far too much writing, far too many photos

I wrote that last entry during a train ride north from London, the last leg of a five-day bout of traveling, me ready to sit still for a while. Coming off a strange, interesting, strangely interesting couple of days in the capital. Feeling a little tired, a little pensive. Got up at far too reasonable an hour, showered/shaved. Pulled on clothes, tossed clothes not pulled on into the body bag, checked out of the hotel. Found myself walking, half-awake, along Kensington streets mostly empty, skies above mostly gray, air mostly cold. Flagged down a cab, the cabbie friendly and smiling until I specified my destination, the Gloucester Road tube station a few blocks away — a long few blocks to someone like me, dragging an overpacked monster wheeled duffel, but too brief for his liking, worth too little money. He took off, leaving me to make the trip on foot, cutting through the Gloucester Road arcade where a café beckoned, promising caffeine, food, five or ten minutes of relative tranquility.

Cappucino is widely available in the U.K. (the U.K. being a civilized country), many places churn out a pretty good version of it. But somewhere along the line, they picked up the idea that it’s supposed to come in vat-sized, kidney-challenging quantities. A request for a cup generally brings the ’small, medium or large?’ response, as it did Sunday morning, an answer that often stops me in my tracks — in part because I just want a cappucino, a simple cappucino, cup size not entering into the equation. And in part because the cup size can vary in big ways from one caffeine pusher to another, something else I seem to forget, especially first thing in the morning when my teeny brain is barely functioning and a friendly countergnome is demanding that I think and make decisions like a high-functioning human type person. Not a reasonable thing to ask of me at the moments when I’m likely to be requesting a jolt of caffeine, generally times when the link between brain and mouth has barely been established for the day.

In this case, the size question stopped me, I tried to gather my paltry collection of wits, heard the word ‘medium’ spill out of my mouth. Medium — seemed like a safe, reasonable answer. Meaning medium — not large, not grande. A word that shouldn’t result in a potentially bladder-bursting quantity of liquid.

I foggily pulled out change, paid up, pulled my bags out the door to claim an outside table (outside meaning the arcade walkway — still indoors, but not indoors-indoors). Watched other customers, watched the occasional passing person. Heard a countergnome call me, went inside to find a cappucino in a cup the size of a soup bowl waiting for me. Stared for an open-mouthed moment, then took it, returned to outside table, set it down. Went back inside, asked for a croissant, returned to my perch, started on my vat of caffeine. The croissant arrived, I began stuffing it into my waiting mouth. Ten minutes later, approaching a more workable version of consciousness, I got to my feet, took off in the direction of the tube stop, body bag in tow.

The tube station turned out to be a scene of near chaos, in contrast to the Sunday-morning tranquility of the neighborhood, as travelers were up early and ready to move. Lines snaked from the entranceways to ticket machines and ticket booths, several languages being loudly spoken. All the machines sported lengthy queues — all except two that only accepted cash. A Spanish father and son stood at one, debating whether to use it or not. I went to the other, fed it cash, took my ticket, began the trip underground. And found myself dragging the body bag long distances, the transfer station, and finally Euston, carrying it along platforms, passageways, up and down stairs, resolving once again to re-examine the overpacking thing.

Arrived at Euston, found a ticket machine, it gave me the paper for the seat I’d reserved a few days earlier. Went to a newsagent trawling for a Spanish paper. No dice. Went to stand with the growing crowd below the big status boards, waiting for the platform to be announced for the 11:05 train heading north. Platforms were announced for other trains, some leaving 30 and 60 minutes later than the 11:05. Nothing appeared, however, for the 11:05, the crowd of waiting people steadily swelling. At 10:55, the platform number appear showed, unleashing an immediate stampede of travelers in that direction. I joined them, stayed to the edge of the mayhem to avoid being pushed, jostled, spindled, folded, mutilated.

Found the coach, climbed on board, found out that Virgin had given me a cramped seat facing the rear of the train instead of facing forward as I’d asked. I slipped down into it, a 30ish Japanese guy materialized next to me, took the neighboring seat — seemed like a good guy, but I found myself feeling closed in, my seat narrow, the space between it and the seat in front of me minimal. A voice on the P.A. announced that first-class upgrades were available for £15. I climbed over my neighbor, found my way along the train to first-class, found a half-full car with a perfect seat and window table waiting for me. Left a book to stake my claim, made the hike back for the rest of my stuff, dragged it all to first class. Took my seat, much happier. Opened the book and relaxed, scenery outside flashing past.

[continued in next entry]


Trafalgar Square, London — a controversial, recently-installed statue of
Alison Lapper (disabled, naked, eight months pregnant)

España, te echo de menos.

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