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A Conspiracy of Cartographers

8 November 2008
tags: ,

(Note: Something fun from the U.K. for anyone who can tell me the play/movie the title of this post comes from)

I arrived in England for my two-week holiday last Wednesday with two large 23-kg bags, a very heavy backpack, and a complete lack of sleep due to the worst plane ride ever. And, due to these facts, on this day, my love for the City of London was severely tested.

Upon exiting customs, I dropped one of my bags at the Left Luggage counter at Heathrow with expectations to pick it up on Sunday when I met Mike. It would be expensive but a lot less than one of those black cabs that I swear charge extra just because they look so British. Imagine how much they would cost if the driver actually spoke to you and said things like “Tally ho” and “Jolly good”.

After leaving the luggage counter, I made a stop at the Marks & Spencer food store that is now open in the new Terminal 5. I love me some M&S over-priced gourmet groceries. Having just arrived from India, I went a bit crazy and bought a little too much food – teacakes and shortbread, real apple juice, sandwich on multi-grain bread, Percy the Pig jellies. These jellies are highly addictive, and I find myself craving them even though I know that they are made from pork gelatin, which really should disgust me, but seriously, I just lived in India – little disgusts me now.

So after my little shopping spree, I was now juggling a large bag of food in addition to my other 23 kg suitcase (which was bought in a last-minute fit of desperation on my last day in Chennai when the zipper of my noticeably smaller suitcase broke – thank goodness the Penthouse is situated opposite a Samsonite store, of all things) and the very heavy backpack that, due to my sleep-deprived state, threatened to take out small children and short women with every ill-timed change of direction on my part. With this load, I took the lift to the London Underground, reveling in the fact that my friend / New Zealand sister Esther had given me an Oyster travel card on my last visit to London, helping me save some cash on the notoriously expensive Tube.

As I stepped on the somewhat busy Piccadilly line train, I realized I was going to have to quickly consolidate all of my stuff so as not to overflow onto the seats next to me, thereby infuriating my fellow passengers. I have said in the past that I enjoy how delightfully rude Londoners can be. However, I enjoy this only because I myself have rarely been the object of their ridicule. Yes, I have been known to forget the sacred rule to stand on the right of the escalator, but I have learned my lesson, and I have the scars to prove it. So I was going to avoid any reprimand again in any way I could.

Sitting down, I perched the backpack on top of the suitcase in front of me and cradled the food bag in my lap, hunching over it all in a bear hug in the hopes of keeping everything together. At every stop, as more and more people got on the train, I tried to hug the bags ever closer to me, enduring a bit of back pain and the glowering stares of some of the proper Londoners seated around me. The train rolled on and on, and finally, after what would have been enough time to read a Dickens’ novel, we arrived at Piccadilly, where I planned to change lines. Despite the polite announcement to mind the gap, I still had a bit of a scary moment where one of the wheels of my suitcase lodged itself into the aforementioned gap and I almost toppled over prying it loose.

Righting myself and catching my breath, I looked in vain for a lift or an escalator, anything that would make this trip easier. It dawned on me then that, despite all its seeming properness, London had not quite gotten around to making its public transportation system accessible. As I dragged my heavy suitcase up and down one staircase after another, I became more and more horrified of the thought of what it must be like to be in a wheelchair in this city or even just to be a bit older and have trouble with stairs. Sure, it really sucked to be dragging this suitcase on two hours of sleep through the bowels of London, but I have little to complain about. At the end of the day, I got to put down that suitcase and flop into a bed and know I’ll never have to do that again (instead, I’ll make Mike do it for me).

Yes, I know that there are accessible stations in London, but they are few and far between and would have required me to go quite a bit out of the way to use them. So London, if you’re listening, do something about that.

By the time I dragged myself and my stuff to Esther’s workplace, obtained her key, and then made it to her flat, I could barely move. A friendly workman at her flat carried my bag up that last bit of stairs, which was fantastic because, left on my own at that moment, I probably would have grabbed out some clothes and made a nest for myself right there in the entryway, alienating all of Esther’s neighbors. Finally making it into her flat, I threw down all my stuff and fell into bed.

At that moment, as my limbs quivered, I seriously reconsidered this love for London I had previously proclaimed so loudly. All day long I had endured prices that made my used-to-the-rupee head spin, towering, mocking staircases, and scowling Londoners peering down their extra-long noses at me. Plus it was cold. And rainy. Remind me – why did I want to come here again?

Over the next three days, as I overcame my jetlag and enjoyed some time with my friend, I warmed up to London (and not just because I bought some sweaters and gloves so I could feel my extremities again). On Halloween, we went to a free museum (there are so many of them!) and visited a very London pub, and, on Saturday, we spent the whole day watching horrible English reality TV. I started to remember what makes this city so great.

London, you have redeemed yourself this time, and Mike seems to like you (next blog post), but you better check yo’self before you wreck yo’self. (I have always wished some city or state would use that as its seatbelt campaign). Oh, and get on that whole accessibility thing or I will start glowering down my shapely nose at you. So there.

Since we didn't have time to find Halloween costumes, we had to create our own. Esther is front right, and her flatmate Chris is in the middle.

Since we didn't have time to find Halloween costumes, we had to create our own.

I can be such a tourist sometimes. I heard these phone booths are disappearing soon, so I had to have my picture in one.

I heard these phone booths are disappearing soon, so I had to have my picture in one. I can be such a tourist sometimes.

3 Comments leave one →
  1. D.A.D. permalink
    10 November 2008 12:06 am

    That’s from “Rosencrantz and Gildenstern Are Dead,” right?

  2. Therese permalink
    10 November 2008 8:30 am

    Shoot, Dad got it first. I totally knew that it was from Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead.

  3. D.A.D. permalink
    11 November 2008 10:43 pm

    We should both get prizes, just because.

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