London Revisited; The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

on Monday, December 28, 2009

I am back in Malaysia and already in the real world of work, bills and responsibilities. My break in London was a good one though and i come back well rested and recharged.

As promised, I will be posting about this adventure. To start with, I thought I would give you an introduction and a general review which I will call the Good, the Bad and the Ugly of London today compared to the London I knew 25 years ago.

The Good
There were quite a few pleasant surprises. I arrived at Heathrow Airport at a terminal that I had never been before and was pleasantly surprised at the ease and efficiency of the place. This was quite different from the chaos that I remember from 13 years ago and given the increase of security procedures since 9/11, quite impressive. It was rather a long walk to the Underground train station but then the train whisked me effortlessly through the early morning right to Piccadilly Circus. I walked out into the crisp cold morning air and into a city that was just awakening to the rhythm of a new day. It was a good start.

Just a short 200 m walk and I reached the hotel and had a great reunion with my wife who had been traveling separately for the last fortnight on work assignment. I don't like it when we are apart so the re-union was very good.

Eros at Piccadilly Circus in the early morning (LGS)

I spent the first few days in and around Piccadilly Circus, Trafalgar Square, Leicester Square, Soho Chinatown and Covent Garden. Generally, all of these experiences were good. I was particularly impressed with Trafalgar Square. It used to be pigeon and dove infested and felt very cold and unfriendly. Visitors spent their time avoiding the stale bird droppings on the ground and on the statues and ducking the aerial bombardment with the hot and fresh variety. Well, the birds are mostly gone and the space is very people friendly now. It feels more like a space that belongs to the people and to be used by the people.

I got a similar impression about the museums and the parks. They have begun to lose their stiff institutional demeanor and become more of a place to serve the public needs. Hence there were Christmas fairs in the park and open air ice rinks outside the august Natural History Museum. London has become less stuffy and more alive. Covent Garden too has become more organic and brimming with innovation and spirit. This new London is more fun and youthful.

Trafalgar Square (LGS)

Covent Garden (LGS)

Reindeer, both artificial and real at Covent Garden (LGS)

Carnival rides (Leicester Square) (LGS)

Skating rink outside the Natural History Museum (LGS)

Outdoor Ice Rinks - grooming future Torvil and Dean's (LGS)

The food scene has also improved tremendously but that still doesn't mean that London is where you would go for a culinary experience. The improvement is in the fact there are more reasonably priced variety available with an increased emphasis on fresh ingredients. For example, the chain, Pret a Manger, offers exciting variety of sandwiches which are a world apart from the traditional fried foods of yesteryear.

The Bad
As time has marched on, London has also lost some of its traditional charm. The traditional fish and chips shop has become a rarity. Most have either closed down or have morphed into a more up-market establishment (meaning costlier). I finally did find one traditional chippie way out in Fulham Broadway that served it just the way I remembered it. You are more likely to find Indian food round the corner.

I had hoped that the quaint but functioning fresh produce market that I used to shop at near Fulham Broadway would still be there with its individualistic and colorful stalls scattered along a narrow lane. A form of the market can still be found but it no longer lies within the atmospheric side lane but on the pavement of the main road itself. The supermarkets also seem to stock less of fresh produce and more of ready meals.

I went to visit my alta mater and had mixed feelings seeing the old student's residence (which was a dump) converted now to choice apartments along the swanky King's Road in Chelsea. Good to see the fire station which was the scene of many student-firemen water fights during orientation week is still there though.

The Ugly
And finally, there was the ugly. Well, there wasn't really a lot of that. I guess the ugliest thing was the cold, wet rainy weather that I had to had to contend with for most of my stay and which resulted in me having a bad cough. But then again, cold wet rainy and miserable weather is part of the quintessential London winter experience so one really can't complain, can one?


Jo said...

LGS, those are wonderful photographs. When I was in London, I found it a bit austere and a wee bit frightening. It's nice to see it has loosened up a bit. I'm so glad you had a good time...!


Joyce's Ramblings said...

I to loved your pictures. My son was in England in late 80s and he took pictures. It is nice to go back and see places (if they are still there). I have reached a stage in life where many things have changed with time.
I am wondering if we could go back when it was safe and people were friendly. Now it seems we can't be different and each area has the way to look and to think. I still love being a people watcher and love talking to people from different areas.
I only wish the ones in power would wake up and do for the people not to the people.

Anonymous said...

Welcome back!

geewits said...

I love the pictures. Now I'm wondering if there is so much Indian food in England if you could get authentic fish and chips in India?

Anonymous said...

I enjoyed your photos very much. Thank you! HAPPY NEW YEAR to you and all your loved ones!! Betty

Lone Grey Squirrel said...

"Austere"! Exactly the word I was looking for. I was not around to witness the "Cool Britannia" period under Tony Blair but perhaps some of that has permanently loosed the stiff collars inherited from the Victorian age!

Thanks. I agree that we should be celebrating diversity. It does seem that the world in recent times have returned to a more hostile tribalism. But in the midst of the pessimism, there are still beacons of hope......even amongst the leaders.

Lone Grey Squirrel said...

Thanks. I wish you well for the new adventure awaiting you in the coming year. May it be exciting but may you also find a soft landing.

Thanks for the comment on the pictures. I am glad they turned out reasonably well.
Interestingly, as the new wave of immigrants arrive, they are filling in many of these traditional roles. So while most Indian's open Indian restaurants (some call Indian food the new national British cuisine), other immigrants from Greece and the Middle East are now running many of the remaining fish and chips. I ate fish and chips 3 times this trip. Two from Greek run shops and one English run establishment but whose staff were mostly Lebanese.

Lone Grey Squirrel said...

Thank you and best wishes of the new year for you and yours.

Magia da Inês said...

Conheci o seu cantinho...
Belas fotos! Amei mesmo!...
Espero sua visitinha...
...que a fé e a esperança num mundo melhor sejam revividas a cada dia em seu coração!
Feliz 2010!!!
Itabira - Brasil

Lone Grey Squirrel said...


Obrigado visitando. Eu desejo-lhe um ano novo abençoado.

Owen said...

Hey, you made it back safely ! Excellent...

Will look forward to more of your tales from modern day London. I too lived there for about six months nearly 25 years ago, so I'll be curious to see how your reports will correspond with my memories; which in general are very fond ones... what could be better than being a student for a while in London, with a student card to get into theatres with, ten minutes before showtime...

Best wishes for the happiest of holidays, back where I imagine it is warmer than it is here... and from one who has also been coughing of late, I hope your cough is gone by now !

Cheers !

PS And I hope you had the chance to down a few good pints while tossing darts in a pub or two...

Gina said...

but did you visit the 'London Fog' outlet?

On a limb with Claudia said...

Hurray for a holiday! Squirrelly hits the road and all! Great photos. I've never been to London - have always wanted to go... just never made it there!

I'm glad you had a nice trip!

Jay said... Beautiful photos.

Lone Grey Squirrel said...

I made it back! I saw none of this "kill the grey squirrel" nonsense. In fact, the grey squirrels in Hyde Park seemed to be a big hit with the tourists, especially the Spanish.

I think we were both fortunate to have been students in London; probably the best way to enjoy the city.

Lone Grey Squirrel said...

No, I didn't go to London Fog. To be honest, I don't know where they are. Did most of my shopping at Primark which in their pre-Christmas sale had prices for winter coats which were about half the price of London Fog which I looked up on the internet. The London Fog coats do look very nice though.

Lone Grey Squirrel said...

Thanks for the cheer leading. Despite meeting friends and visiting old haunts, I did feel very much the tourist this time.

Thanks. I am pleased with my photos this trip.

jmb said...

I lived in London for two years and have never been back. I wonder what I would think of it after all these years.

Happy New Year to you LGS.

evalinn said...

I´m glad you got togheter, being apart is awful. Nice photos, I wish I could go to London soon!

Lone Grey Squirrel said...

Do you have fond memories of your stay in London?

I am sure you will have your opportunity to go to London. :)

blackcrag said...

I've just caught up on your recent London trip now, and found an eerie echo to my own life.

I lived in England from 10 to 13 years old, which were, coincidentally, during the Maggie years. And your old residence sounds suspiciously like the flats where my father grew up. I don't remember the street exactly, by I know he often mentions Kings Road, and he has shown me pictures of his old building renovated with a glass elevator shaft, fancy awning, enclosed pool, etc.


I also agree with several others--those are some great photos. I especially liked one of the Natural History Museum (another landmark we have in common) in the evening.

I'm glad you enjoyed your trip and hope you had a great Christmas.

Lone Grey Squirrel said...

So good to hear from you. I hope you are well and that you have a great year ahead.

I was surprised to meet a couple of people recently and separately who also spent some time in around King's Road and now I see you too are somewhat familiar about the place. king's Road was supposedly quite the hip place in the late 60's and early 70's. do you or your dad remember that period? said...

You didn't waste your time in London. You saw, felt and recorded.

...I spend so much time in bars when abroad.
You were lucky to come back just before the "global warming" over there. :)

blackcrag said...

I wasn't born till the early ;70s, so that period was before my time. And I think Mum and Dad had either moved to Canada by then or were living in Stephenage, somewhere (north?) outside of London.

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