If you’ve been in London you’ve heard the iconic “mind the gap” that greets you at many Tube stations, where there’s a gap between the train and the platform wide enough to swallow your foot. It’s perfectly emblematic of all the gaps in my life right now, to wit: what insanity led me to get a new laptop and a new phone, an iPhone that’s barely compatible with my PC (whence this abbreviated set of mediocre pictures) right before leaving home, and to set off on my own with 85 pounds of luggage? Why did WordPress, home of this blog, decide to change their GUI to something really wonky at just the moment I had all these other gaps? And why didn’t I realize that I’m not only travelling solo for the first time in 20 years, but also travelling handicapped for the first time in my life? I knew that I had trouble walking when I left home, but somehow I didn’t translate that to having to face walking through miles of airport and Tube corridors, painfully slowly, and I do mean painfully.
These things, when combined with eating dinner alone in restaurants, and stupid stuff like not recognizing English coins and having to hold out a palm-full of change like a little kid for vendors to pick through so that (I hope) I’m paying the right amount, and tossing and turning all night from the pain in my hip, are making it hard for me to actually have fun. I keep telling myself that this part of my trip isn’t actually about having fun, it’s about learning to face every sort of adversity without Shel’s help and support, and believe me, that proposition is getting a workout. However, there have been some fun moments, and that’s probably what you’d like to hear about instead of all this whining.
For example, I did hobble through the Tower of London, and saw the end of the stupendous poppy installation, where nearly a million ceramic poppies were installed in the moat to commemorate the centennial of the lives lost in World War I. It looks like rivers of blood, just as it was intended to. A woman I spoke with at the installation told me that each and every poppy had been bought, for 25 pounds apiece, by families that had lost someone in the war. People were out in force, even though the installation was being dismantled.
The forces were also out, this being Prince Charles’ birthday, and a 21 cannon salute being in order. Since my photos aren’t cooperating with WordPress, I’ll just throw, more or less randomly, a few more Tower images at you, gritting my teeth all the while.
You aren’t allowed to take any photos of the Crown Jewels, but I thought they were kind of ho-hum. They’re replicas, anyway.
And then, because the sun came out unexpectedly, I hopped on a Thames River cruise to Greenwich. As it turned out, the things I thought I was going to see were also unexpectedly closed for a private event, but it was great being out on the river, by day and by night.
But my favorite moment of the day was when I was waiting at Westminster Station to get on the Tube, right at rush hour. People crammed into the car until one guy and I were the first people not to make it in. He and I raised eyebrows at each other and shrugged. Then one man in the train, a greying, balding guy, raised one eyebrow at me, moved a fraction of an inch, and looked down at the tiny space next to him. I jumped into it, wondering what would happen next.
There then ensued a conversation between several of us who were so crammed in that we had nothing to hold onto and were counting on the sheer crush of humanity to keep us from falling. I, of course, was crushed against the guy who had made room for me. In a sort of pre-emptive strike I said to him “it’s very kind of you to have let me in, so good for international relations, now I’ll have to write home about how kind the English are.”
By “home” I, of course, meant that I’d have to write about it here. And then a pretty blonde, very young, one of us who hadn’t anything to hold onto, said “We English are really kind, not like the Americans, who are so rude.” Very softly I said “But I am American.” I thought she’d faint, she turned beet red and began stammering her apologies. “I thought you were Canadian, because of your accent”she managed to choke out. “Oh god, I’m so sorry.” And there was a murmur all through our part of the car. And the nice man who had let me on wished me a pleasant stay in England, while she absolutely melted into the crowd and was swallowed by the gap.
So then, feeling pleased with myself despite my accent, I went to a Brazilian restaurant and there, sitting at the bar, was the Ugly American. The guy who loudly proclaims that “Hillary can never be President because she let Chris Stevens get murdered in Libya when she could have prevented it,” not to mention a bunch of asinine remarks about our President. In self defense, the Brazilian waiter and I talked about how the grilled chicken hearts were the best thing on the menu, and they were, indeed, delectable.
So many holes to fall into, sometimes it’s only chicken hearts that keep you afloat. My own personal heart is feeling pretty faint from all of this, but I’m still paddling away, doing my best to mind the gap.