Saturday, September 11, 2010

London still calling

London follows me at a distance. It's falling behind, but I can still see it when I turn around. The tower of Big Ben sticking out from behind a tree.

The trouble is, it's also September in New England. And summer is turning. That blend of warm and cool. That Kodachrome blue sky that suggests migrating hawks. Or cloudy chilly days like today: pads of paper for writing down stuff I meant to write about. Because unwritten stuff must be written or it will shrivel like an unquacked quack.

So here's a shepherd's pie of British memories in no particular order. Another pie to follow.


"Who is Bumper Harris?"
—an ad along an escalator at a Tube station, self-promoting the London Underground with a story of a one-legged employee named Bumper Harris who was hired to ride the escalator and demonstrate its safety. (This job is in some dispute, but there was indeed a Bumper Harris.)

"I was born tomorrow. Today I live. Yesterday killed me."
—inscription in a bench on Hampstead Heath, attributed to Parviz Owsia, Iranian poet

Old York

We were getting off the train after a two-hour ride from King's Cross Station. What was the story about all these women in chic dresses and high heels and stylish hats? At first a few, then out on the platform a river of them, all dressed to kill. And all heading for a line of buses parked across the street, destined for the York Racecourse. Aha! Today, August 19, was Ladies Day at the race track. We considered climbing aboard with them, decided not to, and instead mounted the Roman wall that still encircles this old city, one-time bastion of Romans, Saxons, and Vikings, who called the place Jorvik. I could have walked the wall all day, like a model in a 1950s tourism film. (Voiceover: "Our hiker reads that Lendal Tower was rented as a water tower for one peppercorn a year.") But lunch called, then a walk through York Minster, the titanic, gasp-inducing cathedral dating back to the eleventh century, even listing its former Precentors and Chancellors the way churches list their ministers, except these included Hugh Sottovagina, 1133; Hamo, 1174; William d'Eu, 1139; and Ranulf, 1091. To say nothing of such long-lived names as Belevant, Grindal, Langtoft, Streusall, Ampleforth, and Cencellarius Dannington.
Later, heading back to the train in the rain (little knowing a five-hour delay through Sheffield and Derby awaited us) we encountered some of the ladies back from their day, variously richer, poorer, dampened, and in their cups. Farewell, old York.


"Many shall run to and fro and knowledge shall be increased."
—Daniel, xii, 4.
(inscription on some plaque in Hampstead)


Tate Modern Gallery piece by David Shrigley:
Pie chart:
(small wedge, about 15%:) "Portion of birds' lives that birds feel truly belongs to them."
(remainder:) "Portion of birds' lives that birds feel are public property."

Outside Tate Modern Gallery, Southbank, Thames:
Members of the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds with spotting scopes aimed at gray wind-ruffled peregrine falcon (Bert or Misty) on ledge of nearby office tower. RSPB website elaborates.

Desserts in café of Tate Modern Gallery:
Gooseberry crumble with vanilla ice cream
Elderflower and raspberry fool with elderflower thins
Apricot, buttermilk and almond tart with créme fraiche


Painted People

A race of semi-mythological people is gaining a foothold among us. What do we know, really, about the LIving Statues who seem drawn to our metropolitan areas, especially to those well-trafficked corridors called tourist traps? Only that they appear to be completely coated in paint of a particular hue, favor statue-like poses, and occasionally make modest movements—a flutter of a fan; a tilt of a wine goblet; a brandish of a broadsword—or even interact with us as if they are only one heroic deed away from becoming fully human. And the characters they portray range from puzzling to evocative: a purple bicyclist, his coat and scarves permanently billowing behind him; a silver coquette, with fan and parasol, out of a Jane Austen novel; a golden John and Yoko, genially toasting passersby in clockwork repetition; and a bronzy working stiff looking a day late and a dollar short, but grasping his dignity with both hands.


"You cannot alight from the rear two coaches as the station has a short platform."
—routine recorded announcement on Tube

Please do not allow your dogs to foul the amenity area.
—sign, Hampstead Heath

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