Monday, 23 July 2012

Hints and tips for Olympic visitors

Apparently there's a whole list of words I'm not allowed to use when discussing the London 2012 Olympics, in case I annoy the sponsors. In fact, I'm not entirely sure I can even mention the words 'London', '2012' or 'Olympics'. Which might make this post a little tricky.

After all, I want to give helpful advice for those planning on visiting our capital city to watch the Games. Let's just hope I don't upset those purveyors of fizzy brown sugar-water and McRandom animal protein burgers encased in bread whose logos seem to be all over the bloody place.

So you're coming to London? Some things you should know:
  1. Despite being a highly-urbanised world city, London has its fair share of wildlife. For instance, locals may tell you about the gangs of badgers that roam the streets after night. Don't be fooled by the creature's reputation for docility. The London Urban Badger is known for its short temper. They go for mobile phones in particular, which is puzzling as everyone knows that badgers have no love for cellular communications, preferring instead to convey information through the medium of modern interpretative dance. Just keep your phones safe and look out for furry little jazz-hands.
  2. Before the badgers moved in, foxes were highly-regarded by many Londoners due to their natural homing instincts. In the 1920's a network of uniformed City Guides operated in the city, using foxes to offer navigation tips to passers-by. This died out in 1956, but even now you can mark yourself out as being 'in the know' when asking a local for direction. Once he's finished, stare straight in his eyes and intone, "Wear the fox hat!" as loudly as possible.
  3. Jellied eels have not been eaten seriously by Londoners since the days of Hogarth.  It's one of those dishes that are rolled out to fool tourists. Every city has one. See Deep Fried Mars Bar, Chicken Phall, Ulster Fry, etc.
  4. On the subject of food, do try the most typical of London dishes, the doner kebab. Containing a delicate mix of spices, sauces and something that once might have been meat, all wrapped up in a pitta bread, this represents the high point of fine dining. Make sure you order plenty of salad, but do not eat it. You're supposed to leave this part on the pavement as an offering to the Badger God.
  5. Do not make eye contact with people on the Tube. A Canadian tourist did it once on the Circle Line in 1978, by all accounts. Henry Kissinger got involved, there were questions in Parliament, but in the end it was hushed up and Londoners don't like to talk about it these days. 
  6. The British sense of humour tends to be a little robust to some visitors. We are fond of gentle banter, or as we call it, 'taking the piss'. British people like to take the piss out of ourselves, the weather, situations, politics, culture and people from other places. If you can take the piss out of us, we'll probably join in. We take the piss out of people who can't take the piss out of themselves. We're helpful like that. 
  7. If a local says to you, "You're taking the piss!" that might not be a good thing. I didn't say this was easy.
  8. It's a little-known fact that London was invaded by giant but invisible aliens in 1860. Estimates place them at being somewhere around 100 feet tall, but to prevent public panic (or, given this was Victorian England, an outbreak of tutting), their existence was only made clear to the government, Queen Victoria and Prince Albert. The aliens worshipped Albert as their god, leaving offerings around the city in the form of ten foot tall red monoliths. The locals hollowed these out, put in windows and converted them into telephone boxes. We don't know what happened to the aliens. Come to that, we don't know what's happened to the telephone boxes, either.   
  9. Those people who mime at Covent Garden? No, beats the hell out of us, too.
  10. Take some additional time to look around and you'll see that not all of the UK is the same as London. It's tempting to think that with such a dominant capital city the rest of the country suffers by comparison. Nothing could be farther from the truth. For instance, I understand Northumberland now gets mains electricity two days per week and those of us in Birmingham are certainly looking forward to receiving our supply of rudimentary hand-tools next month. Who says there's been no trickle-down from the Olympics?

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