London: Day Four (Coffee And Mummies)

I woke up before my wake-up call and foolishly figured it was a good sign for my trip across the channel to Paris. My foot still significantly hobbled me but I wasn’t going to let that keep me down, no sir, and after showering, loading up on instant coffee and picking out a suitable outfit for the day’s adventure I headed down to the lobby. I was just about to step foot onto the sidewalk when an impulsively wise desire to know just what sort of weather conditions I was headed into overtook me.

I returned to the lobby and asked the concierge if he could check the weather in Paris for me and after a few clicks on the mouse he lifted his head in my direction and provided me with a sympathetic shrug. “I’m sorry, sir. It looks like rain showers today.” He turned the computer screen towards me so I could see and, sure enough, there was nothing but clouds with dashes falling from them gracing the next three days on the calendar. Drat. “No, worries,” I told him and promptly returned to my room to unpack my day bag and figure out what I was going to do in London at 6:30 in the morning.

I guzzled more coffee, wrote a little, and waited impatiently for the continental breakfast to open downstairs. When you’re traveling you have to be prepared to have your plans ruin and come up with new ones, as oxymoronic as that sounds, and so I devised the idea to take my laptop to Camden Town and scout out some coffee shop in which to engage in my task – mainly, guzzling coffee and writing the post two below this one.

Thus London: Day Two (The Evolution Of Pigeons) was put to type in Costa Coffee, outside the Mornington Crescent Tube station – if you’re a stickler for those kind of details.

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I found the very busy coffee shop after hauling around the area outside Camden Town Tube station and failing to find a caffeine dealer in the area. (I assure you that it wasn’t that I wasn’t able to find one but that one didn’t exist, for as much as my feet were killing me, believe me, I was hunting desperately. It may be the first time in my life I ever thought ‘gosh darn it! Just where is the Starbucks?’ And from here on out I’ll save you my whining and I won’t mention my pedi-troubles and belabor the point any further, just assume they were ever-present) The fruitless searching didn’t come without its endearing discovery, namely a building where the poet Dylan Thomas had once lived.

London is filled with these helpful historical markers. Two days before I had passed a place where Simon Bolivar had once combed his hair and took a piss. I wish L.A did this kind of thing but it would be full of annoying little tributes like ‘On This Street Hugh Grant Attempted To Pay A Hooker To Serve His Tea And Crumpets’ or ‘In This Apartment, ArtofStarving Flatulated And Burned Many A Piece Of Chicken’.

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Well, maybe one day I’ll be worthy of just such a sign, one can dream. That’s what I do all the time, dream, and that’s what I was doing as I typed away on my MacBook and watched the commuters queue up for coffee and disperse down into the tube in quiet and orderly droves.

I idly spent the good part of the morning in this endeavor with a café latte so big it had two handles out of necessity. I couldn’t help noticing that there were an awful lot of girls in Camden Town and they seemed to have a penchant for traveling in packs of at least four to eight, with stockings and curls and book bags swinging from their shoulders. Each and every one of them I fell in love with, ever so briefly.

Besides the birds I watched a statue across the road – but it was far less mobile and entertaining – and it dawned on me that, although meant as a sign of respect, having your likeness bronzed and stuck in a square so drunks can piss on it and pigeons can shit on it is a rather ignominious honor.

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There was only so much action one can gleam from staring at a statue before one becomes bored to pieces, and the jumbo-sized latte, along with earlier coffees at the hotel, had my heart beating like John Bonhom after an all-night coke-fest. I thought if I didn’t hit the streets I’d surely have a panic attack right then and there and would need to be hauled away to the funny farm – which is never funny – and so I put away my laptop and rode the Underground over to the British Museum.

If I thought that I was going to lose my mind at the coffee shop I definitely picked the wrong place to find respite. The British Museum is both fascinating and terribly, terribly depressing… and maddening. It’s nothing but war, graves, hoards, slaves, greed, death, pillaging, and destruction on a global scale. It’s as if the British took all of the world’s troubles throughout time and put them on display so that sensitive souls like mine could get a firsthand look at just how awful the history of mankind has been.

It started off pleasantly enough with a statue of the Buddha but then I turned a corner into the Egyptian wing and was confronted by mummy after mummy and large groups of tourists staring dumbly into their glass encasement. They definitely were a draw and I couldn’t help but notice how little people cared for the informational placards but just wanted to gawk at the bones. I can’t deny that there is a little thrill in seeing the remains of a peasant whose death preceded well before the birth of Jesus Christ, but just a little, and so I moved on to other wings in search of something a little more calming. I wasn’t in luck.

Most people can probably walk through the British Museum without a touch of melancholy. I am not one of those people. My mind is not built for such displayed brutality. Mankind’s history is an experiment in oppression and murder and theft, and I was feeling the horror deep in my soul. It didn’t help my unsettled mood that most of the items were acquired through brutal colonial oppression. Unsurprisingly there’s not an informational placard reminding us of this trivial fact. There’s even a little note in the Parthenon exhibit that credits Lord Whateverhisname for saving the looted pieces from decay and disrepair with a little explanation saying that the removal of the priceless artifacts was agreed to and signed on by the some person in charge of Greece at the time. Yeah, whatever!

The only room that contained a little optimism for me was the hall of clocks. It’s one of those things that you never really think about and probably take for granted: what did we do before time could accurately be tracked? How did two people arrange a time to meet for lunch? Once we could precisely follow the minutes and hours throughout the day a tremendous amount of invention, discovery and assembly followed. That’s what it said on the wall at least but I didn’t continue reading because frankly a room full of clocks was a little boring and I wanted to get back to the pillaged treasures of which the British have an amazing surfeit of. It was driving me bonkers, yet, like I said, it was also fascinating.

Oh but the crowds! Wherever you went there was a group of people in your way staring at the thing you wanted a closer peek at, jockeying for position in a polite but annoying manner. And there were hoards of schoolchildren yapping away in French, a beautiful language mind you, but whenever I don’t understand what people are saying I always imagine the worst thoughts and words are coming out of their mouths. Call me a pessimist. And what’s the big idea of these kids getting to go to London, to such a magnificent museum like this, when my big field trip at that age was a flight to Sacramento and two hours in a pathetic train museum!?

It hurt my brain – the displays, the size of the building, the clatter of French, marble, mummies – all of it. To think, I was supposed to be in Paris today! If I was to ever have a mental breakdown, this would be the time, this would be the place; but someone once told me that, clinically speaking, there is no such thing as a mental breakdown, according to psychologists it does not exist , so I figured I’d save it for a later date.

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I eventually ended up in the Asian wing and was calmed by the impressive assortment of Buddhist statues. That is until I sat before a life-sized one and could feel its stare boring a hole through my forehead, reading my thoughts and my sins and calling me out for being a lousy human being and an even worst Buddhist — my longings, my failures, my pettiness, my fears, my dreams — he could see all of me. I started to sweat under the statue’s watchful glare. My head hurt. My body ached. I knew I was in desperate need of a drink. All this history really pushes the limits of one’s tolerance for sobriety.

I was about to plunge back into modern times when I noticed one last room, this one dedicated to Islam and practically empty. Now why would that be? I hurried through the displays of vases and tapestries and whatever else there was. (By this point I was in a hazy daze) After patting myself on the back for being open-minded enough to speed through the Islamic section of the museum, I pushed through the heavy doors and escaped back into cloudy, dismal London, 2009.

Lucky for me there was a bar nearby to take refuge in, a cozy little joint called The College Arms. I wanted to try a new beer and so I sat on a stool in the corner and collected myself over a warm pint of Fullers London’s Pride. I went back up to the bar where the bartender inquired, “Another Fullers?” I shook my head, shouted stiffly, “How about something less disgusting this time? London really should be ashamed!”

Of course I didn’t do this, it was just make-believe, I simply changed my drink to a Stella and returned to my private note-taking/brooding.

It was easy and relaxing spending the next few hours writing awful poetry and daydreaming about another kind of life. The music playing was an agreeable mix of Indie and Classic Rock and after three or four pints I was able to forget just how truly horrid we are to each other and even began to think there was some hope for this whole enterprise of ours. The bar slowly filled up with students and workers and a few other tourists as well. Friends meeting friends. Women kissing each other on the cheek. Jokes being told. Life isn’t all that bad after all. With that thought guiding me I stumbled out of there feeling 100% better than when I entered.

It didn’t last. It was just a doomed day from the start, I guess.

I decided to acquire some dinner in another bar, and some more beer to wash it down of course, and my choice of watering holes this time missed the mark completely. I entered the establishment — The Swindle and The Lark or something hideous like that — to the sounds of Wham’s Jitterbug and talentless women with thick makeup singing along, greeted by the smell of stale beer and wet wood. It was a sorry home away from home away from home.

I plunked down by the window and watched droplets of rain begin to splatter against the glass. The sandwich I ordered seemed curiously lacking in eponymous tuna fish and the DJ just kept spinning worse and worse songs. Nothing against Robbie Williams but I have nothing for him either. Some sort of electronic gambling machine blinked and made noises in the corner. After forcing the last bite of my so-called sandwich down I ended up walking back to my hotel in a steady drizzle feeling like a man that had recently crawled out of his sarcophagus.

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One thought on “London: Day Four (Coffee And Mummies)

  1. i’m with you on this. there’re enuff reminders of human foibles w/o sinking your senses into a dreary mausoleum fullof’em. but thank you, you managed to make this trip most enjoyable while i could stay home and not be there! ps. a good buddhist reflects as i understand it, on whatever is
    being reflected if that makes any sense….

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