Monday, March 21, 2011

A Klutz in London

I suspect the people of London have a deep-seated fear that the Nazis are going to make a comeback and try for an invasion. To that end, they have made it next to impossible for anyone not knowing exactly where they're going to find their way around. London streets are not a neat grid of streets that run straight from point A to point B. They meander, intersect, curve around, and make sure foreigners can never know where they are by posting as few street signs as possible...and even then, they don't put them on poles at every corner, but slap them on one corner of a four-corner street, flat against a building just between the first and second floors.

Last night, before going to see "Priscilla, Queen of the Desert" we were to meet a friend of Gary's--an expatriate from Chicago--for a drink at a bar called The Green Carnation on Greek Street, just off Charing Cross Road. There must be about 42,000 miles of street in London, and I swear we walked 41,000 of them looking for Charing Cross Road and then, having found it, looking for Greek Street. It turned out that the bar was within four blocks of the theater, which we had passed or spotted from a distance two or three times. We asked directions from four or five people, half of whom were foreigners like ourselves who hadn't a clue, and the other half, native Londoners, apparently didn't have a clue either, pointing us off in various directions, none of which led us to Charing Cross Road.

Oh, and another interesting observation, totally off the subject; driving on the left side of the road seems to extend to other areas of society. When on a crowded escalator in America, people tend to stand on the left side and let people pass them on the right. In London, you stand to the right and let people rush past you on the left. I mentioned the problem we'd had with getting the right Underground passes/tickets. We found on the way to the Green Carnation and Priscilla that one can buy an "Oyster Card" which gives you five days of unlimited travel for about the cost of two day-passes.

I know, this narrative is like London streets, meandering all over, but....We finally found the Green Carnation only some fifteen minutes late. Located on the second floor, it's a very pleasant, not-many-like-them-anymore homey gay-and-lesbian bar with chairs and sofas and a pleasant, old-fashioned bar in several different rooms.

After a very pleasant but have-to-get-to-the-theater visit we went on our separate ways. When leaving the theater (we were the last ones out since I'd dropped my wallet at my seat and had to go back to retrieve it), a very nice usher with a charming British accent--who'd a thunk--walked us to the exit and stepped outside to point us the way to Charing Cross Road. Finding the Underground we made our way back to Bayswater, the Underground stop a block from our hotel. I was thirsty, and stopped at what we were told was a supermarket but was more like a 7-11 on steroids. I'd noticed the store had one cashier and several of those do-it-yourself checkout machines. I bought a coke and stood in the human-attended checkout lane. A young woman employee called me forward and I assumed she was going to open another register. No, she walked me to one of the machines. I fumbled around for a 5-Pound note (I still haven't quite figured out the coins...10-cent and 50's and one-and-two Pound coins). I put the 5-Pound note in wrong. The young woman took it from me, inserted it properly, and when the change poured into the cup/dish where the change goes, scooped it out and handed it to me, all but saying "Here you are, you poor, addled old foreigner."

I took it, feeling not a little humiliated at having to have help to buy a bottle of Coke, and crossed the street toward our hotel. About 50 feet down the street, a pen fell out of my pocket and I clumsily bent down to pick it up, almost being run over by a couple directly behind me. I apologized and continued on my way. Fifty feet further a man came up to me from behind and said "You dropped your glasses." Thanking him, I turned to find them and a woman came toward me, glasses in hand. Got back to the room, opened the Coke, tipped the bottle up to take a swig (always difficult when any tilting of the head is required) and sloshed it all over the front of my shirt. Four humiliations in the space of five minutes was, I thought, a bit much, even for me. But it confirmed that I am a multi-national klutz.

Later, you can be sure.


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