“England swings like a pendulum do. Bobbies on bicycles two by two…” – Roger Miller
“It’s a dangerous business, Frodo, going out your door. You step onto the road, and if you don’t keep your feet, there’s no knowing where you might be swept off to.” – J. R. R. Tolkien
“A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds…” – Ralph Waldo Emerson
Let’s face it. I’m a sucker for a big city. Perhaps I should hedge my bets on that statement though, since I’ve not been to them all. But cities such as New York, Paris, and now, London are all ticked off, and I am a happy boy to have had the pleasure to see them. Actually, even more to truly experience them. Not as a native though, I’m sure my exuberance would be tempered were I to have to commute by the Tube — or Metro, or Subway — to work every day. As a tourist, I try to avoid the Tube during rush hour. It’s a do unto others sort of thing.
London. Oh my, it’s all I can do to keep from using cliché British phrases whilst writing this (Oops). But back to London. A place I’ve known existed since I was a child. Being an avid reader — thanks mom and granny — I’ve had many an adventure in England, London, and a whole slew of other places. “The game is afoot”, Holmes said to a young Marvin, and in wide-eyed amazement I followed the great sleuth, even to his mysterious end. During this week, the legendary, and mysterious, city of London became much more real to me.
The places I’ve seen in my mind, or perhaps on the silver screen, came alive. Admiral Horatio Nelson in all his one-armed and one-eyed glory stood tall and proud in Trafalgar Square. Having read some of the Aubrey-Maturin series, by Patrick O’Brian, anything sea related from that period had such a romantic stir. You’ll know what I’m talking about if you’ve seen Master and Commander with Russell Crowe. Sir Francis Drake’s Golden Hinde was another relic, though a replica, of another famous ship sailing out of my imagination. As a fellow who has himself been deemed worthy of the Order of Magellan, these figures loom large to me. Sadly you’ll have noticed that I digress much too often. Sorry. (Not sorry.)
On pomp and circumstance. The changing of the guard. When I was serving in the Navy, at first I actually liked all the marching and standing tall and such. But, when you get down to doing the job — a job sometimes entailing being up for thirty-six hours — and then having to pomp and circumstance, I grew weary of it. Looking back now I respect those things. There’s a stirring of the soul with much of this ceremony. And I felt it when I saw a couple of changing of the guard ceremonies. Wonderful. As a quick aside, much of this I saw whilst taking a walking tour arranged through AirBnB. Caroline’s Walking Tour of Central London. Alex was our guide, and what a guide he was. A Shakespearean actor, Alex spoke with directness and projected such an air of confidence and authenticity. It was lovely. During the changing of the horse guards, Alex told us the story of Charles I, Oliver Cromwell, and subsequently Charles II and the forming of this changing of the guard ceremony. The pomp and circumstance was alive and well, and wonderful. And the experience of London continues.
As a quick aside, when I first met Alex, and the rest of the group, at Covent Garden, he started introducing us to a bit of English history. He showed us a picture of a rotund regal fellow, and asked, “do you know who this is?” I immediately sang a refrain from “Henry the VIII” by Herman’s Hermits. Everyone just looked at me, Alex saint, “uhhh, yes.”. Sigh. I’m old.
A “foolish consistency” may be a hobgoblin, but a routine is, to me, a calming ritual. I can’t speak for everyone — though I sometimes try to — but I seem to naturally seek and settle into routines. Especially morning routines. Keeps me from having to think too much… perhaps this is the hobgoblin of simple minds Emerson was speaking of, but it sure helps me ease into the day. My London trip routine was based on morning visits to Pret-A-Manger. A chain, yes. But the food offerings had a decidedly British bent. And in a recently watched Jame Acaster special on Netflix, which included a Pret-A-Manger theme, I felt no qualms heading here for my morning repast. And here serendipity struck again. The crew each morning were wonderful, helpful for the silly American (who just couldn’t quickly count the coins) they were patient, friendly, and so very helpful. On my last full day in London, after I mentioned I was flying back the next day, two of the baristas gave me my routine coffee free of charge. (Even after explaining on the offer of the second free coffee that I’d already had a free one, I got, “well, not from me.”) It’s simple acts like this that restore my respect for humanity.
And speaking of humanity, even in the mass of humanity that is central London, sometimes individuals stand out. Take Yeu-ing for example. On my first full day in London, as I headed out for a recon mission in fixing my new surroundings into my hippocampus, I met a lovely woman walking her dog. Wolfgang. Well, Wolfgang is the dog, Yeu-ing is the woman. And a friendly woman she was. She talked with me, and walked with me. Showing me the way to Waterloo station, and all the cool things thereabouts. The Hole in the Wall pub (which I tried to go back to once, but it was packed), among so much more.
When I mentioned to Yeu-ing that I wanted to try so much of the delicious British foods, like the must-have fish & chips, she recommended the Fishcoteque, a great and traditional fish place. Which I visited for lunch that day. And delicious it was.
Having a guide, especially an impromptu freelance one, was wonderful. Walking with Yeu-ing I learned much about London proper. That is to say modern London with all its glorious and grimy bits. Along the way we sam a great many cool things. Take the Leake Street Arches for instance. Graffiti is illegal in London, Yeu-ing saying that it is taken quite seriously. But there is one place (at least) where graffiti is allowed. And this opportunity is certainly taken advantage of by the local creatives.
I met with Yeu-ing one more time, at the Kings Arms pub, where she gave me a book of poetry and works, and we chatted about England. An enlightening discussion where I learned so much of the ups and downs of London life.
To recap, my London trip was totally satisfying. The Anglophile in me was more than content. And, as with every cool place I visit, my mind immediately went to, “now how can I manage to move here?!” Sigh. I always do this. After the discussion with Yeu-ing (remember the ups and downs) I harkened back to a quote from the mini-series Lonesome Dove. When Diane Lane’s character is waxing poetic about how great life is going to be when she gets to San Francisco, Robert Duval’s character responds, “Lorie darlin’, life in San Francisco, you see, is still just life. If you want any one thing too badly, it’s likely to turn out to be a disappointment.” There are too many things I want to see and experience in life. The wanderlust in me is strong, but oddly when wandering, the desire to set down roots, no matter how temporary, emerges. Who knows. Maybe one day those roots will actually take hold. But no matter, I will try to focus on the remainder of Robert Duval’s character’s quote, “The only healthy way to live life is to learn to like all the little everyday things, like a sip of good whiskey in the evening, a soft bed, a glass of buttermilk, or a feisty gentleman like myself”.
Peace and love. (And a little wanderlust as well)