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Tuesday, February 8, 2000
By Paul Ford
Here I am in London....
Here I am in London, soaking up the kulchur. I came over for Starfury Millennium, the big Babylon 5 convention, but got screwed up - it's actually in March. I have a few spare moments, so I'll write out some observations for the untutored traveler.
London, England is in Britain, which is part of England, or England is part of Britain. One of them contains Scotland, and the other contains the M-4 and Tony Blair. Neither one can contain the Irish. The UK is also in there, but whether that includes or excludes Australia and New Zealand is unknowable, and I'm embarrassed to ask. The beer is as warm as piss.
Prime Minister Tony Blair, who lives on Downing St, is best known in the U.S. for governing like Bill Clinton, but without beating off in the sink. On New Year's, Blair made British history by touching the Queen. The Queen, in return, looked as if her catheter had slipped. His touch was firm but friendly, with a warm, soft pressure that told of lingering passions. It was also the most intimate contact the Queen had had in over three decades, besides with the corgis. (Due to pressing duties elsewhere, Prince Philip rarely visits the royal chamber.)
This pioneering contact between the classes occurred beneath the Millennium Dome, a post-colonial Crystal Palace which looks like a pustulated cyst under acupuncture. To get to the Millennium Dome, you take the Jubilee to North Greenwich. If you take the tube to Barking, Shepherd's Bush, Wapping, or Ham, you've gone the wrong way.
I came to London not because of the rich history, the exciting pomp, or my heartfelt emotional response to Elton John's song for the dead, alcoholic princess he longed to become. I came because of the 'Cool Britannia' advertising campaign. Adam and Eve it, mate: any country brash enough to turn 'Rule Britannia' into 'Cool Britannia' deserves my trade; considering the cheerful history of British colonialism, it's like Germany coming up with a 'Brand New Reich' plan. Never underestimate the ability of white people to forgive themselves (a rule I learned in America).
Rule Britannia, verse 5:
To thee belongs the rural reign,
Thy cities shall with commerce shine,
Thy cities shall, thy cities shall
With commerce shine.
All thine shall be the subject main,
And every shore it circles thine.
I'm staying in a hotel in Chelsea at Titcross, for about 759Â£ nightly, which I'm told is a good rate. It's a bit steep for me, and at last check of my billfold, I'm down to 5g.2Â£.3p.3f4x9, and an Ayrton Senna. Or something.
Despite limited funds, I have a busy schedule; today, I'm visiting the Hall of Buggery, the Museum of Unpunished Paki Bashing, and the Hall of Inbred Royalty. Tomorrow I have tickets to see the Befouled Grave of Wilkie Collins, the Center for Hypocritical Foreign Policy, and the recently erected Spice Museum. I'm also going to take the Picadilly to its end at Cockfosters, just to see who lives in Cockfosters. Name-wise, this is worse than living in Queens, but not so bad as living in Gowanus, in Brooklyn, as I do. I find having 'anus' in the name of my neighborhood depressing.
I have enough money saved to see Shakespeare's 'The Mousetrap' at the Globe Theater, where it's played continuously since 1619. Then I'll go see that big building on the Rum Quay, to marvel at how someone as dull as Prince Charles could be right about architecture, and afterwards check out a Canary Wharf pub, where, according to my tour book, London for Fuckups, I'm guaranteed to be entertained by local color.
I prepared for this trip by listening to an album of pub songs, pressed in the 1960's. On it, a fellow named 'Bob the Tray' sings 'Mule Train' and beats his head with a steel hospital tray as accompaniment. He's followed by a Pearly King who's collecting for the Children's Arms. The Pearly King puts down his cup, gets up, and gives out 'You'll Never Walk Alone.' Just a regular evening.
If my pub doesn't offer equal fun, I plan to ask the group of large unemployed men drinking near me why their beer tastes like piss, why they enjoy a pussy sport like soccer, which they stupidly insist on calling football, and how it feels to be be economically whupassed by the rest of the world like a bunch of ball-kicking sausage jockeys.
After I get out of the hospital, I'm going to try to catch Eurobeat 2000 at Mass, where gabba DJ MsaduadashZ is spinning with 'FunkFunkFunkFunk 7.01x10 ,' and where I'll be hated as an outsider. I'm also going to go to the Hanover Grand with the goal of vomiting all over myself.
Things change. Today, the news is about the nature-loving, homely, hereditary Prince of Wales calling for a boycott against the far-right-wing, far more handsome, elected leader in Austria. There's also a hijacked plane, a wife-beating Labour MP, an Olympic wrestler from Cameroon who was tortured in a bathtub, Jennie Page, and the deaths of both a veteran of the Mau Mau campaign and the Abbot of Downside.
Today I learned as well about 'Gormenghast,' a BBC miniseries about imaginary kings and ancient castles. I can make no sense of it. Reading the following quote in an article about Ian Richardson, who plays a lead role, I experienced my first dose of serious British culture shock:
[Main character] Groan's madness manifests itself in an obsession with owls. [Ian] Richardson studied wildlife footage for mannerisms to incorporate in his performance.
He spent many days of the production hunched in an imitation of an owl. These physical demands took their toll, forcing him to take frequent soothing baths.
This could never happen in the U.S. George Clooney, for instance, would never say, after days of owl-sitting, that he needed a 'soothing bath.' For an American actor to say he needed a soothing bath, no matter how old the actor, is akin to saying 'when I get all tuckered out, I like to put on a long silk nightgown and pretend I'm a drunken midshipman on the Jeanne d'Arc.' Even the Japanese custom of selling used schoolgirls' panties from vending machines is closer to my cultural understanding than Gormenghast.
Of this trip, I'll remember most the pub conversations, picking up the local idiom, being affectionately told I was a 'cunting div wank stain Yank' as a beer glass was smashed into my face. I'm still not sure what a 'badly packed kebab,' is but I'm sure it will come to me if I think long enough.
All of the strangeness has me homesick for New York, where a Blue Peter is something entirely else. I miss our loathsome, fascist mayor and his puppet cops who torture, and the people in my neighborhood who scream for each other instead of ringing the doorbell. It'll be good to get home this Friday. I skimped on souvenirs, but did manage to purchase Oliver Cromwell's head (used), which will be mounted on a spike outside my apartment in plain view of the passing Ftrains.