Friday, August 26, 2005

3d Week in July, Part 1

Bright Lights

After a morning au revoir  to the elusive Mrs. Bridger, who was having some trouble restraining her spaniel, we headed south to London for our final leg.  We encountered the bane of English country roads -- a slow Citroen -- and in a desperate attempt to get past it I managed to miss a turnoff and got headed in the wrong direction, back whence we'd come.  There's a lesson in that, I suppose.  It took 20 minutes to reach an exit where we could get off and retrace our steps.

We had a deadline to return to car to the rental agency and all was going well even with this delay -- until we hit the M25. Alas this stretch of road, known for its backups, was … backed up.  It took us about three times as long to creep the final few miles as it should have, and only by aggrieved (not to say touristically pathetic) persistence at the rental agency was I able to not be charged for a full extra day.  They were also not unexpectedly perturbed at the gash in the side of the car caused by Melly's gate post, but this was, as I'd hoped, covered by my prudently purchased insurance.

We took a hotel cab into town for a seemingly exorbitant rate, but it was considerably more expeditious than shuttling back to the airport, taking the speedy but not cheap Heathrow Express to Paddington Station, and then taking a taxi to our hotel. It was now after noon and the first of our few days in London was fleeting by.  The taxi had to do some clever maneuvers to reach our hotel, the Avalon, as the surrounding streets, if not actually blocked off due to the recent bombings, were one-way, but we at last arrived, checked in, and had an almost nonexistent schlep into our room, which was conveniently between the front door and the concierge's desk!

As per our usual London habit we immediately bustled off down Marchmont Street (zigzagging a bit due to police blockades) to shady Russell Square for refreshments.  Here we saw the first memorial -- a large quantity of bouquets laid on the grass, festooned with cards, letters, toys and other personal objects (e.g., football scarves) pertaining to the many dead and missing -- sons and brothers, mothers and nieces....  Many people were slowly making their way around it, reading the notes, many with handkerchiefs to their faces.  Carrying my camera as always, I didn’t take any photos because I was too affected by the sadness of the whole spectacle. (I snapped the following two days later.)

After our lunch we walked past the British Museum to the Waterloo Bridge and across it to the southern embankment where a sort of streetfair was taking place, with musicians and other street performers (including many of the ubiquitous spray-pained silver statue-people, a new "entertainment" development I fail to understand).  It was quite hot. The tide was low, which I'd never seen before, and we descended the steps to the flats.  A strange feeling to be walking on the floor of the Thames through centuries of debris and silt.  After thoroughly taking in the scene, we crossed back over to the Westminster side and proceeded up to Piccadilly Circus via Saint James's Park, and located the Waterson's Books, where I'd reserved via phone from Melly's a copy of Brian Aldiss's latest, not available in the US.  The boys also each got a copy of the brand-new Harry Potter.  By this time we were feeling a little pooped and tried to catch the tube but the Piccadilly line was closed for security reasons, so I flagged down a cab.

I phoned Melly's sister Eva -- we were to have met her for dinner tomorrow, but she begged off:  one of her friends had been on the bus that got blown up in Tavistock Square.  Fortunately she hadn’t been killed, but Eva was going to visit her in the hospital in the evening. 

When we got peckish enough, at twilight, we walked around the crescent to the Woburn Tandoori for a very nice dinner in a Dickensian alleyway, and afterwards walked off our repast for a half hour around the area, circling in the dark past the memorial at St. Pancras (Tavistock Square) and around the University of London. As usual there were many Americans around there, which seems to partly explain why the area had been so saturated by explosives.

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