So my flight to Amsterdam was cancelled. After queuing for about three months at the BMI ticket sales counter, I was allocated a seat on a flight an hour and a half later. Not to worry, I thought: Calvin to the rescue. I’ll just swan around in the BA lounge for a while, using the diamond (diamond!) club membership he so thoughtfully organised.
No luck though. I’m in Terminal 1, and the Cathay Pacific lounge is in Terminal 3. The nice lady refuses to let me into the British Airways lounge because I’m flying BMI. That makes me insufficiently patrician, I think.
So here I am surrounded by commoners, reading the Guardian and waiting for my flight to be called. The gate opens 5 minutes before the flight is due to leave, so I don’t expect to be leaving on time.
Glamorous morning yesterday. Ange dropped Joseph and the kids off at school, and the two of us headed into town. First stop: floor five at Harvey Nichols. Ludicrously expensive muffins and coffee, surrounded by women in scary makeup and black leather pants. (This cost us £22: if I’m sleeping in the streets of Sorrento in a fortnight, you’ll know why.) Then where else but Harrod’s, where we found a scarily realistic waxwork of the owner benignly but insanely overseeing his customers, while the man himself was busily accusing everyone in the Western world of complicity in Diana’s death. Looked at lipstick and ties for a bit before heading off to the food court for lunch. Fabulous!
But it wasn’t all high culture. Ange escorted me to the Victoria and Albert Museum. It’s extraordinary. I can only compare it to the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam (of which more later), in that it consists of room after room of baffling objects from all over the world and all throughout history. I spent some time looking at neolithic Chinese burial artefacts, before wandering desultorily through the rest of the museum. The highlights included some huge tapestry patterns by Raphael and corridors of wrought iron railings. I was about to give up when I came upon an extraordinary room.
Apparently the Victorians loved doing plaster casts of churches and statues and monuments. One room in the V & A contains giant casts of Trajan’s Column, as well as dozens of Christian artefacts, including the huge main doorway of the church at Santiago de Compostela. The adjoining room has a huge plaster statue of David. Impressive and curiously kitsch at the same time!
I gave the Science Museum a try, but apart from Charles Babbage’s Difference Engine, nothing really grabbed me, so I headed off to the Natural History Museum in search of dinosaurs. Entering by the side door, I mistakenly thought that the entire museum was obsessed with geology. I was about to leave disappointed (sorry, Sara), when I found a wall covered in dozens of fossil ichthyosaurs, and then the museum’s entry hall with its massive Diplodocus skeleton.
Had a quick pint in Charing Cross Road before meeting Sarah in Soho. We had a delicious dinner of tapas, walked across Waterloo Bridge, more pints, and then off home to Gary’s place. A great night. I must try and see Sarah more often. If that means coming to London more frequently, well I guess that’s what I’ll have to do.
Today was altogether quieter. Wandered around Dulwich with Ange and her friend Rachel. A delicious pub lunch, my last pints of English bitter for the foreseeable future (tomorrow, Heineken), and now home, blogging and preparing for my plane to Amsterdam tomorrow morning.
I’ve still had very little time to blog. Another brief summary. Saturday: the Old Naval College, lunch courtesy of M & S, the Maritime Museum, Greenwich Observatory. Dinner and clubbing with Peter. Sunday: Hyde Park, South Kensington, Chinatown. Two episodes of Torchwood.
Leaving Wednesday morning for Amsterdam. Thinking of France after that. I’ll have time to write more when everything settles down.
Well, I was away from my computer on Thursday, and we got home quite late last night, so this is my first entry for a couple of days. So what have I been up to?
Very briefly. Thursday: breakfast out, quick visit to Dulwich College, British Museum, dinner and drinks with Peter. Friday: trip to Oxford, lovely lunch with Joseph’s parents and sister, quick walk around town, back home for an hour of crap British TV.
Not a very detailed or evocative post, I know. I promise to revisit all this in more detail in a couple of days. (Remind me to tell you the story about the Bassae sculptures.) Heading off to Greenwich today, and out tonight with Peter and Sarah. There will be dancing, apparently.
Until next time, enjoy this photo of snowdrops near the river in Oxford. I’ll write again soon.
Another relaxing day. I packed up my stuff and said farewell to my tiny hotel room before heading out for more sightseeing. I thought I would go to some of the cut-price ticket booths in Leicester Square. I’m thinking maybe Wicked, which Philip recommended and which Calvin saw in Chicago. Although I did notice that Penelope Keith is playing Lady Bracknell. Again, apparently.
Anyway. the train stopped at St James’s Park Station, and I suddenly felt like a walk. The first time I ever came to London, St James’s Park was covered in snow or ice or something, and it was horribly, horribly cold. So today I had the opportunity to wander about in the sun and have a proper look at it.
After my first brief walk, I spotted a crowd around Buckingham Palace. I joined them for a bit, but nothing particularly fascinating seemed to be happening, so I went back into the park. But not before I saw this:
These lovely guards saw me trying to take a photo through the fence, and graciously moved so that I could get an unobstructed view. But can anyone explain to me why they were guarding a sheep? Is it the Queen’s? And if so, why?
Went over to Angela’s in the afternoon. Hung out, watched some telly, had dinner. And now everyone’s in bed, and I’m on a comfy sofa by the fire. So relaxed that I can’t even get worked up about the inconsistent apostrophes in the signage at St James’s Park tube station.
(Not even the Queen gets it right. A sign by the gate at Buckingham Palace describes the Royal Mews as “one of the worlds [sic] finest working stables.”)
I didn’t see Jennifer Saunders falling out of her car, or Tom Baker dropping by to offer helpful advice about Krynoids. I just had a quiet moment to myself, thinking about all those sketches and alien planets and Roman villas that had been hosted here over the years.
After that, I went and did some sensible sightseeing. The Globe and Southwark Cathedral and things. There are photos.
Now I’m off to the pub down the road for some food and some more beer. It’s still beautifully sunny, but very cold at night, and I’ve managed to catch a bit of a chill. But if there’s a better cure for that than English bitter, I don’t want to know about it.
Yesterday I spent some time wandering the streets, window shopping and being a general tourist. Then over to Ange’s to plan the rest of the week, to watch Neighbours on Channel 5, and to have dinner. Got home late, and freezing cold.
I spent the morning uploading photos to Flickr, which is a long and arduous process for some reason. So I’ll write a longer post tonight.
Made some decisions. I’m staying in London till the 20th, then flying off to Amsterdam, where I’ve booked a hotel for four nights. Then what? Somewhere in France, I think. Nîmes? Carcassonne? Paris? Any ideas, anyone?
Spent a little while in the morning uploading photos, blogging and chatting with people at home. Nice and relaxed. I felt quite good: less grumpy and dehydrated than my first day, and a lot less tired. And it was another beautifully sunny day.
I caught up with Ange and the kids on the south side of Westminster Bridge. We wandered down the south bank of the Thames, had lunch, and wandered into the Tate Modern.
I loved the Tate Modern the last time I was in London, and had a vivid memory of the Weather Project, a clever installation in the six-story Turbine Room. So I was a little disappointed to find that the Turbine Room seemed to be completely empty. Perhaps, for once, there was no installation there.
You can see the photo above. There was a huge crack in the concrete floor, more than a foot deep in places, forking and zigzagging like lightning. God knows how they did it! You can see from my (crap and numerous) photos how popular it was with the kiddies.
Ange drove me around through the London traffic for a while, dropping me off in Picadilly Circus. I caught the tube back to Earls Court. I had a couple of quiet pints in a local pub, and wandered back to my room to await a phone call from Calvin.
I flew Qantas from Sydney to Hong Kong. Read a book most of the time. The inflight entertainment consisted of VHS videotapes projected onto a screen metres away, like the entertainment on a coach to Goulburn. In 1990.
I had a window seat, but the aisle seat next to me was free. So I had more room than those rich bastards in business class, and I didn’t have to clamber over anyone to get to the toilet. Result!
I tried to put up another post during my three-hour stopover in Hong Kong airport, but the wi-fi there was third-world standard, and I had left my power adapter thing in my check-in luggage. The business class lounge (thanks again, Calvin) was very nice, but I was determined not to be too jetlagged when I arrived, so I was uncharacteristically abstemious. The food was particularly nice, and I got to have a long, warm shower.
Hong Kong to London was on British Airways. I’m not sure how long it was: I spent all but the last three hours fast asleep, even refusing the first meal service. A free seat next to me again, but the aisle seat was occupied, so I had to clamber over a sleeping woman to get to the toilet. Having the window seat was well worth it, though. What’s more spectacular than London at dawn?
British customs and immigration reluctantly allowed me into the country, and I went straight to the hotel in Earls Court which I had booked online. It’s fairly comfortable and inexpensive, but grimly post-war and English. There’ll be more photos later.
And what a beautiful sunny day it was! Glorious after a week of rain and sweaty humidity. You can probably see how blue the sky was in the photo above.
First I caught up with Angela and Joseph and their kids Alex and Elizabeth. They live in a beautiful house in East Dulwich, a lovely suburb in South London. We wandered down the high street, taking in a street market, visiting a fabulous deli and stopping off at my first English pub this trip. Mmm, warm English beer.
Then I met Peter in town, at the Borders in Charing Cross Road. Headed over to have dinner with Sarah and Gary. It was lovely. Gary was back from his exciting job in Cardiff, so I was lucky to catch up with him at all. Today he flies off to LA for a Doctor Who convention. Also there were some people I haven’t met before: Paul, Simon and Debbie. Simon and Debbie were also off to the convention today; I’m hoping to catch up with Paul again later in the week.
An epic post. I’ll try and make later ones more concise and exotic.
I’m writing this post mere hours before boarding my plane to London. I’m in the first class lounge, thanks to Calvin, but I can barely believe that I’m allowed here. Too scared to order food, drinks or massages, in case they throw me out for being too poor or badly dressed.
I’ve taken one or two photos of the lounge, which is a kind of glamorous, wood-panelled version of the Starship Enterprise’s Ten Forward. The photos are not very good, of course. I’m having to photograph discreetly, because, as I said, they’ll throw me out if I make any trouble.
I hope that you’ll come back here from time to time. All my photos from the trip will be available here, as well as the occasional mordant observation or hysterical cry for help.
And please feel free to write comments. This trip is incredibly poorly planned, so I’d love it if you suggested places I could visit or things I could do to keep myself occupied.