The tale of the Day Out in London begins long before waking up to the alarm on my mobile (heh, not "cell phone") Saturday morning. Back in April as we were riding the bus back from Alec's birthday party, we drove by Hyde Park. As I was overly excited by seeing a bit of England with which I was familiar, I started pointing out random sculptures and reciting pointless trivia. The excitement seemed infectious till at last Rachel suggested a day in London and added, "Why don't you plan it, Jeff?" I valiantly stepped up to the challenge with a few blinks and an, "um, okay."
Since the people going are students and therefore have the social calendar equivalent of a reef at low tide, it would be impossible to find a date when everyone could come, so I just snatched the 6th out of the ether. Later, people proposed it be a late celebration of my birthday, but after the overwhelming fun of the 2nd, it'll be a while before I'm ready for another birthday. (I think a year ought to do.)
Alec, Andy, Tess, and I met up at 10 AM and walked to the station (everyone else had excuses of "too much work" or "attending mum's birthday" or "shattered" or "who are you and why would I go to London with you?"). We had to wait a little while Andy was assaulted by a Jehovah's Witness, but the weather was so nice it was good to be outside. I didn't have to wear a coat till 6 in the evening, which is a great way to spend any day.
Andy and Alec led the way to the station, taking a path I hadn't gone before but had plenty of trees and nature to keep me occupied. Every time I had been to London before, the city's transit played some kind of cruel joke on me, whether maddening traffic, late/early buses, or closing the whole of the Circle line on the Tube. The joke came early this time when we discovered the trains down to King's Cross were closed, so we had to catch a rail replacement bus instead.
It wasn't that bad, just a little slow and disappointing (I would've been eager as an eight-year-old if it had been a doubledecker instead of a coach, but, oh well). On the ride, I got a good lesson on the English language, learning words like "paddy" (meaning "grumpy"), "stroppy" (meaning the same), "po-faced" (again, "grumpy"), and mardy (once more "grumpy", but I'm told it's a northern word). To have a strop is to have a hissy-fit. It'll be nice to get back to everyone speaking American this summer. We got to Finsbury Park in London just after noon. While the morning was pleasant, the forecast had been for a very wet afternoon. As the clouds were thin, we decided to take a chance for a picnic in Hyde Park.
The chance paid off.
The whole park was green and blooming. People were out enjoying themselves and taking rollerblading lessons, but it was hardly crowded. We picked a nice bench in a nice garden and discussed the freaky fish fountain as we had some sandwiches and pringles. Alec kept the pigeons at bay. As we were finishing up, a steel drum band struck up somewhere behind the trees, so we even had a little music with our dinner. It was so cool we had to hunt down the source of the tunes and listen for a while.
After lunch, we enjoyed the green for a while and checked out some statues. This one was built by the cavalry to commemorate WWI and WWII.
We walked southward after that, planning to swing by Buckingham Palace to see if the Queen were home (sadly, she wasn't) and then go down to the Globe Theatre to pick up some tickets for the show tonight. At the palace, the guards weren't wearing their beefeater uniforms, and I was shocked. When I saw them in their gray winter coats, it was bad enough, but this was just a nightmare. To think of all those poor tourists who had traveled all that way, and no red-coated guards...
With all of the walking over the past few months, especially Christmas, I think I've gotten to know St. James Park pretty well, even enough to go without a map (which we did). The wind was changing as we went, and a few sprinkles of rain began to fall. I was just glad it had held off long enough to have lunch. We headed toward Trafalgar Square, where we began to wonder why the streets were blocked off and crowds were particularly thick. Just as we came to the National Gallery, we saw it: a 42-tonne Mechanical Elephant.
It was part of a four-day spectacle that Andy had heard about on the radio, and we caught it just as the elephant was going to sleep so its dozen or so drivers could have a lunch break.
That got my vote for the coolest random encounter in London of the day. But the coolness was far from over. We continued on and crossed the Thames, stopping in the Tate Modern to check out a gallery and the weird polished egg sculpture that you step inside and get very much weirded out. The experience is indescribable. The light bends around you, making everything push inwards, yet always be out of reach, and the echoes become a noise indescernable from silence. It's like agoraphobia and claustrophobia at the same time.
We didn't stay as long as we would've liked, but we thought it best to get tickets in case the Globe were overly popular that night. So, after following the Thames Walk west, we came to Shakespeare's Globe. It was a good thing we did, too, since Alec got the last available yard ticket. Lucky!
From there we decided to head to the Imperial War Museum for the Blitz Experience as well as the Trench Experience. While I feel pretty confident around the parks in the north, once I get south of the Thames, I'm as lost as any American in London. We wandered quite a bit, which was bad since the rain decided to fall, till we found an Underground Station and safety. Still, I love wandering, since that's the way to find weird random stuff like a plaque of Rubikcubism.
Earlier during our wanderings by the Thames, Alec spotted a guy from a show called Green Wing. He's the blonde dude in the upper-right corner. You'll never know what you'll see walking through London, I guess.
Once we hopped from London Bridge over to Waterloo, we were lost again, till we spotted a tiny sign pointing toward the museum next to the maps near the station entrance. Lucky once again! We followed the signs through the twisted streets, playing a life-sized game of Where's Wally? till the museum itself appeared.
I think that's a much better picture than my old one of the museum. It was really the second one I took, since in the first the others were in the corner, looking a bit soaked and scruffy. I doubt they'd appreciate me publishing that on the internet.
Since the museum closed in a few hours and Andy and Tess were going to head back to Hatfield early, we only got to see a few corners of the awesomeness inside. But, it was free, and totally worth every penny. I even got to look through the D-day exhibit I skimmed the last time, so we all learned something new.
Alec and I rode back with Andy and Tess to Finsbury Park where they'd catch the bus back and bid them adieu. We'd had a big day already, but the two of us were still ready for more cultural punishment with a performance of Coriolanus. Once we got back to central London, we walked along the Thames on a part I hadn't been before. I never knew what I was missing out on. Not only was there the HMS Belfast in dry dock...
...but also a replica of Drake's ship, the Golden Hind. Wow, imagine circumnavigating the globe in something that tiny and potentially stinky.
At last we got back to the Globe with just enough time for a bathroom break before taking our places in the yard.
While the seats along the walls are kind of pricey, it's only 5 quid to stand through the whole performance right next to the stage. Four hundred years ago, it was a penny to do the same thing. Unfortunately, it was raining, and the Globe doesn't have a central ceiling. Then again, how many other people can say they've seen Shakespeare, standing in the Globe, in the rain? Our legs were pretty sore by the end, but it was well worth it. And the view couldn't be beat.
When I booked my ticket for this Coriolanus, I thought, "Ugh, I've never heard of this one. Must be one of those dull ones they never talk about and only use to say that there was really more than one . But, it's the only thing on, so whatever." Man, I was ignorant. Coriolanus was a great play, filled with humor, humour, and clever lines like, "She will but disease our better mirth." Add into that political intrigue, a couple of fight scenes, and more drama than you can shake a day-time emmy at. The story is great, telling of a Roman thrust into the public eye after victory, prodded and then betrayed by politicians, gone into exile with the enemy (who welcomed him and made him their leader as they marched on Rome), convinced by the pleas of his family not to destroy his home, and finally killed by the enemies as a traitor, despite that what he really wanted was peace for both. It had a strong discussion of politics, as the politicians were the ones who made the messes and couldn't fix them, only diverting attention to other matters, and only genuine familial love working for the good.
And, most awesome of all, the guy playing the general Cominius was none other than Joseph Marcell, the butler Geoffrey from The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air! How cool is that?!
It was almost eleven by the time we got out, but I was overwhelmed by the play and glad I didn't have to stand still anymore. St. Paul's sparkled in the nighttime, even if the picture didn't take very well.
By that time, Alec and I were both wiped out, so we took the Underground back up to Finsbury Park to get the bus. We both fell asleep on the way back, but luckily did not sleep through the Hatfield stop. Really, the whole day was fortunate in those little things since, even with a few difficulties, everything was grand. Every time I go to London, I think "This is probably the last time I'll be here", but I have a suspicion I might sneak in one more trip.
After all, Titus Andronichus starts in a few weeks...
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