Upon stating something in writing, you leave it open to interpretation. That’s the beauty of writing as a medium. It isn’t prescriptive; it is what you make it. In a recent Advanced Higher English talk on two poems by John Donne, both Laura (you can read about her interesting horsey antics here) and I managed to tackle the poem The Good Morrow from two different perspectives and came out with two different interpretations of it. However, this is not always the best and can lead to statements appearing to lacking certain aspects such as sincerity – especially when the piece is written in a report format. Therefore, I feel it necessary to state that everything that follows, although it may sound disgustingly cheesy, is in fact said with utmost sincerity. Well, unless it’s a joke, of course.
There are some memories that stick with you forever, whether that be due to their good or bad nature. For example, I have a vivid memory of my first time in techy. We were making a tiddlywinks flipper using a large industrial blowtorch and I decided it smelt like a barbeque. Well, the recent English department trip to London is something that will most definitely stay with me forever. Firstly, a little disclaimer must be made. Being two years above the majority of the trip attendees, the four S6s joined together. Therefore, everything that follows is mainly about our perspective of the trip. Now that that’s off my chest, we may continue.
Our trip to London was by far the best trip I have been on with the school. I loved canoeing down the Ardeche but nothing could beat this non-stop trip with some of the best people. It was a Friday morning in early February when we all piled ourselves and a multitude of luggage into a minibus before the sun could even break over the horizon and trundled our way to Berwick railway station. Being the last on the bus, I was given a single seat at the back beside the luggage. In a most comical manner, as the bus journey went on, it slid slowly across towards me until I had to prop myself up against it to prevent me being showered in someone else’s clothing.
Groggy and slightly motion sick, we tumbled out of the steamed up minibus into a freezing cold Berwick railway station. As we stood on the platform, waiting for the east coast train to London King’s Cross, the realisation that our trip had begun started to sink on. Smiles started to appear across our still half asleep faces. We were going to London; the beating heart of the British Isles. With German efficiency, our train turned up bang on its arrival time and we all piled on, with a slight dash being made by the sixth years to get the table seat – which we did get both there and back again. The closer we got to London the greater the excitement became. Soon we would be walking the streets of one of the greatest cities on Earth.
Once we arrived at Kings Cross, we took our first go on the underground. It was an interesting experience with fourteen people each with their own baggage. Speaking of baggage, I was evidently still half asleep when we alighted from the train as I found it awfully hard to prevent myself from tripping over everyone else’s and ended up going around the first part of the station looking a bit like a puppet controlled by a puppeteer with a really itchy nose. Upon arrival at St Paul’s Cathedral, which was just across the road from where we would be spending our extended weekend, we became quickly acquainted with why Mrs McKeown is an English teacher and not a geography teacher. We took a completely circular route straight past the youth hostel, ending up exactly where we had left off. Eventually the hostel was found and we filed into an empty canteen where we were given our rooms. Jack and I were given our room straight away being the only two males on the trip and after a bit of coin flipping, our fellow S6s were given their room with some rather reluctant S4s.
It was only just reaching into the afternoon so the rest of the day was spent sightseeing. We paid a visit to Buckingham Palace, took a wander through St James Park, watched the changing of the guards at Horse Guards Parade and then visited the lions at the base of Nelson’s column. After a few selfies with the lions we proceeded to Leicester Square where we were given free rein to explore – within a set radius of course. The enticing smell of M&M World dragged us in without thought, however we came out far less impressed than we had been upon entering. The shop was multiple stories high, housed more M&M branded nonsense than anyone could ever need and had us hating the silly capitalistic trap hundreds of fellow tourists had fallen for. We then took a quick look around the neighbouring Nickelodeon store and having decided that there wasn’t anything worth buying we delved into Chinatown, coffees in hand looking as hipster as physically possible. You know what they say; when in London, be as hipster as possible.
The hanging chains of Chinese lanterns made for great photographs – well, I thought they did but you can decide for yourself. So we grabbed the opportunity with two hands and took a multitude of pictures and then dived into a Chinese corner shop. The girls came out with Chinese teas and we made it back to Leicester Square in time for tea and to see a man have knives thrown at him while we waited for the S4s. The man had almost progressed to juggling a chainsaw while riding a unicycle when the S4s turned up and we left for some pizza. The remainder of the evening was then spent in the quaint Covent Garden market where we walked in shops, had a look at the extortionate prices and walked back out again. However, we did make two trips around a tea shop trying all of the free samples both times.
Day two started bright and early for us as we woke up trying to get into the shower for our part of the corridor just to be beaten to it by seconds. So, after braving what had quickly become known as ‘the hanging shower’ due to its sinister look when the light was off, we headed down to a cooked breakfast or at least what the man serving the cooked part of the breakfast considered to be acceptable, which just happened to be enough beans to power a single manned flight to the Moon. The morning was kicked off with a trip to the British Museum where the Advanced Highers showed off their socialist side by each buying a copy of Karl Marx’s The Communist Manifesto. Admittedly, I’m not sure any of us were entirely convinced by the extreme left wing outlook. Apart from a foray into politics, we saw a giant mummified crocodile, several Egyptian mummies, some ancient Chinese pottery and various other rather interesting things.
However, things became really interesting with our next activity; a literary walking tour. We all shuffled into an empty old pub where a completely normal man sat munching on an apple. He turned out to be the tour guide and after disappearing for a minute he returned as now 145 years dead Charles Dickens. A bowler hat; a waistcoat that didn’t quite fit and a change of accent and all of a sudden he wasn’t some random guy munching an apple: he was now some random guy pretending to be someone else. After a quick literary quiz in which the students beat the teachers thanks to Jack’s lightning fast reactions, we began our tour slightly concerned about the man we were following. Luckily, by the end, he had proven our suspicions incorrect and did not attempt to murder us in an alley and just happened to be your classic actor – slightly mad and over eccentric. He took us around spots where the literary greats had spent their time such as innumerable pubs – which we stood outside being too young to partake in the same activities of what appeared to be almost every British literary great – and a ‘not brothel brothel’ where someone had
written about not fox foxes. However, this short stay outside the ‘totally not a brothel’ building was just a blip in the madness. He also showed us an area where Dylan Thomas visited. Apparently it was owned by an interesting woman who would introduce clients in a very peculiar manner. We then visited Soho Square Gardens where our guide decided it would be a good idea to do the Soho hunting call at the top of his voice. It is surprising he didn’t get done for breach of the peace as two bewildered police officers walked by. It was probably due to the nature of the area we were in and the slight…eccentricity…that leaked from this actor.
That evening we were free to get our own tea and in a rather surprising turn of events I ended up in a sushi restaurant even though I’m not the biggest fan of sushi. This apparently is what happens when you are far too submissive and go on a trip with sushi lovers. After our interesting trip to the sushi bar, in which we took up a seat beside some poor sod who ended up with us surrounding him like a group of overdressed, not at all scary kidnappers, we set off to a large Waterstones, ended up running behind time but eventually got to the theatre on time. After our escapades with the tour guide actor who I am sure thought he was actually Charles Dickens for moments here and there, it was time to see some proper – and less scary – acting in the form of ‘The Picture of Dorian Gray’ by Oscar Wilde. The play took place in a small room, the stage and the floor in front of the people in the front row was exactly the same thing but by goodness was it a good play. At the interval Jack demonstrated how glaciation worked entirely by accident and at the end Mrs McKeown managed to sneak a quick photo of herself standing in the picture frame used in the play before the ushers could say otherwise.
It was on this evening that we discovered a group of French students had also taken up residence on our floor and were making a bit of noise. There was a knock at the door which I quickly blamed on the “blooming French” out loud as Jack opened it to find Miss Dyer on the other side. Let’s just say that ended in a great laugh.
The next morning, we woke early again just to be beaten to the shower. Someone kept taking a shower at half 7 and it was beginning to get a bit annoying. I avoided the beans this time and went for a hash brown instead. That morning we paid a visit to the Imperial War Museum. As we walked in, there right in front of us, hanging from the roof, were two of the most iconic aircraft ever: a Spitfire and a Harrier jumpjet.
Just to top that off there was a large rocket and a mashed Land Rover Defender used by press in the Middle East. However, I don’t believe the fourth years had the same enthusiasm as I had as they looked rather sullen and managed to get round the entire museum in an hour and a half. We made it up two floors before we were allowed to visit the Holocaust exhibition. Never have I been so moved by anything within a museum. Prior to the exhibition I had come across the shells of nuclear bombs, the cockpit of a Lancaster and a huge Nazi eagle statue and yet none of that compared to what was housed within the exhibition. The tales of survivors had to be the hardest hitting part. People were taken from them right in front of their eyes as if they were some rabid dog who needed putting down. It was a precious insight into the disgusting nature of the Nazi regime and should act as a warning in the modern world. With growing hatred towards Muslims and the rise of fascists, we need to look back and see what horror comes of supporting such thing. Nothing that happened back then could be justified and never will be. However, in among the sorrowful images there was one of hope. Never have I felt such admiration towards a random stranger until I saw two Orthodox Jews walk into the exhibit. To do such a thing must take incredible strength of heart and mind and should definitely be recognised admirably.
After our trip to the war museum we took a walk along the south bank where, slightly dehydrated, we went into the nearest coffee shop with indoor seats – it was Baltic outside. The S6s were then granted permission to take a trip to the Blackfriars Bridge on the way back to the hostel. The bridge is found a fair few times in popular culture, most recently as a setting in Casandra Claire’s The Infernal Devices. It was here that we also came across the oddly shaped Blackfriar in Blackfriars and Burgon Lane – evidently named after Selkirk’s head teacher Mrs Burgon.
However, my life was changed for the better that evening. Well, loose term really. It was made easier, at the very least. But before we get to the revolutionary part, we must first take a moment to appreciate the struggle Jack and I faced that evening trying to find tea. The girls, being healthy fiends living off of bread and lettuce leaves, had decided something like a salad would do. I’ve never been much of a rabbit myself and Jack didn’t seem too keen either so we went off in search of tea. We did a large loop around St Paul’s Cathedral looking for something but ended up with nothing. Eventually we found a Co-Op and I settled for a cheese and onion bake and some mini eggs – a far better choice than some green stuff, I will assure you. Jack then decided it would be a good idea to be hilariously creepy and stand outside the window of the restaurant in which the teachers were dining. After his first attempt and a horrified look from Mrs McKeown, we then went across the street to find that the girls had accidently went to mass in St Paul’s, as you do.
That evening we went to Shakespeare’s Globe or, rather, the Sam Wanamaker Theatre – a little indoor theatre within the Globe’s ground used for performances in the winter. Here we were given the best seats in the house, standing in the rafters of the theatre beside a grumpy old git of an usher who followed the rules to a higher degree than an army major would. However, it wasn’t our amazing “Standing restricted view” that made the evening, although if that’s what it took to see a Shakespeare play, I’m more than happy with it. I had never been to a Shakespeare play as far as I can remember. Probably not great for someone about to study English literature. Although some of the old English was a bit of an alien language to the ear, I thoroughly enjoyed myself. I had begun to appreciate why people liked Shakespeare so much and therefore will not have to groan when Shakespeare is brought out for analysis. (That was the revolutionary bit.)
The following morning was bitter sweet. We packed up meaning the end of our trip was drawing far too near. At this stage, we were hoping that the train would be stopped somewhere up the line and we would have to spend even longer in London. As we later found out, that wasn’t the case. Slightly sullen we made our way back to the Globe where we were to do a quick theatre tour and Shakespeare workshop. During the tour we got to stand on the stage in the actual Globe; visit the best box money can buy and shout some of Romeo’s lines at an empty balcony. We then proceeded to our workshop which most of us were rather reluctant to do. I’ve never really been a fan of acting but our guide and acting instructor was fantastic and really got us into acting so slyly I don’t think I really realised. We looked at form in Romeo and Juliet and how Shakespeare had written it, an intriguing subject. Yet again, I was realising how good Shakespeare really was, which resulted in me coming home and taking up reading Romeo and Juliet.
After our far too short trip to the Globe we dragged ourselves to Kings Cross where we were given an hour for lunch. The second freedom was granted Jack ran off to Platform nine and three quarters as we went in the opposite direction searching for lunch. We later met up with Jack still in the line to get his picture taken beside the famous sign. Then we were drawn into the Harry Potter shop which was overcrowded and overpriced. But that didn’t stop Jack and Ruby splashing out. Although, in her defence, Ruby did put a fair bit of thought into whether she wanted a Ravenclaw scarf at £33. I was of great help dismissing the product at its sheer price but evidently didn’t have much influence in her final decision to buy it.
The train back was an almost complete contrast to the train there. The first thing we did was get sorted into our houses on Pottermore, find out what our petronuses and wands were and had a little outrage when I was put in Gryffindor – a house known for its courage and bravery which are two things I am more than certain I lack. I later retook the test and was sorted into Ravenclaw which I was far happier with. We also found out some of the darker traits of Mrs McKeown such as ‘accidentally’ murdering a hamster and some other interesting things. The train was late in to Berwick, we were exhausted and our trip was at an end.
It was sad to have to return home. My four days in London had been four of the best days ever. The activities were great and just being in London and living off of the city’s energy was amazing. However, the best thing out of all the trip was the company. The three S6s who made up the rest of the Advanced Higher crew were three of the best people you could ever go on a trip to London with.
Oh, and of course, there is no better teacher to take you to London that Mrs McKeown.