In Merrie Olde England (Pt. 2)

Next morning, if it could be called that due to the lack of anything brighter than mid-gloom outside, I woke just after my dad had finished with the bathroom.  As we maneuvered around each other getting dressed he asked me what I was planning to do.  I told him I didn’t really have a master plan, but I’d noticed some brochures in a holder near the front desk.  I’d investigate them.

He pressed some banknotes into my hand as we left the room to have breakfast.  I am definitely not a morning person.  Coffee was terrible and the tea had leaves floating around in it so I tried just a glass of orange juice.  That seemed to work.  Four slabs of toast with good butter and some marmalade added sustenance.  I also had three eggs but I couldn’t make up my mind if they were undercooked or what.  When I asked, I was told they were poached.  Poached?  Do you mean that someone went out and stole them from some henhouse somewhere?  No, sir.  They’ve been boiled.  Oh, that explained it then.

My dad and his group packed themselves into two cabs and headed for their conference.  I wandered around the front desk area until I spotted a guy about my age in a bellman’s uniform.  I’d learned a while back that if you wanted to know what was going on in a strange town, ask hotel workers.

It turned out he and I were within six months of each other in age.  He had come on duty at four AM and was due to get off at eight.  He offered to show me some of London.  It sounded like a really good idea to me.  I showed him several of my banknotes and asked him to explain all the nuances of English money.  My head was filled with pence, crowns, quids, and pounds.  I couldn’t make heads or tails out of it.  All I knew was that one of these (pound notes) was roughly equal to two dollars and fifty cents so if I just paid with them I could calculate how much I was spending.

My newfound friend, also a Tom, said that I’d need some change for the underground.  Underground?  Oh, the subway.  I changed a pound note and received a handful of various sized coins.  Tom pointed to each one and named them.  It seemed as if the bigger it was, the less it was worth.  A penny was huge.

He said that these, indicating a ten pence piece, were used on the underground so I loaded up on them.  One of the brochures had a map of the London tube system so I grabbed that as we went past.  Standing on the front walk, I unfolded it and refolded it so our local area was visible.  He indicated were we were and asked where we were headed.  I wanted to see the Tower of London first.  Hey, what the heck, I was a tourist.

We walked down the sidewalk and at the very first intersection I nearly made a fatal mistake.  I violated my own personal English tourist mantra:  ‘ALWAYS look left instead of right’ and stepped off the curb looking right.  Tom yanked on my arm as a bus whooshed by and threw mist all over me.

“Left, mate.  Look left!”

“Yeah.  Sorry.”

Looking left this time, we crossed over and went down the stairs to the Underground.  I had already spent some time wandering around the subway system in New York, so I was familiar with trains.  These cars were in pristine shape compared to their American counterparts.  Very little graffiti and no trash anywhere.  Signs proclaimed that it was a ‘fineable offense’ to litter; and I bet they meant it.

As we clattered along, I mentally marked the stations we passed through.  We had to change trains at a place called Bank but eventually arrived at Tower Gateway and emerged into deep and gloomy daylight again.  We were very close to the river now and fog had started creeping up from the banks.

I took several pictures and, owing to the cloudy skies, I felt that my black and white photos would pass on the general dankness of the day.  Tom and I wandered up and down various streets just taking in the sights.  He told me that he’d lived in London all his life but never really had taken the time to see things.  I told him that when I’d lived in Washington, DC that the same thing had happened to me.  Here I was living in a very historical town and never really gotten to see it until I began touring it with my girlfriend.

That got Tom’s attention and we began regaling each other with tales of great and not so great dates.  He began searching for a call box and when he found one he made a lengthy telephone call.  During the call he stuck his head out and asked if I would like to go to a small birthday party tonight.  I saw no reason not to, so I told him it was fine with me.  He got back on the phone and continued.  When he hung up and emerged he said it was all set up; his girl had a friend who would love to meet me.  As far as he knew, neither his girl of her friend had ever met a Yank.

Onward we walked.  We rounded a corner and found ourselves in a rather large square with multiple roads converging.  Tom looked a street signs and pronounced that we were back over the Bank subway terminal.  Not wanting to walk much further without something to eat we looked for a place we could get a snack.  We managed to locate a place that served fish and chips.  I’d never eaten them but Tom told me it was practically a national food.  They tasted great to me, but the word chips brought to mind something a little different than the rather thick, deep fried, potatoes that were served.  I had been told that ‘chips’ were actually what we called French fries.  Not necessarily so.

From the shop we headed back to the subway.  Tom suggested Piccadilly Circus as a destination.  I saw no reason to disagree so off we went.  It was slightly brighter when we emerged from the cave and I was immediately underwhelmed.  Piccadilly Circus was really just a wide place in the road where many streets came together.  Compared to Times Square in New York, it was slightly larger, but not by much.  I had been so disappointed in Times Square.  It takes up really less than a block and is very narrow.  This place was at least a wider area.  Both here and Times Square held streams of traffic; and, to my eye, they were all on the wrong side of the road.

That afternoon we scurried in and out of subway tunnels like demented squirrels.  We’d pop up, Tom would name some of the sights around, I’d shoot some pictures, and down we’d go again.  Finally, I called a halt and the two of us headed for the subway for a last trip back to Lancaster Gate.

Tom checked in with his supervisor and was told that his next shift wasn’t until tomorrow at noon.  This made him happy as he would be able to enjoy himself at the party tonight.  I just had to slip this one past my dad.  I seemed to remember him tilling me we’d go out ‘just the two of us’ and see some of the night life.  No offense meant dad, but I’d much rather go to a birthday party with Tom.  As it turned out, he appeared relieved that I had something else to do as he wanted to hit a night club with some of his buddies.  Well, that situation worked itself out nicely.

Tom left my room after telling me he’d meet me right at the exit from West Acton at six thirty.  He also warned that the line had an East Acton and a North Acton before my exit.  I changed clothes, went down into the small pub and had a short beer.  I didn’t think I could ever get used to warm beer, but it sort of grows on you.

I cleaned up, changed clothes, and allowed myself ten minutes more than the thirty minutes Tom had told me the trip would take.  As a result, I was waiting at the exit when he arrived.  He has two really stunning girls with him.  I already knew he liked blondes so I figured that the brunette was for me.  I was right.

“Tom, this is Constance and Connie, this is Tom.  This other gorgeous bird is Rose.”

“I’ll ‘gorgeous bird’ you, mate.  Just you wait,” smiled Rose, offering me her hand.

She had hair so blonde it looked almost white in the darkness of evening thrown by the tall buildings.  She was exceptionally built, but I only commented on that to myself.  We shook hands and made small talk for a few moments.  Connie, as I said, was a brunette and was almost a foot shorter than I.  This didn’t appear to bother her however because she took my arm as we walked away from the tube entrance.  Proportionally, she was a well assembled as Rose, just smaller.  She had a very infectious laugh which would pop out any time anything remotely funny was said.  It could have been that she was as nervous as I.

Several blocks later we arrived at the flat where the party had only begun.

T.O.M.

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