Wednesday, February 9, 2011

London in the Dark

I live in the United States, but for the last year or so I've been going on a lot of business trips to London.  This sometimes goes by the quaint term "Hopping the Pond".  Like the Atlantic is just a pond that you can hop over.  If that's the case, it's a pretty expensive pond.

My first trip to England was thirty years ago, when I was thirteen.  Boy, was I one lucky kid.  I know.  I will never forget that trip, no matter how long I live.  I remember every bit of it...checking in at LAX, watching the sun rise as we flew over the North Pole, the green fields of Ireland appearing below as we made our descent to Heathrow.  The feeling you only get once in your lifetime, when you step on foreign soil for the first time.

I have now lost count of the number of times I've visited London.  I don't sit by the window, I read the paper during takeoff and landing, and I spend my time on the plane working and catching a nap.  The fact that I am sitting in a hollow tube, flying through the air, and crossing in six hours an ocean that took my ancestors three months to cross (and in a great deal more comfort,  no matter how we feel to the contrary) is completely lost on me.

I know what you're thinking: lucky bitch.  Well, yeah, I admit I am a lucky bitch, but not for going to London in January.  See, the one thing you need to know about visiting England is, in the Summer it's magnificent.  In the Winter, it''s dark.  Really dark.  The sun goes down around 4 PM and doesn't rise until 8 AM.  If you work an office job, you will never see daylight, and when you do, it's overcast and dreary.  It's so bad that people have trouble sleeping because their circadian rhythm just gives up after a while.  And even if you can sleep (which I did only because I was only there for four days, not long enough for my inner clock to throw in the towel), it's Just Plain Depressing.  Besides, I was there to work, not to have fun.

To lift my spirits, as I usually do, I looked up a former colleague of mine and arranged to meet her for dinner one evening near Leicester Square.  This was her idea; there's a fish and chips place called the Mermaids Tail that serves the same stuff you get at any pub for about $20 a plate.  But the company was worth it, and I was on an expense account, so what the hey.

It took me a while to get there; I wasn't working right in the city, so I took the commuter train to Waterloo station and caught the Underground to the next stop.  All around me was this magnificient city (dark, but still magnificent) and more people than I usually encounter in a week.  Coming and going, some in pinstripe suits and some in torn jeans, some in drab and some in bright multicolors, every race and language and accent, talking and reading and listening to music.  And all of a sudden, I felt very, very alone and very, very far from home.  And over me came the feeling that I had no right to be so far from home, surrounded by strangers, distant from my family and friends.  Who the hell did I think I was?

And at that moment, I got to the top of the escalator at Leicester Square, and there was my colleague smiling at me, and she met me not with a handshake but with a warm hug, and she told me how much she loved that I would look her up while I was in town, and how was my family?

And with that, all the bad feelings went away.

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