You have many years to live - do things you will be proud to remember when you are old.
- John Brunner, Stand On Zanzibar
Next day I went with my daughter into the City, where she works. The City is what you might call downtown London: the oldest part of town, I suppose, and the center of finance and business - you could say the City is to London as lower Manhattan is to New York. It was a pleasant sunny day.
Something that may as well be said now: I didn't bring a wide-angle lens, and this greatly restricted my photographic efforts, and often made it impossible to get all of a given structure into the picture. I knew if I didn't take a wide-angle I'd wish for one; but a wide-angle creates its own problems of distortion, especially with verticals - and anyway, when you carry more than one lens you wind up spending far too much time and effort fiddling with lens changes.
Blackfriar's Pub, there in the foreground, is said by many to be the best pub in London. I wouldn't know; when I went by there it was still closed.
I walked across some bridge or other, cruised aimlessly around on the south side of the river for an hour or so, and walked back on a different bridge. Don't ask me the names; I never did get the bridges straight. Great view from the bridges anyway, some neato old buildings along the riverfront:
(This is something that really gets to you, walking around London: you start to realize just how bad the bombing was. I mean, the God-damned Nazis blew the City to shit. Just about every old church or other historical building has a sign giving the background and the dates, and ending in, "Heavily damaged by enemy action in 1940." After a while the effect of those signs starts to add up. It's one of those things you know about from books and movies but you don't really appreciate it until you're on the spot.)
My daughter had explained how to get back to their place via the Underground or the bus, but I decided to walk it, even though the map showed the distance as several miles.
Glad I did, even though I paid for the walk with more aches and pains; on the way I stumbled across several interesting items I'd never have seen otherwise:
Next day it was raining again. That was OK; it was also my birthday and I intended to take it easy.
By now I had discovered one of the great human institutions: the British pub. Specifically the Star Tavern, a small and utterly wonderful establishment just down the street from the kids' place; run by a friendly, chatty Irish couple, the Star has the distinction of being the place where the Great Train Robbery was planned.
I loved the place the instant I stepped inside. Warm, relaxed atmosphere, comfortable living-room-type furniture (what a marvelous idea - where is it written that barroom furniture has to be uncomfortable? yet in this country it almost always is) and a real fire burning in a real fireplace...and nice warm friendly people, nobody getting loud or doing attitudes; all in all the finest drinking spot I've ever visited, and if I lived in London I'd probably spend far too much time there and never get anything done.
So that was where I spent most of my birthday, sitting at the bar talking with various people on various subjects, putting away a fair bit of lager (it's true they drink their beer warm, but any decent pub will have something cold on tap as well, Heineken or even Foster's) and carefully avoiding thinking about the implications of turning 58. Late in the afternoon a trio of Scottish construction workers came in; one of them, it developed, was having his birthday too, and they were doing a pub-crawl to celebrate.
Finally I left the pub and started back down the street, and ran into my daughter, who was just getting in. She wanted to know where I'd been. "Went down to the pub," I said, "had a few pints with me mates, didn't I?"
That was where I had dinner, too: a pretty damn good steak with plenty of fries - excuse me, "chips." By now I was heavily into pub food. I'd heard all my life that British food was nearly inedible, but personally I loved it; bangers and mash, ahhhh.... High on the cholesterol, to be sure, and my heart kept telling me it wouldn't be responsible if I kept this up, but I figured I was walking it off. Which I must have been, because I didn't have a single fatal heart attack the whole trip.
Saturday was a bright sunny day; my daughter and I walked down to Westminster Abbey, which some Australian once described as "a bloody great barn of a place, full of dead Poms."
Which pretty much concluded the tour of mandatory sights. I should explain that I'm not much for interiors. I don't like museums at all - full of dead things and dead people, they give me the fantods - and much as I love art, I can't get into it in a gallery setting. As a tourist, I'm mainly an outside man.
I did, I confess, have hopes of making one major exception - I'd have liked to see the Imperial War Museum - but as things worked out there just wasn't time.
Visions of romantic cross-Channel voyages in the mist also receded; this wasn't a boat but a floating mall. Apparently there is a whole subculture in England that lives for the weekend ride to Calais and back, not from any interest in Continental culture but purely for the duty-free shopping. Lots of them, I was told, don't even get off the boat; they just ride back and forth, drinking duty-free beer and buying stuff. Takes all kinds.
Onward, then -
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