Alright me old geyser? Okay, so I don’t talk Cockney, despite the fact that people who have never been to Britain think we all do or that we use elite expressions like “why golly gosh, this is absolute utter incongruous pish posh my dear boy!” Hollywood has done a great job at depicting Brits as only speaking a certain way, but the truth is that we British have an array of accents, including the thick Glaswegian to the gentle West Country lilt. If you come to Britain and expect us all to speak like the Queen, then you will be disappointed.
As with any country, us Brits are subject to many cultural stereotypes and misconceptions (some of them are true). How about how all British people like to queue? We’re brought up in a culture that pretty much queues in every situation. At the bank, at the bus stop – it’s common courtesy to form an orderly queue and if you jump the queue we will frown at you. And when we’re not eagerly queuing you’ll probably find us indulging in our good ole British grub down the pub – bangers and mash and drinking our pints as tomorrow’s weather forecast foretells yet another day of miserable rain. And what’s next? Obviously heading home to live out our fantasy of a more adventurous life through Doctor Who andDownton Abbey on the telly.
But Britain isn’t the monotonous, humdrum ant colony that you may imagine. It’s much more than that. In the words of Doctor Who: “When you’re a kid, they tell you it’s all… grow up, get a job, get married, get a house, have a kid, and that’s it. But the truth is, the world is so much stranger than that. It’s so much darker. And so much madder. And so much better.” So listen up, Guv’nor. Being Europe’s most populous city, London has an average of 12,331 people per square mile, with something to match everybody’s quirky sense of adventure – if you’re willing to look.
Last summer, I really started to discover a London I could call my own; a London that defies typical expectation. I began by exploring the city by foot, craning my neck at the Shard and the Cheesegrater (yes, we have cool names for our buildings) and breathing in the vast, metropolitan sights and sounds all around me. I climbed the o2 and marveled at the spectacular sights of London at a height, I visited St Paul’s Cathedral that has been standing since 604AD and is one of London’s ominous landmarks and I watched the sun go down over the Houses of Parliament and my was that the dog’s bullocks. I then caught wind of the phenomenal coffee culture that London has to offer – from small hole-in-the-walls like La Marzocco to world famous specialty coffee shops like Prufrock Coffee. In order to fuel my caffeinated passion, I’ve since made it my personal goal to visit a new independent coffee spot each week.
Now you might be thinking, ‘but you’re British, you should be drinking tea!’ Why thank, you non-Brit, for continuing to call out the British stereotypes. In fact, I do like tea, but that first sip of coffee just nourishes my soul. And again, it says something about London that a coffee drinker like me can feel just as at home as your typical tea-and-crumpets-aficionado.
Most recently I came to discover a coffee shop called The Attendant, which is a converted Victorian toilet built in the 1890’s. Imagine a transformed espresso bar with the original porcelain urinals still in use, only now as a great coffee bench. It’s a hole-in-the wall (or a hole in the ground, literally) and yet it’s one of the quirkiest places I’ve ever been to. Now you may be reading this laughing and thinking, ‘why would you want to go and get a beverage from a shop that was once a sub-street public convenience?!’ Well, why not? It’s definitely a great way to captivate somebody’s attention over a chinwag, and everybody loves a good story.
And yet my love for a quirkier, lesser-known (at least to tourists) London goes beyond a good cup of coffee, and Brick Lane does a wonderful job encapsulating just that. Besides the countless number of curry houses here, Brick Lane is one of the most popular and edgy places to visit. It was once associated with the murders of Jack Ripper, but now it is a thriving artist community with streets filled with talent. Walking around Brick Lane, you’ll be spoilt for choice of all the street food available. You’ll find me perching on a bench enjoying a Venezuelan arepa and sipping on a coffee (yes, another coffee) made by a man sticking his head out of a stationary London cab.
Britain is incredible. You can be in the midst of the bustling city or you can getaway and hike Snowdonia or Ben Nevis. You can head to London’s West End to catch a show or watch theatre on a cliff top overlooking paradise in Porthcurno, Cornwall. You can visit one of the many national museums (all for free by the way) or you can go and admire Stonehenge. I might be chronically sorry and talk about the fickle weather to fill awkward silences, I might eat crumpets for breakfast and have a posh accent, but my London is the type of place that rises above the stereotypes and I think it’s bloody spiffing.