April 24, 1998

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!”

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