London And The Big Six-Oh

We arrived in London on April 22, after a no more than usually hellish flight, and at first it seemed we'd come at a good time. The weather in London was in fact on the warm side for the first few days and our main worry was that we might have overpacked; the clothes we'd brought were a bit on the heavy side. The sun was out and in the parks the birds and flowers were in full spring riot.

Housing as usual was at a premium and some were resorting to extreme measures.

It was good to be back in London, seeing the familiar sights. Such as my favorite statue, just around the corner from our hotel in Belgravia: that of the Unknown Shoppers. (In London everybody has a monument.)

Good to see, too, that one of Britain's most famous outlaw heroes was still at large. (Those familiar with Alan Sillitoe's work will get it.)

Familiar cultural artifacts of another sort: despite perennnial threats of draconian enforcement, the professional ladies of London were still sticking their little advertisements up in the phone booths.

But then why pick on the poor working girls, when one is confronted in public places with such SHAMELESS SMUT as the above?

In any case we didn't do a lot of going out and walking around, since we'd both pretty much seen the sights of London on earlier occasions. We had other priorities:

Everyone will now say, "Awwww."

Granddaughter had turned into quite the little character, very active and developing something of an attitude. We hadn't really had much chance to get to know each other, last time, because I'd been so sick; so we spent some time getting better acquainted.

She and Grandma already had a well-established relationship. Here she explains to Grandma about the cost of living in the UK under Tony Blair's administration.

Anyway April 28, my birthday, came on a Sunday, so we celebrated it a day early - I told my Irish friend T.J., the proprietor of my favorite pub, that I was having a wake for my life. We went out to dinner at an upscale Chinese place and then the children took me to a very odd little place, a combination liquor store and bar, which specializes in fine single-malt Scotches. My daughter wanted to have something appropriate for my birthday but they had nothing 60 years old (and, as the barmaid made clear, if they had even my offspring couldn't have afforded it) so instead we went for a double of 30 year old Glenfarclas.

Which was as fine as it sounds and then some; but then after the first sip the barmaid, having tumbled to the nature of the occasion, showed up at our table with a glass of clear liquid which she explained was not-yet-casked Glenfarclas single malt. It's not allowed to be sold in that raw condition (reasonably enough; it would constitute a Weapon of Mass Destruction) but the distillery sends them little samples and they are allowed to give, just not sell, a drop or two to special friends. Which we had apparently just become.

I'm telling you, it was an incredible experience. This stuff was basically white lightning, but the finest white lightning you ever tasted. You just can't imagine what it was like unless you've had it; it seems impossible that anything could be that raw and powerful and at the same time so smooth. It was like being kicked in the face with heavy boots and enjoying it. A truly sadomasochistic drinking experience.

And we were chasing it with 30 year old Glenfarclas. That's we as in my daughter and me; everyone else was abstaining, and watching us.

Later on I snogged the barmaid a bit and we went to the pub for a bit more carousing and then back to the hotel; and the next day we had a somewhat more traditional celebration with a cake that couldn't be beaten, and so all in all I did manage to enter my Golden Years in some style.

Toward the end of the week it had gotten chilly and rainy, even by London standards. But on Sunday afternoon the rain lifted and we took that for a good sign.

And Monday morning, as we walked across the bridge to Waterloo Station to catch the train for Brussels, it looked as if things were well and truly clearing up. "Looks like good weather from here on out," I told Phyllis. "Come on. You're going to love Brussels."

Well, half right isn't bad....

NEXT: BRUSSELS

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