London & Langdoc

Does anyone actually get packed and organized days before they are due to leave on a trip? Somehow each time I vow I will plan more efficiently and then I find myself scrambling at the last minute to get everyhting finished.

I think in the days when travel agents did all the bookings and presented you with a neat itinerary, bundles of tickets, and all you had to do was be where they told you to be at the right time, life was simpler.

This time I booked most of this trip for myself through a number of different internet sites, itinerary chaos....

I am writing this from my compact, and mercifully cool, hotel room in Soho.

The high in London today is 28 C and I have done a lot of moving around dragging my “light” luggage. Since my natural habitat is probably somewhere close to Antarctica or maybe Siberia, I find the air conditioning most welcome.

There has been a lot of moaning in Vancouver about the new line from the Airport to downtown but if it works anything as efficiently as the Heathrow Express, it will be a great help to travelers.

Our flight touched down early. I whizzed through customs ( minimal lineup and friendly agent) waited barely any time for my little suitcase to appear on the carousel and then within less than fifteen minutes I, backpack, suitcase and raincoat, were comfortably ensconced in the Heathrow Express train to Paddington.

At Paddington Station another brief wait in a queue for a taxi, and off to my hotel. Actually the taxi ride was probably the most uncomfortable because the twists and turns though little side streets caused my stomach to moved vertically upward to the vicinity of my throat.

Despite seemingly endless procrastination about getting organized for the trip and despite many welcome phone interruptions, here I am in the Air Canada Lounge more than two and a half hours before the flight. And in answer to those who habitually have to grab the tail of the plane as it is lifting off and who tease me about getting to the airport days before the flight crew, I say “well guess who has time to make a real head start on her travelogue (or travelblog, if you will).”

Now for those of who don’t know me as well as my family this is probably as good a time as any to add some new words to my profile. Literal and honest …"to the point of stupidity" as my friend pointed out some years ago on a trip to Australia, after I declared my candy to the nice man at customs. Well they did ask if I had any food and at that time of my life, I included those hard candies, lemon and grapefruit flavour as one of the essential food groups. Great for preventing car sickness on long drives, by the way.

In that strange unpredictable mix of physiological traits that our genes produce for everyone there are positives and negatives. In my case my hair resolutely refuses to do the usual ageing thing and go grey or white. Instead it sends out tiny silver threads every now and again so in certain lighting it looks as though I have very subtle highlights. Saved me a fortune in hairdresser bills. That’s a positive. On the other hand, I need only to look at a croissant or a pizza and I can feel myself expanding like the Pillsbury doughboy (oops-dough girl). That’s a negative. I have a sense of smell that can recognise one molecule in a billion. That’s a mixed blessing - particularly in an elevator full of wet dog. Or an airplane cabin!

But one of the positive traits for which I am most grateful is my ability to fall asleep the second my head hits the pillow. Sometimes even before. When I replaced my twenty year old bed recently I did some solid research before buying my new mattress. Right now I bet I could jump off a ten story building onto my new 18 inch mattress and just bounce right up without a scratch. The man who came to fix a damaged fixture in my bathroom looked approvingly at my new furniture

. “Eetsa awfully beeg bed you got der, madame”, he said.

I pass bookstore after bookstore and theatre after theatre as I roam around the West End. My kind of place. I restrain myself from getting carried away buying books. I have one small suitcase for checked luggage and my back pack for my lap top. This is not a trip for acquiring things - except new experiences. At the Crime and Mystery Bookstore on

Charing Cross Road
however, discipline breaks down and I leave the store with a signed copy of the latest Dick Francis novel. Not even in paperback – poor bulging suitcase.

Some random observations from today’s walk follow, I noticed an unusual number of young people with spiked black hair, chains and black leather clothing, rings through many visible body parts and I suspect many not visible toot, and the heavy black makeup ringing the eyes like pandas. I thought Gothic was so not in, anymore. I wonder if there is a sci-fi convention on in town or something.

The first English class I took when I went back to do my BA at UBC five years ago was a six-credit evening course on Shakespeare. So naturally one of the to-dos on my list for London was to see the recreated Globe Theatre. I decided to catch a Wednesday matinee of Antony and Cleopatra, one of the twelve plays and numerous poems I actually studied for my class.

The Globe is situated south of the Thames in Southwark. “Too far to walk to”, said the concierge. “And it’s across the river. You’ll have to take a cab.” I looked dubiously at the map. It did not seem too far to walk but hey, I was asking his advice. Maybe I should take it. So I headed off to

Oxford Street
from where a shocking-pink London taxi driven by yet another friendly cabbie whisked me down to Southwark.

I am going to post this now to see how to upload images. Then I need to head out and will write more about the Globe and The Rose tonight.

With nothing special planned till this evening when I go to see “A Voyage round my Father at the Wyndham’s Theatre, some more sightseeing was in order. With a limited amount of time, I thought I would take a tour and see where I wanted to spend my last free day in London tomorrow.

The ever helpful concierge showed me a brochure for the “Hop-on, hop-off” sightseeing tour of London and I thought “this is perfect” so voucher in hand I set off to Leicester Square to “hop-on”.

Although during the course of the 2 and a half hour tour we passed several other tour buses that looked fairly packed for some reason there were only about ten people on the one I took. I sat on the open upper deck with a cool breeze blowing thorough my freshly washed hair. Fortunately, thanks to a quick visit the day before I left, to Emma who has been cutting my hair for about twenty years now, I can just run my hands through my short haircut and it looks kind of ok. As long as I remember to do the running hands bit!

Actually speaking about the weather, which today is mercifully a little cooler than the last few days, I think the Weather Network is playing with my mind. I go on line, make sure I am looking at London, UK not London, Ontario or the other three Londons that are shown, and check out the prediction for the day. For three days in a row it has shown the little icon with rain pouring down, and for there days in a row I have carefully packed my rain jacket in my purse – and not a drop has fallen. Interesting. I find they are much more accurate at home.

Just to clarify. This column is not about rabble rousing, greenhouse gases or salacious sex but I will get to the hot beds later. The column is however about something that has perplexed me since I last stayed in an English hotel, in Hull more than eight years ago. The question goes something like this

We know that the history of inns and traveler hospitality is not even four hundred years old for travelers in America while the history of inns in Britain must date back a couple of thousand years. So how come American hoteliers have figured out all the little things that make a traveler comfortable while so many English hoteliers have not?

Take plumbing for instance. The last time I endured weeks of cold showers was as a twelve year old away at a six week youth club camp in the African bush. The showers were outdoors, only cold water available, but it was so hot that it did not matter too much to a bunch of kids. Not that we showered all that much anyway. The ground where the camp was located was basically red clay. My mother used to delight in telling my kids that when I returned from that camp it took three hot baths before she managed to get all the clay dust out of my hair and skin.

Of the major English Romantic poets I generally prefer the work of John Keats to that of Percy Shelley- but not when it comes to hairdryers. Think about it. When you are impatiently trying to brush and comb your wet hair into some semblance of dryness and order, what would you prefer? “Thy hair soft-lifted by the winnowing wind”, all gentle warmth but little strength so your hair does not dry at all or to be “Vaulted with all thy congregated might of vapours from whose solid atmosphere black rain, and fire, and hail will burst” – a strong hot wind that will dry your hair in minutes.

This burst of bizarre inner dialogue was prompted by yet another frustrating experience with the wall mounted hairdryer system thoughtfully installed in the bathroom so you won’t electrocute yourself by immersing your own hairdryer in water while you attempt to dry your hair. It is rather like one of my favorite Shakespearean quotes all “sound and fury, signifying nothing”. It’s meant to be foolproof – or perhaps for fools. You do not even have to switch it or figure how to extract it from its plastic base. You just pull it out and it begins to hum furiously expelling warm air that has no force at all. My hair isn’t even “soft-lifted” like autumn. So after a vigorous rub with a towel, a quick combing with the fingers and another thank-you to Emma of the clever scissor-work, I am off to the British Museum.

Of course, just as I have begun to feel comfortable moving around in my “hood”, it is time to leave. Some thoughts on departing from London today.

Soho and the West End, the small part of London where I have spent the past 5 days, is a bustling area full of young people. On every street there are pubs and cafes with sidewalk seating and patios. And they are always full. I began to wonder if people ever work around here, or perhaps a lot of business is conducted over beers or lattes. Oh yes, Starbucks is here as well with the usual intimidating list of possibilities for coffee, tea and iced versions of the same. I still haven’t mastered the art of ordering when all I want is a freshly made cup of coffee. That’s why I have my Cuisinart grind and brew on my kitchen counter at home, and here in London I am drinking a lot of water. It is sooo hot.

As for the reputation of English folk as taciturn and reserved, I have found the opposite. Most people have been friendly and happy to chat. At first I thought perhaps some of the smiles I was getting was because I looked lost, sort of “deer in the spotlight” at the intersections and traffic lights, clutching my London map. But when I knew exactly where I was going and relegated the map to the side pocket of my purse I still got smiles and friendly greetings. Maybe it’s just because I just look happy to be here. Who knows?

The rain has held off despite the warnings of the Weather Network. Have not checked what to expect in France since it has been quite misleading so far. It is already mid-September so I expect things will start cooling down soon.

I am heading off shortly to Victoria Station to catch the Gatwick Express to the airport. Although the travel agent said to reconfirm the flight the BA phone lines said not to. Hmmm…..…



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