Saturday, December 13, 2003

Late train home from London

It’s a different atmosphere with the undergrads gone, and my fellow grads slipping one by one onto flights home. Things felt more serene at first, but suddenly seem hectic again.

So yesterday I did the only rational thing a student fretting about workloads could: caught a train to London to help the good Italian flatmate pass his last day in England before Christmas.

He had to drop by his Embassy, so I hit the Victoria and Albert Museum on my own. It’s simply jaw-droppingly huge and varied: though the exhibit labels often read like a small history of pillaging (“taken from the Emperor’s palace by soldiers during the Boxer uprising, this throne …”), which made me a little uneasy over questions of cultural property.

The ornate lobby has an extraordinary Chihuly “chandelier”, a seemingly organic growth of green and yellow bulbs and tubers and curlicues of glass. On Wednesday nights the museum has late openings and, apparently, serves wine while music is played beneath it. What the linked pictures don’t show is how the information desk with its backlit green panels complements the work. I’ll try and get my pics up soon.

I also stopped by the Brompton Oratory, before visiting what one of my Greek flatmates calls “The Museum” (Harrods – you don’t buy, just peer into glass cases), and then the Italian and I hit Portobello Road (the rain had dampened the market, but not our appetite for coffee, or the cuteness of English people buying street-corner pine trees) and watched the Christmas shopping on Oxford Street.

I weirded-out crossing Piccadilly Circus and riding double-decker red busses past Kensington Gardens: it all just seemed a bit too stereotypical to be real.

We refuelled with fish and chips with beer in Soho (possibly better for cheap eats than Cambridge) and managed to get last-minute tickets for the Royal Court theatre. The production was “Duck”, an Irish play: which was well-acted and interesting enough (a girl learns to escape an oppressive family, boyfriend, an entanglement with an older man to strike out on her own), but really lacked a conclusion.

(I’ve since been told by an Irish friend that this is their national theatrical tradition: it’s about the journey – destinations or resolutions aren’t highly prized.)

Our £7.50 restricted view seats at the very back of the theatre were fine, if you sat on the seat-back, not the seat, to see over the head of those in front.

What did impress about the Royal Court was the slick-but-comfy, all modern-brown wood and concrete walls bar downstairs (beers were really not as pricey as I would have thought for Sloane Square, yuppie central) and the fact that their “playbooks” (programme and full script) are only £2.

Funny that the bars and pubs I like in (my very limited experience of) London invariably remind me of Melbourne.

We missed our best train back from King’s Cross, and – not being able to find platform 9 ¾ - had to settle for the 10.50 from platform 8. To fill in the time my flatmate bought a cheeseburger and I bought the early edition of the next day’s paper. I wonder what that says about both of us …

On the train on the way home, a very British moment: a sozzled Friday-night suit-slave phoning the missus to ask that, as drinking-up time was approaching, she have two pints waiting on the bar for him and his friend.

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