On Monday, Kate had to work -- she couldn't really afford the full trip as vacation time, so she agreed to spend the day at her company's office in Watford. (Technically on the Tube, but out in Zone 9. I hadn't even realized there was a Zone 9.) So I had the day to myself, and she encouraged me to spend it playing tourist, since she knew that, while London was kind of old hat to her (since her entire family is British and she goes there frequently), it was all new and shiny to me. So I slept in, and then spent essentially the entire day wandering around the West End.
I started out by wandering down to Covent Garden, one of those famous places I'd never actually been to:
Okay, yes, this is me -- the first place I seek out is somewhere to shop. So sue me.
Overall, Covent Garden was fun to explore. A fair number of clothing stores and other such ordinary stuff, but lots of curious shops, and places to eat:
You know you've cooked too many feasts when your first reaction to that sight is, "I want one of those paella pans!"
(In fact, I got a cornish pasty for lunch. Not as good as I might have wished, but still scratched the itch -- I haven't had one since Marian died, and I miss them terribly. Pennsic hasn't been the same since Battlefield Bakery went away. One of these days I'll teach myself how to make them.)
As it turns out, Monday was Antiques Day at Covent Garden:
As usual, this meant lots of little tables, each covered with its own special kind of crap. Didn't buy anything, but it's delightful window-shopping.
Another one for the "Europe is just Different from the US" file:
That's a busker in the middle of the shopping -- doing a really excellent aria, although damned if I could remember which opera it was from. (Yes, I've seen buskers doing classical guitar at home, but never karaoke opera.)
Continuing to wander fairly aimlessly, I found myself at Freemasons' Hall:
I had to wander in, of course, but wasn't motivated enough to do a tour (or anything else that required signing in), so I simply walked into the Masons' Store. This was really pretty neat, and the temptation to buy something was really strong, but I wasn't quite sure what would be the one thing I'd allow myself until I dug through the books, and found a very promising-looking book on ritual:
"Aha!" says I, "I always enjoy Masonic ritual. Heck, I wrote one of the best-known pamphlets on the subject. Clearly, I should pick this up!" So I began skimming it...
... and it's plagiarized from me.
Seriously, I could hardly believe it. I opened the book to the middle, and the section on page 41 starts out,
Smoothing It OutIf you take a look at my link above, that's word-for-word the start of my own section 4. Out of the whole book, the very first thing I read was plagiarized from me.
You're now at the point where you've got nearly all the sentences down, and most of the paragraphs, and your're about to get through the whole thing only looking at the book a few times.
This kind of wrecked my mood. I mean, yes, imitation is the sincerest form of flattery and all that, but that's small comfort. The truth is, the booklet looks damned useful, and I'd entirely approve of it under other circumstances -- the author clearly took my essay, fleshed it out a great deal and did a lot to enhance it. Had he just *asked*, and credited me properly, I'd have no problem with it. As it is, though, this sort of theft is damned unmasonic.
Sometime soon, I'm going to have to write to the author (and maybe the publisher) and make stern noises at them. I don't want the book withdrawn (like I said, it *is* a good book), but I think I have to insist that I be properly credited.
To clear my head, I decided to wander down Charing Cross -- there is (usually) nothing like a good bookstore to distract me. I went through a lot of lovely little used-book stores, but managed to not buy anything. (The knowledge that Kate would kill me if I came home with an armload of heavy books provided a good motivation there.) Eventually, I drifted into Foyle's, the monumentally large new-book store. Less quirky, but fun for sheer scale.
It was at this point that one of my brewing problems finally came to a head: I didn't have an internet connection. My phone comes from Verizon, which has always kind of done its own thing: its protocols are just plain incompatible with Europe. (And since a number of folks have asked: no, Verizon's version of 4G LTE doesn't currently work in Europe. I checked before we left.)
This was a problem for the one of the most common reasons: I suddenly had a burning need for LibraryThing. In Foyle's, I found this book:
I honestly didn't have any idea whether I owned it or not. A key problem with cookbooks in particular is that Jane and I were both completists on that subject, which means that I have a lot of period cookbooks that she bought, many of which I haven't read yet. So I needed to look up whether I owned it or not.
This led to a half-hour digression, first finding the wifi signal in Foyle's, then determining that it was a British Telecom outpost, then determining that I could use Fon to get net access anywhere that BT had a hotspot. That made sense, so I bought a one-day pass, got online, and confirmed that I did, in fact, have the book already. (Thereby avoiding Death By Fiance.)
This also meant that I could finally start emailing with Kate, Peter and Miko, and begin to figure out dinner. I would spend the rest of the afternoon drifting from hotspot to hotspot, checking in periodically. You know that you're an internet addict when the folks at Starbucks start to look at you funny because you're spending ten minutes just outside the door. Truth to tell, it was kind of disconcerting to realize how completely I am used to being online -- being in a strange city without Net access made me genuinely twitchy, and there was a real sense of wandering around looking for my wifi hit. ("Hey man, got any 802.11?")
Anyway, the other result of Foley's was that I finally started to get the notion of using my phone's camera as a quick-and-dirty notepad. I wasn't going to buy any books if I could avoid it (see "death by fiance"), but I did find a number that I was interested in. So I just started snapping covers of things like this:
Yes, I own a guitar -- I inherited a reasonably good beginner's guitar from Jane, and one of these days I may actually start trying to learn it again.
After Charing Cross, I moseyed over to Leicester Square, and began the main diversion of the afternoon: scotch hunting. When Jane and I were last in London (17 years ago, mind), we found a delightful little shop a few blocks from the Square, whose back wall was covered with a couple hundred different nips of single-malt Scotch. So I set out to find the place again. I failed utterly (I have no reason to believe the shop still exists), but it gave a little focus, and an excuse to prowl all the backstreets around there, ranging from the fancy shops to Chinatown to the strip-club district.
I was enormously amused that the first sight to greet me as I entered the Square was this:
Mind, the last time we were in London (again, 17 years ago) was the release week of the *last* Judge Dredd movie. One of the distinctive memories of that trip was the two of us going to see the movie in a gigantic and *very* empty theater (possibly the same one in this picture), and confirming for ourselves that Sly Stallone was a really bad choice to play Dredd. (Reports are that the new movie is a bit bland, and doesn't have much of the political subtext that makes the Dredd comics so brilliant, but doesn't suck too badly.)
I was also quite disturbed to encounter M&M World:
I have since been given to understand that there's one in New York as well, but really: an entire (very large) store devoted to memorabilia about small round chocolates? Seriously? I like schlock as much as the next guy, but this definitely pushes my limits.
On the plus side, on one of the side streets I found Gosh! Comics:
I'd been poking my head into comic-book stores all over London, and had mostly been startled at how little they differ from American ones: not only do the stores look and feel the same, the selection is within a few percent of identical. That had been a bit disappointing to my novelty-centric brain. But Gosh! is actually new and different: a pretty good-sized store dedicated to the artsy and independent side of comics. Their selection was huge, and actually mostly made up of stuff I don't already own, which is a lovely change of pace. If they were in Boston, I'd probably spend a bunch of time and money there.
Finally it got to be evening -- and a bit too dark to take photographs. Kate and I rendezvoused after work at the Cork and Bottle Wine Bar -- quite a lovely place, serving a zillion wines by the glass so that she could have her usual dry white while I tried out a nice Shiraz. Then we met up with Peter and Miko so we could take them out to dinner (least we could do, after all they'd done for us) at the Tokyo Diner, a nice little susherie nearby. The main surprise there was the notion of "Curry Udon" -- a combination that I'm not sure I've encountered before, but very London and rather tasty.
Thence back to their place, where we sat around and schmoozed. Peter had just set up his new TV, hooked up to his enormous DVR, and wanted to show us something -- after some conversation, he decided that we needed to watch the premiere episode of The Misfits. This is kind of like the gritty British version of Heroes: a bunch of young ne'er-do-wells stuck in a community service program suddenly gain super-powers, and horror ensues. Really a pretty excellent start: the story is grim, profane, funny and fascinating, and is one of those rare explorations of just how unpleasant unasked-for superpowers might be. Based on that first episode, The Misfits is to superheroes what John Constantine is to wizards. We may need to pick it up in our copious spare time at some point.
Tomorrow: Home again, home again, jiggety jig