Your winter garment of repentence fling;
For the bird of time has but a ways
To flutter and the bird of time is on the wing."
- Omar Khayyam
So perhaps good humour, good fortune, and general freedom from care have begun to wear you down, get a bit oppressive. If so, I'm pleased to be able to offer the following prescription for immediate and radical mood delevation: try dealing with BT (British Telecom) and the NHS (National Health Service) on the same day. You'll be scrabbling for pills and razor blades before you can say "Please hold".
On my first call to BT, I made the dire tactical error of ringing their 0800 number from my mobile (which meant it wasn't free for me). About 30 minutes of incompetent dithering later, we had burnt through all the pre-paid talk-time on my mobile, and thus were cut off transaction starkly incomplete. Naturally, they didn't call back. That night, I was having Thai with friends in Putney (albeit some of them are friends (friends of friends, really) I've only ever seen for Thai food in Putney), and related my recent tale of woe. "Ah, yes," they all agreed instantly. "First, the ole burn through all your talk-time routine." Evidently, they had all been through this. "Then the next thing," chimed in Ryan, animatedly, "is where you read them your street address and they tell you they've never heard of it." "Yes! Yes! Exactly!" I ejaculated. I was beginning to pick up on the fact that dealing with BT is simply one of the trials you must negotiate in order to prove yourself tough enough to live in Britain.
The weather is of course another of those trials. The last week or so of "spring" has been grey, rainy, and freezing. Except when it hasn't. I now understand that April gives you all four seasons on each of most days. Incidentally, I understand new things all the time, because whatever season it is, whatever month it is, it's my first one of those. Anyway.
And of course not to mention the NHS, as regards trials, which was later in the same day. Actually, I found them surprisingly efficient; but this was almost certainly due to the fact I was heartily assured by the Putney crew that I was merely registering with the NHS, and with this particular clinic, and didn't actually need any health care of any sort at that time. I've been given to understand that the minute I'm bleeding or in pain, things will change radically for the worse. I'm already worried: my initial impression of the general vibe was that it is about like the DMV except with your health, and possibly life, on the line. Which is, I admit, almost certainly an unavoidable outcome when the government takes over health care. But, I certainly can't complain about the quality of what I'm getting for free. Moreover, a society where everyone can get medical care is, frankly, a lot more civilized than one where everyone can't. And especially where I'm concerned, of course: it allows me to avoid having a proper job, while not fearing quite so much for my life.
Let's talk about my second call to BT. No, in fact, let's don't do, except to note that it was probably the most horrific and insulting customer service experience of my entire life. Granted, I'm American, and probably suffer from certain inflated expectations of customer service quality. But is it expected that my expectations will sag to encompass being bullied, demeaned, and lied to all in one Kafka-esque phone call? I know I should be (a lot) more resilient; but I'm definitely having one of those "what the hell am I doing here?" days. Of course, I'm prone to having those wherever I am. (Because the question is really a proxy for, "What the hell am I doing on this damp, spinning stone, whirling through an empty cosmos?", as it is for everyone.) And anyway, as noted above, I'm trying to bear in mind that this demeaning ritual is one of the local customs. They'll probably ask me that when I try to renew my visa: "And did you successfully obtain BT phone service? Any NHS visits? Yes? Ah, well, I note you're still alive, and I'll just be pleased to mark that for the notice of the committee . . ."
And, possibly needless to point out, I still don't have phone service (never mind broadband).
But, on a lighter note, here are some pictures from fun things I've done this year, but haven't previously gotten around to posting. Call it spring cleaning:
Ali had an audition for a radio play with BBC Radio 4 (she got the part) in London on a Friday, so we made a half-weekend of it. I was intent on providing the most action-packed 30 hours anyone's ever had in London, and that included in addition to seeing Anything Goes, the Cole Porter revival, in the West End, and the stunning El Greco exhibition at the National Gallery a ride (or, "flight", as they say) on the London Eye.
- Loading up the pods, Starship Trooper-like
- Peering back through the super-structure
- Getting a bit of altitude: Silver Jubilee and Waterloo Bridges
- Charing Cross Station, and a certain fond fake fur collar
- No windows to toss pennies out of
- No freakin' kidding! Jeesh!!
- Face it, we've all wanted to see the Houses of Parliament from the air
- Awww happy fliers
Two New Highly Amusing Underground Public Service Posters
- Mimes are always funny. (Funnier, here, if you've ever ridden the Tube.)
- If you're reading this, you're probably American, and thus probably don't know what a scrum is. But this is probably pretty funny all the same.
That Fowl St. James's Park
I had some business just off of Piccadilly recently. When I was done, I didn't have any obligations, and it was fairly nice out and, hey!, there I was in the very center of London. I decided to stroll in St. James's Park. This is something I did on my first visit to London.
Since I've lived in London, I've gotten the hugest kick out of revisiting spots I visited on earlier visits. It's wonderful and odd on a couple of levels. First off, these places have taken on the status of personal myth little virtual memory spaces in my head, soft-focused by an affectionate fog of recollection. And so to just walk right into them, and to find that they are real, and still there! It's really precisely like stepping into a memory. Secondly, is just to think, pretty much every time: Hey, I live here now. This previous tourist spot is now part of my home. I can come here anytime I like. In fact, sometimes I simply walk by it on the way to other things.
Anyway, St. James's Park was one of the very last places I'd visited before, but not since, settling here. And I'd forgotten they have some really world-class water fowl. I spent a pleasant afternoon shooting at them.
- Black swan and chick
- Happy mother black swan portrait
- Happy fuzzy chicks
- Look at the paddlers on this one!
- Perfect kit, actually, for a position in the Ministry of Silly Walks
Penny Steamer to Greenwich
Also on my first visit to London, I took along a possibly first-edition-ish hardcover of W. Somerset Maugham's Of Human Bondage; and noted in my dispatch at the time that I would verily enjoy, with Maugham's autobiographical protagonist, taking a penny steamer to Greenwich. Well, I finally did so and it didn't even cost me a penny. Ryan organised an outing for his birthday, much to my excitement. (He and Yu-Kyoung also sprang for ferry tickets.) So, on a recent Saturday afternoon, I found myself steaming up the Thames. Yay.
- Pulling out from Westminster pier. Perhaps needless to point out, the group went straight from the gangway to the bar; and within minutes were ensconced on the upper deck, liquid refreshment in hand.
- Paul kindly offered umprompted! to take a vanity photo of yours truly. As you can see, the Intrepid Explorer hat made a rare British appearance, in honour of us being lengthily exposed on the upper deck.
- We passed by the London Eye, allowing me just one more bloody shot of the thing, albeit a fairly artful one, and from the water.
- Utilising my mighty zoom power, I shot Soyeon, Yu-Kyoung, Ryan, Henry, and Tim from across the boat, both before and after getting their attention.
- Okay, so it's a completely gorgeous day, and there we are with good friends and all of glorious London streaming past us, so what do we do? Naturally, stick our noses in our phones and text our absent mates all about it. Londoners are both true to form and unapologetic about it.
- Oh yeah just one more bloody shot of the Tate Modern and the Millennium Bridge (but, again, from the water).
- A mighty zoom of the top span of Tower Bridge.
- And the Tower of London itself.
- And zooming beneath Tower Bridge ("that Victorian folly").
- Soyeon, Yu-Kyoung, and a guy whose name I should really remember as I've met him twice now, zooming away from Tower Bridge.
- We climbed up the hill in the center of Greenwich Park, to the Royal Observatory, with the Millennium Dome sitting empty and costing money in the background.
- The Prime Meridian! There it is! And, go ahead, ask me what time it is. Go ahead.
- Obligatory group shot.
- Optional solo shot, after we descended back to Thames-side, naturally to a pub.
- Obligatory art shots: The light fading on the river and the Dome . . .
- . . . and that ole singular London sky.
St. George's Day
So, St. George is the patron saint of England. That red cross you see on a white flag sometimes (usually at England sporting events)? That's his. His main claim to fame, as you also probably don't know as you're probably still American, is that he slew a dragon. Anyway, it's been lamented that St. Patrick's day is more widely celebrated in England that St. George's; but he is not without his partisans. I know this, as I found myself in downtown Birmingham on St. George's Day this year, where they were having a lovely, lively, and spirited celebration in his honour.
- This pretty much sums it up.
- Never let it be said they don't have any nice architecture in Birmingham.
- Draped in the flag. (Note the little girl with St. George's cross painted on her face, and the candied apple.)
Special Day-After-May-Day Addendum (Speakers Corner)
The weather finally turned, a glorious, sunny, cool spring day, so I set out a-jog to circumnavigate Hyde Park. The weather alone did wonders for my BT mood disorder. But what really put a smile on my face was when I got to Speakers Corner. On previous swings by there, I had been depressed to find nary a speaker, on any occasion. But I must have been going at the wrong times. Today, the place was packed, carnival-like, great throngs of gawkers forming shifting circles around people on step ladders, crates, and with banners and posters to declare and support their various wacky positions.
We had zealots from all the major religions: the Jew with the huge Israeli flag and shofar, singing in Hebrew; the American Christian in the cowboy hat (he was popular); the Muslim in traditional garb, insisting that there really were some perfectly decent Jews (namely Jesus, Abraham, and a few other prophets). We also had some great secular nuts, like the Irishman angrily calling for an end to the wage system. Certainly best of all was the Olive Oil Guy, standing on a ladder labelled "Olive Oil Central", waving a bottle of the extra virgin stuff (from which he was occasionally swigging), declaiming against the evils of processed foods and soft drinks, and assuring all comers that olive oil was a panacea for the digestion, the skin, the teeth . . . he paused in this compelling line of argument to also note that olive oil was a symbol for proud anti-Americanism, resistance to the empire that wants to crush all other cultures and religions. (I wanted to shout out that I was American AND an olive oil lover; but, you know, I'm a guest here and didn't want to make a scene. Hmm, if I didn't want to make a scene, maybe that's actually a sign of my increasing Britishness . . .)