An Adventure in London

An Adventure in London

I woke with a start at 7am this morning. I don’t remember the content of the dream I was having, but remember a sense of loss when I came to my senses and realised that there would be no returning to it. Ten minutes later I was in the kitchen sipping a first coffee of the day and watching the clock while waiting for my eldest – Miss 18 – to finish in the shower. If she managed to wash and dry her hair inside half an hour, I would have time for a shower and shave too, and we would have half a chance of making it to the train station in time for the next London bound train.

Why is it that adulting consists mainly of doing count-back mental arithmetic on clock-faces, in order to make plans for teenagers that you have to threaten them to meet ?

We made it to the train station with five minutes to spare. I was quietly amazed.

It’s been a while since we visited London together – Miss 18 and I. It’s been a while since we spent any time at all together, to be honest. I suppose that’s just what happens when you start work – your life begins to diverge from your parents. Suddenly you have money, friends, independence, and much better places to be than sitting next to your Dad on a railway station platform. Except this morning that’s exactly where she found herself. I’m no fool. The real reason for my presence was as an escort of sorts – a safety net to shepherd her into London, across the Underground network, and safely to both Forbidden Planet, and the Doc Martens shop.

Ever since receiving her first pay packet, Miss 18 has talked about buying her first pair of Doc Martens boots. We have walked past the factory store in London numerous times en-route to the comic book shop on Shaftesbury Avenue, but never set foot in the place – until today.

Cutting a long story short, Miss 18 is now very broke indeed. A pair of black boots with roses emboroidered on them had her name written all over them. I tried to persuade her that classic black Doc Martens would be more practical, and think she may end up buying them anyway (oh, to have disposable income again), but today was all about those damn embroidered boots. They do look nice, but I have no idea how she will ever clean them. Maybe she’ll never get them dirty.

After leaving the Doc Martens shop with the biggest smile I’ve seen in quite some time, we wandered along Neal Street to Forbidden Planet – purveyor of collectibles, graphic novels, comics, cult curiousities, and things you didn’t know you needed until you saw them. What little was left in her bank account evaporated. Lets just say her collection of manga books expanded significantly.

This is where I admit to picking up a graphic novel for myself along the way. A quite ridiculous book called “The Adventure Zone” – apparently a New York Times bestseller. I stood reading it for quite some time while Miss 18 perused Tokyo Ghoul, Attack on Titan, and countless other Manga staples. I’m not quite sure why, but I’ve found myself picking up either one-shot books, or indie titles recently – once upon a time I was all about the big DC and Marvel titles – not any more it seems.

We thought about making our way across London to the river at one point during the day – to catch the annual Oxford and Cambridge Boat Race as it swept past – but when it came down to it comic books and boots seemed far more important. And sushi. We always seem to end up eating sushi when we visit London together.

Before leaving the city we walked across to Trafalgar Square, and took photos of the fountains and lions. I suggested that it might be fun to visit the National Gallery while there – if only to visit the cafe in the basement and get a coffee. This turned out to be a colossal mistake, on account of the gallery being filled to the gunnels with people, and the cafe having one staff member. I think we got back to Paddington station and bought a coffee faster than if we had stayed at the National Gallery.

Somehow striding past countless priceless paintings in the National Gallery without a second glance while in pursuit of coffee seemed tremendously wrong. Irreverent.

During the day, Miss 18 remarked that I seemed to be “the great helper of people”. On the way into the city in the morning an Indian gentleman sat down next to me, and seemed a little lost. He gathered the courage to ask me which train he might catch to reach “East Ham”, and I spent some minutes looking through my phone with him – explaining about switching from Overground to Underground trains when we reached Paddington. He seemed genuinely delighted when I pointed out “East Ham” on a map.

Later in the day – while eating sushi in the basement of ITSU on Neal Street, a lady failed spectacularly at getting into the toilets (which are locked with a keycode). I wandered over and unlocked the door for her – grinning as I turned the handle in the opposite direction than she had tried three times. Moments later another diner appeared and almost peed herself while also failing to open the door – again I left my seat and wandered over. She said thankyou so many times it became embarassing.

A Quiet Saturday

A Quiet Saturday

It’s mid-way through Saturday afternoon. All I appear to have done all day so far is wash clothes, tidy up, and noodle around on the internet. I had grand plans to write a blog post about something or other, but coming up with something or other has been unexpectedly difficult. Sitting around all morning doesn’t really provide any great tales to tell.

I did sign up for something on the internet – although I’m not entirely sure it will be of interest to anybody. An alternative to Twitter, Facebook, and Tumblr has been growing like a weed on the internet over the last few years – it’s called Mastodon. It differs from the other social networks because it’s federated, decentralised, and self regulated. That’s right – no one individual owns it, or polices it. The source code is freely available – meaning anybody can start their own server, and connect with the rest of the network. If you visit https://joinmastodon.org, you can read more about it. I joined the “mastodon.cloud” server – you can find my profile at https://mastodon.cloud/@jonbeckett if you’re interested in trying it out, following me, and so on.

The younger children are on holiday for Easter now – two weeks to knock around the house getting increasingly bored, and fighting with one another. They have been remarkably quiet today so far, which is surprising given the events of yesterday evening. Shortly after I got in from work Miss 15 couldn’t find her wallet (containing her bank debit card). This was immediately something that the entire rest of the household should be helping her with, and was not her fault at all. Somebody had obviously either taken it, or moved it. The fact that she had no idea when she last had it, or when she last used it was not important.

Have you ever seen an angry 15 year old “looking” for something? It typically consists of standing in various locations around the house, making a lot of angry noise, expecting the lost item to magically fly from it’s hiding place. When that doesn’t yield results, they switch directly to throwing, breaking and trampling on other people’s belongings with no intention of putting any of them back where they found them.

I don’t remember being so self-centred, selfish, unreasonable, rude, or nasty when I was 15. Maybe if you’re in the middle of the brain chemistry changes that afflict teenagers you eventually erase all memory of the horrific little shit you could be from time to time. I know that after you’ve been a parent for a while, your tolerance level for mostly-harmless-bullshit gets turned up to about 20 out of 10.

Before we had children, if we were out to dinner at a pub and heard children shouting or crying, we would wince and wonder why the parents were not doing anything. After having children for a while, you suddenly realise how good you have become at blocking it out. Not only do you “not hear” the shouting and crying, you can distinguish the sound of your own children across a busy playground, and can tell a real cry from an attention seeking cry in seconds. It’s all very odd.

Tomorrow morning I’m heading into London with our eldest daughter. She has a month’s worth of pay sitting in her bank account, and wants to visit the comic book shop in Shaftesbury Avenue. I have a feeling we’ll be coming home with quite a collection of Manga books.

Finally, I didn’t want to end this post without making mention of a wonderful blogging friend that’s going through a tough time at the moment. She’s been in my thoughts a lot recently, and has brought into focus just how difficult this internet thing is sometimes. We forge wonderful friendships around the world, and like to think we can be there for each other – but in reality we are often thousand of miles away, and able to offer no more than a little of our time. Somebody needs to get a move on and invent those transporters from Star Trek in a hurry.

Mr Fogg’s Residence

Mr Fogg’s Residence

I’m not entirely sure that I know where to start – I just know I need to before the memories of the evening leave my head. I’m sitting on the train home from London at ten minutes to midnight. I will arrive at a town fairly-near home at somewhere close to 1am, and will then summon a taxi for the last few miles.

I can now lay claim to having attended a blogger “meetup”. Granted, there were only a few of us, but in a strange sort of way that seemed like a better thing to happen, because we really got to talk. It was still very, very strange, but in a good way (I think).

For me, it all began late in the afternoon, after catching a train towards London from my home town in the depths of “The Shire” – or so most people elsewhere in the world might think of it. I grabbed something to eat at Paddington railway station, and then continued on my way towards our eventual destination in Mayfair – a bar themed after “Phileas Fogg”, from the Jules Verne book “Around the World in 80 Days”. Only I got there an hour and a half early.

Thankfully I had done a little research before setting off, and knew a somewhat famous pub nestled on a road-end not far from “Fogg’s Residence” – quite appropriately titled (in a stereotypical style) “The Coach and Horses”. I bought a drink, found a table, and tried to think of something to do for an hour. I had my notebook with me, so set about emptying my head into the pages while sipping a pint of cider. Here’s the curious thing about sitting on your own with a notebook – you start to hear the conversations of others around you.

I quickly became aware of two girls sitting across the way that were obviously on a first date. They started out at opposite ends of a small table, and as time wore on, they edged closer to each other, eventually brushing hands, holding legs, and eventually touching fingers across the table. I couldn’t help grinning, and thinking about the various studies of human behaviour I had seen over the years. Perhaps we really are as predictable as everybody says.

While sitting in the bar, as each person pushed the doors open I wondered if it might be one of our gathering, and looked up hopefully. I think the bar staff became aware of this, and almost started a watch for me. It must be gut-wrenching for bar staff when they realise somebody has been stood up – and that’s probably what they thought was unfolding before them.

The clock eventually swept it’s hands towards 8pm and I pulled my coat on, and made my way to the kerb stones outside our collective “meeting point”. Even though I had already had a drink (to calm my own nerves), I will admit to freaking out just a little bit. I thought I should arrive first, so had been there for a few minutes when the first double-take happened. A pretty blonde lady strode from the darkness, and announced “you’re Jonathan, aren’t you”.

I don’t think our conversation could have been more awkward if we had tried, but we did our best, and before we knew it more faces emerged from the night – grinning, confirming we were who we thought we should be, and wondering what to do next. Ah yes. Mr Fogg.

While the top-hatted doorman checked our name on the guest list, I made a comment about him looking particularly serious. His face cracked into a grin, and he commented that everybody told him as much. I suppose in many ways I was just making conversation with anybody, because I tend to do that – everbody I knew invites me to parties because I’m kind of the opposite of a silence, and they know it. I will actively seek out that person that’s fallen from a conversation, and find something to talk about. I don’t think it’s necessarily about being inclusive, as much as recognising others that are as awkward as me.

How should I describe “Mr Fogg’s Residence” ? Imagine a movie set dressed to look like a private collection of ephemera from the adventures of a victorian explorer, and you’re getting somewhere near. Many years ago – before it was gutted and re-fitted – Oxford housed a wonderful museum called “Pitt Rivers” that contained endless shelves of curiosities. Imagine the private collection of Indiana Jones, if he hadn’t donated everything to Marcus Brody’s museum.

After ordering suitably exotic drinks from an esoteric menu, we nervously sat down, and started trying to figure out how to make conversation with people that already know almost everything about you. In the beginning it was really odd, but as time wore on we somehow relaxed into it, and remembered that we were the same people that we’ve shared so much with over the past few years.

In the blink of an eye two hours passed, and a waiter in period costume informed us that our time at Mr Fogg’s Residence was drawing to a close. We split the bill, and wandered out in the night air together – not wanting the night to end. Luckily, somebody had spent an hour in a bar just along the way earlier in the evening – cough – so knew exactly where to go next.

After finally saying goodbye to new friends, I left the gathering, called home, and began walking towards Oxford Circus underground station – a two hour journey ahead. While listening to the various conversations bouncing around the table earlier in the evening I had already decided to go for “Plan B” on the way home – I had already missed the last train, so would need to get a little bit creative.

While trying to focus on the display boards at Paddington a very neat gentleman in a blue raincoat struck up conversation with me – enquiring if I might have heard when the missing train to Didcot might make an appearance. I must have a sign on my head saying “this guy knows things”.

The train did arrive, finally. While rumbling quietly from Paddington towards home, I unfolded the laptop that had sat in my bag all night, and wrote – emptying my head – writing the words you’re reading. Before I knew it, a voice crackled from the overhead speakers that my station was approaching.

Only I wasn’t home yet, remember. I had missed the last train.

After following another late night traveller into the railway station car-park, I opened a waiting taxi door, and requested my destination from the driver. He didn’t seem to understand, and asked for my postcode. Given that I only live perhaps seven miles from the station, you can imagine my thoughts. As we drove through the darkness, I noticed him fighting with the sat-nav in the car, and failing miserably. Rather than belittle him in any way, I asked if he would like me to give him directions, and that’s how I got home – directing a panic stricken man that couldn’t work a mobile phone, and didn’t know where he was.

Of course I couldn’t let him suffer in silence, so struck up conversation during the last few miles of the journey – asking where he was from as an opening gambit. It turned out he was from Pakistan, and had moved here two years ago to live with his brother. They shared the taxi. He missed home terribly, but spoke in glowing terms about the safe environment he now lived – and how trusting, trustworthy, and polite everybody was. He talked all the way home, wrote his number on a receipt for me in case I might ever need a taxi again, and shook my hand while saying good night.

Perhaps it was a reminder that the world isn’t quite as bad as we might sometimes imagine.

Of course I had just spent the night proving that the world is actually rather wonderful, if only you take a chance or two. If not for taking a chance, I would not have spent the evening forging friendships with relative strangers. Quite wonderful strangers, but then not really strangers at all.

It’s a curious business – this blogging lark. You empty your head into the keyboard, and send your words off around the world. You don’t really think of the readers and fellow authors in terms of them being real, living, breathing people – or at least I don’t – or didn’t – until tonight.

Tonight the world got smaller. And a little more real.

Preparing for London

Preparing for London

A suit, a pair of shoes, and a dark grey t-shirt are hanging behind me in the junk room at home – waiting for me to return home early from work tomorrow afternoon, and head into London to meet friends. You might wonder why I might wear a suit – and I would counter that we are headed to a cocktail bar in Mayfair – one of the most exclusive properties on the British monopoly board. If plans work out, we will meet at “Mr Fogg’s Residence” – a bar themed after the literary character “Phileas Fogg”, from Jules Verne’s novel “Around the World in 80 Days”.

I’m not meeting just any group of friends either – I’m meeting bloggers. One from San Francisco, and two from London, as far as I am aware. We’ve been quietly reading each other’s adventures for the last couple of years, never really thinking of crossing paths in the real world – but then the opportunity unfolded in front of us, and… well… why not ?

I’ve never been to a “meetup” before. I’ve met several fellow bloggers over the years individually, but never a get-together of several. It’s going to be odd. We know far more about each other’s lives than many in our lives. We know about each other’s hopes, fears, memories, thoughts, ideas, adventures, failures, worries – you name it, we’ve been along for the ride with each other at one point or another. Like I said – it’s going to be odd.

I have a sneaking suspicion we’ll all get on famously, and the evening will vanish in the blink of an eye. Or at least that’s what I’m hoping.