he just said? I think I’ve gone into shock. This song is my reason for being here tonight. This song is my reason for everything. And it begins and Amii’s next to me telling me to breathe… oh yeah, breathing’s a rather fundamental part of human life, too bad I’ve forgotten how to do it. I regain myself about a minute into the song, and life is entirely blissful until the end of it. During this song, there is no one else, nothing else, I don’t have a care, a worry or a concern in the world. Everything will be fine, because this song is everything, and everything is this song. Once it’s over, I’m sure that set can end, it’s fine, even if I go back to Cape Town right now, it’s been worth it. But of course, it’s not over yet, and we still have the ridiculous beauty of Read My Mind, the pure euphoria of Mr Brightside and the epic-ness of All These Things That I’ve Done before they leave the stage.

But they’re so predictable that I know they’ll come back, at least for Jenny Was A Friend of Mine and When You Were Young. All the same, I panic until I see them stride back onto the stage, and launch into apocalyptic new song, Flesh & Bone. Then Mark takes centre stage for the bass solo intro to Jenny, we’re screaming again – we never stopped, did we? – and they top it all of with WYWY, Ronnie beating his drums like a madman before throwing his drumticks into the crowd. Then it’s over, they’re gone and I’m the happiest I’ve been in my life. That was utterly perfect.

I bid farewell to Amii then stop by the merch stall for a t-shirt. As I walk back to the Travelodge, I’m shaking all the way. Maybe it’s because the rain has started again – maybe it’s raining because of the show I just attended. Who are we to know?

I’m just about passed out in a chair in the lobby, tweeting, when Jess, Bubba, Alice and Sinead get back. We’re all speechless so we squeal silently. I can barely speak – my voice is gone – I can barely breahe, and I definitely cannot walk, but what a night it has been.

I want to thank everyone who made the 17th of August 2012, one of the best days of my life. I love you all. And I love this band. At least it wasn’t really over, I was seeing them again two days later…

London 2012 Part III: Who, What and Wales.

We’re in the hire car for the first time in a few days – you can’t drive into central London because of congestion – and we’re on the road by just after 9am, good going. Speaking of going, we’re not entirely sure where we’re going, not do we have a map. As I said before, then, thank goodness for the GPS. We start to head in the general direction of Wales, and finally we’re on a motorway – their name for a highway. It is slightly confusing to say the least, that we have to monitor our speed and distance in miles instead of kilometers. Aren’t the Brits the ones who invented the metric system? We haven’t exactly eaten breakfast yet, and so we take advantage of the first sign saying ‘services’. That’s what we know as an Ultracity. I don’t know why this reminds me of Canada so much, but it does. There are fir trees everywhere and it’s slightly chilly, giving the whole place a bit of a creepy vibe. We attempt to track down a Proper English Breakfast, but end up settling for bacon rolls from McDonalds. Plus, McDonald’s has free wi-fi and I need to tweet.

We’re back in the car and I’m attempting to not spill my hot chocolate everywhere but Runaways has just come on XFM and I’m having a slight freakout session. We soon lose XFM signal though, and I start up a steady stream of The Gaslight Anthem and The Shins on my iPod.

But what are those strange rocks chilling at the side of the highway about an hour and a half later? The Shins are singing one of their melancholy laments… “another afternoon, with the goat-head tunes, and pilfered booze… we wonder through the mother’s house….” And could that be Stonehenge? No, surely not? They’re tiny! We stop and buy tickets to get closer to the structures, and I’m forcibly reminded of our stop at Cango Caves before the last time we saw The Killers. At least this time I get to stay above the ground. OK, the stones aren’t that small, but they hardly touch the sky the way they’re portrayed on TV and in books. I’ve seen more impressive rocks in my backyard – and I don’t even have a backyard. Also, there’s nothing creepy, powerful or mystical about them. But it’s pretty cool to take photos with them in the background. I get a lemonade from a stand outside, we take some photos with the Stonehenge sign, and then leave. Maybe we should go to Glastonbury, that sounds fun!

‘Fun’ is probably not the right work. ‘Freaky’ is more like it. The people all have dreadlocks, odd hats, printed clothes and interesting cigarettes hanging from their mouths. The shops are all mystical and full of crystals, magic books and who knows what else. I wander into a music shop and suddenly I feel very mainstream. I’ve never heard of any of these people, but finally I spot a rack of normal-ish CDs – I’ve never been so glad so see a U2 album in my life. I’m positively creeped out by this entire town. The food at the local pub is great though, even though the place looks like it would fit perfectly into any number of horror films. A few photos of the Glastobury ruins and then we decide to get out of town ASAP, but not before another photo opportunity in the form of a structure called the Tor. It’s on top of a hill, so we snake our way up the tiny lane, where we encounter many people lying on the grass alongside the road – they’re probably smoking the grass too. Turns out you can’t drive to the Tor and we’re way too lazy to walk, so we drive back to the ‘main road’ and consult the GPS again. Something called Cheddar Gorge is apparently not far from here (I seem to remember checking an actual map around this time, but we hadn’t bought one yet, so I assume it was pulled out of some travel brochure we’d picked up somewhere along the way). Anyway, the only result for ‘cheddar gorge’ on the GPS is ‘cheddar gorge cheeses’, so I select it and we drive as directed by the device. In retrospect, I realize how ridiculous this kind of unplanned travel sounds, it could have ended really badly. Also bear in mind that we’ve not booked into anywhere to sleep for the night, as we’re not sure where we’ll be. Wonder what the UK’s policy on sleeping in cars is?

At some point, the GPS directs us to turn towards something called Axebridge – I wonder if it’s got something to do with axe murderers. Oooh I see a Spar! Didn’t know they had those here. Maybe it’s some South African who opened it. Maybe he’s an axe murderer. About this Cheddar Gorge, though, I feel like we’re being led, quite literally, up the garden path. We’re back on tiny country lanes, and the motorway is nowhere in sight. It’s also afternoon by now, and we don’t really want to get lost at night if we can avoid it. Ha! Eventually we see signs for Cheddar Gorge. It’s a cute, quaint little village-type-place and the actual gorge offers hikes into caves – pass. We view the scenery from the comfort of the car before continuing on. It really is time to head to our final destination by now, and we decide Cardiff isn’t too far, that will be the place! Travelodge, Cardiff to be more precise. We’ve never slept at a Travelodge before, but that’s where we’ve booked in for our time in Leeds, so it can’t be too bad.

I squeal a bit driving over the Severn Bridge… the line form Wonderful Life is in my head… ‘on a bridge across the Severn on a Saturday night, Suzie meets the man of her dreams… she says don’t let go, never give up; it’s such a wonderful life…” it’s true. It really is.

Travelodge Cardiff doesn’t seem to exist though, and so we go driving again, this time looking for Travelodge Cardiff Bay. Aha, success! Yes, they have a vacancy for the night, yes they have free wi-fi in the lobby. Winning. But why does the window not open “for your own safety”? Odd.

We’re basically on the Cardiff waterfront, and it’s beautiful! We’ve found a flyer for something called the ‘Doctor Who Experience’, and my inner nerd is basically crying in anticipation. It’s also supposed to be ten minutes walk from here. I will find it!

There’s a fountain in the middle of the square near the waterfront, it’s tall and silver with strawberries painted on it – it makes me think of Coldplay. And then we walk the whole length of the waterfront, taking in the beauty of the scene. The sun is setting and the water is illuminated and everything is stunning. It’s also cold. Clouds are rolling it and it’s threatening to rain. We stop at the Sainsbury’s to grab some food for supper and I facetiously ask the guy behind the counter if they take Pounds in Wales. He smirks. Yes, they take Pounds. I’m so awkward. Time to get out of here.

[If you don’t know what Doctor Who is, it’s best to skip the next few paragraphs.]
Where is the Doctor Who experience, then? After walking around for a while, we find a sign and take a photo before following it. And then I totally spot The Doctor’s car! No, I’m not even lying, it says TARDIS on the back, and a photo of Matt Smith smiles at me from the license plate which reads S21 WHO. Fangirl spasm of note. AND THEN I SEE THE TARDIS! The blue police box is mounted on a jetty a few meters out into the water. An actual TARDIS. Never been so excited in my life. Of course, the actual exhibition is closed, only resuming tomorrow morning at 10am… so I know what we’re doing in the morning!

Back at the hotel, I attempt to watch TV, but don’t they have an equivalent of SABC here? Everything is news channels, and something called the One Show, which makes me giggle, because it’s kind of like an evening version of Expresso…

Wednesday dawns cold and rainy. I’ve got my jeans, coat and hat on, and we run squealing down to the DH experience, to be there by the time the tour starts. Most of those joining us look like they wouldn’t be out of place at auditions to play Harry Potter in a re-make of the movies: ten-year-old boys wearing glasses dominate the crowd. Aww. Nerds in training!

And then the magic begins. We step through a crack in time, and a video feed of Matt Smith gazes disparagingly at us. “Shoppers!” he admonishes. He then proceeds to urge us to pass through a door ‘into the TARDIS’. Hehehe. The floor of the TARDIS actually shakes! It’s a perfect replica of  the machine in the show. And it’s awesome. Next we’re hurried off the TARDIS and into the spaceships of the Daleks, whose mission is to exterminate The Doctor. I’m not sure how we escape them, but the next thing we have to look out for are weeping angels. When the is over and the lights finally come back on, I’m absolutely delighted! After that we’re invited to walk around the exhibition room and take photos of all of the props used in the show. There are several TARDISs, sonic screwdrivers and Doctors’ outfits, and the second level houses replicas of many of the creatures including Daleks and the Ood. Awesome. A million or so photos later, we move on to the souvenir shop, and I get Lauren and I each a TARDIS pen. Because I’m cool like that.

When we get back outside, the rain is absolutely pouring down, and we run for cover in the tourist info centre (free wi-fi, yay! But where’s that umbrella I’m sure we vowed to purchase?). We still don’t have a map, so we ask how long it will take to get to Leeds from here  - our Leeds adventure is due to begin tomorrow. The woman at the info center laughs a bit. “Leeds? But that’s not here, that’s on the other side of the country!” she says, in abject horror.  We know. How long will it take, though? She shakes her head. “At least 3, 3 and a half hours.” It’s our turn to laugh. In SA, it would take 20 hours to get to the ‘other side of the country’.

We pack up and move out of the Travelodge, intending to find another one to sleep at tonight. We end up in the nearby town of Barry, however, which does not have a Travelodge. In fact, a local tells us that we’d be better off not staying in the town at all. But it’s a pretty cute town and we walk around for ages, sincerely hoping we’ll remember where we parked the car. This is also the town in which we finally purchase a map! Yay, direction! The shops aren’t too bad here either, and I buy an item or two of clothing from a tiny but interesting shop. “Nsjnojfoergirejfjkadjlkfj?” Asks the lady behind the counter. Or at least, that’s what it sounds like to me. I have to ask her to repeat herself three times before I realize that she’s asking if I’d  like a packet. Oh. Yes, please.

There’s no Marks & Spencer here and we’re hungry and maybe we need to find somewhere to sleep… the nearest Travelodge is apparently near the Cardiff airport, so off we go. But they’re fully booked. Oh dear, now what? It’s around 2.30pm and…. Oh look, there’s a little pub called Toby Carvery, and the sign outside says something about proper English lunch! Don’t mind if I do. The young man serving the food has the same eyes as Chris Martin, I note, and five minutes later, when his boss shouts for him “HEY, CHRIS!” I nearly fall on the floor. Ha. Fangirling seeps into all facets of my life, doesn’t it.

After lunch we’re feeling ready to take on the world, and we get an idea into our head that’s so bad it’s good: it only gets dark after 9pm, let’s just drive straight to Leeds! We put Gaslight on pull blast, type ‘Travelodge Leeds Central” into the GPS and we’re off! Through the countryside, past farms, and farms, and, well, farms. It’s pretty and different to SA and it’s all so homogenous. And then we’re passing signs for Birmingham and Solihull and the signs are also telling us that Leeds is getting closer. Now I’m really getting excited – Killers, I’m comin’ for yuh!

It’s dark by the time we get to Leeds and the GPS is lost. We ask for directions from about 5 different people but somehow get progressively more and more lost, and by the time we finally find the damn place it’s 9pm and I’m not happy. Imagine if they don’t even have a room open for tonight! But luck is on our side, and they do have a room, even if it’s 50 Pounds for the night. I don’t even pause in the lobby to use the free wi-fi. It’s bedtime. 

London 2012 Part II: Tubes and Travels

If Gawick is such a hive of activity, I shudder to think what Heathrow must be like. It’s early afternoon, and the entire airport is knee-deep in people. Suddenly British accents are all around me, I’m peering out a window and staring at England, and there are unfamiliar shops and brands all around me. We left Cape Town approximately 20 hours ago and we’re absolutely exhausted. Now imagine having to board the Gatwick Express to somewhere in London, then hop on the tube and transverse the Northern, Central, Jubilee and who knows what other lines to finally terminate at Wimbledon – although the closest station to where we staying is actually called Collierswood. OK. Right now I’ve never even heard of the Northern/Central/Jubilee lines and I’m not exactly au fait with public transport, so this is where my genius hire car plan comes in.

But first… oooooh, is that cherry coke? Also, is 70p cheap or expensive for a colddrink? How much is that in Rands? Mathematics aren’t my strong suit, but I figure it’s pretty much what I’d pay at home for the same thing. Except we don’t have cherry coke at home. What a delight this country is!

Onto the hire car then. The lady behind the counter tells us that unfortunately the car we’ve ordered isn’t there, so can she give us a slightly larger car for the same price? Now, we’d ordered Ford Ka simply because it’s tiny and cheap on petrol. So we’re expecting to receive possibly… oh, I dunno, a Chevy Spark or an Atos as a replacement, but on arrival at the parking lot we’re in for quite a surprise: they’ve given us a gigantic monstrosity of a car that’s sure to chew through diesel as fast as a hungry American pre-teen chews through a helping of McDonald’s. Well, this is awkward.  None of the other car rental places have any cars available that day, and when we finally find one that does, they quote us twice what we were originally supposed to pay. We may as well suck it up and spend all our food money on petrol. After much arguing and me putting on my stern face, we’re eventually given a Honda Civic instead. It’s still a pretty big car, but at least it’s not that massive 4x4 they had threatened us with.

Time to hit the highway to Wimbledon! Wait. Did I just say ‘highway’? I meant it’s time to meander down the quaint country lanes to Wimbledon. Seriously. It’s kind of ridiculous. We’re relying on the directions I’d printed from google maps a few days ago, and we do get lost once or twice, but finally we make it. Hehe. How adorable is this suburb? It’s all tiny, old fashioned houses stuck on top of one another, just like something you’d see in Harry Potter. I soon discover that most of England looks just like this.

I can’t remember whether or not we ate supper that night, all I remember is that it was the day before the Olympic closing ceremony, and I was extremely tired around 7pm. So I set my alarm for 8pm so that I could wake….. up….. and …. watch…. Caster ….. Semenya’s ……… race.

Needless to say, the next time I was conscious was when the sun broke through the curtains the next morning. Is this real? Am I really awaking in LONDON? I thought it rained all the time in England. Clearly not. It’s beautiful outside.

This is the last day to take advantage of the Olympic vibe, and we simply must see the stadium! And, well, every other tourist attraction in the entire city is on the list too, so we’d better get a move on.

The London Underground is surprisingly easy to navigate once you get the hang of it. We purchase day travel cards, and then hop on board the Northern Line northbound to London Bridge. It’s all entirely unplanned, we just do it. London Bridge. London frikken Bridge. The one that was falling down in the song. It’s al so surreal! But hunger raises its head, and it seems most of the shops are closed. Granted, it’s around 9am on a Sunday morning, that could be why. The one place that is open is none other than Starbucks. Ahhhh that must be the best cup of hot chocolate I’ve ever had in my life, and it’s HUGE. The chocolate muffin is pretty awesome too. I feel so cosmopolitan walking around LONDON with my cup of Starbucks. Damn. I’m becoming a hipster.

London is remarkably beautiful, I’m completely in awe. We walk over London Bridge, see Tower Bridge with the Olympic rings, nearly get taken out by a couple of red buses… I’m in heaven. I’m walking the streets of London. Just like the song. They marathon of the London 2012 Olympics is being run today, and we follow the hoards of people in the general direction of the event. Olympic signs! Am I really here during the Olympics? This is ridiculous! Click, click, click. So many photos.

We go walking for absolute ages up the street towards, well, we’re not sure exactly. We’re just walking and it’s great. Eventually we end up in the worst kind of shop: one of those places where everything is branded with the Union Jack, and a tourist’s bank balance finds its final resting place. I acquire a London hoodie, a new pink purse with ‘City of London’ stamped on it, and a variety of other knick-knacks. I simply can’t help myself. I think I’m actually squealing.

What’s up with all the pay toilets though? A Pound to use the loo? That’s R13! This is about the time when I stop converting everything in my head. It’ll only lead to despair.

HOLD UP! Is that the Tower of London?! We pose for photos with the beef eater, who is the friendliest person we’ve met all day, and then continue on our merry way, towards Tower Bridge. Which promptly begins to fold as we walk over it. Cue squeals and a rapid walk to the other side, before the bridge parts to make way for a boat. It’s super cool. Let’s take more photos. And let’s have a convo with the policemen and tell them we’re in the country to see The Killers. They accuse us of being groupies. We don’t deny it.

How big is London anyway? We wonder if we can walk to the Olympic stadium. But that’s kind of like asking if you can walk from Table Mountain to Robben Island. No. No, we cannot. So we’re back on the Northern Line to Bank, and then the Central to Stratford. The disconcerting thing is how quickly this terminology is becoming part of my vocabulary. We can’t physically get to the stadium, but we can catch the occasional glimpse of it from outside. But then, who even cares about the stadium – SHOPS! Westfield shopping mall is huge, and I’m in and out of all the shops I’ve only ever read about in magazines. I manage to control myself, however, and my only purchases are a pair of lightning bolt-shaped earrings to Friday’s concert, and a few Gaslight Anthem CDs that I can’t even get at Look & Listen back home. The mall is absolutely bustling, and the queues in all the shops are horrendous, but I’m starving and Marks & Spencer is surely the place to buy lunch. I purchase the first of the many pasta salads that I’ll live on for the next two weeks. Oh, and might I add that the UK’s music taste is fantastic – every shop I’ve walked into so far has been playing either The Killers or Coldplay.

Olympic athletes are swarming everywhere, and we surreptitiously take a few photos of them. We also somehow end up engaged in convo with some guys form Uzbekistan who claim to have won a medal for rowing.

What a day! We’ve done more than some tourists do in a week in one day, and we’re exhausted, so it’s back to Wimbledon to pass out for eight or so hours before we do it all again…

But first, tonight is the closing ceremony of the Olympics, and once again ‘surreal’ is the only word I can think of to describe how it feels to watch this on TV knowing I was at the stadium mere hours again. I don’t think I’ve really taken in the fact that I’m really in England. England. Enlgand, England, England.

I only have one mission for Monday: to find the Royal Albert Hall. I’ve been told that if one walks around Hyde Park for long enough, the Royal Albert Hall will appear as though by magic. Fine. I’m on the case. Northern Line to Bank, then, followed by Central to Marble Arch, which is apparently the closest station to Hyde Park. Yes, I’ve gotten all of this from a map. An actual, physical map. I’m getting so good at this whole tourist thing.

Hyde Park is literally across the road from the Marble Arch station, and so we start walking. We stop to ask some security guards where the RAH is, and they giggle. It’s quite a walk from here, they inform us. How long? We demand. Like an hour? Yeah, maybe an hour’s walk. We think they’re joking. They’re not. An hour – and a thorough creep of the stunning Hyde Park – later, RAH is in front of my face, in all its glory. I touch it. (I should probably explain that my fascination with this building comes from the fact that The Killers filmed their dvd here a few years ago. But even disregarding that fact, it’s an absolutely beautiful building.)

Lacking the stamina to walk back to the station, we decide to hop aboard one of those cool-looking red London buses. “Do we have to swipe our tickets somewhere?” we ask the driver. He glares at us. “You show the driver.” So we hold up our tickets and show him. “YOU SHOW THE DRIVER!”. Okay then, buddy, we’ll just go sit down, make no noise and pretend that we don’t exist until our stop.

Also, what’s up with all this traffic we’re stuck in? The Brits don’t drive, what’s going on?!

We eventually get through the traffic and jump off the bus. I learned my lesson from the blisters on my feet, and today I’m in takkies rather than the ballet pumps I sported all day yesterday, so the walk down another one of London’s very long roads isn’t that bad. But hold up again, is that Harrods? It’s another of those ridiculously famous places that I’d never expected to actually visit. I know that even breathing in there is probably out of my price range, but I have to go in just for fun. Although when the doorman opens up for me, one unfortunate thought is clouding my mind “Oh shoot… I’m in Harrods wearing takkies.”
The shop is utterly spectacular… I spend far too long gazing longingly at the rows and rows and rows of handmade chocolates before I manage to rip myself away and move onto the clothing section. Sigh. If I had a lifestyle that required me to attend high-end events, I could definitely find an outfit or two here. But I don’t. plus, I’m hungry, and there’s a Marks & Spencer nearby. I get a sandwich and a lemonade (and if anyone can find me a South African brand of lemonade that tastes like this, I’ll be forever in your debt. Actually, maybe it was just normal lemonade and my memories are skewing my memories. But whatever.)

Not yet satisfied with our day’s travels, we get back on the tube and this time head for St James, on first the Jubilee and then the Circle line. Up the stairs and onto the street, and suddenly Big Ben is staring me in the face (okay, just the clock tower is staring me in the face, Big Ben – as I’m later told – is the bell inside). Photos photos photos! It’s starting to rain and we don’t have an umbrella, whoops. Oh well. What’s a little rain when you’re in England, right? We’re in awe of Big Ben and the parliament buildings but finally we move off to Westminster Abbey. I’m not sure I’m doing any of these sights justice, so let me take a moment to say THEY WERE BREATHTAKING.

It’s still drizzling a bit when we get back on the train to Collierswood, and takkies or no takkies, my feet have taken strain. I’m slowly getting used to the way the the rumbles and shakes and slides very narrowly avoids the walls… I’m not even slightly scared anymore.

We decide we’ve done a lot in two days, and perhaps we should take a break from town and head off into the countryside tomorrow. We need to be in Leeds on Thursday afternoon, but maybe we’ll go to Wales for two days. Thank goodness for that device known as a GPS.