This has been a fun week, because I got to spend time with some good friends who were visiting London for a few days, one of whom was celebrating their 30th birthday. They packed plenty in to their short break, having planned things out very well beforehand, and they really enjoyed themselves. I didn’t get to spend quite as much time with them as I was hoping to, but I did meet up with them on each of the 3 days they were here. So I thought I’d tell you about it, as we did a variety of fun things!
- Westminster & Lambeth Walk
- Doggett’s Coat & Badge
- Thames Walk
- Models & McDonald’s
- Black Panther
- Comedy Store Players
- Final Drinks & Farewells
Westminster & Lambeth Walk
My friends were a bit late getting in on Tuesday, thanks to a flight delay and then a fire alarm at Victoria station delaying the trains for a short while. So while I waited for them, I had a little walk around the Westminster Bridge and Lambeth area. It is really strange seeing Big Ben (or the Elizabeth Tower if you want to be pedantic) covered in scaffolding, but it is necessary, and at least they have left the clock face showing. I then took a few photos of the London Eye across the river, before walking across Westminster Bridge, passing a bagpiper playing along the way.
And from there I continued walking into Lambeth. I knew one of my friends wanted to visit a gaming shop called Dark Sphere, so I hunted that down using Google Maps. It’s a bit tucked away, but not far from where they were staying. I didn’t go in, I just wanted to check where it was. And nearby I discovered a small park called Archbishop’s Park, so I had a nice little walk around there too. So I had nice little stroll to start the day.
Doggett’s Coat & Badge
Once my mates arrived and had checked in to their hotel, we went off to have lunch. I had booked us a table at the Doggett’s Coat & Badge pub by Blackfriars Bridge, which I’ve already visited recently with members of South East London Vision, so I was happy to recommend it. I had booked the table for 12pm, but as soon as I knew they were going to be late during the morning, I called them up to see if we could change our time, and they were very nice, saying we could turn up whenever we were ready. So when we did eventually get there, at around 2pm, they were still very happy to accommodate us, which was great.
So we had a really nice meal there. On my previous couple of visits I’d had the big Nicholson’s burger and their fish and chips, so this time I decided to try the steak, ale and mushroom pie, with mashed potatoes, vegetables and gravy. And for pudding I had the trio of desserts (chocolate brownie, profiteroles and lemon tart). And it was all washed down with some Mixed Berries Kopparberg Cider, So it was all very nice, and my friends all enjoyed their meals as well (one of them had the chicken, ham hock and cheese pie, while the others tried the big Nicholson’s burgers).
As well as serving nice food, the other reason for going there was to take advantage of a special discount. If you sign up as a friend of the Nicholson’s pub chain, you get a voucher for 25% off your bill, which can be used for up to 6 people, and has to be used within 28 days. So I signed up for that, and got an email with a QR code to show the cashier. And it worked really well, knocking over £33 off our total bill! So that was well worth it! For what it’s worth, I haven’t had any spam emails from them either, so I don’t regret signing up for it. Apparently you get a treat on your birthday each year as well, which is presumably a voucher of some sort, so it’ll be interesting to see what that is when the time comes.
After our lunch we continued walking all the way along the South Bank of the Thames, stopping to take pictures by HMS Belfast along the way, and then we walked over Tower Bridge and back down the river on the other side. As they needed to go back to their hotel though, we crossed back over the river via the Millennium Bridge (the once ‘wobbly’ bridge), and headed back down the rest of the South Bank again.
We stopped by the London Eye for a few minutes, to watch a lady performer making bubbles there to the delight of some children, while one of my mates managed to make a quick Facetime call to his children at home so they could see him in front of the huge wheel, which they loved. We then went back to their hotel briefly so they could sort out a few bits and pieces before we headed out for the evening.
Models & McDonald’s
We then took a walk into Leicester Square, and headed into the Lego Store for a look around. There are a lot of very impressive models in there, including Big Ben, a big London scene mosaic above the stairs, a Millennium Falcon and other Star Wars items, a Tube map and a Tube train carriage. We didn’t buy anything, but it was fun to look at it all.
Then we went to McDonald’s around the corner for a quick bite to eat. This is one of the branches where you have to order things on the big touchscreens, which I’ve never had to do in a McDonalds before, as I don’t go in them that often. But I managed to figure it out. I had to get close to the screen to read it, and the receipt for picking up your meal is ridiculously long, quite a waste of paper really. But it worked fine, I got my food.
As we came out of there, walking past the side windows of the Lego Store again next door, we noticed a big window display where you could place your hand on the palm sensor in the corner, so that it could reveal what Lego character it thinks you are. It’s really difficult to get the sensor to recognise your hand though, as it took a little while for it to respond to some of us, but we all got a result in the end. I got a wizard, which was pretty cool. I can’t remember what all of my other mates got, but I know we had a knight and a businessman, and one guy’s character was a queen!
We then went to the Odeon Covent Garden Cinema in Shaftesbury Avenue to watch Black Panther. Myself and my other visually impaired friend both used the audio description headsets for this. And that was really useful, because there are a lot of scenes which are either quite dark or very fast-paced, and were thus difficult for us to follow, even though we were sitting at the very front. So the audio description really helped us to make sense of it all, though we naturally had to turn it up a lot during the noisier parts of the film.
And the movie itself is good, though nothing special, so it’s not something I’ll be buying when it comes out on Blu-ray. But it’s got lovely visuals, cool special effects and fun action sequences, and bits of humour here and there. And it’s got some big names in it – I hadn’t known much about it beforehand, so I was particularly pleased to see Martin Freeman there, as I love him in Sherlock, and he was alright in this too.
So it’s nothing outstanding overall. It’s got nothing that makes it stand out from other superhero movies, and I didn’t feel particularly invested in the characters to be honest. However, taken as a pure piece of escapist entertainment with which to kill a couple of hours, it was a great way to finish a fun day, so we were all happy.
Comedy Store Players
The next day, it looked like I might not be able to go out at all. My phone told me I had walked over 15 miles altogether on Tuesday, which I think is the most I’ve ever done in a day in London so far. And I was trying out some new trainers too, not realising we would be walking quite that much! So I paid the price with all our trekking by getting a nice big blister on one foot.
So I had to tell the guys I couldn’t go out walking with them on Wednesday, so they ended up going on the ArcelorMittal Orbit Slide in the Olympic Park and spending a few hours exploring HMS Belfast without me, which was a great shame, as I haven’t done those since moving to London yet. Sure, I can do them any time, and will do so, but it would have been fun to enjoy them with the other guys. My visually impaired friend told me that he used the audio guide on HMS Belfast and found it really useful, so I’ll definitely have to try that when I do get to visit.
However, after resting my foot during the day, I was determined not to miss out on everything. So with careful application of a plaster, the use of different shoes and socks to the previous day, and some very careful walking, I managed to meet them in Leicester Square in the evening for a show at The Comedy Store. I love stand-up comedy, so I’d been wanting to go to a comedy club in London since moving here, but had just not around to it, so this was the perfect opportunity.
The Comedy Store is a nice place. A bit dark to begin with, but it was easy enough to get around with the help of my friends, and we were able to get 5 seats together, which was great. You don’t reserve numbered seats there, you just pick whatever seats are free, so thankfully we didn’t have to split up.
We had gone to see an improvisation show by The Comedy Store Players, who perform on Wednesdays and Sundays every week. Paul Merton, best known for being a team captain on Have I Got News For You is sometimes part of these shows, as he will be for this Sunday in fact. But he wasn’t one of the group on this particular night. The lineup varies a bit for each show, but it’s made from the same group of people.
The show we saw featured Josie Lawrence, Lee Simpson, Richard Vranch, Andy Smart, Stephen Frost and Steve Steen. I knew Josie and Stephen from Whose Line Is It Anyway?, but the rest I don’t think I knew before, though it’s possible I’ve seen them on that show or elsewhere before and not remembered their names.
And it was a brilliant show, very funny all the way through, with a variety of different improvised scenes based on suggestions from the audience. I’ll tell you about some of the games, because with a show like this you don’t have to worry about spoilers. Being improvised based on audience suggestions, every single show is different, which means you can go there many times, and I suspect there are people who go there regularly. And I can’t blame them to be honest. The comedy won’t come across as well here in text form, I know, but hopefully it’ll give you a reasonable sense of what it was like.
So, for instance, one game had 2 of them adopting positions at the start, decided by the audience, and they had to improvise a scene from there, changing positions as they went. But at any time, another comedian could freeze the action and take the place of one of them, copying their position but improvising a different scenario from that pose. So it was very fast-paced and random and led to many funny moments. For instance, one of them was holding the stool up to their face with the metal legs pointing outwards, and another one assured them their braces weren’t that noticeable, but then a little while later the stool represented R2-D2 rolling over on the floor, so that’s how random it was! It was a bit hard for me and my other visually impaired friend to all the visual gags, but I was able to see some of it, and we got the general idea of what was going on well enough.
Another game had Stephen Frost going out of the room to begin with, while suggestions were gathered from the audience for a job his character does. Stephen would then have to come back into the room and the other comedians would play out a scene with him, dropping clues into the story to try and get Stephen to guess what his character’s job was. So the audience decided that Stephen was the guy who measures celebrities for www.celebheights.com – yes, it’s a real site! – and… well, I can’t say the rest, but it involved pandas in Bratislava, that’s all I can say! But it was really funny given the way the other comedians got clues into the story. Josie, for instance, had a boyfriend who visited a volcano and was killed, so now “Brett is lava” (Bratislava), while one of the other guys was a scientist working in a laboratory and trying to make some money off his rats, as he was trying to “sell lab ratties” (celebrities). So it was really fun to see what they came up with!
Another game involved a scene set it in a therapist’s office, and they had regularly to adopt different feelings and emotions (dread, paranoia, horny, ennui, etc) or theatrical styles (Bollywood, opera, ballet, mime, etc), so that was really amusing.
Another game involved one member of the group interviewing another person – a professor who trains meerkats to throw javelins! But this professor was played by 4 of the group sat in a line, with each of them saying just one word each in turn as they went down the line. So that was cool too, especially when the interviewer said that the professor had written a lovely poem about the meerkat, to put the other 4 on the spot, so it was really funny listening to the lullaby they ended up inventing between them!
The longest and funniest game was the one after the interval, where they improvised a Western musical called “The horse that was a cow”. It ended up being about a couple of cowboys who didn’t have any horses as they approached the town, so they decided to take a couple of cows and disguise them as horses to ride them into the town, where they were welcomed by being invited to take part in a race around the city. Before that, the most exciting thing that had ever happened in the town was a guy arriving with a suitcase full of things! So the cowboys found horse costumes and roller skates in that suitcase, which they used to disguise the cows as horses. So, again, it was very random and fun, with one of the group sitting down and playing the piano for the musical elements, just as they were doing for one or two of the other games too. For example, Josie Lawrence came up with a song about milking the cows, with a chorus that repeated the words “squeeze and pull”, which went down very well.
So it was a really enjoyable show, with a great crowd and lots of laughter. And you can tell the comedians really like doing it, because they have a laugh themselves as they’re going along, and their enjoyment comes across well. They also have lots of experience doing improvised comedy, having performed it for very many years, so they’re extremely creative and know what works well. There wasn’t any part of the show that fell flat because of that, it all flowed really nicely. So it’s definitely something I’d go to again, especially now I know what it’s like in there and how easy it is to get there, and I suspect some people go there quite regularly because it’s different every single night. I wouldn’t blame them!
After the show had finished at 10pm, we then went to TGI Fridays just across the road for a meal, where I had a big Warrior Burger (which is a large double burger, basically) with fries and a drink of Strawberry & Lime Kopparberg Cider, which was really nice and very filling, and the other guys enjoyed their meals too. We also got to see the waiters singing a special birthday greeting song to someone on the table next to us – but we decided not to embarrass our friend on our table by telling them it was birthday that day too!
The birthday friend in question also showed me the video on his phone that he’d got from his ride on the ArcelorMittal Orbit Slide (they strapped a GoPro to him, facing him, so you could see and hear his reactions all the way down), so that was really cool. And then, once we’d finished our meal in TGI Fridays, we popped over to McDonald’s to finish off the day with a McFlurry each (I had the Crunchie one). So again we’d had another lovely evening together.
Final Drinks & Farewells
Thursday was the final day, and they would be flying home in the evening. So in the morning they went to the Dark Sphere gaming shop and bought a few things, and then spent a bit of time looking around the Imperial War Museum – my visually impaired friend had tried to get an audio guide there but was told they weren’t working, just as I found when I went there recently, so they don’t seem to be very accessible in that sense at the moment. But he still enjoyed it with the help of his friends.
I then met them at Leicester Square in the afternoon, outside the Lego Store, as they had returned there to buy a few souvenirs. And then we popped into M&M’s World directly opposite to see what that was like as well – basically everything you can imagine with M&M branding. Not just M&M sweets in different types of packaging, but everything from t-shirts and toys to guitar picks and golf balls as well! None of us bought anything there, but it was interesting to see it out of curiosity.
After that we went for a drink before they had to catch their train, as they already had their bags with them – they didn’t need to bring much as they were only here for a couple of nights. So we went to a pub called The Chandos in Charing Cross for a drink together, before I then saw them off at Charing Cross station nearby, before making my way home.
And can I just say that the coloured direction lines on the floor at big, busy stations like that are really handy, as you can follow them to find things like the toilets, the Underground and the way out. I have to look at the text with my monocular initially to find out which line is which, as there’s no way I’m getting down the floor to look at them. But once I’ve quickly done that and know which coloured line to follow, it’s really useful, as I don’t have to keep trying to look for signs up in the air then. And it’s also worth noting that the toilets at Charing Cross are free, which isn’t the case at all stations necessarily (but I know they’re also free at Victoria at least).
So all in all it was a lovely few days. I may not have been able to do as much as I wanted, but I was able to meet the guys on all 3 days, which we were all very happy about. And they really enjoyed their short holiday in the city, which was great. They certainly packed plenty into it, and rightly so!
For me, my favourite part was The Comedy Store. Going to a comedy club was long overdue, so I’m glad I finally got around it. And as it happens, this evening I’ve been invited to go with another friend to another comedy night very soon, which sounds really great as well. My blister should have healed up a lot more by then, so walking shouldn’t be quite so awkward!
I’ll finish this post with a video of a busker at Leicester Square, playing an electric guitar version of You Can Leave Your Hat On, recorded while I was waiting to meet my friends on Wednesday night. And I hope you’ve all had a fun week too!