Archive for April, 1998

April 24, 1998

24 April 1998 at 12:00 pm
by Jonah

Sitting in the bus, leaving Victoria Coach Station in London, hopefully for the last time. London, I bid you goodbye until July.

With close to three hours to kill, I pulled out my tube map of the city and looked to see what the closest touristy type attraction was nearby. That happened to be Buckingham Palace, so I headed off down the road, reaching the front gate at about noon. This was a stroke of luck (if I believed in it) because that is exactly when the changing of the guard takes place. The order and precision of the soldiers in bearskin hats inside the palace grounds contrasted with the disorderly shoving of the camera clasping mob of tourists on the other side of the fence.

When that was over, I walked all the way around the palace grounds, separated from the street by a high brick wall, topped with long spikes sticking out and a net of barbed wire. One of my bus tour guides said that these are a new addition to the wall. Evidently, some Austrian students needed a place to pitch their tent one night, so over the wall they went. They were discovered in the next morning asleep in the queen’s garden.

Having walked back to the bus station via the shops in Victoria (train) Station, I still had an hour and a half before departure. The other nearest attraction noted on the map was Harrods Department Store. Well, that’s one thing I hadn’t done, so I got out the detailed map of London book given to me by the Traylors and started wandering the streets of Westminster and Chelsea. I came upon the famous store from its rear and found a door. Plastered to the glass was a list of all the things you’re not allowed to bring into the building, including backpacks. I stepped inside anyway and approached the severe looking security guard standing at the entrance. I asked him where I could check my bag. He gave me some direction s I couldn’t follow past, “Turn right and walk up the road,” so I continued around the outside of the building until I got to an entrance complete with friendly looking doorman wearing a long, green, old looking coat and top hat. He told me exactly where to go, which required crossing the very busy street in front of Harrods and walking down the block a little to Harrods Luggage check room. By the time I got over there, it was time for me to head back to the station, so I didn’t’ bother. At least I have stepped inside the store, however.

My bus is currently caught in soon to be rush hour traffic out of London on the way to Leamington Spa. We’re running late, but that’s okay because James isn’t expected home till after 7 anyway. That’s when I’ve got to call him to see how to get to his house, where, hopefully, I can stay. He wasn’t in last night, so if that doesn’t work out, I’m not sure what I’ll do. Ha ha!

There’s a sticker on the window near the back of the bus where I’m sitting that says “EMERGENCY EXIT. BREAK GLASS WITH HAMMER.” In a little case next to the window is the hammer, itself encased in glass with a sign that directs, “IN EMERGENCY TO REMOVE HAMMER BREAK GLASS.” There’s unfortunately an unpleasant odor on this coach, and you can’t open any windows… without using a hammer. I think I’m suffering from nasal fatigue, so it’s not as noticeable now.

Chris dropped me off in Tunbridge Wells this morning. I found a travel agency and waited for them to open and tell me I had to walk to another agency to book my seat. These seat bookings that require National Express affiliated office visits will be the death of me. That or they’ll force me to plan ahead.

I got an orange, a banana, and some peanuts at a vegetable market this morning. Peanuts are good stuff. While I awaited my coach, I sat on my pack and wrote poetry. There was a book of The Nations’ Favourite Love Poems at Chris and Jan’s house. “Do you like poetry?” Jan asked, indicated the book. Among the Shakespearean sonnets, which I can’t seem to ever understand, were some wonderful John Donnes, several by Wendy Cope, who I’d never heard of before but like very much, and a brilliantly clover poem by W.H. Auden. I’m not in a position where I want to be enjoying lover poetry right now, but some of those caught me off guard. Kinda like beer.

Jan said she used to skip school and wander about by the Thames when she was a girl, “thinking deep thoughts and writing poetry, wondering if I should throw myself in.”

Chris was appalled. “You cut out of classes? But you were head girl!”

Wednesday, April 22, 1998

22 April 1998 at 12:00 pm
by Jonah

If I look up at my window on this train, I see white chalk cliffs. Well, now I’m in a tunnel. I spent about an hour in tunnels today beneath Dover castle, touring the Napoleonic caverns constructed for Britain’s 19th century defense and later used as headquarters for the Dunkirk evacuation operation and then housing army, navy, and RAF personnel for the rest of WWII. It was also home to an underground hospital, out of reach of the German guns that pounded the Dover coast from France. I got to see France today too from up atop an iron age mound on which a Roman lighthouse still stands next to a many times rebuilt church. The massive keep Henry II built is nearby. Funny how the lower you go the more modern things are. The deepest of the tunnels were constructed in the second World War.

I had to pay 5 pounds (student rate) to get in, but it was worth it. I easily spent almost the whole day there. It was a beautiful day too, sunny, warm, blue skies. Hell of a day to have worn my long johns. I put my sweater in my backpack along with the orange an banana I didn’t eat because I was more thirsty than hungry. Then I walked around with my jacket tied around my hips because it kept slipping down from my waist. Waterproof evidently means slippery.

I gave in and finally bought some shampoo at a drug store on my way back to the station as well as an orange Fanta. Hopefully, the top will fit back on properly and I can use it for a waterbottle. I didn’t buy any post cards because I took lots of pictures, as it was sunny, and I still haven’t written on the ones I got at Canterbury.

There’s an American family in the next set of seats. They are loud and obnoxious, and I despise them. Maybe it’s just that they’re Yankees and don’t know any better.

When I got back to the station, I noticed a gorgeous guy in an exquisite black suit. I stepped over to the side to walk around him as we passed, but he approached me. “Excuse me,” he said in a heavily accented voice. Of course, he couldn’t be English. The English are not a beautiful people. Don’t get me wrong. I love them, but they are too inbred to be beautiful anymore.

“Do you know where is the port?” he was asking me. “Can I walk there? How far away to the sheep?” He wanted to get to the ferry. Why does everyone ask me for directions? Maybe Francis is right and I don’t look like a tourist after all. I told the beautiful man I didn’t know but gave him the map the lady at the tourist information office had given me that morning. I’m sure I spoke way too fast for him to understand what I said. I should have dragged him back inside the station and asked one of the ticket agents. He walked slowly away holding my map as I passed into the station to ask about my own train.

Tuesday (already?), April… um…

21 April 1998 at 12:00 pm
by Jonah

I think today is the Queen’s birthday, which would make it the 21. It’s probably the 21st anyway. This is a very bumpy train, which is surprising since the ground we’re traversing is very, very flat and inhabited by lambs and rapeseed flowers. I’m not supposed to be on this train, which is probably fitting. I got on the one to Hastings from Tonbridge instead of to Ashford, which would have been next. There didn’t appear to be anyone around to ask, so I just stepped on, half expecting to be thrown out on my ear when the loud speaker came on once we stared announcing our route and not including Ashford in the mix. So I read the obituaries of Linda McCartney in the Independent lying on the seat across from me and awaited the arrival of the conductor.

“Thank you,” he said several stops later, taking my ticket. He was about to punch a hole in it when he stopped and stared at it. “You’re on the wrong train. Don’t worry, I’ll get it sorted out. Stay here.” He returned a few minutes later telling me to accompany him to the brake room. I followed him through almost the whole train. He apologized for the long walk, but I thought it was great getting to pass from car to car, through the narrow doors and passages, getting to see what each car was like. He told me to take a seat near the back end of the train where I found an available copy of the Times. Then he gave me a slip of paper on which he had written, “21st APRIL 98/Conductor JOHN GRIFFIN/HASTINGS/This passenger got on the wrong train at Tonbridge/should have been Tonbridge/Ashford/Canterbury/please see that she is able to continue her journey on your train to Ashford.” I put it in my pocket, feeling like a naughty child sent home from school with a note pinned to my shirt, only mine didn’t say, “Joanna has problems healthily interacting with others,” but, “Stupid foreigner. Please lead by the hand.”

“This is in case I can’t talk to the conductor,” my saviour smiled benignly. As promised, he took me over to the other train, the one going to Ashford, and told me where to sit. When that train started off, I told the conductor I’d gotten on the wrong train while showing him a completely incorrect ticket. He smiled condescendingly and waved it away, saying he already knew.

I love being taken care of when I haven’t got a clue. In London, all I had to do was stare at an open map and someone would come up and ask where I was trying to go. It’s wonderful!

I’m pretty sure I’m on the correct train now, since this conductor nodded approvingly at my ticket. Sure enough, the loudspeaker announced we’re in Canterbury.

Well, that was fun. Canterbury is about as touristy as a center of Christian pilgrimage can be. I wonder if they charged Chaucer to enter the Cathedral where Becket’s head was cleaved. There’s a modern memorial on the spot now. THOMAS it say, in neo-Gothic lettering, below a jagged, iron, lightening bold of a cross pierced by two saw toothed swords. One of the three knights who patriotically hacked the archbishop to death broke his sword in the process. Thomas had tended to be hard headed.

Being inside the cathedral today after attending church in London on Sunday night, I was struck with how warped and ingrown and deformed religion can be. Relics of Kentish Kings revered in an abbey, pilgrims crossing miles to kneel at the shrine of a stubborn religious leader, gigantic stone structures you have to pay 3 pounds to enter… and another 2 pounds to take a tour. It all seems perverse.

Like the Punch show I watched on the street. I laughed and put a penny in the guy’s bag who was working the crowd. I’m not sure his “god bless you” was worth the cost.

I had time to quickly pay too much to see the abbey ruins nearby. Then I rushed through the French tourists on the pedestrian streets lined with trendy shops back to catch my train back. This time I asked if it were the right one.

Sitting in Ashford International Train Station (only because Eurostar goes here) now, waiting for my train. I know I’m at the correct platform because this International station has monitors. Evidently, I should be resting assured because my train is thus far on time. The problem is that I don’t know what time that is. There are others waiting as well, so at least I’m not alone. The problem is that there is no one official to ask, except for the cafe workers, and I don’t want to make them profess their ignorance, especially when I’m not purchasing anything.

Have I caught up then journaling? At this rate, I’m going to be out of paper in a couple of weeks. I’ll have to turn the book around backwards and write upside down. Then it will really be ambiguous as to which side is up.

Jan picked me up after my coach deposited me in Tunbridge Wells last night. Then she brought me home and cooked me some dinner, including a mountain of pasta (they pronounce the “a” short, as in “cat,” not like “father”), which I polished off while we watched the last half of a 4-dimensional sitcom. Time warped comedies–what will the Brits think up next.

This morning Chris called around for me, finding the best route to Canterbury. He then dropped me at the station and bought my ticket. “I know I don’t have to,” he said to my protestations.

Monday, April 20, 1998

20 April 1998 at 12:00 pm
by Jonah

My ticket was no help this time because even if the date were on there, I didn’t find it legible. I wasn’t even sure it was still Monday.

In the space of five minutes prior to boarding this bus (yes, I’m on another bus writing another entry) I happened to perform three good deeds–well, there actions upon others, hopefully to their advantage. First, I gave my taxi driver a 40p tip, which I suppose was nice of me because he smiled. I’ve been in a taxi cab maybe twice before in my life and didn’t do the paying either time. I hadn’t planned on taxiing, but there was only a quarter of an hour left before my bus left, and I didn’t think I could walk that far that quickly. So I searched the line of cars approaching me for a cab with an empty backseat, realizing as I did that this is the purpose of those signs that light up on top of cabs. Spotting one, I made eye contact with the driver while plunging my arm out. As if by some act of conjuring, the cab pulled over and stopped. I tentatively reached for the door, looking to the driver for affirmation, just to make sure he wasn’t simply stopping for traffic. He seemed to give the slightest nod. I stepped gingerly into the back seat and then I said, “Victoria Coach Station.: With a nod, he stuck his hand out the window, made a U-turn against lanes of full traffic, and spend off down the road. I had hailed my first cab!

After he dropped me off, and I had given him 3 pounds of the 2.60 pounds he charged me, I entered the now quite familiar Victoria Coach Station and made my way to collect my bag from left luggage. As I pressed myself into the continually moving human mass that inhabits those portions of the station not barricaded by seats, I saw a teenage kid walking toward me with his shirt tail visible through his open trousers zipper. As it happened, the two of us were tossed together rather closely as we passed, so I took the opportunity to whisper, “Fly’s open,” close to his ear. Then I kept walking, as I’m sure he did too, though I didn’t turn around to check. I felt bad ruining his apparent aplomb, as the blind seer (don’t you love that word combination?) probably did while confronting Oedipus. But the kid had a dove pinned on his jacket, so I figure I owed it to him as an older sister. If out of sadism for no other reason.

From there I collected my bag, then not finding Tunbridge Wells on the departure list monitors, I went over to the departure information desk. I’ve been to that desk three times now, and this was the first time it was to ask about my departure. Ahead of me was a man talking to the agent. As he turned to go, a wad of paper fell to the ground, including what appeared to be a 5 Franc note. I picked it up and grabbed the man’s arm, handing it to him when he turned around. He said something I didn’t understand, so I pointed to the ground. He nodded and took the papers.

I’m not sure the wad even belonged to him as there were several people standing at the desk. In that regard, I’m not sure if any of my actions can be classified as good deeds, since the boy surely didn’t want to hear what i had to say, even if he did understand it. I’m not even sure a fly is called a fly in England. And a tip is a tip, though I”m not sure how much one is supposed to tip a taxi driver. But I could have had a good lunch for 3 pounds, and instead I didn’t have anything, but this was because I was running late for my bus, having disembarked the double deckered tour bus early to duck into a store that sold bulletproof jackets and spy equipment.

I’d already spent 12 pounds on the bus tour. Yeah, what do I do to spend time before my coach leaves? I climb on a bus. I’m glad I did though. I didn’t even have time to go on one of the four lines. The yellow line was neat because I was the only one on it. A whole bus to myself! The guide (it was his first day on the yellow line) didn’t bother with the microphone and just sat and talked to me about the city as we rode around on top. That was fun. He’s paying for night classes at law school by being a tour guide. I wished I could have tipped him and all my other drivers and guides, but this “student” skips lunches to save pounds. Makes me want to be actually in the position of making money. Ah, well. There was the taxi driver at least.

In any case, I have seen London. And the more I see, the more I like it. ‘Course, I wouldn’t want to live there because with the kind of salary I’d make, I’d be living in some dirty hole in the worst part of town. Unless I cooked for Mary Alice. Hmmm…

She and James picked me up at the station yesterday. It took us half an hour to find each other. Unfortunately, I wasn’t by my gate exactly when she came by. I saw my first Cyber Cafe (it was even called that) at the station, though at 25p a minute, I wasn’t about to try it out. I also got a hold of Chris and found out about routes to Tunbridge Wells. I was just deciding not to stand in line to book a seat right then when James poked his head in the door. They took me back to their town house, which is just big enough for me to sleep on the fold out couch. We had some parsnip soup and sandwiches and then vegged and read the paper. I may have to start getting London papers from time to time when I get back, just to keep up on British fashion, humor, and wit.

I don’t always get British humour, whether because of idiom or just not being able to understand what a fast speaking person is saying. Sometimes I have to see a billboard 3 or 4 times before I finally get the joke, if at all. As one article in the Sunday paper said, here even McDonalds is forced to make ironic ads.

When I had exhausted every aspect of the Independent (“I got it because it wasn’t quite as bulky as the others,” confessed James), I opened the Wilsons’ beautiful stand up piano. It had that neato middle pedal that slides over and dampens all the strings. I activated it like Mullek showed me and started playing away. I practiced newer stuff, tried to recall old tunes, and experimented a lot, though it all sounded good, since the damper hid most mistakes. I don’t know how long I played, at least an hour, but I’d been playing in my mind, well, listening, for the past… day? It seemed longer. Then I stopped playing and got a glass of water. James, who had been sitting in the next room reading the paper, remarked he wished he had recorded some of it, “It’s so peaceful.” He plays by ear himself, so it it was special to hear him say that.

That evening we attended services at their church. St. Marks is a very free Anglican church that meets in a refurbished old church building. Behind the bass and saxophone players wearing jeans and the overhead showing Matt Redmon choruses were beautiful, old stained glass windows. There was a very unstructured (refreshingly) prayer time “led” by a chick with a nose ring, followed by sharing by whoever wanted to go up and speak for a few minutes. One of the many young professionals who made up the congregation (He’s a psychiatrist,) Mary Alice whispered to me) got up and told about weeding in his garden now that he’s living in a house–with three other roommates. He said as he was pulling weeds he though how much more rewarding it would be if he had something to work toward, flowers and beauty to look forward to instead of pointlessly ripping out what he didn’t want there. “Then God said to me, ‘I feel the same way.'” If we focus on Him and what He is achieving in our lives instead of dwelling on eradicated sin from our hearts, it will be so much easier to become who He is making us to be.

The sharing time was followed by a message by the vicar. The best thing about Anglican services is that the sermons are so short. It was an incredibly well thought out and put together sermon. Of course, I’m much more keen on quietly delivered, intellectual sermons than I am on hellfire and brimstone red-faced diatribes.

Afterward I looked over, and there was Sam! After coffee and chatting with some girl named Nic, Sam invited me to the pub with several others from church. Now that’s my kind of communion. I had a half pint of whatever that house served specially, sat next to the nose-fringed prayer leader and practiced being an extrovert. Okay, Okay… I was practicing being less introverted.

Sunday, April 19, 1998

19 April 1998 at 12:00 pm
by Jonah

I had to check my couch ticket to make sure. Somewhere along the way I misplaced the 16th and ended up a day ahead of myself. I was a bad girl yesterday and watched TV instead of journaling, but BBC2 was having a special night dedicated to Spike Milligan. I kept wondering who this fellow was until I realized why the name was so familiar when they showed clips of him on the Goon Show. A couple of times I wanted to shout, “I’ve head that episode!” but I don’t think much of anyone else in the youth hostel lounge would have appreciated it. It was cool to see people like John Cleese and Michael Palin doing impersonations of “Eckles.”

I woke up yesterday hungry but determined jot pay the 2 pounds something for breakfast at the hostel. This was just as well since by the time I got down stairs they were cleaning up. This was in spike of every watch in my full room going off at some point, only to have its slumbering wearer hit the snooze button on it so its alarm could reawake me in ten minutes. Ah, the curse of being a light sleeper. Ah, the blessing of drifting right off again. Finally, my alarm went off within the pocket of my day pack, and by the time I got to it, the alarm ended. By then there was only one other occupant in the room anyway, still struggling with her own battles of consciousness at ten minute intervals.

Leaving my pack in the room, I started out on the twenty minute hike to the town centre, found the tourist information office, and inquired about a travel agent. The directions led me to the Saturday market. It was just like the flea market, with stands selling CD’s to used paperbacks to T-shirts to, just what I was looking for, fruit. I bought some bananas and oranges and a small baguette, congratulating myself on only spending 1.20 Pounds. Then I wandered around the mall next door, trying to find a travel agency and happily munching the loaf of bread. Eventually, I gave up and asked one of the Quakers vigiling for peace. He handed me a flyer explaining their silent vigil and pointed to an agency on the other side of the square. The people in that office told me to go to the agency around the corner, who told me to go downstairs, who told me to go to the bus station. Fortunately, Cambridge has YOU ARE HERE maps all over the place for disoriented tourists like me, so I didn’t have to rely on my typical tactic of setting off resolutely in what seems like a good direction ad walking until I realize it’s not. At last i got it all settled, arranging to spend the night with James and Mary Alice, discovering when Christ would be back, and booking a seat for London the next day. That taken care of, I headed back toward the Fitzwilliam Museum, purchasing a box of tea bags along the way. Funny how you can get 40 bags of the stuff for the price of a cup of it hot in some places.

The museum was magnificent, displaying a brunch of red and black Grecian urns, whole suits of armour, works of Old Masters, Titians, Rubens, and Rafaels. Tired, I found a bench in the small modern art gallery, staring at Dadaism and resting my feet. A woman entered with two young boys. “Wow!” exclaimed the younger, who couldn’t have been any older than 2 or 3. “What is that?” he inquired, approaching a stack of varying shapes of metal welded together. What is that? I echoed his question in my mind. I had no idea.

“It’s a sculpture,” the woman wisely replied.

Having exhausted the exhibits and my mind, I bought some post cards and stamps before the shop closed. Then I wandered about town a bit more, taking a photo in the rain to justify carrying my camera around with me. The market was shutting down, so I stopped at a grocer/newsagent and bought a p[otato. Then I ducked into another store that appeared to be closing and purchased a single packet of butter for 6p. I think the girl at the register was disgusted.

A Saturday evening, and I was back at the hostel by 6. Ah, well. I was hungry and tired. The potato was delicious after I stuck it into the microwave for 10 minutes and then stuck the butter inside. I drank a cup of water and then made myself a couple cups of tea. A guy from Australia tried to strike up conversation, but I’m afraid I wasn’t concentrating on tossing balls back. “Alabama? Isn’t that where Forrest Gump lives?” Good ol’ Winston Groom–he’s gone and put my state on the map of the world. Now instead of being known as a bunch of racists, we can be known for imbeciles. That and Lynyrd Skynyrd.

Paul came into the kitchen this morning as I was drinking my tea. I bade him a good rest of the journey before I left.