Sitting on the train to Oxford, from London, I am thinking back on the exceptionally extended day that was yesterday. Sleepless on Tuesday night, I spent much of the flight to London in a kind of uneasy resting trance: punctuated by turbulence and the screaming of infants. As it worked out, I had one such child on each side of me.
Unable to find a bus to Oxford from Gatwick Airport, I decided to take the train into London. I arrived at Victoria Station at 5:00am in the local time. Knowing that I couldn’t carry on thinking of myself as a fairly decent human being if I called Sarah so soon, I spend the next two and a half hours reading The Metaphysical Club. It’s a book about which I cannot possibly hope to hold on to the details, once I am finished, but about which I’ve appreciated the general thrust. In particular, I like the bits about the nature of the Northern abolitionist movement in the United States prior to the civil war, as well as the lengthy section discussing the evolution and frequent misapplication of statistics.
At 7:30, I called Sarah and then conveyed myself – along with my weight in baggage – from Victoria Station to a tube station in the northeast part of greater London, where she met me. She and her fiancee Peter are living in a flat immediately beside the construction site where their new and permanent home is being constructed. Glad to be able to leave my bags there, I headed back into town with Sarah for a day of wandering.
We began by visiting Covent Garden, one of many places that I remember from my prior visit in the summer of 2001. Nearby, we visited Sarah’s favourite map shop and I got small maps of London and Oxford. Just having them in my pocket, I feel less out-of-place. From there, we briefly visited Trafalgar Square: with Nelson’s column, Canada House, and hordes of marauding pigeons on display. Afterwards, we stopped by University College London, where swarms of international students are waiting in long lines in colour coded sections. Naturally, I got my photo taken beside the preserved corpse of famed utilitarian Jeremy Bentham. We then met with Peter for lunch in the building where he works; Sarah tells me that the Ministry of Truth in Orwell’s 1984 is modeled after it. It was also a favourite building of Adolph Hitler, who apparently intended to make it into his headquarters once he conquered Britain.
After cappuccinos and conversation with Peter – who works at digitizing data when not doing historical research towards his PhD – Sarah and I took the tube to Saint Paul’s, crossed the Millennium Bridge, and visited the Tate Modern Gallery. She had never been there before and I took care to bring her into the building through its soaring atrium. A converted power station, the Tate Modern has a very distinctive aesthetic that I quite appreciate. Wandering through at about three times standard, respectful museum walking speed, we realized that we have a view of modern art that is not overly dissimilar.
Back at Peter and Sarah’s flat, we had lasagna and wine for dinner. Despite the interesting conversation, I found myself seriously wavering by 9:30, having not properly slept since Monday night – some sixty hours previously. This morning, I woke up around 7:30am, feeling much more awake than I would have dared to hope for. Sarah accompanied me along the streets and through the tube to Paddington Station.
As was the case last summer, I am overwhelmed with appreciation for Sarah’s exceptional hospitality. It changes the whole character of arriving in a strange place to have a helpful friend there. I shall have no such friends in Oxford, but this day in London has mitigated many of my concerns about that.
PS. Let it be known that the Shane Koyczan CD that Sasha Wiley gave me (American Pie Chart) and the Apocalyptica CD that Drew Gave me (Reflections) are both superb. They enriched the plane ride and the days before it.