A Hillbilly in London
Saturday, 28th May
Every day of my English holiday was fun and filled with new experiences. But I have to admit that the London mini-meet was
Teuchter packed us a picnic lunch and we set off for Fleet to catch the train into the city. Unfortunately, the tracks were closed between Fleet and London. British Rail's solution was to put everyone on a bus and drive us to Woking to the train depot there. No one except me seemed to think this was odd. Why didn't they just bus us to London?
We finally arrived at Waterloo Station and headed for the tube. I remember the Northern Line was closed, but don't remember which line we actually took to Covent Garden. Teuchter took all this in stride as did everyone else. It seems these little inconveniences are taken as a matter of course. Or else everyone is too polite to make a fuss. Probably a bit of both. I was still rather enjoying the whole public transport experience and was rather glad to have the little glitches happen. It made for more interesting stories once I got back home. But I was beginning to understand why everyone complains about the blasted
trains all the time.
We were met at Covent Garden by Titania, Solnushka and David B, a fellow librarian up from Canterbury. Amy joined us a few minutes later. I was absolutely delighted to finally be meeting Titania, who flew in from Stockholm for the Mini-Meet. She was one of my first friends on h2g2. The first day I joined, both Titania and friendlywithteeth, (who is now thelostgeographer) dropped by to say hello. After all this time
I can't remember who was actually first, so I always say I have two first friends. Later, in Leeds, I met up with thelostgeographer.
Covent Garden was Titania's idea and it turned out to be a great one. What a fun place. We found a shady table and ordered coffee, which turned out to be very good, and watched jugglers and other entertainers in the open piazza. I especially remember one string trio that was very good. Covent Garden is the only area in London licensed for street entertainers. It attracts 30 million tourists each year. Fortunately, they weren't all there when we were. We didn't see the Royal Opera House, so that will have to be a destination on a future visit. But we strolled through the Apple Market and several of the boutiques.
It was nearing noon so we headed for Hyde Park. I was told that London Meet goers often gather at the bandstand in the park. Being a traditionalist I decided we should do the same. We took a bus to a stop near the park then walked to the park entrance and down to the bandstand. Once there we were joined by Reefgirl, up from the coast, Bald Bloke, Agapanthus and Scrumpf. Nothing terribly exciting happened, but it was extremely enjoyable. It was a perfect afternoon. The weather was magnificent for our picnic. We found a shady, grassy spot on the
banks of the Serpentine and tucked into our brown bags. I was delighted to see people out exercising their horses. And there was even a procession of the Queen's Guards rehearsing for some upcoming event. It would have been a real disappointment to be in Hyde Park and not see any horses. But of course the best part of the day was just hanging out with my friends.
There is one small detail about Hyde Park I want to mention. The
ladies room I went into there had coloured toilet paper. I hadn't seen any for years. It used to be very common in the US, but the manufacturers discontinued it because of lawsuits that the dyes were causing bum rashes. For some reason I was delighted to see pink potty paper. A glimpse back to a gentler era. At least for those of us not allergic to dyes.
After our picnic, we walked through the park to the Albert Memorial, which is very impressive if a bit Star Warish. There is an old family tale about us being descended from Victoria and Albert on the wrong side of the blanket. I don't actually believe it, but considering how many illegitimate children the princes are said to have fathered, I suppose it is just barely within the realm of possibility. I did not, however, address the statue as Grandfather.
I did have an address in London of the house where my great grandfather was born and thought it would be a hoot to look it up. Alas, it is no longer there. It was a victim of the blitz and a soccer field is now in that block. So I didn't go visit the neighbourhood, but it seems to be in a respectable part of the city, which was a relief. I rather expected to find a workhouse or something dreary.
Right. We went from the Albert Memorial past the Royal Albert Hall, some day I must go inside, past the Natural History Museum, ditto, and to the Science Museum. It was the opening day of the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy Exhibit. Could there be a more perfect event for a meet? I will always be grateful to Bald Bloke for suggesting it. We said good bye to David, Solnushka and Agapanthus and Scrumpf who all had other places to go. I have found that Londoners are extremely busy people.
The plan was to see the exhibit and then go upstairs to the IMAX and watch the movie together. Since the exhibit consisted mainly of sets from the movie, it would have made more sense to people who had already seen the movie. I had deliberately not gone to see it yet and it wasn't playing yet in Stockholm, so Titania and I, at least, hadn't already seen it. But since I knew the story so well, I enjoyed the Exhibit and could figure out what everything was. Then I hit the gift shop and bought myself a 'Don't Panic' tee shirt and a 'Resistance is Useless' tee shirt for Bearded Cousin Number One who was back home babysitting my animals. Also a dozen 'Don't Panic' lapel buttons.
Bald Bloke had a barbecue to attend, so he said goodbye after the Exhibit and before the movie. Titania and Reefgirl both had the foresight to bring their towels to the movie. I was completely chagrined that I hadn't thought of it and bowed to their groupie superiority. It was wonderful even without my towel. There I was, a Hillbilly in London watching 'The Movie' with fellow Douglas Adams fans. It was one of those perfect experiences.
After the movie we went to a pub where we were rejoined by Agapanthus and scrumpf for dinner and some liquid refreshment. I had roast duck, which was really quite good. I was beginning to appreciate pub food. It is quite a bit better than the fare available in local bars at home. To my delight we were also joined by coelacanth, another great fan of London, who has a wealth of knowledge about the city. Coely suggested we take a bus part of the way back to the train station and she pointed out
the sights along the way.
Amy and Titania left us outside the pub and made a mad dash across London to Titania's hotel to retrieve a bag of citron pepper for Ben. I don't like telling tales out of school, but Ben is a citron pepper junkie. And she seriously craves one specific brand unavailable in Blighty. Titania, angel that she is, brought her several bottles from Sweden. I still am not sure whether Ben's stash is legal or illegal. For the purpose of this article, I am assuming it is legal and the trip through customs was boring rather than exciting. I do know it required
five people to get it to her. At Avebury, Ben gave me a wad of kronor which I gave to Titania. Then Amy went to Titania's hotel and took possession of the contraband... erm... merchandise. Amy took the citron pepper to Oxford by rail and gave it to Z who put it in A's car. A then drove it to Cheltenham to Ben's flat. It was a true international adventure!
Since it was getting late, Teuchter went ahead to pick up Amy's bag from left luggage. Coely, Reefgirl and I had a more leisurely stroll from the bus stop back to the station. One memory I will always cherish is standing on Westminster Bridge, chatting with my friends and watching the reflection of the moon in the Thames. Priceless.
Amy caught up with us at Waterloo station just in time to make the last train back to Fleet and on to Yately. I think Reefgirl made her train by the skin of her teeth also. But, all's well that ends well. It had been a wonderful day.