London: Fast times with an old friend.


Dear Bros o’ mine,

Just came back from five days/ four nights in London! As you know I was there with Laddie in the summer of 1980 at the start of my European /Mideast Year of Backpacking Folly, but it all seemed so unfamiliar, I wonder what we DID for the whole week back then except dodge flying pigeons at Trafalgar Square and Piccadilly Circus, try to look cool and pretend the drugs we scored weren’t mixed with straw and camel dung. This time I was with my friend T. from Los Angeles. She had this amazing flight deal, something like 250 US round trip. I blasted in from Hamburg after she’d been there a few days scouting things out.

She wasn’t wearing fluffy pink but she did pack her rechargeables, running me ragged from one museum to another historic monument to another cathedral to another. Still, we didn’t rush from place to place. We got up early and stayed out late, savouring the atmosphere wherever we were until it was time to move on.

Highlights included St Paul’s Cathedral (went right up to the top) The British Museum (aka Spoils of the Parthenon we’re keeping them nya-nya nyah) Tate Modern (swooshing down spiraling silver slides five storeys high) The Churchill Museum in the basement of Whitehall which includes the actual war rooms, map rooms including wall maps of all war theatres complete with little Hitler cartoons showing him getting crushed, etc, Churchill bedrooms, Churchill museum, the works – it was extremely evocative of the times and most excellently displayed – Big Ben and Westminster Cathedral and Abbey, The Savoy Hotel, the restrooms in which I had a nice err… rest, the National Gallery, Kensington Palace (Lady Di dresses, Princess Margaret apartments, kings and knights in bed) shopping for delicacies at Harrod’s and Fortnum and Mason which added tons to my baggage weight, not to mention purchases at used book shops and a comic book shop where I loaded up on a half-dozen Asterix and Obelix cartoon books in English for The Little Red-haired Girl.


Our hotel was right near Goodge Street underground stop. You of course remember that scratchy Tom Northcott 45 we played over and over called Sunny Goodge Street? How we always thought that one line went “sugar chocolate machine” and we could never figure out what it was all about? How innocent we were! It’s written by Donovan (can’t find an MP3 by Northcott so the Donovan one will have to do) and actually goes like this:

On the firefly platform
on sunny Goodge Street
a violent hash-smoker
shook a chocolate machine
involved in an eating scene.

No hash, no pipes, not even a sugar chocalate machine, but Starbucks *has* managed to do violence to the cityscape. There must be about 800 of them in central London alone.

At Harrod’s I should mention we made the effort to find the basement shrine of Dodi and Di, probably the tackiest display of dead-star kitsch you are ever likely to see. Below the fading portraits of the ill-fated pair framed in swirly bird-like faux-aurium gew-gaws stands the same wine glass Her Royal Histrionics last used before she decided to go for her famous late-night spin much to the financial gain of London florists and purveyors of heart-shaped balloons and teddy bears for weeks thereafter. The contents have since dessicated to a cloudy film reminiscent of the spider web mould you might come across in that tub at the back of the fridge I bet you’ve noticed but been avoiding the last couple of weeks.

For dinner we had Chinese the first night, Indian the second, Lebanese the third and Italian the fourth. To give you a rough idea of how expensive everything is, a simple 330 ml bottle of beer in a restaurant will set you back eight Canadian dollars, an average dinner for two including tip without dessert or fancy extras will cost between 70 and 80 bucks. Lucky we only had to snack on nibblies for lunch because our hotel had full English breakfast (bacon, sausage, scrambled egg, oven-roasted tomatoes and Spam, fried mushrooms, baked beans and Spam, assorted breads, croissants, cereal, yogurt and Spam, Spam, Spam and jam, marmalades and Spam. And a bit of toast.)

To get around we took the tube. I had heard all the horror stories of how horribly slow, unreliable, hot, crowded and Generally Not A Good Time it is, but we had no problems whatsoever beyond getting stuck walking through a narrow passageway behind some piss-soaked wino where I almost hurled, and on the very last ride on our last night, tired and heavily laden from shopping, we had to change to another line because the train we wanted was stopped for signals a few stations down the line. Mustn’t grumble, mustn’t grumble! On the last day we’d also tried to get theatre tickets, hoping to see Spam-a-Lot or what-not, but the ones we wanted to see weren’t discounted and the regular price tickets started at around 140 – 150 Canadian.

What struck me most about the general atmosphere is how crowded it is, almost like Hong Kong at certain times of day, but with everyone carrying 50% more bulk and height. The people don’t walk on the street so much as trot or run, and you’re as likely to hear Russian, Polish, Spanish, French, Arabic or Hebrew on the street as you are English. Most people you see are young – in their twenties and thirties, have a cellphone glued to their ears or failing that, an iPod, and dress fairly well, though not overly so. We played an easy game of spot-the-banker as pin-striped suits carrying umbrellas and briefcases busied themselves thither and yon, and though I didn’t see a bowler hat there is a tiny little hat shop tucked in the street behind St. James church the display of which looked as if it hadn’t been dusted since the last time felt hats were an essential part of a man’s wardrobe.

As soon as I figure out how to load pics onto this thing, you’ll get a few. If you want to see about 20 of London on my flickr site(plus more of South Africa and Djerba) you already have my permission.



© 2007 lettershometoyou

8 Responses to “London: Fast times with an old friend.”

  1. 1 Vorpal
    January 24, 2007 at 1:44 pm

    Saw, but did not yet read

  2. January 27, 2007 at 7:53 am


    So when you get a round tuit… fire away!

    BTW, do you still have that Tom Northcott 45?

  3. 3 Vorpal
    January 31, 2007 at 2:44 pm

    “The little red-haired girl”. You really call her that? What a hoot. I didn’t dare. It would have felt like I was making fun of her. Has Charles Brown slugged her yet?

    Who the heck is Tom Northcott? My Sunny Goodge Street was on the flip of another Donovan 45. Most likely Sunshime Superman. No wait, Universal Soldier. Ah I’ve got it Mellow Yellow. When in doubt google “donovan sunny goodge street 45 flip side” And ….. Mellow Yellow it is! Give the man a toke. I’ve done but a handful of those since ’82. Those were the days my friend, we thought they’d never end.
    Who needs drugs? I was doing a thing for work in Photoshop last night, and I filled the screen with alternating white and black squares about 2mm in size. After staring at it for 45 minutes or so while doing various adjustments, I realized that the whole screen was moving and shifting like it was alive. Colours that weren’t there were appearing, changing and disappearing. Could this be one of those acid flashbacks they promised me oh so many years ago?

    I called Darlene and after a few seconds, she goes, “Wow — It’s hard to take your eyes off it”.

    Darn. I’ve always felt so ripped off. The cops came to the school and promised us all that if we took acid even once, we’d be getting flashbacks for years, maybe even for the rest of our lives. Cool. All that for only 5 bucks!.

    Not a one. Never.

    Of course, I could be on one right now. How would you know.

    AAAAAAARRRRRGGGHHH! I’m back in second year!!!!

    Guess not.

    Gotta go to work.

    Sorry, this started out to be comments on your blog.

    A couple:
    I wish you were writing for a newspaper near me.

    In the lyrics you wrote to “Sunny Goodge Street”, you write “shook a chocolate machine”, but later say “sugar chocolate machine”, which Until I read the first part was what I thought it was. The sound repro on 45s was so BAAAADDD. I’ve since heard it on the radio (we have the MP3 — but Donovan’s) and on Dar’s MP3 player, and it is intelligible. Oh, so it’s NOT “involved in any ding scene”?


  4. 4 Vorpal
    January 31, 2007 at 2:49 pm

    perhaps ‘cuz I’ve been here before, when I google “northcott sunny goodge street” your blog post comes up on top.

    BTW, I believe Gordon has all the 45s. I have none of ’em.

    A lot of my records were with Penny, and we never (as far as I know) got any of her things back.


  5. 5 Ian
    February 1, 2007 at 11:29 am


    Your mega-comment leaves me lots to chew on. Love it! First off, she doesn’t know peanuts. I mean Peanuts. So calling her The Little Red-Haired Girl wouldn’t register much more than a shy smile. Her loss is my gain, for I have already delighted in that timeless summertime pleasure of snatching the football away just as she was about to kick it.

    Speaking of cartoons, she has already torn through the half-dozen Asterix and Obelix books I picked up for her in London.

    You don’t remember Tom Northcott’s carnival version of Sunny Goodge Street? That’s because you obviously DID live the sixties to their fullest. Your lil’ brother was still too young for all that, however I did do my part to wear down the grooves of all those 45’s which, believe it or not, are still at Mom’s place.

    Don’t you remember? I showed them to you two summers ago.

    As for the lyrics I quoted, one of the links I so painstakingly took the trouble to insert leads to a page showing the entire song, another to the Tom Northcott Trio. “Sugar chocolate machine” is what I thought he was singing.

    “Involved in any Ding Sing?” All these lyrical misunderstandings remind me of a German comedy CD (no, not a contradiction in terms) which I am going to tell you about in my next letterhometoyou.



  6. 6 Gordon
    February 20, 2007 at 2:51 am

    I always thought that Bruce had the 45s.
    When I first heard the flip side I didn’t like it too much, but it kind of grew on me, much as Eleanor Rigby did–used to HATE that song.
    I mentioned your trip to a colleague who is going to London for 2 weeks on 3 March, but when I brought up Goodge Street I got a blank look (he’s from Dauphin). He promised to check it out, though.

  7. February 20, 2007 at 6:48 am


    Do all people from Dauphin give you a blank look?

    I have another post on this subject rattling around my skull and will try to shake it out today or tomorrow.

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