The year was 2019. Most of us had never even heard of Covid. Face masks and social distancing were definitely not a thing. On one particular fateful and cold November morning, I was lucky enough to be able to visit the city of London for the very first time.
Back then I used to work as a steward for a regional airline from the Middle East and they had just started flights to the UK. It was a job that demanded a lot of hard work but all in all was extremely fulfilling to me.
Travelling as a passenger is one thing but travelling as a crew member on duty is a whole other ball game. It’s exponentially more tedious and tiring. The flight took around 7.5 hours and needless to say I was exhausted after the aircraft finally touched down. However, that wasn’t going to stop me. It’s not every day that one gets the opportunity to have a layover in one of the most iconic cities in the world.
So as soon as I reached my hotel in Gatwick, I stepped into a nice and much needed steaming hot shower; after which I put on my warmest jacket, tied my scarf in a knot around my neck and dashed out to get lost alone in a brand new city.
Since my flight would only take me to Gatwick which was around an hour away from London by road, I had to board a shuttle to the local station where I was surprised to learn that they actually offered a discounted fare for cabin crew members which was not only convenient but also really cool.
Upon arrival to the station, I purchased my day pass ticket and was officially London bound. I would have to switch trains in between and boy did I get lost. But to me that was part of the whole experience and I cherish things like that now.
You see, nowadays we have maps and apps to get us from point A to point B via the best possible route in the shortest possible time. So people don’t really get lost anymore. They don’t have to ask for directions, they don’t end up in the wrong places. Which is great and needless to say efficient on it’s own. But to me getting lost and being present in that experience just hits different. What can I say? Issa Vibe!
While inside the metro I remember trying to look outside and take in as much as I could. Before I knew it, it was already evening and my ‘view’ was fading into a reflection of my self bundled up like an Eskimo ready to brave the Tundra. It was then that I heard a rather peculiar announcement.
It basically stated that the station I was supposed to get off at would be closed due to some ‘incident’ that took place and I had to get down 2 stations further ahead. Listening to it got me slightly dismayed for the briefest of moments because all I had were 24 hours to see as much of the city as I could, which meant even the slightest of deviations could disrupt everything that I originally had planned to do. It was then that I decided to put my expectations aside and just go with the flow of things. Que Sera Sera.
To my good fortune, I had a few friends there who I would eventually catch up with later on. Just walking down the streets and seeing them all light up for Christmas was simply breath taking. Sadly, I didn’t get to take a cliché picture of the Big Ben as it was all covered up for renovation.
Everyone was outside having a good time despite the negative ‘incident’ that took place earlier that same day. People decided that they weren’t going to succumb to the likes of fear and proudly made their way up and about the cobblestoned avenues. There was a unanimous spirit of perseverance that filled the air. Nothing was going to deter the Londoners. Nothing would bring them down! And well it was also Black Friday.
Like any big city, people are always in a rush to go somewhere and do something. They can immediately tell if someone isn’t from around there by the speed of their gait and the usual aimless wandering.
Imagine yourself in an ice skating rink except you don’t know how to skate (Dass usually me) and everyone else there does. You would be able to see every one zip past you in every possible direction while you’re just trying to not fall down. That’s the feeling I got while traversing the trails of the city of London.
Amidst the stereotypical gloom that most Londoners get depicted portraying, there was a strong essence of fortitude amongst them that I hadn’t seen anywhere else before. Nothing would get to them, Nothing would make them dismayed or deterred. I would go on to find it really fascinating even to this very day.
Before visiting, I’d always heard that London was expensive and it sure was. Don’t get me started on the taxis; especially the London Cabs/Hackneys . The fares made my heart race! They do look very, very cool though. I’ll give them that. And for me, that was enough to ride in one.
I told myself screw it. I might as well use up the extra currency I had simply because I don’t know if I would ever get the chance to experience all of that in my life again. ‘Tomorrow’ isn’t really promised to us after all.
After an eventful day of meandering about and an even more eventful night with my friends, I made my way back to my hotel in Gatwick the next morning. I wouldn’t leave the UK without having a real filling English breakfast and some nice English tea. Needless to say, I went Ham on it! (Pun intended)
Fortunately for me, it was complimentary. That one London taxi ride coupled with all the souvenirs I had to take back for my friends & family, really dealt a war zone’s worth of damage to my wallet. To be fair, people who have seen my rather ancient and tattered wallet will agree with me when I say it looks like it really has been through the ravages of war.
How utterly and starkly different life was before the pandemic hit us all with the whole ‘new normal’. I guess it’s true what they say, ‘Change is the only real constant’. Finally, the time came for me to leave this remarkable place altogether.
I’m not so sure how life is there currently but it doesn’t seem so great with all the lockdowns and restrictions. I do hope things work out for the better for everyone there, whatever that may entail.
“By seeing London, I have seen as much of life as the world can show.” – Samuel Johnson.
Until we meet again London, stay safe and stay resilient! Cheerio !