When visiting London in all its Roman glory, do not leave it behind forever without doing at least one walking tour. The guides know everything about everything, and it is great exercise before, during, or after high tea at Brown’s.
The tour of Old Westminster meets below the local Underground sign. The participants huddle in small groups, unsure whether they are all gathered for the same event or just looking to pick each other’s pockets. The tour guide arrives in a hurry:
Tour Guide: Right, who’s here for the Old Westminster Tour? (Hands hold pamphlets into the air) There’s 20 of you? Blast. All right, 5 quid each, hand it over, come on, come on, come on! (Collects the fee from everyone)
Tourist: Are you sure you’re our guide? You have an American accent.
Tour Guide: You’re right, let me check: git. Any other questions before we begin? Right, (Sets her watch) we have exactly two hours starting now. (Walks past the group, then turns) It’s your money we’re wasting: let’s move it! (At the corner) Right, most of you should understand English no matter where you come from, but in case you panic, (Points to the traffic signal) the hand means “Stop” and the man means “Go”. If you cross the road when you see the hand instead of the man and get hit by a car, then too bad for you. And make sure you look to the right before crossing, since traffic’s on the left.
Tourist: Why do they still drive on the left when most of the world drives on the right?
Tour Guide: I don’t know, why do we still use feet and Fahrenheit when most of the world uses meters and Celsius? Because it’s too blooming hard to change it all! (The man appears and the group crosses unharmed) Right, (Points to Parliament) anyone know the name of that?
Tour Group: Big Ben.
Tour Guide: Wrong! It’s St. Stephen’s Tower – Big Ben is the bell inside. Impress your friends. (They walk to a promenade on the water) This here is the Thames – a tidal river, if you can believe it. Yes indeed: a whole lot of rubbish washes up on shore twice a day.
Tourist: (Points) Is that the London Eye?
Tour Guide: Yes, also known as the Eye-Sore, the Monstrosit-Eye, and, my personal favorite, Sauron. You can see from the Eiffel Tower from the top of it.
Tour Guide: No!
(They move on)
Tour Guide: (Indicating a building) This was where some Roundhead offed some Royalist – (Sees two tourists have lagged behind) oi! (To the main group) No one else move from this spot, if you value your lives. (Runs to the stragglers) You can either keep up or be left behind to the natives. I already have your money, and no one knows you’re here. (Grabs their arms and shoves them back into the main group)
(They walk down some streets and stop in front of an old building)
Tour Guide: This is a bank. It used to be a church, until it was desecrated.
Tourist: Don’t you mean deconsecrated?
Tour Guide: You heard me.
(They walk down some more streets)
Tour Guide: This is Downing Street. Anyone know the most famous address here? (Silence) Number… 10? 10 Downing Street? If I said “1700 Pennsylvania Avenue”, would you know what that meant? (Confused silence) I didn’t think so. 10 Downing Street is where the current Prime Minister resides. Would anyone like to see it? (Heads nod) Well, you can’t, because no one is allowed to see it; the guards at the beginning of the street would kill you.
Tourist: How do the other people who live on this street get home?
Tour Guide: There are no other people who live on this street. The ones you see are fake.
(The tour ends at Westminster Abbey)
Tour Guide: Would anyone like to see Westminster Abbey? (Heads nod) Just pay £40 at the door.
Tourist: How come England never joined the E.U. and adopted the Euro?
Tour Guide: You know the state of the Euro lately? Exactly. (Searching her pockets) Now, anyone got a ciggy? (She is answered by blank stares) A cigarette?
Tourist: (Pulls out one) I have some in my fanny pack. (The Tour Guide slaps her)
Tour Guide: Potty mouth. Any questions? Was anyone actually paying attention to any of this? (She is answered by the sounds of cameras clicking at the surrounding buildings) `Kay, cheers. (Walks into a open taxi and speeds off)
Tourist: Does anyone know where we are?
The sounds of dogs howling nearby close out the day.