May 17th: Antiquities, the sadness of others, eavesdropping and social sorcery.
It's drunk old man karaoke night, tonight, here at the Palace Hotel Ballroom.
Actually, pretty much everyone's going for it. Just listened to a flat, ear-splitting rendition of 'Perhaps'.
I lack the words to describe what it's like realising I have 3 hours in which to experience the British Museum. I imagine it's a little like what a bibliophile feels as a library burns. What do I save? How long do I have? Which items are the most important? If I make it back in August I'm setting two days aside. It's quite simply the most incredible museum I've ever been in.
Before that, though, I stopped back at the Bishopsgate Pret to get a sandwich on the way back from Matt's. There was a woman sitting at the table next to mine: middle-aged, a bit weathered, beige pantsuit, had the kind of perm that just looked like she'd left the house in a rush. Was making business notes in a newsagent-bought red hardcover, and her phone was probably a generation too old to keep up with the Joneses in a leather slipcase that showed just a little too much wear. I had my coffee, read, and then the person she was waiting for turned up: young, tall, a good dark-blue suit, expensive tie, groomed. Looked like Draco Malfoy by way of Gordon Gecko. The woman's attitude flipped from quiet and studios to chirpy-desperate. The guy, however, was a professional wall of slate. I think this was my first look at a very specific kind of British fear. At first I couldn't work out if this was a blind date, or if she was somehow answerable to him, or if she was actually interviewing him for a position and doing a pretty bad job of it she was so desperate for approval. If I'd seen this sort of chatty desperation in a film I might wonder if it was a bit much. And throughout it all Mr. Malfoy only took the occasional note with his good pen in a clean ledger strapped into his black leather zip-up valise. It was... well, it seemed a bit like sorcery from where I was sitting. Never seen the like.
Apparently Andrew Lloyd-Weber has written a sequel to The Phantom of the Opera. It's called Love Never Dies. It's running here at the moment. Blurbs seem positive, but never been a fan of musicals.
An Australian and an Argentinian girl are talking to the rockabilly barman at the moment. One lost an iPod, the other lost a bunch of pounds and pesos. They think a couple of residents here went through their gear and ripped them off. Spiffy. Looks like I'm spending another night with my gear stuffed under the blanket near my feet.
After the museum I headed to Hungerford Bridge. A few people have looked at me oddly when I mentioned wanting to get there, pointing out there's 'better bridges' in London. It wasn't about the bridge: it was about the position and the time of day. Leigh and Dmetri both have a soft spot for it - it's something quintessentially London for them - so I got there yesterday a little after 8 (but not before wandering through Leicester Square, Picadilly Circus, and walking down a long street to have Trafalgar Square slowly reveal itself the way it did the last time I was here. That was really lovely actually, just hanging out there for twenty minutes and watching people crawl all over the lions.)
So I crossed the Square and got onto Northumberland Avenue and climbed the stairs up to the bridge. Hungerford Bridge, really, is a set of double train lines with a walkway to either side. One side gives a 180-degree view to the south, and the other to the north (houses of parliament, Big Ben, the Eye, etc.) Both sides fill the vision, the light is soothing and beautiful, the air is cool, and everything feels like it's the way it's supposed to be. You can take in most of the city with a single glance. I recommend it.
While I was standing there I realised I was phasing in and out of the conversations people were having as they walked past.
A girl in her thirties talking to a guy: "You can't write a character with a good vocabulary if you don't have one yourself. Do you know what I mean?"
Two white-haired old ladies: "But he did what he said he was going to, so that's all right."
Two tall, young, thin guys in pinstripe pants: "Slightly?!"
"The things he comes out with. The best homosexual character on TV by far."
Two husky guys speaking animatedly in Russian.
Two American women: "It's funny. But it's so poignant. But what I use Starbucks for is my...free wireless."
A scruffy, unshaven guy in an anorak carrying a bottle in a paper bag talking to his female counterpart: "Are you a damn sight safer innat?"
"Are you safer innat? Imagine if you called me..."
Two women in their late twenties with an accent I couldn't place: "...rest."
"And you're ready for action!"
"I take... I take two days off so I sleep. And sober."
Evidently MTV has not one but two reality shows about teen pregnancy: Teen Mom and 16 and Pregnant. I know this because they've both been on above the bar while I've been writing this.
Today I was supposed to get to the Cenotaph and actually walk through a running action scene I blocked into Fateless. Make sure it actually works. I researched the locale heavily - right down to emailing the curators of the main building I used - but nothing beats being there. Hopefully I'll make it.
So I got back late last night, after the bridge, and checked in around 9 - just in time to miss the kitchen. Grabbed a kebab instead, got a Wild Turkey and Coke and sat down to read. A woman sat down on the couch across the room with a half-empty pitcher of something. She wasn't drunk, just seemed bummed. All the action was in the other room, I was dead on my feet, packed the laptop and on the way out asked if she was okay. She told me just moved back here from Malta, got a job in a stall just outside the bar and that tonight was her first date with a friend of a friend. He'd ignored her all night, she hates London and wondered if there was any way she was ever going to get out of here. Decided she was finishing her drink and going home as she's not a mug. At which point her date rematerialises from the other room, sees me, and that's really all it takes to renew his interest in her. She thanks me for listening, gives me her Facebook address, kisses me on the cheek and heads out with him. I felt really sad for her. She wasn't naive, must have been late twenties or early thirties... if anything she seemed like she was all too familiar with the depressing way the world works and just kind-of sucks it up and gets on with getting on. I wished her well but knew there was no way on Earth that was going to end well.
Breakfast today consists of two large burgers and a half of Kronenberg.