No matter where you live, you get lost in the minutia.
After two weeks in New York, I stopped looking up at the Chrysler Building every day on the way to work. I stopped staring out my bedroom window at the Empire State Building or listening to the taxis honking and drunk people hollering on the streets until all hours of the morning, thinking it was part of the ambiance.
And not long after I got myself settled into my flat in Kingsbury, I had become the ultimate Londoner -- forgettor of all things, blocking out the sounds of the city with my iPod, my head down, pushing past people quickly through the tube, oblivious. Somehow, it is easiest to forget what is right in front of you; we all do.
When I got the train to Gatwick airport last Sunday morning, I had my iPod on maximum volume. I was lost in a book. I barely glanced at the English countryside, absolutely stunning on a clear, sunny day as it was. But when I got to the airport, walked into the arrivals hall and spotted a bright red coat and long blond hair in the distance, I should've had an inkling then that all those habits were going to be turned on their heads for the next six days.
My best friend Stefanie, who I've known since I started as an editorial intern at The Bartlett Express in August 2001 while she was the Editor, came to stay in my tiny flat for a week, and by the time she left yesterday morning I could barely keep my eyes open any longer. We'd done it all. We walked what felt like the entirety of the city of London, and in the middle of it all even made a trip to Dublin, too.
Like little Georgie and the cherry tree, I cannot tell a lie -- there is a part of me that is looking forward to getting back into my old Londoner ways, sticking my iPod in and sleeping on the train, getting annoyed with people who can't figure out how to stand on the right, walk on the left, burying myself in books again and getting behind a piano to start working on my final performance pieces. But while Stef was here, for those six days, I felt like a Londoner in such a different way. In a this-is-my-city-now-let-me-show-you kind of way. In a now-let-me-show-you-why-I-love-it kind of way.
So for the next week or so I'll be working on recounting all the adventures of our week here. It'll be a slow process, as I've also got a busy week at university ahead of me: my first performance exam on Tuesday and work on my first essay, plus The Monologues and other sundries. I'm going to do it chronologically, as much as possible, and this will also buy me some time until Stef gets rested back home and is able to send me some of the pictures she took -- the nights we went out on the town, we only took Stef's smaller camera because it was easier to handle and carry, so she's got some of the most, well, infamous shots of the trip.
So for today, we'll get back to that arrivals hall at Gatwick. We headed for the train station to get Stef a ticket and go locate our platform. On the way down the escalator to the trains we were interrupted by a curiously tan fellow who was carrying some sort of surfboard and wanted to know (I'm not making this up) where the best places were to go surfing around here. I told him to go to the beach, not to London, but even then, why would he want to go surfing in Brighton? In January? When it was about 10 degrees outside? And there are no waves at that beach anyway? He asked a few more questions, and would later follow us through London Bridge like a clueless puppy, where he needed to be instructed on how to buy a travelcard and where the hell to go in London. Luckily he did not need information on tying his shoes or wiping his hindquarters, but then again I did leave in a hurry.
On the train on the way in to London, I was already noticing our accent garnering a lot of attention. Mostly, I could see people in the sits behind and across from us sort of grinning and chuckling every once in a while, trying to advert their eyes from our direction. It was entertaining, because I haven't experienced that much, mostly since I'm typically by myself and usually try to make a habit of not speaking out loud in those circumstances. That can also garner some attention. Different kind.
So we made it to London Bridge, got on the tube and headed for Kingsbury. After we got to the flat and got freshened up and put Stef's things down, we were starving and headed for brunch at Smith of Smithfield's, near Farringdon (in the city, to the east). I'd heard good things about the food and it was cheap, cheap, cheap.
But the best thing at Smith's wasn't the food. It was the moment when Stef was ordering her eggs benedict, and the waiter asked her if she wanted ham, salmon or spinach. She looked at him, then at me, and said, "What?" And I said, "ham, salmon or spinach." She laughed, and said, "ham," to which the waiter grinned and said "Haaaaam," just like we tend to do in the south when we create multiple syllables out of three-letter words.
After Smith's, we went to Harrod's to look at pretty, expensive things, play with toys, taste chocolate and touch designer purses. Then we headed home for some cheese and wine and an early bed time. I was tired, and I knew my exhaustion couldn't compare to Stef's. We had to get plenty of sleep, as well, for our adventures on Day Two: Westminster Abbey, Trafalgar Square, Leicester Square, Piccadilly Circus, Hyde Park, the Palace and everything in between.
And all that is coming soon.
HRH e. cawein