Herewith an account of the adventures in England in 2017, written on the spot with scant reworking. The events depicted took place two weeks ago.
The last family vacation, the last cruise - it’s all been whittled away by circumstances. If the annual trip had gone as planned, the three of us would be on an evening flight to the continent, ready for a new adventure applied to the usual family dynamics. Sure, we'd bicker; sure, we'd get weary from tromping around and seeing Things; sure, everyone would tire of my jokes or pretentious tour-guiding, but all that happens at home, too. Why not do it in Europe?
Alas. Daughter bailed on the second half of the trip because she didn't want to miss school.
Wife is staying behind to wait for the dog, to help find Scout. She just couldn’t leave.
So it’s Daughter and me. And then it'll be just me.
We are in the last row of the airplane, which means sleep might be thin and patchy. People grab your chair. There will be much flushing. Right now we haven’t left yet, and the back of the plane is overflowing with the nauseating stench of parmesan in excess.
OKAY WHAT ARE YOU DOING said daughter after I got for the third time to adjust the air nozzles above.
“I am trying to arrange them so the blow away the parmesan fumes.” I would think that would be obvious.
The plane looks like something we would have seen in a sci-fi movie in the 80s - sleek, recessed lighting, white, with video screens on every seat back. People are tapping at their thin glass information slabs. Sometimes it seems as if the future got here much quicker than we thought.
Okay, wheels up: next stop, London.
I think I fell asleep around midnight, and got a least three hours, punctuated by sudden attacks of WHAT HEY WHAT WHERE that brought me out of my airborne slumber. Had a big pillow cinched around my neck and eyeshades over my glazzies, and I felt almost trussed into my seat like some psychopathic cannibal. After I woke I wondered what to do with myself, and after a few attempts to sleep again, the lights in the cabin flickered on, as the crew began the mandatory feeding period. It was the first time in a long time someone handed me a hot towel at 4 AM.
Breakfast was disappointing. You want a proper breakfast with eggs and something meaty, but we got Icelandic yogurt and a dense muffin. And coffee. Lots of that.
Landed around noon; made our way to the Heathrow Express, which has a slightly yesterday’s vision of the future for its style. Apparently you transport out after they've adjusted the Heisenberg Compensator:
That dumped us off at the picturesque Paddington Station, and we both were pleased, because we were back in London, and we love London.
Walked to the hotel, using the phone map, and here I was a bit turned around. Daughter was using it in an orientation she liked, and what looked like a North-south street was actually an East-West main road I began to recognize. As if stirring from a dream. There - there will be a bas relief on a curved corner of a building devoted to missionary work. And so there was. The phone map said we should turn right and take a jig-zaggy route to the hotel, but I said, sagely, we need not these things now.
We will take a right at the McDonald’s. I can feel it.
And I was right! Find the Radisson Blu. Two clicks.
Home is where the phone automatically joins the wifi network.
Daughter noted that she was already on the wifi as we checked in at our hotel and indeed so was I: the credentials had laid dormant in the phone for a year, then sprang awake like the computers on the Nostromo.
Fantastic room; we got upgraded to a suite because they suspect I am from the Home Office, perhaps. I don’t know why else. Yes, I am a Radisson VIP member, but my points are scant. For some reason they were solicitous in advance, sending emails about floor preference and the like. When we checked in they said we had 15 pounds credit at the bar. Well okay great! . Imagine what happens if I stay at a Radisson twice a year.
Daughter slept for 15 minutes, and then we walked to the British Museum, full of energy and happiness. I let Daughter take the lead in the Museum, because she has broader interests and is more inclined to give things a chance.
The ancient myth of the fellow who did not pick his battles wiseley.
One room was either the original old Museum or a remarkable recreation. I suspect the former. In fact I don't know why it would be the latter. It's very high-empire 19th century:
The founder is represented by a bust in the corner, staring with slight disappointment at the modern world beyond these walls:
Hans Sloane's fame is based on his judicious investments rather than what he contributed to the subject of natural science or even of his own profession. His great stroke as a collector was to acquire in 1701 (by bequest, conditional on paying of certain debts) the cabinet of William Courten, who had made collecting the business of his life.
When Sloane retired in 1741, his library and cabinet of curiosities, which he took with him from Bloomsbury to his house in Chelsea, had grown to be of unique value. He had acquired the extensive natural history collections of (a long list of obscure names removed here) On his death on 11 January 1753 he bequeathed his books, manuscripts, prints, drawings, flora, fauna, medals, coins, seals, cameos and other curiosities to the nation, on condition that parliament should pay his executors £20,000, far less than the value of the collection.
The books are numerous and probably 82% wrong:
You can read Seldon online. And Seybert, and Ouseley. The full title of the last is "A Work Wherein the Author Has Described, As Far As His Own Observations Extended, the State of Those Countries in 1810, 1811, And 1812." I love the confident verbosity of the titles - and the sense that the entire world was now understandable, thanks to the learned words of Englishmen who went places and wrote down things.
Then we got very tired and went back to the hotel and crashed -
- only to be awakened after 40 minutes of sleep by the delivery of a complimentary newspaper, and I was so out of it the nice lady delivering the paper seemed concerned and asked if everything was okay. I said we were from another continent and were confused. She showed me how to turn on the Do Not Disturb button, which I hadn’t done because I didn’t think anyone would be popping round with the Telegraph at 4 PM in the got-damned afternoon, but there you have it.
She had someone accompanying her on her mission, and his badge said TRAINEE. Some day this will be your job.
After another hour of unconsciousness we went down into the ground and came out the other end at Kings Cross, whereupon we tried to eat at Dishoom. The line was around the block. Interesting neighborhood - reclaimed industrial.
On the way to find some food the phone buzzes; wife with text. Police officer wants to talk to me about the threatening scammer calls we got. Huh? How did that come up?
I'm walking on the street below. See how many clicks it takes before I find the bar I suddenly wanted to find.
Went in, placed our order, and then I went outside to hear dog news. There’d been a sighting three blocks from the house, which sounded too good to be true. But possible. Walking back to the tube station my phone buzzed seven times with back-and-forths between wife and Scout’s Case Worker, and I thought: I am glad I am here.
But for a moment it had all been forgotten.
Back inside. Food had arrived. Exhausted, happy, starting the vacation, in a big noisy familiar city, everything still ahead: wonderful, and just delighted to be on a trip with Daughter.
And in the back of my head: it’ll never happen like this again.
A few more notes: This is London . . .
And so is this.
If you took a vote, I think I know which one most would prefer. But now and then you get both styles in the same place - as a good city should provide.
If this all seems underwhelming and desultory, it's because I am exhausted. Wonderful day. Hate to close up the box and put it on the shelf, but we have to sleep. Early tomorrow: up and out. London's just the springboard.