Sunday, February 28, 2010

21/9/08: Travel – London Day 4

On checking out of our plush hotel, we couldn't help notice a big advertising board extolling "A Great deal for a great room." And we thought, yes it was a great room... and it was expensive. We assume they meant "a great deal" as in a deal that was great, but advertisers should beware of phrases that have two meanings.

We popped over to Baker Street, famous for being the home of musician turned detective Gerry Rafferty and his sidekick, Doctor Egan, who both lived together in Shylock Homes, an apartment block owned by a former money-lender. I think that's right. Anyway, I do know his nemesis was a man named Arthur Mori.

We were here to meet up with one of Cath's cousins, her husband and their kids for a very pleasant lunch in a nice neck of London.

Sherlock Holmes Batman FightHowever, before long it was time to head back. And time became more pressing when at Victoria we not only had problems trying to get the ticket machine to sell us a ticket, but we had to run to the express service just in time to watch it leave. So we ran back and jumped on a slow service. Once we did get to our destination, we found that the signs from the station to the airport were just plain confusing. I believe we British think travelling is sinful and only bad sorts and foreigners do it, so we do anything to make it impossible for them to get anywhere. Eventually we found the line to check in for our flight, but we were only in it 20 seconds before we were called out as our plane was hoping to leave soon.

Flights to Amsterdam from Gatwick generally leave from The Island. The Island is a small outcrop of gates joined by a high bridge, tall enough to clear big planes. The whole trip along the tunnel is accompanied by bird song and new age music. I think it's supposed to be calming, but I have a problem with the whole concept that natural noises need to have a soundtrack put behind them. If it was supposed to be like that, Nature would produce its own muzak. But it doesn't. The long conveyer belts and this supposedly restful soundtrack, reminds me of some science fiction film where old people are shunted off along extensive corridors to some place of final rest. Usually to be turned into food.

Soylent Green, tastyObviously, one more snag is due, to make the quota, and that came in the form of the state-of-the-art Schiphol baggage system getting all confused and not being able to deliver our luggage for quite a while. Another clear example of people waiting for these time-saving computers to sort themselves out. But eventually, after their mini strike, the computers spat our bags out and we dragged them home to feed our surprisingly indifferent cats.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

20/9/08: Travel – London Day 3

I met some of the wedding guests for breakfast at a greasy spoon [café] for a delicious, artery-closing, British breakfast. Sausages, egg, fried bread and a delicate rocket salad. Oh, hang on, there was no salad.

Cardboard Robots on UndergroundAfter breakfast, Cath and I wandered over London Bridge to Borough Market. Borough Market used to be a wholesale fruit and vegetable market. It has since been restyled and upmarketed (if that's a word) as a tourist attraction and popular lunch spot. We picked up some tasty-looking flapjacks and brownies before lunching at Prêt-A-Manger. I'd missed Prêt-A-Manger, but this time it was disappointing, especially after the previous day's Eat. (How can jalapeno chicken be disappointing? I don't know. it has everything: bread, chicken and jalapeno.) I know I should be finding more interesting places, but I've missed these chains. I even missed Benjy's, which has long since gone.

After wandering by Tottenham Court Road and checking out old haunts such as The Actors' Centre, where I used to perform improv before being thrown out by Zaphod Beeblebrox, we slipped back to the hotel for coffee and flapjacks.

(I kid you not, Zaphod Beeblebrox himself threw us out. Or at least the guy who used to play him. I think he thought we were taking the Mickey when we played two-headed expert.)

Pugs and KissesFor dinner, we shipped down to Parsons Green to a promising-looking Indian place that was very good indeed. The condiments alone were worthy of many medals.

Before we ate we had a chance and find more of those curiosities London has lurking about. Such as a luxury boutique for dogs and cats as well as our future robot overlords having a night out.

However, the rigours of travel had taken their toll. Despite pleas to favour parties with our presence (it's grand to feel popular), it was actually bed that lured us anywhere.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

19/9/08: Travel – London Day 2

Because it was one of those classy hotels with foreign staff, we got a free newspaper. I don't remember which one, but as I remember being in a good mood, it was certainly not the Daily Malice.

daily mail MUPPETSI must have been in a good mood as we went shopping. And to prove that even the Gods were smiling down on us that day, as we shopped, we encountered a small camp where some young, attractive things thrust Wii controllers in our hands and commanded that we play a few games of Wii Sports. Not only that, but, if our fumbling yielded the high score of the day, we would win a Wii of our own. And because Odin was very pleased with the shelves he'd made that day, we did get high scores. However, this was quite early morning, long before lunching kids came by and no doubt trampled all over our high scores. Tsk, kids today. Trashing their elders and betters' computer game scores. When I was a young'un... oh, yeah, I used to do the same.

We had lunch at "Eat," one of those mid-market sandwich chains. The mildly pretentious order of a name made me yearn for a bar called "Drink!" an escort service called "Girls!" and an Irish Brothel called, "Feck!"

Eat's wares were very good and reminded me how great the competition is for sandwiches in London. People don't think of the sandwich as a typical London food, but sandwich places probably outnumber all other types of eatery. I have no statistics to back up this claim, but this is a blog not an encyclopaedia. If you do demand information to back up what I say, I'll have you know all relevant data is available in the only source I know and trust, More's Uncyclopaedia.

crash bandicootThe area of our hotel is one where Japanese restaurants are locked in some kind of monumental battle. Each restaurant tries to out-psych the other by having a name that sounds most like a martial art. Nobu, Roka, Umu, Zuma. Actually, that makes no sense as, given my ignorance, most Japanese words sound like a martial art. Sushi. Teriyaki. Sake. Any one of these would beat me in a fight. I can see the proponents standing before me taking poses and naming them. "Raw Fish Roll." "Soy Sauce Cow." "Liquid Alcohol Rice."

The reason we were in London this weekend was for a wedding. Friends and former flatmates of mine were tying the knot after years of living in and around sin (and before that, East Acton).

Balloon DingoMany, many moons ago, myself and a young trekkie called Norm joined forces with a couple of lasses who we'd met through improv and moved in together. It is the stuff that makes sitcoms. It also makes dramas. And occasionally horror stories. This was something of all three made into a musical and directed by Richard Curtis and David Lynch. Well, amidst the clutter and fallings in and out, romance bloomed for two of the household. And I don't mean myself and Crash Bandicoot, although me and that guy... we shared some times.

The wedding, like all good weddings, was a chance to meet up with people you hadn't seen for millennia. In fact many of people at the wedding I knew, it was almost like wedding in my own family.

Mitsubishi. Sanyo. Honda. "Off-Road Bike." "Wide-Screen, Surround-Sound Display." "Four-Door Family Hatchback."

Happy Couple DancingI'd met Norm through a guy called Dave who ran something not unlike facebook, but way before that. This was before the web. Possibly even before the internet. As I recall it, messages were carried by young street urchins for a shilling a packet. Well, Dave started one of the longest-running internet communities on a thing called Mono. It was one of the first places I let stuff I'd written leak out. The fact that the crazy people there liked it helped me form the belief I'm not bad at it and kept me from being the greatest IT consultant the world has ever seen.

Back at the wedding, there was great food, cake, antipodean balloon artists, many, many old friends and a band that played covers. (Although they played them a lot more faithfully than I like my covers. To me covers, should be ironic or played in a completely different style to the original. But then, I'm wrong on quite a few things.) Cath and I hung out with those who refused to leave until the band had to pack up and the inflatable dingos started deflating.

Wedding circle DanceSayonara. "One Hand Wave."

Monday, February 22, 2010

18/9/08: Travel – London Day 1

Bam! Gom!

No, we didn't start the trip by fighting Batman; we started it on a train. The train happened to go past a couple of companies that amused me. These were "Bam!" and "Gom!" Or to give them their full names: "BAM Utiliteitsbouw Regio Noordwest" and "Gom Specialistische Reiniging." I believe if you take the other route to the airport, you pass "Shazamm Internet Solutions" and "Kapowww Kippenboerderij."

BamHaving recently been to the US, I was very familiar with how it felt to be in the slow foreigners' line. This time, however, it was Catherine's turn to take this line whilst I took the quick one where some youngster pretends to not even look at your passport and wave you through.

Once through, however, I joined a combined line of confused foreigners and grumpy Brits to be sold train tickets by a very weary Italian. This was before we got our bags. Basically, there's a little kiosk that gives all the appearance of being convenient, but is then purposefully understaffed and decorated with confusing signs. The modern British railway system is no longer about getting U (designating you) from A to B; it's about getting ₤ from U to B (designating board members and shareholders). The more confused you are, the more money you throw at them.

Lunch was had with friends and family in a pub somewhere not too far from the airport. Somehow they were out of burgers and steak pies, which is pretty much everything in a pub like that.

After this, we were dropped off at the airport where we had to once again negotiate the confusing fare structure that privatisation has unnecessarily imposed on us poor train-travelling folk. There are three different tickets to get to London because there are three different carriers. (This is ignoring the class structure that doubles the number of tickets.) Train companies wish they were airlines and have real trouble accepting they are not.

Hotel chandelierOur hotel was grand and prestigious. It sat in a cul-de-sac just around the corner from New Scotland Yard. It was run by Italians which meant the staff were handsome and stylishly dressed. Plus they had those accents where you couldn't completely be sure they weren't asking you to go to bed with them. It's always safer in these circumstances to assume they're not.

New Scotland Yard no longer looks like what it does in all those old cop series. Especially because it's hard to find an angle from where you can clearly see that rotating sign thing with all the security barricades. It makes it look like the Sweeney was set in simpler times.

After checking in, we made our way to the headquarters of Clarion where an old flatmate was working keeping Noddy in check. For those of you who didn't know, Noddy is back. Again. Noddy first disappeared in the 1980s. Nobody quite knows where but when he came back Mr Golly and all the other Gollies had disappeared. Nobody talks about this sinister aspect of Noddy's history. In fact it seems to be heralded as a good thing.

Number 10 doorI finally got to see The London Paper which has come and gone during my time away from London. It was a free competitor to Metro and The Evening Standard but somehow far more downmarket than either. Yes, than either. It's gone now, and from what I saw, won't be missed.

As we came back to the hotel, the girl behind the desk bid us goodnight.

I turned quickly to Catherine, "Do you think she means..."

"No," she said.