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Saturday, 11 December
London (I)

Flying into Heathrow airport after a nice wakeup on British Airways ("Sir? Orange juice? Coffee?" "What, no wine? I'm on vacation!"), I was naturally concerned with one thing. I turned to the wife, who, having slept very little, glared at my well-rested self; undeterred, I tenderly gazed at her and whispered, "Do you remember if you can fucking smoke anywhere in Heathrow?"

What a dumb question. Of course you can. And, once we cleared customs, I did. God save the Queen.

After snagging our luggage from baggage reclaim (Reclaim! Not claim! How exotic!), we then set about our first task: getting to our hotel. Being the masters of not planning much of anything in advance, we hadn't bothered to work this out. There was the Heathrow Express, of course, the handy train system that zaps you straightaway to Paddington Station, but the thing was, we were staying nearer Victoria Station. Or there was the option of just taking a cab, but Heathrow, being a fucking city in and of itself, is a ways out of London proper, and we knew that it would be a horrifyingly expensive ride. Neither of us were up to negotiating a tube ride with our bags and barely-functioning brains either, so that was out. It was quite a conundrum, which I set about solving by going and having another cigarette.

Presently the wife found a small desk called "Hotelink," which promised us airport-to-hotel service for fifteen pounds a person. (A note on the US dollar versus the pound sterling: we're fucking losing. The dollar is around .53 pounds--and not much better against the Euro--so it became quickly evident that to convert British prices to the American equivalent, you just doubled prices in your head. As if I needed more excuses to drink heavily.)

Hotelink worked pretty well, really. We shared a van with just one other customer (who got out first at the London Hilton; thinking about its room costs filled me with a kind of economic nausea), and got to see some lovely urbanish sights along the way. I distinctly remember passing an office building with its name proudly emblazoned on its side that was quite memorable: THE LEPROSY MISSION. Welcome to London! Our mission: To give you leprosy. I'm sure it's a fine organization, and obviously with a noble cause, but leprosy just isn't one of those things that gets a lot of play in the States, and you don't often hear it mentioned, much less stamped onto large buildings. And yet, there it was, greeting me into the city. It had a curious logo, which seemed to be that of an adult reaching down to hug a child. Or to give it leprosy.

A little later, twenty minutes or so, we were treated to our first really English experience: someone calling someone else a cunt. That would be our driver. At a stoplight, he was apparently harangued by another driver; however, he apparently couldn't hear the exact words of the insult, so he accomodatingly rolled down the window to get a better listen. I thought this was really charming.

"WOT?" our driver shouted.

I heard only indistinct replies.

"Aaaaah!" he snarled back in irritation. "Yer cunt!"

I admired a couple things about this. First of all, his utter lack of regard for the fact that he was swearing freely at other drivers without a care that we could clearly hear him. Another was that he managed to somehow pronounce "cunt" as if it contained a diphthong. But England is the Land of the Diphthongs. I'm pretty sure they snore using extraneous vowels.

We reached the hotel in due course, and the driver cheerfully flinged our bags to the curb and waved us off briskly, clambering back into the van before we could even tip him, which naturally (not for the first time) made us feel like stupid Americans--Americans are deeply nervous about not tipping anyone who has done us the slightest service, and so we go around doing things like tipping people who make us coffee, or fix our toilets, or give us leprosy, whatever. Fortunately, we were too whacked out to give much of a shit about it, because otherwise I would have likely ran after his van, screaming, "I FORGOT TO TIP YOU! STOP, YOU FUCKING ASSHOLE! TAKE MY MONEY!" And flinging pound coins at his windows. Instead, we trudged up to our hotel room and collapsed.

We spent only a couple days in London at first (we'd be back later), and to go on much more about it would be pretty boring: those days were mostly spent acclimatizing ourselves to the time change (and resulting body malfunctions: "You shit yet?" "No. You?" "Just air." Our trip would turn out to be positively Rabelaisian in its varied discussions about what did or did not fly out of our asses). We did manage to stir ourselves long enough for a trip to the Tate Museum, which any fucking fool can see is a seriously great place to see some astoundingly great art, and at an unbeatable price: free.

It's a profoundly American reaction to feel like you're ripping off someone, somewhere, when you go to a European museum and just wander in the front door for nothing. Because it's deeply weird for us that a government would actually take the position that, hey, part of our (the government's) function is to make absolutely fucking sure that anyone, without regard of who they are or how much money they have, should absolutely be able to experience things like great works of art.

Naturally, it doesn't really work like that here. Which is pretty embarrassing.

Like I say, though, we only had a couple nights in London before we headed out to Dublin, via RyanAir through Gatwick. And here is where things got exciting. For Gatwick might be the most horrible airport in the world. For myself, I am convinced that Gatwick is simply a large, particularly cruel Skinnerian experiment in operant conditioning; a maze for rats where there is no cheese, but only Velveeta.

But enough for now. Next time: Gatwick. And Dublin. Where we leave off diphthongs and go straight to glottal stops.

Roam | Skot | 11 Dec, 2004 |

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Comments

This is fun for me, living vicariously through your European Adventure since I've only left this country for approximately 2 1/2 hours on one occasion.

Incidently, are you sure that logo was an adult hugging a child? Maybe the "child" is really a leperous adult that's lost a few inches in crumbled limbs? Just a thought.

Comment number: 004780   Posted by: Melissa on December 11, 2004 05:39 AM from IP: 24.28.5.44

Sir, my hat is off to you for being able to mention Rabelais and Skinner in a single blog posting. Seems I get both laughs and culture when I read your blog. Seriously funny stuff.

Comment number: 004781   Posted by: zhaf on December 11, 2004 07:09 AM from IP: 67.171.242.6

Excuse me, but you've got a diphthong in your cunt.

Comment number: 004782   Posted by: Jim on December 11, 2004 09:06 AM from IP: 216.160.95.189

Doesn't work like that? Have you heard of the fcking Smithsonian?

Comment number: 004783   Posted by: TPB, Esq. on December 12, 2004 12:37 PM from IP: 12.75.255.83

Did you go to the Tate Modern or the regular Tate? The Modern is just slightly Tatier.

Comment number: 004784   Posted by: Joe on December 12, 2004 07:54 PM from IP: 207.69.138.13

b-b-but now we call it Hansen's disease!

(and no, of course he's never heard of the Smithsonian. Skot lives in the other Washington. duh!)

Comment number: 004785   Posted by: norm on December 13, 2004 07:23 AM from IP: 64.65.174.18

I got to zing my wife pretty well about the DC attractions before a trip there last summer. She wanted to budget for tickets to the Smithsonian, National Place with Animals (the z-word is apparently blacklisted), etc. I cleverly told her she'd already paid for her tickets, and would continue to do so next April.

Comment number: 004799   Posted by: john on December 14, 2004 07:59 PM from IP: 68.158.45.33

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