London in the wintertime
Today we have a special guest writer, the one and only Adam Gorley! I simply could never express our London adventures the way he does in words. Enjoy!
We missed the great air-traffic-stalling snow storm by a hair. I think it might have been a warning to us. But we made it, on a cloud stretching across the ocean and the channel too.
We left Pearson at dawn and arrived at Heathrow in the dark, nearly five hours in the future, in the middle of a tube workers strike—another warning maybe? This was Boxing Day, by the way.
But we made it, in a cab from the airport all the way across the city, across the river, to New Cross, southeast London. My older sister, Jane, her man, Jean-Pierre, and their young daughter, our niece, in their new house—excitement, exhaustion, and hunger; boxes and luggage and coats everywhere! Pikey the Cat had been gone for 24 hours! (He came back the next day—phew.)
This trip to London was different from any previous time I was there—for both of us I think. Travelling is always a pain, but I guess we saw a few extra signs that this time would be special. We left Canada after possibly the most hectic work party in my life, and arrived in London to a scene that felt almost as hectic: Christmas, family, London, bank holidays, tube strike, jetlag, missing cat, new house..! (Did I mention that the house was still undergoing renovations?) On top of all that, we had an important mission: to find Lula Magazine—two copies!—and general Boxing Week deals and, if possible, presents for Danijela’s family for Orthodox Christmas.
Our sanctuary was my sister’s cold and damp near-empty apartment—a ten-minute bus ride to New Cross Gate—because we didn’t fit in the house.
We got up around ten in the grey morning—five o’clock Canada time. I think we didn’t wake up until after noon though. Cloudy sky meet cloudy head.
Family slowed things down, but not in a bad way. We had to do at least a little bit of holiday nothing—including eating of diverse cheeses and crackers, playing with the munchkin niece (“You’re a naughty poo poo”, in an adorable London accent), catching up, and watching some Antiques Roadshow.
But the deals and crowds of Oxford Street beckoned, and we were determined! Post-Christmas shopping in London is a messy and wonderful demonstration of prosperity. The streets were decorated with lights hanging high above the road: stars, ribbons, and presents. Just an amazing number of people filled the street and the shops.
We rushed even faster than the rest, only sticking around long enough to see the quality of the deals, which were few and far between. But when Danijela’s shoes threatened to disintegrate, those deals seemed a little sweeter, and the sizes a little larger. And the longer we were out, the more enticing the side streets and their pubs became.
Over the week, we visited Oxford St. twice (just crazy); Hackney twice (where we found Lula at Artwords Bookshop and where we spent part of New Year’s Eve in a cold converted loft in an industrial area we worried we might never escape); Whitechapel a couple of times (where we visited Jean-Pierre Braganza at his studio and got a sneak peek at his upcoming line); Brick Lane Market (delicious food and too many tourists); Spitalfields Market (a sea-themed shoe horn and much looking at fun junk); the Tate Modern (surrealists and a very good photography exhibition); Covent Garden (our friend Hank took us to Gordon’s Wine Bar and others—too much food!), Surrey Quays (TRON!), and of course New Cross and its Gate (where we helped Jane and J-P sample a couple of local pubs—awful—and enjoyed an enormous and delicious Turkish dinner with the whole family).
We probably tried to do too much. (We had plans for the National Portrait Gallery and bowling, too!)
I love London for its people (at least my sister’s friends, plus Hank), its architecture, its moss, its bridges and elevated trains, its feeling of history, its markets, its mad and busy streets and invaluable and sometimes improbable transport, its pubs. It’s a high-functioning mess. All of this shone through the grey.
The grey deserves special mention. It left us feeling almost constantly tired and never sure what time of day it was. (No doubt general end-of-year exhaustion and jetlag played a part.) The sky was grey when we woke up (around ten most days, but sometimes later), remained grey for four hours, and then turned dark in the late afternoon. And after the first couple of days, there was no sign of snow on the ground to brighten things up.
I usually love London’s weather, because I’ve visited mostly in the summer, and it’s been hot and lovely. I guess I was foolish to think I would never see London in its true grey glory! But it seemed like no one minded. Streets were packed; the Thames path was busy; people were strolling the banks of the river at low tide!
Of course, there’s always something new to see. Gordon’s Wine Bar is in a cellar that resembles a sewer tunnel or a bomb shelter, and is certainly a fire hazard. No surprise, it was packed when we got there and was still packed when we returned an hour later. Almost everywhere was packed. Covent Garden was turned into a Christmas fair with street performers—not just the silver-painted statue man—and music.
The thing I really love about London though is seeing Jane and her man and my beautiful and charming niece. I see them in person about once a year and a couple of times on Skype, due to our busy lives and a six-hour time difference (certainly too infrequently to watch a kid grow and to acquire the wisdom an older sibling has to offer).
The most important thing I took away from this hectic visit was a change in perspective—a shift I really needed. The trip was not restful in the least, and we were probably as exhausted when we returned home as when we left. Both Danijela and I were ill—on New Year’s Eve no less—but on we soldiered under the unrelenting grey. We did see some sun the morning we left, perhaps a final sign: time to go. Somehow, in the midst of all of it, I experienced the possibility of progress.
Every once in a while, when I’ve become wrapped up in work, I can’t see the things that are important to me. That didn’t change instantly upon our arrival in London or even after returning home. In fact, I’ve been nearly as busy as I was before the holiday. But now my fresh (if still somewhat sleepy) eyes can see better what I want and what I want to do. And that makes up for everything!