It’s rare these days to meet a South African who doesn’t know someone living in London.

The guy who weighs your onions at Pick ‘n Pay has probably been to the ‘Yookay’ on a working holiday, so it’s not exactly the novelty it was ten or so years ago.

It’s not at all that London itself has become boring, but rather that the reports we get from people who have visited the city are routinely uninspired and similar.

How often have we listened with bored politeness to one about the couple who went to ‘Lundin’, stayed in Putney, saw Buckingham Palace and Madame Tussauds and spent most of their time with Japie and


Lizette at the Springbok Pub talking about how dangerous South Africa has become... *Yawn*

But to see London this way is to fail to see it at all. It’s the nooks and crannies of the city, the markets, the museums, the riverside pubs, the dingy theatres, the parks and heaths and, if nothing else, the shops that make London worth visiting.

It’s not driving past the Tower of London in a topless bus listening to a nineteen-year-old Aussie tell you what happened there in March of 1164. If you visit the city at the right time, and shop at the right places, you can return to South Africa looking at least 60% more fashionable without having remortgaged your house in the process. What’s more, London is a big enough and busy enough city to offer up whatever sort of experience does it for you, so to get the best out of the city it’s worth choosing a theme before you go. That can be anything from pottery to porn, though if it’s the latter it would probably be wise to keep it to yourself. You think it, London has it. Unless, of course you’re thinking of a beach and a mountain, in which case London will certainly disappoint. So many locals who visit London (and more, still, who have chosen to live there) complain about the place as if it has let them down in some way, as if by being grey and cold and beachless and crowded, it has betrayed them.

At some point, we’ve got to stop being surprised that a country situated fairly close to the North Pole is a bit nippy for most of the year. Instead, we should celebrate all of the things London has that we don’t. Having a stroll down the Spitalfields Market in Liverpool Street or the Portobello in Notting Hill followed by a show on the West End and a world famous curry on Brick Lane is a hard day to beat anywhere in the world. Or, if you’re not into theatre, a pub lunch on the Thames followed by a football match and an evening stroll around Hampstead Heath.

There are few better major cities in which to find the best live music and fewer still with more history. Besides, if you get homesick, you can just slip into a Saffa pub and spend the night drinking Springboks and singing ‘Shosholoza’, but then if that’s what you’re into it’s probably worth spending your holiday cash on a holiday house in Welkom.

Matthew Freemantle