Monday, June 21, 2010

My Last Night In London

My last night in London began with a morning in Paris. It was such a sunny pleasant day. My face sported a subtle green hue as a result of my new found affinity for escargot, which in a moment of weakness, I ate for breakfast. It wasn’t entirely good you might say. On my way to the train, I found myself along the wall overlooking the Seine and I encountered a gentleman whom I will call, the Japanese Business Man. The Japanese Business Man made a pleasant greeting, and we spoke briefly. He asked me about my Country, and told me of his. He observed that I did not look well, and I agreed. He inquired if I had a BM that day. I explained that I suffered nausea and not cramps, and thanked him for asking. And then we parted, I for my train, and he for Orly. That I can recall this moment of discourse all these years later gives me a smile.

The train I boarded was destined for Boulogne a few hours away. A bottle of Avian water helped to ease my discomfort along the way. At Boulogne we boarded the hovercraft, and then bound away across the Channel. From Dover, yet another train delivered us to Victoria Station at about 4:00 local time. It addition to tea time, it was also rush hour, and the lateness of our arrival did not disclose the recent local rail strike. My fellow travelers chose a prompt return to the hotel because tomorrow, we fly. Teresa and I decided on a last moment shopping trip to Oxford Circus. Due to the strike, there were two tubes opened in the city that day. One pulled up a block from our hotel, and the other passed through Oxford Circus. Our companions boarded the first train, and we boarded the second and went about our ways.

I recalled passing a shop in this neighborhood two weeks before, where I spied a set of Wedgewood; creamer and sugar. I knew that my Mother would be pleased with such a gift, and I had previously resolved to return and make their purchase. Teresa joined me at the shop, and watched me select the set in Wedgewood green (and my mother so loves blue). Teresa made her last buys, and we beat a retreat toward the tube station. The tubes were now closed.

Back on the street, we discovered that, unlike us, every single Londoner was already aware of the strike, and were patiently waiting in queue for the bus. We found our place at the end of a very long line as clouds began to pass across the sky. I’ll be damned if it didn’t get downright chilly late that afternoon, the beginning of another perversely cold London summer night (it was the first night of summer you see). Teresa had worn shorts for the occasion, and she didn’t seem comfortable at all. I felt bad for her, but there was little I could do.

Two hours later, we were still standing in the same place, in the same line. We had hardly budged a few short feet. My patience for enduring this adventure was drawing to an end. I tried standing in a different queue designated for the taxi. A cab was more dear, but what the hell, this is my last night in London. What else am I going to do with a pocket full of British change two weeks hence? The invisible hand of the extravagant fare made this queue much shorter, and after another half an hour, we fetched a ride directly to our hotel. We arrived just in time to step out for dinner, but first I inspected my lodgings. The room was more of a closet, but at least I had it to myself. I took a switchblade from my pocket and left it with my baggage, because in this country, it was against the law.

During my earlier stay two weeks before, I had developed a preference for a pub very near our hotel. I believe it was Fenster’s, and it was next to the tubes, which by the way, were now closed for the night. I journeyed to the pub on foot. The French cuisine in the morning had been a cause for regret, so I was wary of testing the British cuisine that evening, such as it is. But I was optimistic for a couple of rounds of ale, enjoying the chatter (in English) and watching the news on the telee. A sudden hush fell across the crowd.

The evening would be a celebrated moment across the kingdom. The reporter on the screen stood at the entrance of the hospital, just a few blocks away to announce the arrival to Princess Diana a son, the Second Heir Apparent, Prince William. I raised a glass to the health and long life of the royal mother and son, in spite of my Yankee ways. Later I would grieve on the night she died, but for that night, I shared their country’s joy.

That day, June 20, 1982, was for me a remarkable adventure off in foreign lands. I hope that Teresa did not catch a cold that afternoon, but after these many years, this is one detail I cannot clearly recall.

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