I spent a day as a Brit abroad in London
Both the suncream and the beers were flowing
Like a plastic lawn chair hurled through a bar window, the Brits know how to make their mark abroad.
From drunken faceplants into crowded pools to fistfights with Germans over hastily-placed towels, there’s something about a sunny destination that makes the people of our proud isles go a bit mad.
But at what cost? I endeavoured to see how the people of London would react if I lived like a Brit abroad on home turf, on the hottest day of the year so far.
I decided to start the day like a Londoner in Laganas or Lanzarote – with a hearty full English, indoors. Alas, my tacky English pub of choice informed me they weren’t serving breakfasts. They weren’t even serving fish and chips.
Enraged, but planting myself like a firm English oak against the threat of having to eat foreign food, I settled on pie and mash. Washing the whole thing down with a cold pint of morning Stella, I set off to find a place to lay down my towel.
What London lacks in sea and sangria, it makes up for in sunbathing spots. Aware that the banks of the Thames don’t boast much of a beach, I headed to the place I assumed everyone else would be soaking up some rays: Trafalgar Square.
Of course, they weren’t. It turns out, like most cities in the world, London tends to frown upon public indecency. I was understandably confused, since strolling through piazzas with our pasty bodies on show is basically a way of life for the Brit abroad.
Unperturbed, I whipped off my top and liberally applied some suncream for a spot of tanning.
I assumed that, once I’d set the trend, people would come flocking to spread their Carlsberg-logo towels and join me in my sun salutation. I had no such luck.
What I did get were uncomfortable glares: from waiters, loitering teenagers, even a couple of passing policemen who didn’t seem sure whether to have a word with me or not.
After having pictures of me taken by one too many French tourists, I decided maybe there’d be somewhere a bit more relaxing to get my tan on.
St. James’s Park proved a much more suitable location, so I once again put my towel down and prepared to enjoy the blistering heat.
I did have one problem, though. On a lads’ holiday I’d have Beggsy and the boys with me to oil up my back, but on a Tuesday in the city I didn’t have anyone around me but strangers.
Employing the old British tactic of shouting loudly and pointing at a bottle, I managed to enlist a helpful passer-by. Although I’m pretty sure he drew a cock on my back.
The park was admittedly very peaceful, but peace and quiet aren’t exactly the Englishman’s bag when he’s faced with a tropical climate and unlimited free time. Popping my flip flops back on, I went in search of a beer.
The Algarve this wasn’t. The only licensed place in the park were serving Coke-can sized tinnies of craft Pils for £4.75, and they didn’t even come with a plastic pint glass. With the cigarettes I’d bought earlier coming in at a tenner, I was starting to realise what an expensive holiday this would be.
Pricing aside, this was a beautiful place to spend the day – and the staff in the bar weren’t even bothered by my insistence on constantly speaking in English. Even when I was shouting my order of “one more beer, por favor”, they’d cheerfully tell me they understood what I was saying.
Of course, no holiday is complete without taking in the local sites. But as we Brits know, churches and museums and whatnot are boring.
I dragged myself to Buckingham Palace, which didn’t seem to be much more than a big old building where I wasn’t even allowed to swim in the fountain. I even had to have a Calippo because they didn’t have any Solero Shots.
Next came the big one: Big Ben, to be precise. Like the Eiffel Tower and the Coliseum, I’d already seen it in the movies, so the building itself didn’t hold much interest for me.
Instead, I spent my time unsuccessfully looking for funny postcards to send to my pals back home. The rudest one was some quote from Churchill about getting drunk, but it didn’t have any boobs on it so I didn’t bother.
Outside of the confines of the park I was back to getting dirty looks and sideways glances, so I decided to find a place I’d be accepted – ideally a shit pub with a name like “The King’s Head”. Or this.
The Red Lion in Westminster was considerably more expensive than its namesakes in Malia and Magaluf, but it did have Guinness on draft and some benches out the front to enjoy the sunshine on.
I’m not sure if it’s the fact that Londoners are uptight or if it’s just because we don’t realise it when we’re in other cities, but getting pissed in the day and stumbling about in swimming trunks really seemed to piss other people off.
I’d never had this treatment in Barcelona. Or had I? Had I just not noticed how soul-crushingly annoying British people are when they stumble around the street bolting Estrella and chanting Vindaloo?
Nursing a day beer hangover and the beginnings of an existential crisis, I headed to the river to try and check out more landmarks, dipping through the tourists eagerly queueing up on Westminster Bridge for a photo.
Watching them quietly pose and smile politely, I’d never felt so out of place.