Wednesday, 10 June 2009

The London Adventure

London was a different world to me.  There was such a huge variety of people all doing their own thing.  Almost half of them were plugged into their phones, Nintendo DS, mp3 player...  The other half stared blankly into space, into books or at the person with them.  Everyone was going somewhere, and only worried about arriving. 

The thing which struck me most were the smells of London.  I’d start off at one end of a street with beer and cigarette smoke, and pass through grilled meat, perfume, cars, buses, spices and a whole host of other things I couldn’t identify.  And what is it that the Tube trains smell of?  There’s some grease around the edges of it, maybe some copper, something with hints of rubber and something sharp...  The Tube smells like the Tube. 

I spent my time on the trains and the streets like a kitten in a catnip patch.  I guess the locals can be as angry at me as I get with the tourists who amble down the Welsh roads at 20 m.p.h. while they stare stupidly at the mountains.

Castlevania and Crossbones

Out in Finchley, it smelt of rain and hedgerows.  We had a twenty minute walk to the arcade through tree-lined avenues and the occasional passing car, only to find that the machine was long-gone.  It was a shame, but Allegra took it very well.  We played on the Silent Hill shooter instead, pumping pound coins into the machine as Pyramid Head killed us.

That left the evening free to visit Crossbones.  It was a haunting experience.  The gates were tightly shut but covered in flowers, epitaphs, ribbons, candles and photographs that other people had left for the dead.  Ordinarily, I don’t think the dead can hear.  When they’re close, though, my conviction slips away.  Allegra and I borrowed a pair of ngaio’s nail scissors, (eventually) drew some blood with them and left it at the gates.  I don’t have an explanation for why I did that.

The Espresso Book Machine

Before we left, the EBM had me excited.  With the machine, a publisher no longer has to commit to huge print runs.  You can go into the shop, pick the book you want, have it printed and then leave with it.  I had the idea of shelves being stacked, not with books, but with flashcards showing the front and back covers, the bookshop resembling a Blockbuster more than a library.

My whole experience was terribly British.  I picked out the book I wanted before leaving, and had a map to the store.  I went in, Allegra found the machine and I waited patiently for someone to serve me.  Eventually, I hunted someone down who told me that the someone I needed was on their break, but she’d find him for me.  Ten minutes later, he came back from his break, checked the EBM library and told my assistant--who then told me--that they couldn’t print the book I wanted and did I want to order it instead.  Rather defeated the point, I thought.  I could do that at home.

And that’s what I left thinking.  I go to a bookshop to smell the books, hold them, flick through the pages and be snagged by the covers.  If I want a specific book... I go to Amazon, or eBay, or Play, or Google Shopping, or anywhere else on-line.  The only advantage the EBM seems to have over other print-on-demand is that you have to go to the store to pick up your book.  That's a real... um... pain in the arse?  I think the EBM is going to be an odd side-track on the evolution of publishing rather than the linotype I thought it was going to be.

Natural History Museum

The Natural History Museum was great.  I secretly liked Museums when I was a kid.  Every display I walk past, I read and am fascinated by.  I slowly made my way through the human body exhibit, then the dinosaurs, then the natural world and then the restless Earth.  The human body exhibit hadn’t changed since I saw it in around 1992, when I thought Terminator 2 was the best thing in the world, ever.  I walked over the dinosaur skeletons and watched the arms of a iguanodon shake like it was still alive.  The natural world told me a bunch of stuff about global warming I knew already, and the restless Earth showed me how rocks are made and how the planet’s core is mainly iron. 

When we look out to the horizon, the Earth looks flat.  Time’s like that, I think.  Things seem static and set, but only because we’re too small to see the curvature of time’s arc.   Like Eratosthenes, we can prove time’s curve but we can’t observe it.  Maybe one day, we will be able to. 

The Ballet

The ballet was interesting.  The dancers twisted and contorted like creatures from Silent Hill.  I didn’t know humans could move like that without being possessed by forces of evil.  The dance itself explored the evolution of imagination, mathematics, relationships and the space they exist in as they touched each other.  Interesting, but I think I still prefer Giselle.

We were pushed for time, but needed to eat before the performance.  We found an Indian buffet, and I filled up a plate with food, ate it, polished of half of ngaio’s and left within ten minutes.  Yes, I am proud of myself.

Docklands and Doughnuts

On Sunday morning we sat on the Docklands Light Railway from Bank station to the train’s terminus, and then rode it back again.  I watched the houses, apartments, warehouses, gardens, office blocks and rivers go by my window.  I gawked at the Isle of Dogs as it jutted out of London like Superman’s Fortress of Solitude.  This random mash of new developments, history and organic human cultural growth is what London has always been for me.  The HSBC building, stations with names like Heron’s Quay and Mudchute, an old abandoned boat lying in the low tide and covered in plants, rows of Victorian terraced houses with their satellite dishes and washing in the gardens, gaudy new apartment blocks full of city boy wankers and DKNYs...  The DLR ride was definitely a high-light.

Waiting in London Victoria for the train back, we visited the Krispy Kreme stall and picked up doughnuts for the office.  All in, I think we ended up buying five dozen, not counting the few single ones we brought.  The people who served us--Martin and Leena--were wonderful and gave us free tea and coffee.

And the rest...

The falafel place was indeed fantastic and well-worth seeking out.  Opposite it, ngaio found a shop selling specialist loose-leaf teas and coffee.  Yes, it was Heaven and of course I spent money I shouldn't.  The Bridge Cafe lost out to time, unfortunately.

Now I’m utterly skint, but very glad I went.

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