Mind the Gap! – Antipodeans in London


Big Ben
A well used motto on London’s Underground. It is announced by the public address as every time a train pulls into another of the “tube” stations, which form part of London’s extensive public transport system. It may as well be announcing the large divide a lot of antipodeans have to cross both physically and literally, when first arriving in England.

Quick Note: Antipodeans is the name given to people coming from the Antipodes, the collective name used to describe Australia and New Zealand. Using a bit of artistic licence, when writing I loosely include South Africans within the same group. This is mainly because of our similar backgrounds and attitudes, there is a natural affinity between those from the Southern Hemisphere.

Many young travellers to London are literally thrown into the deep end of the use of London’s public transport when arriving for the first time in London. Most travellers first arrive into the UK at Heathrow airport and the most economical way to get from the airport into the centre of the city is to take the 45-minute ride in the tube.

So why do we come to London, leaving family and friends in our home countries? The weather in England at most times is very grim, and our sport teams are infinitely more successful. I suppose it comes down to two main reasons, money and travel.

Just as puberty, high school, university and passing a driving test have become milestones to be achieved when growing up, for many antipodeans so has the O.E. (Overseas Experience). For years many Australians, New Zealanders and now more recently South Africans have worked, scrounged and saved in their home countries to get the funds together to purchase that return ticket to London. Often they arrive with nothing more than a backpack full of clothes and hoping that “the streets of London are paved with gold”. The “Pound” is the almighty currency, very strong compared to most foreign currencies, so any amount that can be earned by working in the UK is worth far more in comparison to the equivalent back home.

Australia, New Zealand and South Africa were once major parts of the old British Empire, this colonial bond means that many citizens of these Commonwealth countries can enjoy two years living and working in “Mother England”. Technically, the type of work we are allowed is supposed to of a casual nature and there are many people doing bar work, building labourer, etc. But London is a major first world city and the opportunities available in this city means that there are many well paid positions for persons with the qualifications. Nurses, lawyers and accountants earn far more in London than they would back in their home countries.

Whilst work is the main reason for many young people being based in London for two years, this means that a large social scene has been developed around the visiting foreigners. The scene is vibrant with a distinctive Southern Hemisphere theme. There are countless bars and pubs that cater for the crowds. Some are purpose built for Australians and their Kiwi cousins, these include the Walkabout Inn, the Redback Tavern or the Bondi Bar. Whilst other “English” pubs, like the Slug and Lettuce and the Swan, now cater for the large crowds of antipodeans that have become their regulars. Any sporting event, and most especially rugby matches, which involve one of the national teams, will see these pubs packed to the rafters with loyal supporters. Of course Pommie bashing is a frequent activity, especially concerning the current performance of the British sporting teams.

Changing of the guard
This doesn’t mean that the entire stay in England is spent encamped in some un-English pubs, never experiencing the real British way of life. English acquaintances are soon met through work or family. New friends are made and gradually more of the England scene is discovered the more one ventures out. Be careful though, if you find yourself liking warm flat beer, addicted to the endless television soaps and looking forward to your next visit to the local DIY store, you have been in England too long and turning into a Pom.

A mention must be made here of a magazine, the TNT – Your Guide to Free-Spirited Living. This magazine mysteriously appears in distribution bins outside Tube stations and best of all, it’s free. It’s an excellent resource for news and sports results from back home. It has listings of all the relevant happenings around London and travel articles. Inside can also be found adverts for companies offering cheap phone calls, pub venues, jobs, excess baggage shipping services, tours and travel, accommodation, visas, tax rebates. You name it, the list goes on and on. Check out their web site at www.tnt-live.com.

The majority of this time is taken up with working and establishing your new contacts in London. Over time life settles down, and you become familiar with the regular weekend parties, pubbing and clubbing. Now is the time to explore that other main reason for leaving home for the cold climes of the UK – travel. Living in London opens up a large variety of travel opportunities. London is probably one of the best places in the world for the number of travel choices available. Competition is fierce, there are many travel companies all trying to attract the eager travellers to spend their hard-earned Pounds. This keeps prices very reasonable.

Every year there is a bunch of regular events across Europe, which are the “must dos” for every visitor from the Southern Hemisphere. These usually don’t require more than taking a couple of days off work around a weekend. Because of the popularity of these events there are many cheap trips organised from London. One is always assured that the genre of persons taking these trips are always of a similar ilk, so lots of fun is assured.

This is a list, by no means complete, of the popular must dos for every Antipodean;

Hogmanay, the biggest and best annual New Year’s party. Held in Edinburgh, Scotland. Popularly dubbed “Snogmanay” by the Antipodeans due to the vast number of people all kissing each other after the clock rings in the New Year.
A weekend, usually Easter, in Amsterdam. The Venice of North Western Europe. The history, the culture…oh yes and the red light district. Enough said.
The Running of the Bulls. Also known as the San Fermin Festival in Pamplona, Spain. This is held in the first week of July. Lot’s of partying and close encounters with the odd cow or two. A real Hemingwayesque experience.
Oktober Beerfest, Munich Germany. Always starts in September and will end the first weekend in October (hence the name). Beer Halls, Ompa bands, lederhosen, and too many large steins of beer. PROST!
International Rugby Tours. Every year, at least one of either the Wallabies, All Blacks or Springboks will tour in the Northern Hemisphere. So for a couple of weekends in November, coach loads of fanatical rugby supports make their way to Dublin, Edinburgh or Paris to support their beloved team.

Other options which maybe are not as popular but are by no means short of takers are:

Bus trip around Ireland. The friendliest country in Europe.
Gallipoli Memorial service. Takes part in April on the headland in Turkey there the ANZAC forces fought so bravely with heavy losses.
Van trip around Europe. Buy a van, take a few months off during the summer and get a few friends to sign up and you’re off. You go at your own pace and stop when and where you please. Usually taking in some of the must do’s listed above.
Ibiza Club scene. Ibiza is a group of small Spanish Atlantic islands where hordes of young British people head for a week of clubbing (lots) and sun (not so much, because they are usually sleeping). Happens all summer long.

Of course, like all good things, two years comes to an end for those not fortunate enough to be able to stay longer. Thoughts start thinking of going home. Because the journey home is such a long trip many realise that this could be the last bit of significant travelling they could be doing for a while. After all, once home it should be about time to start settling down and thinking about long term plans. At least that’s what most parents hope will happen. So the trip home can include an overland Africa excursion. Or maybe spending a couple of months in South East Asia.

All too soon our time in England is over. All that is left to do is arrange some mammoth going away party(s). Say goodbye to our newly acquired colleagues and friends. Then it’s off to the nearest tube station to catch the Underground back to Heathrow Airport.

“Mind the Gap!”

The Church - Get into the habit
As a footnote, no article that relates how antipodeans live in London would be complete without mentioning the “Church”.

The Church is an institution that is only open on Sunday afternoons between 12 noon and 4pm. The venue is an old, disused, converted warehouse. It is situated deep in a sleazy part of King Cross behind the large railway station. You pay your £5 entry along with hundreds of fellow Aussies/Kiwis/Safers to get inside and are packed in like sardines. It is always hot and sticky inside regardless of the weather outside. Music is played at eardrum bursting levels. Three cans of Aussie beer can be purchased for £7 and are given to you in a plastic carrier bag.

After standing around inside for ages and just when you start to think that nothing further is going to happen, some awful comedian appears and tells filthy jokes before introducing a stripper onto the stage. The second half of the “show” usually requires some participation from members of the audience. To round off the afternoon, drinking teams are formed from Australian, New Zealand, South African and whatever other nationalities are about and they have a drink off to find an eventual winner. Right at the end any willing females from the audience, and there are always heaps, are invited up onto the stage to take their tops off, much to the delight of the males in the audience.

A typical Church afternoon
If you have survived the occasion and are able to escape still being able to stand, once outside everyone seems to be quite uninhibited and very friendly. The sensible people, or those still with some of their senses not dulled by too much beer, make their way back to the station and home. Generally you will end up continuing this party at the Backpackers Pub, 400-500 yards down the road, and coincidentally owned and run by the same people who are responsible for the Church.

The whole experience is so messy and the place is such a dive. You are left with the impression that apart from the knowledge you have drunk way too much beer on a Sunday, you did quite enjoy yourself but will not being going back.

Hey? Maybe I can have my going away party there?

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