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Englandaganza, Stop 10: London
I didn’t do much more in my last two nights of London. Well, strike that: I got sloshed my last night in London. Where by “sloshed”, I mean “had a plastic cup of white, a pint of ale, and a bottle of perry, in the space of, oh, seven hours?” And caused much consternation at the table with my refusal to imbibe further. Or for that matter (as I realise in retrospect) to shout anyone else any booze.
I had tentatively raised the prospect of catching up with my friend and Yet Another Ex-Academic Mindy (and her entire family) once in London; but she was pretty tentative about it herself, and I was in advanced meltdown by the time I’d hit my hotel. Not least because I was reunited with my gargantuan and not especially mobile suitcase — last sighted on arriving in Albion: I was hard put to recognise it. So I conventiently forgot.
Instead, I was distracted by the bright shiny object of new headwords for my lemmatiser: I was finally sent the dictionary entries from epsilon to kappa for Kriaras’ Dictionary of Early Modern Greek. The dictionary knows that ζγουραφιά is a modern (Cretan) variant of ζωγραφία; but that still means a lot of manual entry into the data files and tidying up spelling; so that was my five hours spoken for. I sadly enough find that kind of thing relaxing.
Woke up at 6 am *again*, and made a half hearted attempt to do some work for my day job. Oh crap, people from my day job are reading this. I mean, worked diligently and assiduously for a couple of hours. Erk. It’s end days for the project, and unfortunately I can’t get my mind around concerted project outputs; so I’m doing little patches of stuff and shipping them to the project manager to make sense of them. Sorry Dennis.
Feeling fearful and uncertain in a foreign city, where everyone asks questions with the completely wrong intonation, I popped out to the corner post office to mail home my Oxford purchases. 2 kg of dead tree, and every kg counts. I then hied myself (well, leisurely hied myself) to the London School of Economics, for my last work meeting of the trip. The turnstiles, I noted with disapproval, were still there.
Walking away with the gift of a VIF project pen and thumbdrive (viral marketting — very smooth, very smooth), I made an equally leisurely beeline
for University College,
where Bruce Fraser of Cambridge (“… You’re Nick Nicholas! Do come in!”) was giving a talk, which my old colleague Gabby was hosting. I was early enough to ambush Bruce before the talk (an hour early in fact), and talk about how we might help each other out in our respective projects. Gabby and crew were British enough to wait outside until we’d paused for breath, which was a good half hour. Ah, the benefits of a well-ordered society. I was non-British enough to send off to look for a spare powerboard for the microphones to record the talk. Slight problem in sending me off: “powerboard” is not the British English term, so noone had any clue what I was asking for. “Thingy with a lead and lots of plugs on it” was a much more efficient way of communicating my request.
The talk was a disconcerting experience for me: it was about electronic publishing in the humanities I got shoutouts from Bruce during the talk both for my old job (the lemmatiser work) and my new job (institutional repositories). I should have felt reintegrated as one person again, but I’m not used to wearing multiple hats at the same time.
The talk concluded, and some departmental bottles of vino poured down the sink (coz they won’t keep; thanks anyway, British taxpayer), I followed Gabby to the pub, where he met up with his pub crowd of incipient and ex-academics. Much like my pub crowd really. I could not leave the country without sampling The Blandest Thing On The Menu; following the Goodness Gracious Me sketch, I went for the scampi. Not unpleasant, scampi. Just like fish fingers, but all mooshy and tartare inside. The peas were horrid though. They tasted of styrofoam or shoe polish or something.
As always, it is weird catching up with someone who you haven’t seen for, in this case, seven years. Great to see that Gabby’s keeping well, and doing Great Things professionally; also comforting to slowly reconnect with glimpses of shared memory. But also unsettling how much memory is not shared. Especially as Gabby, like other friends, has held on to all the inane catchphrases that I used to bludgeon them with and have long since forgotten. I’m not going to disrupt this family-friendly blog with the catchphrases in question (many of which are related to the village in Surrey named in the previous blog entry).
Even more blasts from the past came up during the evening because Nathan, one of Gabby’s friends, was enough of a Trekkie to shout some Klingon phrases at me. Boy, am I rusty with my Klingon: I got jItob “I prove” and jInID “I try” confused. Which I think means I’m getting my Klingon wires crossed with my French wires.
I did have to excuse myself at 11 pm — before I could even delight in the earnest call of “Hurry up please it’s time” (and fancy myself in the background of The Waste Land): I was dozing off very quickly, having been waking up at god awful times for the past fortnight. Sorry about that, I’ll buy beer next time? Maybe?
This was the site of my infatuation with perry, btw. Yum. Just like drinking liquid caramel cheesecake. 4.5% alcohol, 96.5% sugar. Oh that adds up to 101%? I’m sure the fermenting is ongoing, so there’ll be some sugar/alcohol overlap. “A Warrior’s Drink”, if ever there was one. (Thank you Nathan 🙂
The following morning was a dash to pack (or stuff crap into suitcases, which to me is the same thing). What with all that perry, I really did need the 7 am wake up call. Because I did not feel like negotiating my Luggage of Immobility down the Tube, I decided to splurge out, and get a taxi to the airport. The cabbie was too cheerful to be addressing me as “sir”; then again, this is England.
Like every cabbie in this country, credit cards were foreign to him. Like every Oceanian coming from a post-cash economy back to the Late Neolithic, I had £35 cash on me, panicked when we hit £30 on the meter (we got to £50) — and completely forgot that I had another £20 scrunched up in my pocket. I guess the mad dash around the terminal for an ATM (or as they so quaintly term them here, “cash machine”) was some sort of surrogate for morning exercise.
I am breakfasting at Wagamama at Manchester or Something Airport (Heathrow Terminal 5). The egg, bacon, mushroom and cabbage yaki soba is more successful a dish than it should be: certainly more successful a venture into cultural fusion than the Del Taco Egg & Bacon quesadilla. My waitress is Polish (Sylwia — the “w” is the giveaway), as indeed have been many of the service staff I’ve been interacting with. That’s another change in Albion from seven years ago. Lots of East European signage in High Street.
Next stop, the former Lusatian outpost of Berlin, to catch up with Gert. No East European signage there since 1300, but I have no fear that Gert will show me a good time regardless.