The Natatorium

An emporium of oddities from around the world, complete with somewhat informative plaques that almost never match the item they are meant to be describing.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Another London Story

There is much more to tell about my recent trip to London, and since too much information can be overwhelming to write or read in a blog post, I like to break it up a bit.

Here is Wednesday, March 4.

I was sitting in the computer room around noon, trying to decide what to do with my day, when some girls came in and invited me to go along with them. They were two American girls and an Australian named Ashlie. We were all thirsty, so we stopped at a convenience store where the girls bought some water and juice. To my delight, I found my old friend from Regent's College, the perfect breakfast in a box. I call it German Slim Fast, because it's sort of like a chocolate health shake but the label is in German. It's basically chocolate milk with vitamins in it, but I used to love it when I was at Regent's and had one every morning. I hadn't eaten anything yet, so of course I had to buy one and consider it a meal. Thus the events of the rest of the day (and night) were set into motion.

We then went on to Tottenham Court Road station, where the American girls split off and Ashlie and I took the tube to London Bridge to meet a friend of hers. After the rendez-vous, we decided to walk along the south bank from Tower Bridge to Westminster. That's where almost all the pictures in the recent London album came from. It was a nice day with a clear blue sky, and it wasn't even that cold considering we were walking right along the water most of the time. It was a nice walk, and took us about an hour and a half, but there was plenty to see. We talked about travel and (surprise) boys most of the time. I found a copy of The Blind Assassin at one of the bankside book sales, and Ashlie found some ice cream. I had a few bites of it, but in fact that was the only thing I'd eaten so far that day besides my German Slim Fast. We ducked into the Tate Modern briefly so I could buy a birthday present for Seth. We didn't go through the museum, but on the way to the bookshop we saw the installation in Turbine Hall. I really loved it because it was basically rows of empty metal bunk beds, with a single book on each bed. Finally, a piece of modern art I could connect to. My whole trip to London could probably be summed up in bunk beds and paperback novels.

After Ashlie was briefly accosted by a strangely charming young man handing out fliers in ghoulish makeup, we crossed Westminster Bridge and ducked into a Tesco. I bought some cheese and potato chips, and more Cadbury of course. This reflects remarkably poor nutritional judgment on my part, but it was nearing 3:00 and I didn't want to "fill up" before dinner, as I had planned to have sushi with Daniel at around 6:00. Why I was concerned about filling up when I'd basically had nothing but empty sugar calories all day, I have no idea. We'll consider this Mistake #1.

As I'd planned to meet Daniel back at the hostel around 3:00, Ashlie and I took the tube home. Between Holborn Tube and the hostel we actually stopped into a Sainsbury's as well, because Ashlie was looking for something else, and yet I still didn't buy anything but a bottle of Pomegranate Blueberry juice. It would serve its purpose later, but I'm still not sure why I didn't get anything else to eat. To feel better about myself, I'm going to call it fate. When we got back to the hostel I went straight down to the kitchen to eat my (pathetic) snack. Daniel was already down there, and so was a new guy named Owen. He said he was from Canada but his accent was quite a bit thicker and sounded mostly Scottish. He said he'd lived a few places, including Scotland, so I suppose that explains it. Anyway, he talked. A lot. And then he talked some more. In fact, he couldn't talk enough. He was pretty much annoying the heck out of me, despite the fact that he gave me a clementine, so I was glad that Daniel and I would soon be obliged to leave, a we had made plans to go to a museum. I poured us some of the Pomegranate Blueberry juice and listened to Owen talk some more. Ashlie came in and informed us that it was hailing, but it must have been brief because by the time we left there was no sign whatsoever of icy doom. Daniel said something in Japanese. I cocked my head to the side. Owen kept talking.

Daniel and I finally got out of the kitchen and headed towards the museum, as it was going to close at 5. I had offered to take him to the Wallace Collection, because it's not very well known and a little hard to find. We took the bus, which he hadn't done before, and I extolled the virtues of my beloved London Double-Decker. I love to take the bus in London. I like it much more than the tube, though this is probably because I'm almost never pressed for time in London. Still, I love seeing the city go by from what feels like a privileged platform, a level above the rest of the traffic, as am chauffeured through the streets, obliged to do nothing but relax and watch. I know this perception of luxury is absurd, but who cares? If I can feel like a queen on an airship for £1, I'll just consider myself lucky and enjoy it.

We made it to the Wallace Collection in time to see the special exhibit (Jewish artifacts, mostly jewelry, from the black plague era) and several of the upstairs rooms, including the long gallery. I had promised him Rococo, and there it was, in all its sentimental glory. There were pieces from other periods as well, though, and we both remarked on this painting. The museum closed before we saw everything, and we were back on the street. Nuts had told us about a sushi place near Carnaby Street, and we found it soon enough. I felt like it was a little too early to eat, so we walked around the Carnaby Street area a little while, arguing about High Fidelity.

When we finally sat down to dinner, I wasn't nearly as hungry as I thought I'd be (considering how little I'd eaten) and only managed to destroy five round little dishes off the conveyor belt. And one of those was fruit (Mistake #2). The sushi was okay, not as good as Matsuri by any stretch of the imagination, but it was also probably 10 times cheaper, so I was alright with it. The place had a decent ambiance and I soon found myself mesmerized by the fish tank on the other side of the room. I soon realized that while hunger hadn't caught up with me, fatigue definitely had, and I was starting to doubt my ability to get out of my chair. This was a problem, because I had already made plans with American Ashley and some other people from the hostel to go out to a martini bar that night, on my eternal quest for a chocolate martini. Daniel was planning to go as well, but we were both feeling completely beat and it was only about 7:30. He had the bright idea that we should get some coffee on the way back to the hostel, to perk us up. Mistake #3.

Back at the hostel, I was soon feeling the effects of my *tall* Costa mocha. I had some pretty severe caffeine poisoning setting in. My eyes were flicking around, my arms felt like they were going to vibrate out of my skin, and my heart was like a burning engine pushing me forward faster faster faster. I don't know if they gave me double or just decided to replace the coffee with speed, but either way I was on an insane high and I was not having a lot of fun with it. I decided that since caffeine is a stimulant and alcohol is a depressant, I should just drink to get rid of my caffeine high. You know, like the reverse of drinking coffee to sober up. Yeah. Mistake #4.

I got gussied up in my caffeine-altered state and we set out for the bar. In our happy company were Steve, Daniel, Ashley, myself, Marty, and Owen. Yes, Owen went with us. I was slightly annoyed once again, but didn't really care that much as he seemed mostly to be chewing on Ashley's ear at this point. The bar was right in Covent Garden square, which was cool, and we got checked for weapons before entering, which was slightly odd. My quest was achieved, and I tasted the sweet victory of a chocolate martini once again. Of course, in my caffeine jitters I also spilled about a third of it in my lap, but as I was wearing black no damage was done. I think that dress still smells like chocolate. We had found a great place to sit and were having a marvelous time with our raised-voices conversation when someone noticed that bottles of wine were half-price before 11:30. Mistake #5.

Ashley and I split the cost of a bottle of white wine for the group, and after that things started getting more and more glowy. My glass kept magically refilling (thanks Ashley) and I kept magically drinking, trying to drown my caffeine high. At some point much later, I realized that a second bottle of wine had entered play. I'm really not a lightweight, but there were some pretty amazing pyrotechnics going on in my metabolic system that night. The lack of substantive food, coupled with extreme tiredness, sped up with caffeine and doused in alcohol made for a rather singular experience. We were having a lot of fun. All of a sudden, I liked Owen. He was no longer annoying at all, but instead, a really great guy. Too soon, they turned the lights on and kicked us out. We tried to congregate in the square outside the bar, but somewhere between my attempt to collect Ashley and us actually leaving the square, Owen disappeared. As I said to Laura, he just effing left. This was fine as I knew exactly where I was and how to get back to the hostel. I'm still rather proud of how well I held that alcohol, considering the extenuating circumstances. I could still walk and talk with perfect competency, though that didn't stop me from linking arms with Ashley all the way home. I pretended it was mostly for her benefit, but honestly I was rather afraid of stepping in front of a bus. Daniel was walking backwards in front of us the whole time, which was also rather impressive.

We regained the hostel and made our way to the kitchen, only to find Owen already there. I don't think he realized he'd left us. We sat down there for a while, putting on a show for Dale through the security camera, I'm sure. I gave Ashley the last dribblings of my vodka in some more of that lovely juice, then she and Owen left again, for what would prove to be a very long walk. Daniel and I drank some water (though not enough, apparently), then went to bed. I like to think that by the time I went to bed I was mostly sober, but I was definitely feeling the effects of my night out the next day. I'm not sure if it was a hangover or not, but it wasn't fun. I had to get up before ten so I could check out, and every little thing was a battle. I folded about four shirts and had I sit down again. I took my film to be developed and was unreasonably annoyed by a lady in front of my trying to return an appliance at the photo counter. I had lunch with Daniel at an Italian place and could hardly eat anything. When we got back to the hostel, Owen and Ashley were watching Monty Python. I wanted to collapse on the couch with them but I had to catch my train back to Paris. I sadly said my goodbyes and went to St. Pancras, wishing I could stay there forever. Hangover aside, it was definitely one of the best times I'd ever had in London.

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