Jellied eels, spotted dick and builder's brew; cold and inhospitable (the weather and the locals); humdrum sights and absurd prices are just a few reasons The City is not top of the pops for Londoner Leo Kearse.
London was recently named the best destination in the world in TripAdvisor's annual Travellers' Choice Awards. As a Londoner, I can't see the appeal myself. Sure, if you're a Russian oligarch, London has all the Faberge egg stores, rent boys and cocaine you can stick inside yourself.
But for anyone who hasn't amassed a fortune creaming mineral wealth from a corrupt Third World country I can't see the appeal. The weather is awful, the food is inedible, the sights are dull, everything is ridiculously expensive, and Londoners are as friendly as a teenage goth.
London food is sarcastically bad. The menus look like they were created by a Simpsons' writer taking the piss out of British food. Toad in the hole? Mmm, who doesn't salivate at the thought of a warty amphibian hunkered in its burrow. Steak and kidney pudding? Why not chuck a gall bladder and a uterus in there too. Spotted dick? I can't think of anything I want in my mouth more than disease-riddled genitalia. Beans on toast? Yeah, why wouldn't I want cheap-fart soup on bits of hard bread.
Jellied eels? Read that back. JELLIED. EELS. We've taken the oiliest, slimiest fish and added jelly. It's 2019. Global trade brings delicious ingredients and recipes to us from all round the world. Why are we eating animals dredged from a canal in Plumstead?
And all washed down with our national drink, ale. Ale is basically last night's beer that's been left to go flat and tepid. Or, if their hangover is too strong for ale, Londoners will drink tea. But not healthy green tea or delicious jasmine tea. Our tea is made by dunking a sachet of brown dust in boiling water.
It's referred to as "builder's tea", but tradies only drink it because it gives them an excuse to put down their trowel and whistle at women. Brits continually argue about the correct way to prepare tea as if they're running rival geisha schools. Does milk go in first, or after the water? The answer is to ask an Italian man to make you a latte.
Luckily, the UK has spent the last few decades allowing immigration from countries with delicious food and booze. But it hasn't imported the prices. A meal for two with drinks in a reasonably priced restaurant isn't going to leave much change out of a £100 note. And even with a Brexit-weakened pound, at today's exchange rates that's about $200. Compare that to Bali, where two can easily be fed and watered for a tenth of the price.
And Bali has better weather. London's weather is relentlessly grey, cold and rainy. It boggles the mind that the UK was colonised by people thousands of years before central heating, Gore-Tex and double glazing were invented. Even with these necessities it's barely habitable. Anyone who set off from Greece wearing a rabbit skin round their waist millennia ago, hiked to England and thought "yes, I shall live here" must have been unwelcome back in Kefalonia for reasons pertaining to a scared goat and a handful of olive oil.
It's cold and damp all year, then for a couple of months, summer descends. But London isn't built for summer. The rush-hour tube becomes a humid oven of faces crammed into armpits. The entire population descends on the park, lying there and barking at each other like a particularly overweight seal colony. Hayfever sufferers might as well lock themselves indoors and stay there until October.
And Londoners go crazy in the heat. As soon as the thermometer hits double figures, shirts come off and hordes of drunk, sunburned Englishmen roam the streets, chanting football songs and leering at women like hormonal bonobo apes.
In fact, all year round, Londoners do not know how to drink. The international stereotype for Londoners is uptight men in suits and bowler hats sipping tea and apologising to each other. They may be like that during office hours, but as soon as happy hour lands, Londoners drink 2-4-1 cocktails until they're in a state that can only be described as "fat Viking". Alcohol is the only mechanism Brits have to overcome their social awkwardness long enough to procreate. There's no courtship in London — men and women spend all week awkwardly shuffling around each other, relentlessly apologising, then at 5pm on Friday they neck 10 Jagerbombs in an hour and copulate over the bins. That is how every Londoner is conceived.
Londoners aren't the most hospitable people. They have all the warmth and approachability of a Parisienne hotel receptionist. As a tourist, it's very easy to get on the wrong side of Londoners as you won't be privy to their arcane rules, such as NEVER stand on the right hand side of the escalator, NEVER politely ask for directions and never EVER put the milk in first/last. Then you'll feel the full passive-aggressive wrath of a Londoner as they tut and sigh in your direction. Tutting and sighing is hand-to-hand combat for a Londoner.
What about the sights? There are endless cathedrals and churches, none of which have a cocktail bar.
We're told that these places are steeped in history — if you're desperate to see the place where Cardinal Pell delivered a really good Mass in 1983 you'll love it. Our famous sights lack something to look at. Buckingham Palace has all the pomp and glamour of a municipal carpark. Big Ben is just a clock on a tower. Oxford St is a repetitive montage of Union Jack fridge magnets and cheap sportswear shops. Nothing in London has the jaw-dropping awe of the Colosseum or Times Square. The museums and galleries are pretty good but at your age you already know what dinosaur bones look like and that paintings of medieval kings are boring.
Culturally, London's once-vibrant nightclub and creative scene has been marginalised. Half of London's nightclubs and music venues have closed down as councils favour lucrative but culturally sterile offices and apartments. Big-ticket entertainment thrives instead, with pop star spin-off musicals thriving. You'll pay $150 to sit behind a pillar a kilometre away from some prancing show-offs who weren't bullied enough as children as they sing songs that were in the charts in the 1970s.
The TripAdvisor award winners were determined using an algorithm, so perhaps the real meaning of the awards is that computers don't know how to go on holiday. But if you want to enjoy yourself, remember London has no waterparks, no beaches, no canyons, no mountains, no jet skis. There's nowhere to pitch a tent, you can't see the Northern Lights and you can't ski anywhere. You can recreate the full London experience by standing under a cold shower ripping up $20 dollar bills while a drunk man vomits into a nearby bin. Then book a flight to Southeast Asia and have a better time for half the price.
If you insist on coming to London, here are my tips for a fun affordable trip:
The fantastic assortment of flora will keep you busy all day and there are also greenhouses, aquariums and exhibitions. For extra cheapness skip the entrance fee and sneak in through a gap in the wall next to the river. Don't feel bad, they've basically imprisoned some trees and made them work for free.
This tower in East London has an exhilarating external glass lift that takes you up to a view that rivals the London Eye. And it has an excellent restaurant and cocktail bar. For the same price as going around the London Eye sober in a little pod breathing in tourists' farts, you can get loaded on cocktails and stay as long as you want. For extra cheapness, a scone and tea in the afternoon is £6.95.
Top Secret Comedy Club: One of the best comedy rooms in the world with an incredible atmosphere and diverse lineups. Big names pop in to try out new material. Prices are low for tickets and drinks and you can bring your own food. For extra cheapness book for a work-in-progress show or visit on a weekday when tickets are as low as £1.
Food: Central London still has a smattering of cheap yet excellent eateries. My favourites are the tiny Korean cafe Wellbeing Kitchen and Ben's Traditional Fish And Chips, both in Covent Garden and both capable of stuffing you for under £10. If you'd like a traditional Full English breakfast, there's the Regency cafe in Westminster — if the queues are too long, across the road is the cheap and cheerful Astral, known only to cabbies. For extra cheapness get sandwich meal deals from the Tesco supermarket — to find one, just shut your eyes and reach out your hand and you'll touch one.
flies from Auckland to London, via their hub in Changi.