Tag Archives: London

Thinking of ‘How It Is’

In March last year I went to the Tate Modern, while staying in London en route to returning to Bristol after two months or so of travelling. There was a big box in the Turbine Hall at the time, an installation called How It Is by the Polish artist Miroslaw Balka. Visitors to the art work walked up a ramp and into the darkness within the box. It was unsettling, not being able to see where you were going, walking into a potential void, but at the same time it was kind of exciting. You had to really feel your way in the dark…not just step along without thinking about exactly what your steps felt like.

The box could of course be experienced in many different ways. Thinking of the clear allusions to Polish history underlying the piece would seem to demand a sombre turn of mind to match the darkness within the box. But even if one just treated it as a large, dark expanse of unknown depth, this felt to me still very much worth a moment of quiet contemplation.

And then some of the people around me started shining the lights from their mobile phones so they could see better. This annoyed me. I thought, can we not wonder, can we not risk falling? Can we not just feel our way?

London one afternoon in early March

The afternoon in question was that of 4 March 2010.

Took the Tube to Embankment and wandered along the river. Had a coffee, visited the Tate Modern, then crossed the “wobbly bridge” to St Paul’s. Saw a signpost for the YHA hostel I used to stay in along with the other Kenyon-Exeter students back when I was a young study abroad student and we used to come to London for educational theatre outings. Couldn’t resist a detour to go have a look. I can still remember being in the dorms and and listening to the clamouring bells of St Paul’s. After my nostalgia trip, I stopped for some dinner in a restaurant where I reckoned I could eat alone in style (ah, well you know me…I’m always stylish, eh? Especially with jet lag?) and sat next to the window with a view of the cathedral.

But no rest for the wicked. I needed to once again collect my trusty backpack and travel the Northern Line to check into my B&B in Muswell Hill, to be ready for the start of my course in the morning.

And I had a fantastic and powerful weekend, which I won’t go on about right here, right now. But I will tell you I went to Toff’s of Muswell Hill one night, which I’m told is ‘dead famous’. I’d had potato wedges earlier in the day so I told the guy I wasn’t sure I wanted chips with my fish. He gave me a scoop anyway, on the house, so I would have the full experience. Isn’t that nice?

AKL – LAX – PHX – LHR

Just catching up with myself here…

My last night in Auckland I met up with my friend Joanna, who had finished her Magic Bus experience. We were both leaving NZ the next day, she being off to Sydney and I of course being LA-bound. We were staying in rival mega-hostels in the city centre but had coordinated our meet-up days earlier from Rotorua. It was more complex an operation than you might think, as her phone didn’t work in NZ. So I had to check in to the Surf ‘n’ Snow then find my way to the Nomads Fat Camel before we could explore the food ‘n’ drink options available. It was nice to have someone to laugh with on this last night.

And the Sky Tower looked kinda cool all lit up at night:

Next morning I had a bit of time to stretch my legs so I wandered into Albert Park and discovered a festival of lanterns.

I also saw some trees that seemed enchanted

and a building society sign that reminded me of the night sky.

Soon enough it was time to collect my trusty backpack from the hostel and once again catch a bus to an airport. On my flight to LA, I had a neighbour who was spending a year travelling the world. I took a few suggestions for my next big trip…

But back to the current trip. I had yet another flight to catch, a short jaunt to Phoenix. (Where my mom and brother were late to pick me up! They had a very good excuse, though. Mom, if you’re reading this, I’m only mentioning it to make you cringe! Heh heh… The worst part of the experience was when an evil phone ate all my quarters. But I digress.)

Then had a few lovely days in Tucson with family. Kicked myself that I hadn’t brought my AV cable for the camera with me, as with that I can do beautiful slide shows of my escapades on my grandma’s big TV. And you can’t just go and buy one of these cables. Three words: wild; goose; chase. Watched the Lord of the Rings films instead. (“I was there. And there. Oh yeah, and that bit was pretty. You saw the photo of me with Mt Doom, right?”)

Then, guess what, I got on another bus (shuttle) to the airport and flew from Phoenix to Heathrow. Ah, that old familiar flight. Except this version was delayed by two and half hours, so we departed at 11:30pm and arrived late afternoon the following day. (Flight attendant: “The hours of daylight are approaching rather quite quickly so if those passengers in window seats would close the window shades…”) During the flight the guy at the other end of the row from me (we had two empty seats between us) invaded “my” one of the empty seats with his feet. Grrr, my empty seat, get off! I am normally a really non-irritable person but that foot got some hard stares from me. Yeah, I’d pull up my silk eye mask and everything, just so I could really scowl at it in the dark. But I don’t think it was the foot’s fault really, I just wasn’t going to get much rest on this particular flight.

So then I re-entered the UK. They seem quite used to me by now, I hardly get questioned at all by immigration. But I wasn’t heading onwards to Bristol just yet. I would be staying in London, first in Shepherd’s Bush with a friend, and then in Muswell Hill for a very special weekend workshop.

I was really looking forward to a lot of things. Not least some sleep!

Airhead

I have successfully arrived in the desert – not that I had to do much, aside from move myself from one mode of transport to another. On the other hand, my mom and brother had to brave dust storms to get to the airport to collect me!

The weather in the UK proved no obstacle, thankfully. I had heard one of the National Express coach guys saying all flights were cancelled out of Heathrow, which seemed like complete rubbish (and it was), but then the UK does have a habit of panicking when the weather gets more ‘extreme’ than rain so you never know.

Terminal 5 seems to have become more mainstream than last time I was there. The coach even takes you right to the doors. The convenience, I tell you! It wasn’t long ago they made you get out at T4 and take a city bus service to T5 (for free, granted, but still). After check-in, the next highlight was being specially selected as one of the passengers requiring frisking for sharp objects. They were watching us as we descended an escalator. I think it was the leg stretches I was doing in preparation for the long flight. (‘Stop that one – she’s obviously rearranging her collection of knives inside her trousers.’)

On board, I passed the time watching films and a spot of telly. After I lost interest in the BBC World News (shame) I put on Flight of the Conchords in honour of New Zealand. (It was the one with Jemaine’s Australian girlfriend, if you were wondering.)

So now I’m in Tucson, Arizona. I’ve eaten, I’ve slept, I’ve marvelled and blinked in the sunshine, which I really do think people who live here take for granted. I’ve seen a couple of hummingbirds today, which are always a pleasure. I also booked up some bits of my NZ itinerary for January, including a ticket on the Overlander service between Auckland and Wellington. It is meant to be one of the world’s great rail journeys.

But for now, time to enjoy Christmas with my family. And to try not to lecture anyone on the blessing of winter sunshine! (Nor to debate the meaning of the word ‘cold’…)