Monday, December 8, 2014

The London Chronicles: Here is London, "Home of the Brash, Outrageous, and Free"/You are repressed but you're remarkably dressed...Is it real?

I'm not sure if anyone is even reading this still, but if you are, thank you!  I've been back in rainy California,  enjoyed a late Thanksgiving dinner (crustaceans instead of turkey at my house), and being generally disoriented. I just took a lick of whiskey I brought back and am even more disoriented. I think I lost a few tastebuds along the way.

My last week in London was time-off week, so I spent a good amount of time staying away from
computers (wifi in my apartment refused to work until the very last day). When the plane landed, and I returned to a place with cell service and not have to multiply the price tag by 1.7 anywhere, I was flooded with relief, yet disoriented. But wait,  I'm jumping ahead.

On Friday night, I beelined to the Museum of London, spent 20 minutes trying to figure out where the entrance was, then straight into their Sherlock Holmes: the Man Who Never Lived and Will Never Die exhibit.  I guess, calling it  "Sherlock Holmes: Fictional Character" was way too dry, even for British taste? I love it when things get DRAMATIC anyway.  You also get to enter the exhibit through a door disguised as a bookshelf! The exhibit was very thorough, with gobs and gobs of "actor" Sherlocks, costumes, but what really got my attention was how neat and tidy Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's handwriting was. Also, he was such a brilliant writer. If I lived back then, and was British, I would've worn mourning bands on my shirt (assuming I was male), too. One of the things I did was to participate in "Invitation to a Fall", which turned out to be falling off a very unassuming 25 cm or so, off a block, onto those padded things you see in stunt scenes of a gymnasium when you're doing something that involves landing full-body.  This was set up in an auditorium, with audiences (they ask at the entrance if you would like to fall, or if you'd like to watch). What I wasn't expecting was to be assigned a "Fall companion", who would talk to you before and after the fall. My companion was a young man with platinum blonde hair, who looked like a much more socially adjusted Draco Malfoy. He asked me several questions about why I wanted to fall, about calculated risks, about release and letting go, and he assured me none of this would ever be published and that nobody would see me falling forever (it's live, so the people sitting in the audience would, but only for a second). When my turn came, I wanted to fall like they do in Laputa, but obviously I didn't have my flying stone with me, so I ended up landing, with a thud, on to the mattress worrying that I'll flash everyone in the wake (I don't think I did). It was fun. Not exactly exhilarating, but fun.

St.Paul's, from my bus window 

My friend, and fabulous wallpaper at the pub

Thanksgiving@Fortum & Mason

Entrance to the Sherlock Holmes Exhibit

All you can watch Sherlocks!

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and his moustache

I think I mostly ran errands over the weekend until my friend arrived on Monday. I went to catch the Jesus and Mary Chain play Psychocandy in its entirety at the Troxy (way way way out east), caught up with a new friend I made in SF in February (another gorgeous archaeologist....I swear all archaeologists are gorgeous, and good peoples so far!).  The show was perfect. I felt floaty for days afterwards, but it could have been my loss of hearing.  On Tuesday, my friend and I hung out mainly around town, walked to Selfridges and Harvey Nicks, as I had tea with the girls in the office. On Wednesday, we had an early morning start to go to the Dr.Who Experience in Wales, which started off with an adventure - my friend woke up when I texted him from the lobby. We had train tickets so we had to scramble to hit Paddington Station before it left - a nailbiting 45 minutes or so and a mad dash to the platform.  We made it, and enjoyed some complimentary sweets and tea along the way.

Poverty Map (Booth's)

West Minster Bridge, House of Parliament and Westminster Abbey seen from the River 

Benedict wore this


X-Rayed Boots! So many hidden tales

I'd buy these, but probably wouldn't be able to walk without spraining my ankles 
Table of Variations in the Human Iris

New Specs, Old Face
The view home
We basically nerded out in cloudy Wales all day, which was completely off-season and empty. After closing down the gift shoppe with our combined buying power,  we jealously watched the people going to the BBC tour in addition to the Dr.Who Experience but it was booked up months ago. Next time!
Thursday was Thanksgiving in the US.  My friend (who was listening to Christmas songs in his room already) tried in vain to find us a place that has Thanksgiving foods, but I had a previous engagement to go see Sylvie Guillem and Akram Khan. Turns out that gig got cancelled due to injury, and we went to F&M to have proper Thanksgiving Tea. I was very grateful I had a friend with whom to spend Thanksgiving with, having Queen's Tea.  I also spent 2.5hrs that morning packing what my friend referred to as "All of London".  I had 4 suitcases...(small ones!) by the time I left, which involved me with a bunch of bags running into Primark (on Oxford), and scoring a bright red suitcase that I wheeled around all day.  On the bright side, I have 40% of my Christmas shopping done!  (Dark side, my wallet is quite empty).

So...28 days after landing in Heathrow:

Things I really liked about London
  • Arts and culture. So much arts. Once you managed to reach your destination, you can absorb all the arts you can manage to your hearts' content. And all they ask for is a donation most of the time. So many museums, plays, theatre, arts, libraries!|
  • You walk everywhere. I lost 15+lbs in less than 4 weeks. I really should stay for a year and see what happens.
  • CCTV everywhere keeps streets relatively safe and public transports clean. Buses ran all the time, and they apologize when they're 5 minutes late.
  • All the accents. Truly a world city.
  • Tea was always tasty anywhere. Food was actually way way better than I'd experienced on my last trip there.
  • Table manners. Everyone put down their mobiles during their meals, sat up (relatively straight), and used their knives and forks really well.
  • The parks, at dusk, walking to the palace on soft ground surrounded by tall tall trees with humongous leaves twirling in the air.
  • The announcements on public transit. "Chilton Spaaarrrrrr" ,"Alight here"
  • People were polite, and usually very nice. 
Things I didn't really like about London
  • Air quality. It felt Dickensian at times, with second hand cigarette smoke instead of coal filling my lungs at all times.
  • It was always under construction everywhere.  Sort of destroys the landscape and snarls traffic, which was always bad. Always.
  • Being the most expensive city in the world. The exchange rate was killer, along with all the hits in charges from financial institutions (these are greedy US financial institutions, so London is spared from this rage). However, the VAT officer who refused to return my VAT because my work visa is good until April 2015 can rot in her power-trip. She refused to give me a refund unless I can prove that I won't return to the UK (which is ridiculous....if I were here on a tourist visa, apparently that would've been OK. So you do the right thing and get a work permit to be safe (short-term, btw), and then they decide to steal from you because you MIGHT come back and wear that necklace you bought while in the UK. I never even got to use NHS or anything for this, so I feel robbed).
  • Witnessing the class system being very much a part of life there.  I also got some guy doing a Bruce Lee like kungfu move at me on Regent Street. Serves me right for being on Regent St.
  • Transportation. It was out to get you, and confuse you daily. 

Oh, London. Despite my grumblings, I miss you already. Thank you for a lovely 28 days, and hopefully see you next October for Cumberhamlet! 

Bonus Nerdery Photos 
My Dr.Who scarf in its shining moment 

One of my favorites

The Silence will Fall

Latest Doctor, cool coat, shoes are Docs (brogues)

My Doctor, I loved this shirt

The Scottish Doctor, nicely worn 

Sonic Screwdriver!

Downright realistic

My scarf died happy in the UK