Week 38: London

Locations: Cambridge, MA; Somerville, MA; London, UK


Dates: 5/4/97-5/10/97

Sunday started much too early, with Riley (the kitten) deciding that 4:45 am would be a good time to attack my toes. I stumbled out of bed, ejected him from the room, closed the door, and went back to sleep.

I got up for real a few hours later. Arthur had been finishing scenes for our screenplay at a prodigious rate; once I was up, I finally put in some work on it, for the first time in two or three weeks, and got the penultimate scene finished. Later in the day, after we'd talked on the phone about how things were going, Arthur sent me the final scene, and we had a complete first draft. 160 pages; which is to say at least 40-50 pages longer than a screenplay of this sort ought to be. We'll have to do a lot of cutting in the next draft. And we know there's a lot wrong with the first draft—written over the course of 9 months, during which time a lot of our ideas about the story changed a lot, so many scenes are inconsistent with each other. But the fact that we've actually completed a full draft is very exciting, and I hope it means we'll be able to keep a certain amount of momentum going through the next couple of drafts.

Had lunch with Beth, went to Mt. Auburn to see the spring colors (nice, but not nearly as pretty as it is in the fall), had dinner with Diana. Had fully intended to spend my weekend-alone-apartmentsitting doing email, updating my journal and travelogue, and generally catching up on all the things I'd been getting behind in over the previous couple of hectic and people-filled weeks, but somehow the time slipped away. Perhaps I should remember in the future not to schedule visits with friends during my planned alone-time and catchup-time... Though there weren't going to be other times when I could see said friends before going to England, so it was worthwhile. But I do need to be more careful about making sure I get time to myself.

On Monday I did spend most of my day alone, organizing files and doing other such stuff that didn't really need to be done but did make me feel a little more in control of things. Met Sarah G for dinner that evening, and spent a while afterward chatting and looking at old photos. Talked with Steph briefly when I went back to her place to pick up my stuff, then stayed up late, again, talking with Carrie and showing her some of my travel photos.

Tuesday was supposed to be my day to get some new luggage for the trip, but of course I frittered the day away in lounging about and running errands. Spent some time talking with Michael, also spent some time trying to retrieve money from an investment account (turns out to do so I need to get a certain kid of signature guarantee, which no bank will provide to someone who doesn't have an account with them, and which my credit union back home doesn't provide at all).

After dinner at Steve & Bhadrika's, talked with Michael and Carrie 'til late, then dialed up and dealt with email 'til even later. Failed once again to get enough sleep.

Wednesday I had lunch with Bhadrika, accompanied her on several errands, and finally got my act together (much later than I'd hoped) and went and bought a big new duffel bag. It's not quite exactly what I want—I'd rather have something slightly smaller, while still bigger and sturdier than my old SGI duffel—but figured I'd give it a try. Also spent far too long obtaining a power adapter so I could plug in my PowerBook while in England—there are way too many options for ways to plug things in while traveling, most of which won't work for any given appliance. But it turns out that PowerBooks run on a universal power supply, so all I needed was an adapter to change the shape of the plug, rather than a full transformer to change the kind of power supplied.

What with all the difficulties there, and taking much longer than I expected to take all my stuff out of my car to prepare for carrying multiple passengers, I left for New Haven three hours later than planned. (I'd wanted to see New Haven anyway, and Chris C needed a flexible way to get to Boston the next day in time for our flight, so I was driving down to fetch him.) Uneventful drive down. Chris and I talked for a while, I had a bit to eat, and we went to sleep.

In the morning I checked email, then set up a RAM disk on my computer to conserve power so I'd be able to use the computer for as long as possible on the plane. In the early afternoon Chris got back from his errands and took me on a quick tour of the Yale campus, during which we ran into his sweetie, whom I hadn't previously met. We saw a bunch of cool buildings, notably the old-books building which was constructed largely of marble panes so thinly sliced as to be translucent, providing a lovely glow on the inside. The building was stuffed full of old books, including the second Gutenberg Bible I've seen this year.

Running late, we rushed off to Wesleyan, where Chris had exams to pick up for later grading. Spent a while wandering across the campus looking at cool old buildings. We'd found out the flight to England had been delayed, so we were in no particular rush once Chris got the exams... From there it was smooth sailing to Somerville in low traffic.

We hung out there for an hour or two until it was time to leave. Chris, Michael, Steve, and I hopped in Michael's car; Michael drove us to the airport (where we found Fran and Ed, the other members of the expedition), and Steve drove Michael's car back to Somerville.

The flight was long and uneventful. I skipped the movies available on the tiny seatback TV screens despite the excellent color-LCD resolution. Michael had requested a vegetarian dinner for me; it turned out to be the best food I've ever had on an airplane, a delicious vegetarian chili (probably even better than the great meal I had on United a couple months back), significantly better than the vegetarian option among the three dinner choices Virgin Atlantic provided to customers who hadn't requested special meals. Spent much of the flight updating my long-neglected journal, and an hour or two napping. (It's really not much longer a flight than flights between the coasts in the US...) As it turned out, didn't even open my computer the whole trip.

Without too much trouble, though on far too little sleep, we navigated the train and the tube/subway to our hotel. (The tube system is amazingly extensive, but not too difficult to navigate if you're used to American subway systems. I was very disappointed to learn that the Mornington Crescent station would be out of service for the duration of our stay.) It was early Friday afternoon by local time, mid-morning by our internal clocks, and late night in terms of the amount of sleep we'd had. So we all took naps. (The hotel, a little one a couple of blocks from Paddington Station, had given us a three-person room and a four-person room instead of a two-person room and a three-person room; which is to say, most of each room was taken up by beds. A sink and mirror in each room took up the rest of the available space; there was a shared bathroom down the hall.)

When we woke up, midafternoon, we walked through Kensington Gardens, the first of dozens of places whose names I've heard for years but for which I've never previously had any real conception of what the corresponding places were like. Don't know that I was really awake enough to fully appreciate it, but did enjoy the beautiful flowers, and took photos of the swans and the Great Crested Grebe, not to mention the dozens of Canada geese who seemed to have gone a little off course. (Or perhaps had just gotten off a tour bus; they looked rather like a gaggle of tourists.) The Gardens reminded me a bit of Central Park, where I'd just been, and Golden Gate Park, where I hadn't been in nearly a year. Quiet, pretty, with few signs of being in the midst of a city except the tall buildings visible above the trees in the middle distance.

The first order of business was to find the Internet Café so Chris could email exam grades to the teacher he's grading for. Michael and I also took advantage of the availability of a Net connection to check mail—EarthLink doesn't have a dialup anywhere outside the US, so I didn't even bother to bring my modem, and the café was the only Net access I was going to get. Still didn't manage to set up the vacation program to indicate to correspondents that I was out of the country, but figured I'd manage to check email again sometime within the week.

We then tried to do something about dinner. Unfortunately, a group of hungry people in an unfamiliar area, trying to balance prices, acceptable types of food, and so on, are unlikely to end up with the best possible dining experience. We eventually settled on a nearby Indian place (Buckingham Balti House) which turned out to have fairly good food and ridiculously bad service.

Saturday morning (after not enough sleep, at least for me), we encountered our first English Breakfast at the hotel: ham, sausage, egg, dry white toast. I skipped the ham and sausage parts. We adjourned to the Tower of London, where an abrasive tour guide told us a lot of excessively bloody legends and stories about the history of the Tower. Fran explained various Medieval items—I recommend taking an Art Historian (preferably Fran) along when visiting museums and historically significant places. The Crown Jewels and related items were stunning, particularly the intricate gigantic gold punch bowl, the giant gold salt container in the shape of a castle, and the sceptre containing the First Star of India. I've never seen anything glitter quite so much as the diamonds in the crowns—during the quick-moving line on the way in, we'd seen video images of each of the Honours, and had assumed the glittering was due to good lighting and clever videographers, but it turned out to be the way they really look.

We left the Tower for lunch and ran into the wander-around-looking-for-food problem again. My blood sugar had plummeted, but I didn't have the sense to insist that we stop at the first available eatery; instead I sat off in a corner of the tube being sullen and withdrawn until we found a fruit stand and I got an orange. Decided to carry fruit with me from then on so protracted delays in eating wouldn't make me impossible to be around. We walked up Charing Cross Road for a couple blocks and ended up at a randomly chosen Chinese place near Leicester Square. More good food at decent prices with really surly service—the waitress scowled at us when we came in, and seemed unhappy about having to have anything to do with us for the rest of the time we were there.

We wandered around for a while in the Leicester Square/Piccadilly Circus area, in a light rain. Stood on line for ten or fifteen minutes to pick up half-price tickets to a show that night. When the rain let up, we sat in a quiet little park in the sun for a bit, then walked back to Charing Cross Road (passing through a porn district and a gay district on the way). Located the plaque at 84 Charing Cross Road memorializing the book of that name by Helene Hanff (who, alas, died a few weeks back). The bookstore at 84 is long gone; the address is currently empty, but will soon house a pub of some sort. The plaque was small, high up, tarnished, and difficult to read; took a photo, but I doubt the plaque will be readable in the picture.

We wandered in and out of bookstores for a bit, then happened across the restaurant that we'd been looking for at lunchtime, a little place called the Stock Pot recommended by Let's Go London. The food was decent, but the service (though a tad harried) was very very friendly and all-around good, a welcome change from our previous couple of meals. We then wandered down to The Strand to see Simon Callow's one-man show at the Savoy Theatre, and got to bed relatively early for an early start on Sunday.

Movies, Books, etc.

The Importance of Being Oscar
Though Simon Callow does marveous bits of Wilde in this one-man revival of a 1960s (?) show, particularly the baby-found-in-a-handbag section of The Importance of Being Earnest, the show overall is a bit disappointing. The extreme rake of the stage made us worried that Callow was going to fall off into the audience; he occasionally had difficulty remembering lines; and it didn't do much that a brief written bio of Wilde wouldn't do just as well, though Callow is as always a delight (and I have to admit I've never read through De Profundis so hearing it spoken, in the second half of the show, worked well for me).

(Last updated: 20 May 1997.)

One Response to “Week 38: London”

  1. Jed

    I’m not going to do a whole lot of 20-years-later commenting on these posts, but I feel like I ought to say something here:

    My friends organized a trip to the UK and invited me along. I had always wanted to visit England, ever since I was a little Anglophile kid reading British fiction, but had never been there. They did all of the planning; I didn’t really have to do much beyond showing up.

    And yet in this travelogue, I wrote about it like it was just one more stop in a long stream of places I was visiting that year.

    So, belatedly, I want to say thank you to the organizers of the trip. It was a great trip, and it’s something I never would’ve done on my own.


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