Tour Diary: London (UK / Days 14-16)

Salty Snack of the Day: Howdah Onion Bhaji – Kind of the shape and texture of sesame sticks but a rice based snack. Delicious but spicy as all get out.

Britishisms Heard Uttered: Bloody – I didn’t hear it once. Has this most British of institutions fallen by the wayside? Is it what the biddies mutter under their breath when the price of porridge goes up by two pence? Is it the consarnit or balderdash of England? I really fucking hope not.

Birds: Robin – I really wanted to see one and I did it! Oddly the robin is part of the chat family here but the blackbird is part of the thrush family.

(Seen in the Royal Gardens) Pochard, Barnacle Goose, Goldeneye, Pelicans (introduced in 1664 as a gift from the Russian ambassador)

These are not show days and Joe and his “wife” are already in Bath for the duration. Monday was very simply driving, going to George and Jan’s place, returning rented gear, figuring out paperwork, then heading to the hotel. We were out by some airport with nothing to walk to, so we ended up staying in for the evening, drinking beer in the hotel café and hanging out with Olie for the last time this tour.

This then would seem a good time to sing the praises of our man-crush Olie. His job is to drive us to and from gigs. The fact that he helped us load-in\out, set-up and tear down gear, sell merch, run and get food, and act as tour guide just shows how much he went above and beyond the call of duty. And in the grand tradition of British comedians he deployed a wide range of accents, voices, and silly walks to keep us pissing ourselves laughing. We lucked out.

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As for the rest of the last two days I went full on tourist. I’m just going to list everything I saw and keep descriptions to a minimum. I’m already walking a thin line between Rick Steves and middle-aged man slide show.* I will say that London more than lived up to its reputation as one of the worlds great cities. There was a point where I’m pretty sure I didn’t hear the English language for an hour, but instead a steady flow of languages that were melodiously unfamiliar. It felt like a literal crossroads to the world and I loved it. John E. will hopefully post a recording he made when he was standing on the sidewalk listening to the sound of Indian music being performed in someone’s apartment above him. Some men walking up to the building asked if he liked music and of course John said yes. So then, at 2:00 in the morning no less, they invited him to come up and listen. He got to play a harmonium and talk with everyone.

Tuesday:

My cold was at its worse and I was probably hungover. London was as gloomy as a Death Eater’s mixer after the bridge mix has run out, and promised rain and humidity in spades all day.

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  • Navigated Tube successfully. (Thanks Harry Beck!)
  • Trafalgar Square for coffee, writing, recovering, and realizing there were far too many tourist groups around to even fathom.
  • Walking away from people took me to St. James Royal Gardens with all the Royal birds, Royal grass, Royal bird poop distributed with the enthusiasm, dedication, and equality of a Communist’s wet dream, Royal Cigarette butts, Royally brazen squirrels, etc.

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  • Churchill’s Bunker Museum. Really expensive. Good museum on the man’s life and visits to the map room and such are very cool. But really expensive.

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  • Buckingham Palace. There was long line of posh, white people in coattails and hats and frumpy dresses and hats holding invitations. Turns out it was a big tadoo for the Queen’s 90th I left the Princess Di latch-hook rug I made in 1997 against the gate and walked away feeling closure at last.
  • Parliament House and Big Ben
  • Tube to Picadilly Square

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  • The Royal Society!! Did I mention it was my birthday? Well here was my gift to myself. There was a talk open to the public that night. The Royal Society came into existence in 1660 and has done things like publish Newton’s ‘Principa Mathematica” and Hooke’s “Micrographia.” (there was a small exhibit on that as well) The talk this evening was by the 2015 Wilkins-Bernal-Medawar prize winner Professor Hasok Chang and was titled, “Who Cares About the History of Science?” It was a wonderful talk even when I didn’t understand it. So cool to be there.
  • End of tour celebratory dinner with George and Jan in East London.

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Wednesday

  • Walked to the Rough Trade Record Store in the Brick Lane part of London, and then all around the neighborhood. East London reminds me of Brooklyn with its transitional areas and hipsters.
  • Decided I would walk the two miles to The Tate Modern so as to see more of London. Was supposed to take 40 minutes but didn’t pay enough attention to maps and it took two very wet hours. Still, I saw what felt like the financial part of Manhattan, with lots of cool modern buildings and people looking smart and business-ey.
  • I have to admit I was hurting by the time I got to the Tate. Throbbing feet, sweaty, wet, and just kind of spent. The rest of the day, however wonderful, would take on a slight Bataan sheen.
  • The Tate was under renovation but the collection was lovely. Lots of classics but also a nice focus on the incredible power of protest and social commentary that the visual arts can achieve maybe better than the other fine arts. The building felt a little austere with mile after mile of white walls and black beams.
  • Met John and Lisa at St. Paul’s Cathedral** for evening choir service. The choir was all male with voices ranging from pre-change to change the channel – that hippie David Attenborough is on. Those voices in that space was profoundly moving and deeply beautiful. We all three wiped tears away and I would’ve likely begun sobbing except for being mostly dead inside. Afterwards the only woman involved in the performance of the service was greeting people and I stopped to thank her. She then said an amazing thing to me. “Do you teach people to sing?” I was surprised at this leap of intuition and told her yes and who I taught. We then had a lovely talk about how the arts are being cut in England, just as in the States, and all the reasons why music is so profoundly important to our core humanity. She said they were sending out a choirmaster to the poorer communities to try and fill in a little of what is being lost. The older I get, the greater the import of service to others seems to be. Connections between people and peoples have to be forged, they don’t just happen without effort.

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  • Came across where Sherlock fell from St. Barts.
  • Walked across Millenium Bridge on a day the Dementors held in thrall, and then peeped on the Globe Theater.

 

*I can’t define redundancy but I know it when I see it.

** I chose cake but they were out. Damn.