Travel sucks, but some times less than others. Three days of TAG meetings, socializing, and jet-lag had left me pretty well an empty shell. But I had all day starting in Bristol to make the 4:15 to Vancouver out of Heathrow, an (infrequent) chance to just kick back and enjoy the process of getting there.
The concierge at the hotel directed me to the scenic walk through town to the railway station; on a sunny October morning Bristol is appealing, but so very English; the more I travel the more I feel rooted on the Pacific’s edge, and in big cities. (Still, there’s a sushi bar in the train station. Is there anywhere left in the world you can’t get sushi?)
Paddington · Like most North Americans, I envy Europeans their privilege of getting on a train more or less anywhere, sitting in a comfy spacious chair, and getting out just about anywhere else. Plus the stations of a certain vintage are temples of shape and of light; at Paddington they’re sufficiently jaded to ignore gringo tourists pointing cameras at the ceiling.
I dropped my stuff at the left-luggage office. I saw no abandoned teddy, but the station’s glitzy retail space did have a Paddington-Bear shop where you could get tourist trinkets and Disneyesque T-shirts. No childhood memory is safe.
London · I don’t really like London; I find it grubby and expensive and unfriendly, and any frequent traveler will tell you that as hotels go, it has about the worst price-performance ratio in the world. I’ve been told that it’s a good place to live, though, by people who do.
Like it or not, a couple of hours walking its streets is something one ought to do every so often, it’s a Zeitgeist nexus; there are always some remarkable fashion statements and shop windows to walk by.
Selfridge’s Oxford Street windows are in high-concept mode, each a different statement by some ad agency. One of them was set up as a cluttered high-tech office with four guys in it doing the geek thing; I didn’t read the fine print but the computers looked real and they really seemed to be doing things with them and they had the correct facial expressions for guys arguing about some software problem; on this you can trust me. Obviously, they were a quartet of fine-looking lads; I saw none of the softening of the belly or poor taste in T-shirts that distinguishes your real indigenous geek-in-the-wild. For similar reasons, the computers were Macintoshes. Odd, I thought geek chic was so 1999.
Taxi · I got a decent lunch of Chiche Taouk at an Arabic-food place (for those who haven’t tried this, do it next time you’re at any Middle Eastern place that sells kebabs: it’s just your basic souvlaki/kebob thing, only chicken instead of red meat, and prepared correctly is the ultimate skewer statement.
The taxi back to Paddington was frighteningly new, looked like it came out of the London Taxi factory the week before. These things are an amazing combination of klunkiness and maneuverability, and—news flash—you too can be the proud owner of one, check the ad that was in my cab, with a URI even. I got a funny look from the driver when the flash went off.
I wonder who buys these things that isn’t a London taxi operator, and why they think this kind of self-referential advertising is going to work?
That wasn’t the end of the taxi story. Sometime a few years ago, travel between Heathrow and London suddenly changed from expensive/inconvenient to cheap & cheerful with the advent of the Paddington-Heathrow train that runs every fifteen minutes. Only today, after I bought the ticket and got settled in, it didn’t; the voice on the speaker told us that a fire in Southall had brought everything to a screeching halt, please find another way to Heathrow, sorry for the inconvenience. Consternation erupted.
I quickly cut a deal to split cab fare with Vicky, the cute ad-business person in the next seat, who was off to a New York weekend. This was a brilliant move because she works right around there and knew how to dodge the taxi queue, which was getting pretty ugly, and flag one off the street a few steps from Paddington. And the traffic wasn’t too bad and I made my flight home, but I bet a lot of people missed theirs.
Anyhow, Heathrow Express owes me £13, I wonder how I’m going to get it back?