Friday, April 29, 2005

London Calling-Part the First

This is the first chance I've had to put my aching feet up. Its been a long haul but London has eventually lived up to its reputation. The begining was luxurious though not auspicious. Qatar has a fabulous airline. The seats stretch go all the way -and that's saying more than most people I know. I was able to stretch my six foot frame out flat and - for the first time ever on a flight- I actually managed to get some shut eye. I may even have had the odd dream. Flying will never be the same again.
On arrival, I was "fast tracked" through immigration. The chubby-good natured-gay visa officer even cracked a joke. He could teach his surly French counterparts a thing or two. Hopped on to the Heathrow express and then took a cab to my "hotel." This is where the feelgood factor came to an abrupt end. I went through an umbilical corridor and located my room. This was a damp, flea infested, gloomy chamber with a single bed half the size of my first class seat. Depression overcame me like a spilt espresso on a white table cloth. Time to hit the duty free Chivas.
The next morning was the conference I had arrived for. I tried ignoring the room, changed and fled from it as fast as I could. I hit the first of many coffee places I could find and knocked back a triple espresso on the rocks. More about the coffee invasion of London. Apart from the ubiquituous (and yukky) Starbucks, there are now more coffee joints than loos in this city. I have never had some much (and such good) caffeine in so little time. This is a far cry from the London of my day. The conference was uneventful. My paper seemed to go off well. The Chairman, a Pakistani bureaucrat, even resorted to some T S Eliot. April, according to him, was the cruellest month. This was an allusion to the bucketfuls of rain that were spilling all around us.
I got back to the dungeon and decided I couldn't take it for much longer. I fled and started calling friends at random. International roaming has to be the next best thing to sliced pancetta. I got a hold of one of my formerly marxist (but now new Labour) friends and we agreed to meet at Gray's Inn. I started walking over, vaguely conscious of the fact that I could lose my way. My homing instincts are better than my homo instincts. I made it there in no time. Auto pilot continues to work in my head - I cannot vouch for the rest of the hard disk. On getting there, I discovered I was early and that my feet hurt. They still do as I write this out. I am as out of shape as a bean bag. I sat in the picturesque surroundings and tried to recall the many days I had spent in those very buildings as a struggling student. As I sat there reminiscing, a solitary and very aged figure walked over. Emrys (as he introduced himself) has an invented name and was in the army, based in Karachi in 1942. He went on to become a judge and has roomed at Grays ever since. We chatted for the longest, complete strangers, united by the fact that we were in the same profession. The mouldy hotel room was becoming a distant memory.
The Marxist came struggling up, hauling a bunch of papers. She was having a bad hair day, but seemed none the worse for wear. The bar was closed as it was out of term, so we decided to hot foot it to the Oxo building - Terence Conran's restoration on the South Bank. Despite the absence of a reservation, we got a brilliant table for two looking along the river. The crowd was decided of the champagne socialist variety. Committed, but loving the money. The view was stupenduous. London has certainly cleaned its act up. The buildings have been scrubbed clean and floodlit. The Thames was once the grimiest river in Europe. It may still be as polluted but it looks good. The Marxist and I reminisced about old times. She is besotted with a Judge before whom she appears. Being attractive and "asian" makes her a moving target and she is convinced she will be a marked woman if she takes the plunge. All this is familiar territory. Islamabad is not the only bell jar in the world. I try my damndest to persuade her to jump in. I tried the "we-have-one-life-lets-live-it -to-the-fullest-bit." I'm not so sure it worked, but what the heck. Good food, good wine, good view.
The next morning came with marked resolution. I had warned the Temptress that I was moving into her place the next morning. Either that or I would check myself into the nearest hospital. "Be there at 10" she said. I checked out of the Bastille at 8.30 and was standing outside her flat at 9. She rolled out of bed, bade me a sleepy Hello, rolled back in. Her flat was amazing ...small, but functional, cheery, books, music, magazines and the best coffee machine in the world. My trip had taken a sharp turn for the better. God agreed. The sun came out for the very first time.
(To be continued)


Blogger s said...

you know you're addicted when you're blogging even while on holiday :)!!!

6:19 pm  
Blogger Uber Homme said...

yes, i think you may "just" have a point there!

8:22 pm  

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