I have form when it comes to dragging my mum along to geeky Tube adventures, whether it be trekking out to the furthest station, nudging cub scouts out of the way at the London Transport Museum or envying up the offices at 55 Broadway. Last Saturday we added Aldwych station to the list, which closed in 1994 but is still open to occasional tours, filming and training. Down on the platforms you’ll find posters including, amongst other things, the rules by which reluctant officials agreed to allow Blitz-era sheltering. (Why do I have the feeling there’d be a 30p charge for it today?)
In case you were wondering why Aldwych closed, by the way, it’s because it was a stupid station – with platforms only reachable by lift – on a little branch line from Holborn from which it’d be quicker to walk. So that’s that.
Also recently: we celebrated Anna’s birthday at Big Red, provided a large chunk of the audience up top of a pub for a new pilot comedy show heading (if all goes well) to Dave, and saw Gravity with Josh. I wasn’t blown away, I have to say, although it was a cool cinema experience and probably the only time I’ve felt 3D added much. You don’t really see this film for the story, or the characters, or the dialogue – you see it for the moment of terror as you imagine what it might be like to spin uncontrollably in space without being able to stop.
The rest of the last few weeks has been increasingly punctuated by Doctor Who to the extent that I can begin to imagine how normal people feel before an English World Cup final match. (I mean, clearly that’s fantasy – I meant how they would hypothetically feel.) Sunday lunch at Abbi and Paul’s: whooped at the return of Paul McGann. Stay in with Cat: enjoy Brian Cox’s surprisingly dense lecture on the science of time travel. Go home: get emotional at An Adventure in Space and Time. The climax tonight will be watching The Day of the Doctor at the cinema. (Also in 3D, actually.) I’m heading to Chicago for two weeks tomorrow to have my first Thanksgiving experience, and can’t think of a higher note to leave the country on. Forget about pilgrims or overly-trusting Native Americans: I give thanks to the Doctor.
The way I see it, every life is a pile of good things and bad things. The good things don’t always soften the bad things, but vice versa, the bad things don’t always spoil the good things and make them unimportant.
This blog is turning into a bit of a travel diary…
So last weekend I just had fun with Simon and Patrick in Paris, while trying (but not always succeeding) not to be those obnoxious Brits abroad. True, there were moments of unintended hilarity at our botched attempts to pronounce French menus, while Simon narrowly avoided causing an international incident on the Metro with a party of grumpy New Zealanders. But I did manage to see all the stuff which I’ve missed before: the catacombs, Musée d’Orsay, Versailles, the Conciergerie, and all still within that curious but delightful French paradigm of “people under 26 really shouldn’t have to pay for anything”. They’ve also recently pedestrianised a former main road right by the river, which is now rather lovely to walk down, and another sign (if any were needed) of the joys of freeing our cities from as many cars as possible.
(There’s nothing like wandering around Paris, of course, for reinstating a feeling of European togetherness. Yes, we are yoked to France in the perpetual rivalry of squabbling neighbours, but isn’t it better for this to stay within the big EU tent? Maybe I’m just bitter because of the absurd double-checking of passports which Britain insists on at Gare du Nord when getting the Eurostar back home, as if we can’t possibly trust the standard of French passport-checking a few metres earlier. It’s needlessly unfriendly, especially after moving within Schengen for a week.)
(Having said that, we really need to stop flogging our public utilities to their state-owned multinationals.)
And, yes, I spent the week in Stockholm and then Helsinki for work (and reindeer-eating). Which was pretty awesome, because I’ve always wanted to visit Scandinavia, and this got me two in one go – albeit not for very long. (Nit-picking: Finland is not necessarily Scandinavian, I know, I know.) It did surprise me how different they felt from each other, both in terms of people and general atmosphere, with Helsinki very obviously showing its Russian influences. But both are so wonderfully sane, with the sole exception of their airport food prices, which are not.
Obligatory American anecdote: as we left the excellent Masculine / Masculine. The Nude Man in Art from 1800 to the Present Day exhibition – and take it for me, I’m not a natural art exhibition fan – we did pass one unimpressed visitor who was complaining to her friend that “if you want to see a lot of naked butts you can just look them up online”. Which very neatly allowed us to pretend to ourselves that we hadn’t been murmuring bawdy jokes to each other the whole time, and adopt the traditionally smug pose which Paris brings out so very well
I loved Handbagged. Absolutely loved it, even by the high standards of the Tricycle. But then, you’d expect me to, right? The comic imagining of the weekly audiences between the Queen and Thatcher is a rollicking blast through 80s politics, but without the superficial clip-show feeling of The Iron Lady, and was laugh-out-loud funny and terrifying in equal measure. In a small theatre, having Thatcher march onto the stage and start hectoring the audience is genuinely scary, like finding yourself trapped in a cage with a wolf. To have escaped living through it in person is a relief, of sorts, although Kinnick’s famous ‘I warn you’ speech is sadly still as prophetic as ever.
And so having enjoyed a second dollop of left-leaning British political theatre and\or silly songs (we’d seen News Revue a few weeks back), Michele and I both spent the rest of the week working in Milan. (Italian geography lesson 101: “Milan seems much less crazy than Rome… is this where businesses usually base themselves now?” “Usually, unless they’re connected to the government. In Rome they all stop at 3.”) Anyway – the food, oh, the food! The food was so good
Back in Britain, we spent last Sunday wandering around Cambridge to find out which bits Yale decided to steal, getting nostalgic about libraries and meeting up with Simon for pub drinks so we could mock the people’s government of the United States of America collectively. (Which is still closed, incidentally, although all in a noble effort to halt the march of national socialism and ‘the worst thing that’s ever happened to us as a country‘. I salute your stoic sense of perspective, anonymous vox poppee! America has endured terrorism, killer bees and the finale to the first season of Heroes, but clearly health insurance for the poor requires a whole new level of fortitude.)
Oh, come now dear Americans, I’m only being mean as a defence mechanism to convince myself that this drizzly island is still the best place to call home. Because (as our glorious fridge of many faraway magnets nicely demonstrates) all paths still lead back here, and the last couple of nights have proved what a good thing that is. From dinner at Andrew and Bonnie’s, to pizza, beer and impromptu Year 6 test-marking with my parents, to a wonderful flat night at ours punctuated by lots of shouting between Brits and Yanks about whether ‘porn’ and ‘pawn’ are homophones (they are). To Thai lunch followed by milkshakes with Lucy, to a determined march up to Highgate only to baulk at paying £4 to see Marx’s grave (look, I never said I was against price signals…), to a wonderful farewell-to-London evening for Michele in the corner of – where else? – a local pub, so many of the people and places I care about are here.
This is not a reason to stay rooted to one spot forever, but a good reason to enjoy it while I am
The past couple of weeks have been pretty serene, with Michele (mostly) in the UK and happy to partake in gentle pleasures like drinking beer with dad, Indian takeaway, going for tea-fuelled walks across Hampstead Heath and – ahem – watching a bucketload of Doctor Who. Going back and watching lots of Christopher Eccleston and David Tennant was rather wonderful, actually, and forms part of a determined experiment in how quickly one can cultivate a true fan
We also had a very Londony night with Tash, strolling along the Thames after a reliably delicious meal at Silka. And soon afterwards Katie had also packed her bags and headed north to Durham, but not before we could have a farewell burrito and conclude our Fringe odyssey which began (my blog’s archives inform me) almost exactly two years ago. (Goodbye, Fringe! You were silly at times and definitely peaked around the Series 3 mark, but I will miss your life lessons like “always walk into any situation with a gun” and “any piece of technology can be quickly rewired to do anything else”.) Oh, and while we’re itemising everything by meal, I also very much enjoyed Swedish meatballs at Sanna and Sarah’s flat, which was only troubled by a chilling hole in their Harry Potter collection(!)
Hello, again. While I was away there seems to have been a definite shift towards the cold and the wet and the blustery. Which is good news, in case you were wondering, because it means coats, huddling indoors with mugs of tea and Cat’s welcome home plate-piling roasts
So this is where I’ve been: Canada! Specifically, starting out in Calgary and then travelling up via the Canadian Rocky Mountain Parks with Michele and Nisa. Let it be said from the outset that we are both eternally grateful to Nisa for a) hauling all our stuff around in her car, b) being the expert on tents, stoves and other wilderness skills and c) stopping us getting eaten by bears.
Oh, Canada. How to describe Canada? If America was created by a benevolent deity lazing away a free weekend by playing a giant continent-sized edition of The Sims, then Canada is the result of that deity reaching for the cheat codes in frustration when its Sims remained stubbornly unhappy the first time around. The landscape is still clearly North American, pretty much, albeit with fewer billboards (and, delightfully, billboards which still make archaic boasts for food with ‘great tasting flavour’ rather than using impetuous upstart spellings like ‘flavor’). The glistening green lawns of suburbia still sprawl across giant infernal grid systems, and even relatively quiet cities like Calgary (sorry) have unapologetically giant skyscrapers. (You don’t get the impression that anyone in North America has ever worried about maintaining the equivalent of ‘nice uninterrupted views of St Paul’s’, or – indeed – written any ‘view management frameworks‘ which run to over 30,000 words.)
But, at least on this trip, Canadians did a good job of living up to their reputation as the more chilled-out and at-peace Americans. Little things. Smiling faces. Teenagers unironically saying ‘dang it!’ after missing the bus. Cars which stop for you to cross the road. “What’s the national mood like in Canada at the moment?” I asked one of our hosts. “Well, you might remember we had some pretty bad floods here recently…” he replied. (I didn’t, of course, but tried to mumble sombrely and sympathetically.) “Yeah, they really helped bring everyone together to rebuild. It was really nice.”
And that, ladies and gentlemen, is Canada.
Of course, most of this trip was spent with Canadian trees rather than Canadian humans, and of this there are plenty of highlights: hiking up a mountain for the sake of a teashop at the top, lying in a tent looking up at the stars, being disabused of the notion that bearspray is just a joke product, morning cups of tea, evening cups of gin, and deciding that “because it’s cold” is certainly no reason to avoid swimming in a beautiful lake between the mountains. Blissful.
And one sadder note: we also visited a glacier which Michele remembered from a family trip a mere ten years ago, only to find that it’s almost gone. We were able to stand on ground which had once been ice under the Bush presidency, and by the time of Obama is now earth and stone. Soon it will all be gone. Even if you don’t know what it all means (so what’s the impact of losing this glacier?) it’s a sobering demonstration of just how quickly the grand, awe-inspiring structures of the natural world around us can change and disappear.
P.S. Oh, and I legitimately used a sonic screwdriver toy in lieu of a flashlight. Because I am cool.