Adventures in London, England, 2015-2017

Today is Wednesday, December 4th, 2019. I had been meaning to write more about my adventures but every time I thought of it, I was miserable. I didn’t want to leave the UK and Europe, because when I was there it felt like home.

As I was cleaning out my electronic files today, I discovered some writing that I’d like to share. I think I’m strong enough to bare my soul these days.

Here goes:

Sunday 13 November 2016

I went to Glasgow, Scotland on Eurostar for a trip to a Museum Association conference after I finished my studies. I was hoping to find a temporary (or full-time) job. I had been teaching children about natural history (among other roles) in the Horniman Museum in London for six months. The trip to Glasgow was absolutely delightful, with only a little discomfort at the end, which led to the pies de resistance: a hunky Scot.

 The conference itself was a disappointment, and not at all what I thought it would be. Nevertheless, I did learn a bit about the business end of museums and the challenges they face in the UK.

Glasgow itself was awfully fun, aside from how extremely cold it was! I was staying in a “guest house” (more like a hostel with no en suite) on a small hill, and after I stashed backpack in my room, I walked down to the main street. I wanted something to eat and I was looking for a pub or restaurant but I see any. Then I watched a guy go down a set of stairs and open a door. I saw chairs and tables, so I followed him. There were, perhaps, 10 bar stools in the room, and I suspected I wouldn’t get food there, but I ordered a beer anyway. The bar man was friendly and played some great music (it’s been a while so I don’t recall the songs). He also recommended a place where I could eat just a few doors down. I took his advice and had a decent meal. I was so knackered I went back to the guest house to sleep.

After I left the conference, I traveled around the city by train. I would have stayed on the train longer had the train not been more like an icebox. As I was waiting on the platform, I swear I saw U2’s the Edge. Same face, same hat. I smiled. He smiled back.

The last morning, I made the most of the super hearty breakfasts. I checked out of the guest house that day and shouldered my backpack for my journey to Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum. The exhibits were remarkable. Lots of Monet, almost no abstract, but also MANY works by Scottish artists I’d never heard of. Oh! An amazing Dali—Christ on the Cross—had been, at some juncture, torn nearly in half, but the museum put it back together so expertly, the damage was barely visible. I had studied Dali in Spanish class and was familiar with many of his works, but I had never heard of his Christ on the Cross.

Alphonse Mucha was the featured artist and I had to pay 5 pounds to get in, but the cashier at the exhibit and I had a nice chat and he refunded me 2 pounds. I must have looked at Mucha’s work for over two hours, there was so much to see. I took a few photos, but the rooms were dark, and most of the photos did not turn out well.

On my way out, I stopped at a pub called WEST (named after the street it was on) and had a glass of wine with a cheese sampler and fruit. I was exhausted from carrying my backpack, so I made my way to Glasgow Central a few hours before I could get on the train. I ate lunch. I wandered around the station. The station was so cold, I was shivering, so I popped into a pub for a coffee. International train stations—Glasgow, Amsterdam, St. Pancras (London)—have a wide variety of options for shopping and eating; however, they are not very affordable.

A strange, elderly man nearby watched me drink my beverage from beginning to end. I just ignored him, because his constant gaze was creepy. After he left, I went to the toilet and then found another seat farther away from the door because every time someone entered the pub, so did an extremely chilly draft.

I don’t know how many hours had passed, sitting, walking, and killing time before my train arrived. I easily found my seat, which was populated by a giant Scotsman and his belongings. Actually, it was just his belongings—he was sitting on the opposite side of the table from my seat. When I called his attention to his belongings in my seat, he said, “You can sit anywhere. The train won’t be full.” I begged to differ. He moved his things and I settled myself. Presuming I had irked him, I brought out my kindle and notebook for something to do. I had presumed wrong. We struck up a conversation that lasted well beyond the four-and-a-half-hour journey.

Some hours into the journey, I got his name: Ronnie Esplin. He’s a sportswriter for Scotland, and come to find out, the author of two books.

He broke out a bottle of wine, but changed his mind and went to concessions for two small bottles. He kindly shared them with me. An hour later, the small bottles were empty, and so he shared his large bottle with me. Not the wisest choice considering my condition, but I was enjoying it.

He was kind, but also in some way skeptical. When I spoke, his face would change and go totally blank, his eyes unfocused. It seemed as though some emotion or memory or feeling came up and crossed his face. It was a bit disconcerting, and each time his facial expression changed, my voice would trail off. Then he would look at me with a frowny sort of half-smile. Strange, but intriguing.

When we alighted from the train, he suggested we have one last glass of wine in the station. I’d really had enough, but I genuinely enjoyed his company, so I agreed. I probably wouldn’t have made the train from Blackfriars to Catford (where I was living), and I would have to find a bus or an Uber, anyway.

So…one more drink and then I went with him on the Tube (ugh) to Victoria, where his company had an apartment that he could use when he worked in London (covering a football match, England vs. Scotland).

We arrived there he invited me up. I told him that it probably wasn’t a good idea, and I was about to call an Uber when Lo! And Behold! The 185 bus came into view. I told him that the 185 would take me almost directly home, and I started to say goodbye when he asked for my phone number. I gave it to him, asked him to call it, which he did (and his number showed on my phone). I gave him a hug and started to leave when he asked if I was sure I didn’t want to come up to his apartment. I said I was sure, and boarded the bus as he stood awkwardly on the sidewalk–then he disappeared through a door.

I never heard from him again.

~~~~~

Wednesday 3 November 2016
David Bowie, Collector

I went to Sotheby’s (London) today to check out David Bowie’s art collection, some of which will be sold at auction. I was the first person there when the doors opened, which was a thrill in itself, and I was immediately entranced with absolutely everything I saw. I had purchased the 263-page catalog that showed all of the items which would be auctioned off and began the journey of seeing David Bowie’s art from his perspective. My friend Karen joined me later and to be honest, I enjoyed being there with her and without her. She had a very different view of art than I did. And most interesting was that most of my comments made it onto her Facebook page. Most of her comments at Sotheby’s at that moment were, for her, necessarily capitalistic, and judgmental. (No offense, I hope, Karen!)

I’m thrilled that I got a preview before anyone arrived. I noticed the dust on the furniture art and thought, “That’s David Bowie’s dust!” I marveled at scratches on tables and dings on shelving and all kinds of signs of his life. I also saw how it was all curated, each room in many ways. I disagreed with some of the choices, poorly lit, ensconced behind a door, and placed awkwardly, in other ways, but I loved it all.

After my first hour of wandering and looking, I needed to sit, and I wanted a coffee. I approached one of the ushers and asked if there was a café nearby. He gave me strange convoluted directions, and halfway through the exhibition, I stopped and asked another usher the same question. He gave me a wholly different and more straightforward answer, which necessitated my walking past the first usher, who looked at me quizzically. I told him I’d been given different directions. He negated them and insisted I let him walk me to it. And so I did. He was right—it was the easiest and most straightforward way in practice—but not in verbally delivered instructions.

I had a cappuccino and a can of water (odd) and a sweet time. The coffee shop is part of Sotheby’s and very swanky. In spite of my dowdy old sweater and ridiculous hat, flowered pants with legwarmers and track shoes—and a hoodie under the sweater, no makeup, everyone was very kind and friendly to me. In fact, on my way home from Sotheby’s a man—no, more than one man–stepped aside to that I could get on the train first.

One was a young man who had been waiting longer than me. He let me enter the bus before him, and when he saw the Bowie collection catalog I was holding, he exclaimed, “That’s beautiful!” with great emotion. I explained how Bowie’s collection was being auctioned at Sotheby’s until next Thursday when it will all be auctioned off. He was outrageously excited.

For whatever reason, he reminded me of a young man I once knew, Abubakr, young, exuberant, and passionate. I wonder if there are any men thirty years older, like them. I would love to meet a man like that, who loves art without being pretentious or seeing it as a commodity. Someone who makes art for the hell of it, out of love for the practice, not stardom or money.

~~~~~~

On 7 September 2015, I arrived in London, England to study Social Anthropology at Goldsmiths University of London. I took a taxi from Gatwick Airport to the New Cross Inn, where I would stay for 9 days before my accommodation was ready. It was just the beginning of my dream come true, and my life’s greatest adventures.

Dean House first look cropped

Power Tripping

As I came out of the red-painted steel door and walked up the stairs that led to the street above, I saw an Unknown Man standing outside the gate at the top of the stairs. He was looking at his cell phone with a worried expression.

“Hello,” I called out to him.

“Hello!” he said, with enthusiasm. He was clearly glad to see me.

“Do you live here?” I asked, knowing full well he didn’t. I suspected he didn’t know the code to open the gate.

“No,” he said. “I’m new security and I forgot the code.”

I decided to give him hell.

“I cannot let you enter without the code,” I told him. We stood face to face on opposite sides of the gate.

“I have the security phone,” he said, fumbling for a second cell phone, not the one I saw him use previously.

“Yes, but you don’t know the gate code,” I said. “That phone won’t grant you access.”

I laughed.

He laughed.

“That’s okay,” he said. “I’ll call and get the code from the office.”

I knew that he would get into trouble for forgetting the code so I asked, “Do you have a key card?” The key card allows access through the door.

He showed me his key card.

“If your key card works, I’ll tell you the gate code,” I said and opened the gate from the inside.

He dashed down the stairs and flashed his key card to the door. It opened. I gave him the code.

He went away happy.

I went away amused.

Posted 17 October 2017

***

No. 9

A Catford Tale

As I walked to the shop up the street, I passed a woman with her young son, and I couldn’t help but hear their conversation.

Mum: Did you play outside today?
Young boy: Yes.
Mum: In those shoes?!
Young boy: (pause) No.

In amused reverie, I continued onto the next street. At the pedestrian crossing, I dashed into the middle of the street (that’s just what you do in London when you want to cross the street in certain places and at certain hours) and waited for the traffic to clear. A handsome, well-dressed man in a fancy car stopped traffic to allow me to cross.

I smiled and waved to him and reached the other side. Continuing, I saw a card, the nine of clubs, on the pavement, and wondered if it had any significance. I took it home anyway.

Returning from the shop, I again dashed into the middle of the street and waited for traffic to subside. The same handsome, well-dressed man in the same fancy car stopped traffic for me again!

I guess I can still stop traffic much like in my youth.

Posted 18 October 2017