London Retrospective: Week Two

(21 Jan – 27 Jan)

My week begins with an epic quest: I have to deliver our first month’s rent (all $6500 of it – what was that about London being the most expensive city in the world?) to our landlord before my first class at 12:20. My flatmates all have class at 10:00, so it falls to me to traverse the city with more cash than I’ve ever even held before strapped to my body, sweating like a fiend because if I get mugged, there really isn’t any point in going on living. I feel like a one-man production of “The Italian Job,” which, trust me, is not as fun as it sounds. Every other person on the Tube seems like a vicious criminal who can smell the money on me; every rooftop conceals a sniper about to take me down. Money makes me nervous – or at least it does when I’m carrying $6500 in cash through a busy city.

But the delivery goes off smoothly, and once I arrive at Faraday House, the semester begins in earnest – if by “in earnest” you actually mean “Wednesday night rolls around and it’s already the weekend.” Best schedule ever, you guys. Classes look good; preliminary favorites include the Multidisciplinary Design Studio, which is a wonderful relief from the monotony of having studio with the same thirty people for the past two years, and Irish Literature, which…’nuff said. The rest of my flatmates only have classes through Wednesday too, so we plan to go see Westminster Abbey on Thursday.

Westminster Abbey

…Which is intense. The building itself is a gorgeous example of English Gothic; but the first thing you notice upon entering is how the silence – so typical of churches and cathedrals – is so much more…portentous, than usual. The building seems almost self-aware of the history it contains, so that even your instinctive church-whisper goes down a few notches. The Abbey is full of the most chillingly important people, has played witness to some of the most important events in British history. I’m shaking when we enter Elizabeth I’s tomb, not just because Cate Blanchett made a great movie about her, but because she was responsible for…well, everything. Modern Britain is largely the result of her reign, and she’s buried right here, you guys, beneath a beautifully fan-vaulted ceiling, where so many threads of history meet.

And then – oh, don’t get me started – Poet’s Corner. It’s not like Chaucer’s buried there or anything. …Oh, wait, he is buried there, along with the rest of pretty much everyone who ever mattered in English literature. I start tearing up at Tennyson’s crypt stone (Flatmate Megan drops to her knees and actually weeps – I feel that), because standing there, I’m struck suddenly with the realization of how real he is, or was; how human. It’s one thing to admire a writer in an academic sense – I love Tennyson’s poetry. But that almost disappears in Westminster Abbey; Tennyson once lived. He once wrote The Lady of Shalott. He lived, and died, and seeing his name in golden letters on the flat black stone makes that loss somehow so fresh, so poignant. Moving deeper into Poet’s Corner, my sense of…connection, I guess, becomes stronger and stronger – Eliot, Browning – until, looking at the Brontës’ names, I realize I’m actually crying. Keats and Shelly; Austen and Dickens; Handel. Each name just digs deeper, the sadness combining with a wonderful love for everything these people did, enormous gratitude that their work has survived for me to experience; I don’t care that I’m openly crying in front of total strangers. I would gladly stay here, stock-still, all afternoon, just looking, but a man has begun to cordon off the area and tells us to move on. “Code Red,” I imagine the Abbey docents telling each other. “We’ve got a tall hairy guy crying in Poet’s Corner again.”

As we’re preparing to leave the Abbey, standing in the nave, Flatmate Sarah remarks quietly, “We are standing in the same place Elizabeth I was crowned.” I look into the vast space above us, at the soaring vaults, and get shivers down my spine.

Friday comes, and with it, the school trip to Stonehenge and Salisbury, whose cathedral boasts England’s tallest spire. I make Eddie Izzard jokes about Stonehenge to myself (“It’s one of the largest henges in the world”) during the entire bus coach ride, and once there, proceed to take many many pictures. Despite the fact that it’s freezing, I’m elated to see the ol’ stones. Salisbury itself, about twenty minutes from Stonehenge, is great – a beautiful old cathedral, and a charming, quiet town. Oddly enough, I enjoy the ride home nearly as much as the day’s sightseeing; evening falls before we reenter London, and staring out the window with my iPod for company, watching the countryside flash dimly past, is wonderfully centering.


5 Responses to “London Retrospective: Week Two”

  1. 1 Hannah February 22, 2008 at 12:23 am

    Updates! At long last! I seethe with envy (oh, how I seethe)! [Did you know that an alternate past participle for seethe is ‘sod’? I just learned (learnt) that thirty seconds ago when I checked to make sure I hadn’t misspelled (misspelt) ‘seethe’. I really like alternate past participles.] However, my envy is mitigated by my joy that you finally get to enjoy London and all its diversions.

    English Gothic, literary graves, superlative henges and spires… all too cool. Your photos of Salisbury Plain compel me to recommend that you read ‘The Longest Journey’ by E.M. Forster while you’re there. I know you probably have no time for that, but I recommend it all the same. Forster’s the perfect train-ride author, if you have any train rides in your future.

    I insist you pay your blog more attention henceforth. Gah, I love you and miss you, and I’m so, so happy you’re living Teh Awesome in London Town.


    P.S. – Your flat. It, um… Your flat.

  2. 2 Hannah February 22, 2008 at 12:30 am

    Uh… Not sure my comment posted here, so I’m posting it on Facebook, as well. Sorry if you get a double post. Hearts.

  3. 3 Colin February 22, 2008 at 10:33 am

    Yes, sorry for the comment confusion – the way it works is that I have to approve the first comment any person makes, but any comments that person makes after that (I think) will automatically be approved. But even if I’m a big fat liar and I have to moderate every comment, it’ll just show up the next time I check the blog. So no worries.

    [While we’re at it, “dreamt” is probably my favorite disused past participle, although “spilt” is pretty good too.]

    I do, in fact, have a train ride in my future (five hours through the Italian countryside – more on this later). I’ll certainly try to find a copy of The Longest Journey before then. And I’m kind of liking this new blogging kick I’m on, so I think you can expect more frequent updates.

    …Now to get on all those postcards I promised.

    Love and miss!

  4. 4 Richard February 25, 2008 at 11:31 pm

    So, okay, yer mum sent us the blog address, and I’m gonna remind you about Avebury b4 you leave England. Although it seems you got pretty damn close to that henge, a lot closer than I was led to believe one could…get…to….ummm…trying not to end this sentence a preposition with. When last I saw Avebury, some 24 years ago, you could walk the whole length (a few miles, I think), and touch the stones (not as big-wise as ol’ Stonie, but still pretty cool). Also, don’t forget Battersea Power Station. Also, you were probably eating outside the Brit. Museum right where Ty and I ran into our friend Ted, talk about co-inkidinks.

  5. 5 Colin February 29, 2008 at 2:46 pm

    I’ll definitely look into Avebury; I’m not sure what sort of transportation options exist for getting out there, but it could make a fun day trip (especially since we’ve had to scrap our plans, thanks to time and money issues, to go up to Newcastle and walk along Hadrian’s wall).

    Battersea, it turns out, is pretty much right across from where our street runs into the Thames; it’d be a considerable walk from our flat, but once the weather’s nice (well, nicer, because it’s already been surprisingly lovely here) I’ll totally go have a stroll around the park. Of course, I have yet to see Hyde Park, and I live pretty much across the street from it. Shame on me.

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