Thursday, July 11, 2013

Back in a Blighty State of Mind

Thursday, July 11, 2013

With apologies to the late Frank Sinatra, I have slipped effortlessly into a Blighty State of Mind. Although I arrived in Holborn in the wee hours of the morning (just past midnight to be exact) and it is almost midnight now--which means I have been a Londoner again for less than 24 hours--I feel as if I never left.
But for all those folks who follow me religiously and have circled their calendars to begin reading my Blog on July 11, I have to beg your patience for just a few hours. I am tired and sleepy and suffering mind fog. So please hold your horses for just a few hours longer. I promise to add to this installment first thing tomorrow morning.

Hello London! Getting Settled in Again

            Our Baltic Sea cruise was incredible—but the end really sucked. Arriving at Kastrup airport by 9. A00 am, Llew and I had intended to simply stash our baggage in the Left Luggage Lockers and take the train into the city to visit the National Museum—no such luck! We discovered that city trains had gone on strike just that morning. We did not want to take chances getting into the city on the Metro in case they too decided to strike—we’d have been well and truly stuck then and unable to get back for our flights—Llew’s to the States at 4. 30 pm, mine to London at 8. 50 pm. I tried to get on to an earlier Easyjet flight to London but discovered that the cost of making the change was more than the cost of a new ticket! Furthermore, my flight was delayed by an hour, so I only arrived in London at 10. 25 pm. Fortunately, I cleared Immigration in a jiffy (most passengers were in the EU/UK queue and there was no one in the “All Other Passports” section). Yesss!
              Although I arrived at Gatwick airport at 10. 30 pm, got the 11. 17 pm. train to Farringdon station and took a black cab to High Holborn (where I arrived at 12. 15 pm) and it is now close to midnight—which means that I have been in the UK for less than 24 hours—I have slipped so easily into a London State of Mind that it seems as if I had never left. Tim was still up when I rang the bell to enter my former building but because Barbara had retired for the day, I tip-toed into my room and fell right into bed. It was late, I had spent a boring day at Kastrup airport, had dozed on the flight and was ready to call it a night myself. It was about 1.00 am by the time I slept.
                Not surprisingly, I awoke at 6. 30 am, did some reading in bed and sat up when Barbara knocked on my door with bed tea! What luxury! And how kind of her. I joined her in the living room and caught up a bit—it was so great to see her again. Between Tim and her, I learned how the land lay! They connected me to wifi, showed me how the TV, microwave, kitchen hob, coffee maker and toaster worked and left me a set of keys. In due course, Tim provided us with croissants, butter, jam and coffee. Around this time, I became conscious of a headache and felt awfully drowsy. Nothing a Tylenol wouldn’t cure, I thought, as I popped one in and felt a desperate need for a shut eye.
                Well, I slept for a solid hour but my headache was history! The rest of the morning flew by as I attacked the first priorities on my To-Do List: Buy Lebara SIM card for my UK phone (I got this at the W.H. Smith store at Holborn Circus), bought a Top Up Lebara voucher at Sainsbury (also at Holborn Circus) where I picked up a sausage roll for a snack lunch, topped up my Oyster Card with one-month’s worth of unlimited bus and Tube rides in Zones 1 and 2 (from the kind man at the Chancery Lane Tube station) and crossed the street to get back when I met Arben, the concierge of the building, who always gives me a royal Welcome Back when he sees me and makes me feel like a million dollars. He was aware that I will staying at Tim and Barbara’s for the next few days and he asked me to make sure to reach out to him should I need absolutely anything. I promised I would!    
                 Tim and Barbara were all packed up and ready to leave when I returned from running my errands and were off in minutes. I showered and spent the next one hour on the phone with my Dad in Bombay (as I was speaking to him after more than a week) and with Llew. I spent the next two hours catching up with email and informing London friends that I was back on Blighty soil again. Luckily, Chris, the friend I was supposed to see later in the evening in order to pick up the keys from him to his flat at St. John’s Wood, where I will be staying next, responded super quickly. He would meet me at the apartment at 8.00 pm. At 5. 40 pm, I left my flat and took the bus to St. John’s Wood, with the idea of passing through Central London and absorbing it all. From the 8 (which was terminating at Holborn Tube Station), I jumped into a 98 and got off at Marble Arch—Oxford Street, as usual, was crawling with shoppers swarming like ants. There is agreat big purple banner at the intersection of Regent’s Street proclaiming the 60th year of Elizabeth’s reign (1953-2013)—I thought last year was the Diamond Jubilee! Am I in a time warp? I then connected to the 139 bus in which I rode all the way to the famous Beatles Crosswalk on Abbey Road for my friends Raquel and Chris live in a building right opposite it! Who’d have thunk it????

Exploring The Beatles’ Abbey Road Studio:
           Since I was several minutes early for my appointment with Raquel’s husband, Chris, I watched dozens of tourists literally stop traffic! They posed on the cross walk in the manner of the legendary album cover—striding across in single file with their arms swinging from their sides. Drivers seemed very patient indeed and gave them wide berth! I decided to use my City Secrets London guide book to find out a bit more about the venue than was indicated by the graffiti that covered the low walls surrounding the building.
            So here goes: Abbey Studios gained notoriety, of course, via the Beatles who recorded there at 3 Abbey Road for seven years; but the venue was significant long before their time. It had been in existence since 1927 when Captain Osmund “Ozzy” Williams decided to build a recording studio in North London. The Beatles were not the first major recording artists to use the premises: in the 1930s Sir Edward Elgar had conducted the London Symphony Orchestra in a recording of Land of Hope and Glory—there is a blue plaque to announce this fact at the entrance of the building. And in the 1940s, Glenn Miller had recorded there. The Beatles arrived there on June 2, 1962 (with Pete Best instead of Ringo) and the first song they recorded, the next year, was “Love Me Do” in Studio 2. The Abbey Road LP, the Beatles’ tenth and final album to be recorded, was released on September 26, 1969. The photo of Paul, shoeless on the crossing, led to rumors that he was really dead. 
            Don’t expect too much of the venue. The building is nondescript, low slung and seems to meld away into the grand Victorian and Edwardian apartment buildings that surround it—all red brick and ornamental white stucco. I felt a little deflated (although I was visiting the venue for the second time—Llew and I had actually posed in the crosswalk ourselves, four years ago after visiting my orthopedist who had a clinic not too far away and who had fitted me with orthotics when I had plantar fascittis). It reminded me of the disappointment I had felt when visiting Sun Studios in Memphis, Tennessee—such an unassuming building, I had thought, to have made such staggering talent known to the world. I had the exact same thought this time round as I surveyed the white structure. Tourists have brought some stature to the building if graffiti can be said to achieve that. On the walls and the pillars, there are tokens of visits in every language for at least 30 tourists come each day to the venue to leave marks of their visit upon the walls—I counted more than 30 in the fifteen minutes I spent there. They obviously come equipped with marker pens and spray paint cans to make the musical pilgrimage in much the same way that as fans of Jim Morrison, we had visited Pere Lachaise Cemetery in Paris and as fans of Elvis, we had visited Graceland, his gaudy estate in Memphis. What is interesting is how these Beatles’ fans cut widely across age and racial lines: there were teenagers and baby boomers when I was there, taking pictures and posing enthusiastically with the Abbey Studios sign in the background. 

Meeting Chris and Getting Acquainted with my Next Digs:

            Then, I was across the street, wondering which bell to ring to get inside when Chris, coincidentally, walked to the front door and let me in! We spent the next half hour in their lovely sprawling Edwardian flat with its multiple bathrooms and closets and spacious corridors. He showed me the ropes, gave me the wifi password and instructed me in the use of TV and kitchen appliances. I took notes knowing I will never remember everything he showed me, ten days from now.
            Then, with directions from him, I hopped into a bus going to Finchley Road as I headed to Waitrose to pick up food provisions for the coming week. I had a blast buying all my favorite English things: Ox Tongue, Stilton Cheese with Ginger, Regular Stilton Cheese, Chipolata Sausages, Brocolli and Gruyere Cheese Quiche and Bacon, Leek and Cheddar Cheese Quiche, Warburton's Multigrain Bread (as my favored Walnut Loaf was sold out), Romaine Lettuce Hearts and Balsamic Vinaigrette for Salad, Muesli and Greek Style Honey Yogurt for my breakfast cereal and lemon for my tea! And I was all set! Weighed down by my belongings, I took  the Tube from Finchley Road station and came back home at 10. 45. I was starving; so had a quiche and salad meal with tea before going to bed at 11.00 pm.
            So there you have it—a not very exciting day, made slightly less mundane by my visit to Abbey Road and the Beatles’ legendary stomping ground. For those who are reading this blog, I promise to make the rest of my month less banal. I am having issues loading material on to my blog site, though, so I hope the technical glitches will be sorted soon. 
     Thanks for returning to my blog and for accompanying me on my adventures in my second home--London! Please do pen me some comments as that I can feel more closely connected with you.
     Until tomorrow, cheerio!


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