When a man is tired of London, he is tired of life.

Samuel Johnson


London is one crazy, beautiful city. She started as a mile square and grew to be the first city with over one million inhabitants. She's been obliterated by flame and pestilence. She's been bombed and mobbed. But she's as constant as the Thames flowing through her. It's taken me a great many years to feel anything that might resemble affection for her, but I have always respected her. And yes, London's definitely a she. So when Junkill announced his intention to pay the Britnoders a visit, I leapt at the opportunity to see what I could organise.

However, London's a very expensive city. In fact, according to some clever economics-y types, London is the second most expensive city in the world, after, believe-it-or-not, Moscow. Doubtless she seems excruciatingly expensive for anyone outside of the M25. Inside the M25 is bad enough. So that our guest of honour wouldn't be economically crippled and in the hope that other people would join the party, I set about organising the cheapest meet in London I could. Thusly, I present to you:

London for free or at the most the cost of a one day travel card.

It's about seeing as many interesting aspects of London as can be managed without spending any money, or passing out from exhaustion. And being me, there'll be lots of history involved. That's why we'll be meeting by the bronze statue of Boudicca not very far from Westminster tube station, and we'll move forwards in time from there. You can expect a few monuments, some bridges and boats, maybe a church or two, and possibly even a cemetery. In traditional nodermeet fashion, we'll finish in a pub. (But that bit won't be free. Sorry.)

This is going to involve a lot of walking, and possibly some time on the tube, so you'll need to be prepared. It's also April, in the UK. The weather will be about as predictable as the Grand National: I'd advise layers, with something waterproof on top. As for lunch, I'll be bringing my own. It'll be Pesach, which means that I can't eat out. I'm inclined to suggest that other people do something similar, but if there are vehement objections we can rethink it.

Interested? 11 a.m., Saturday 26 April 2008. By the statue of Boudicca. I'll be the small one with the rucksack, comfy shoes, and A-Z.

Junkill will be the bewildered looking American.
Andrew Aguecheek will be the one that used to have long hair, but doesn't anymore.
Dimview will be the excited one.
Sam512 will be the one looking for the time machine.
Hazelnut will be the one doing a good impression of Boudicca.
Heisenberg will be the one who joins us later.
BaronWR will be spotting cool things to occupy him when he moves to London.
voltaireontoast will be breaking her nodermeet virginity.
Wntrmute will be the one with the entourage.
DTal will be the one with the calculator.

Four dimensional Pork Pies, Sunburns and Blisters

You have to hand it to The Debutante, but here's a woman with ambition, the stamina of elephant (although rather petite) and steely determination: herding 11 people more used to sit in front of computer screens through a warm and sunny day through the capital of Albion is a task I would not be able to perform as calm and non-fussy as she did.

The best girlfriend ever and myself only joined the crew at 15:30 on the north bank of the Millenium Bridge, and there were already signs of wear and tear: Wntrmute, Hazelnut and El Deb already sported impressive sun burns, there was some general slouching going on, but faced with an engineering dilemma as difficult as the Millenium Bridge brought out the best in every noder: there was general and synchronized hopping up and down and stopping traffic for pictures. From there on we transported ourselves to Hyde Park to rest under Prince Albert's enormous golden butt and discussed four dimensional porkpies. Unfortunately by that time it was already so late that my significant other and I had to leave to make it in time to the Was (not Was) gig. The crew accompanied us to Islington (lured by the high concentration of pubs and eateries), while Andrew_Aquecheek was sent to pick up lost noder DTal, who we unfortunately missed.

As ever, you couldn't wish for a more pleasant group of people to hang around with: Junkill's exuded buddhistic calm, Sam512 is pretty much the nicest person you could ever meet, Hazelnut continues to be the most articulate person I have ever met, Voltaireontoast performed marvellously on her first meet, BaronWR calmly spurted ironic witticisms, Andrew_Aquecheeck was able to rattle through the nation's monarchs with enviable ease, Dimview, looking the fittest of us all, gave the whole outfit the necessary gravitas, Wntrmute was his usual brillant and El Debs must be one hell of a teacher, being able to shoo this gaggle of personalities through the bowels of London.

It's been a blast. Thank you all for your company, and I'm sorry I couldn't stay longer. I tried to convince Was (not Was) to change the date, but to no avail.

H.

The Debutante's Cool Nodermeet For Attractive People

This was not a good nodermeet to forget to bring my camera to. To begin with, I originally bought my digital camera because at the last nodermeet I wasn't able to take any photos. So, failure there. And then I, for one, had never actually done any proper tourism in London. And this was the sunniest, most lovely day ever and we went and looked at all kinds of interesting stuff and there were all kinds of excellent noder people who were, if anything, even more desperately in need of photographing. Bah!

Photo galleries: BaronWR, Wntrmute

London is just barely within day-trip distance from my home in Nottingham. 11am is about the earliest start a train-user such as myself can get to without having to stay locally overnight. There were endlessly amusing Tube closures this weekend which, despite me looking them up in advance, scuppered my attempts to take the Jubilee Line to Westminster tube station so I arrived only ten minutes early rather than fifteen. I was the first. Call me Captain Punctual.

Deb and Wntrmute had apparently hijacked la petite mort and StrawberryFrog's relatively nearby empty flat the previous evening, and then got drunk on champagne. Neither appeared to be anything other than on top London-exploring form. Wntrmute is allegedly immune to hangovers-- or, more likely in my opinion, a scandalously responsible drinker.

The corner of London near Boudica's statue is unbelievably, astoundingly busy but there is a kind of null zone (if you know where to stand) where noders can gather and not obstruct foot traffic. BaronWR, self-confessedly E2's most actively nodermeeting non-noding noder, arrived. Dimview and the great, bearded Junkill arrived. I may be getting this order wrong. Hazelnut, described in the original nodermeet node as having big red hair comparable with Boudica's, turned out not to be an Iceni warrior queen but a guy in big black boots. Almost an hour passed before Andrew Aguecheek and his blonde, photograph-taking companion voltaireontoast made their appearances. Distressingly, most of my rendezvouses in London tend to involve lengthy (and hence meticulously timed) pub crawls, for which a fifteen-minute-late departure spells disaster, so around 11:45am I was beginning to get concerned for our timetable, but it turned out that what Wntrmute had originally taken to be a timetable when he saw Deb planning the meet (a piece of paper reading "1000", "1100", "1200", "1300", ...) had actually been a list of centuries whose history Deb was planning to enlighten us about. Boudica was the first century A.D., of course. Then we were to skip a millennium and visit one attraction for every century from then to the present day. And time constraints were thus minimal.

DTal, it turned out, had missed his bus and was therefore going to turn up seven hours late. In such a situation I believe I would have abandoned all hope.

Water was bought. Lacking cash, Deb paid with a card; needing to pay at least £1, she bought a Crunchie as well; not wanting the Crunchie, I scored some free chocolate which I am still in posession of and shall eat once I have completed this writeup. By this point it was nearly noon and we set off towards the 11th Century Westminster Abbey, which we took a good long hard look at but didn't enter on account of it costing, you know, actual money. We looked around the nearby chapel instead, just in time for its twelve noon prayer. Enormous chapels need organ music, I think.

Next we toddled past what I was told were anti-tank defences in front of the Houses of Parliament. My thoughts immediately turned to means of bypassing said defences, a topic which would return later in the day in the form of pneumatic hexapodal insect-tanks with giraffe necks. We took a look at the statue of Richard the Lionheart outside the front of the Houses of Parliament - 12th Century - and then continued past the Victoria Tower. Avid readers of my homenode will know I have photographic evidence that I am taller than Ely Cathedral; unfortunately, circumstances, angles and the lack of an appropriate mathematical transformation function meant I could not be made to appear taller than the Victoria Tower. So it is taller than me.

Next we went on a lunch-related wander to the Victoria Tower Gardens where we had a good look at Auguste Rodin's "The Burghers Of Calais". 14th Century. I think some temporal doubling-back was planned. We deemed them similar to hobbits, due to their large hands and bare feet, though apparently the figures are two metres tall. It didn't look that way from ground level. I really liked this sculpture, it has a lot of character to it.

We sat on the grass and ate our lunch and discussed various geeky things like Doctor Who (didn't RalphyK do well!). It was a lovely sunny day and soon (after some direction-giving and dashing about) Wntrmute's sister was brought into the fold too. Crisps were passed around and around and around until it was eventually realised that nobody was taking any more. A protocol for preventing such eternal circulation was proposed, but never properly adopted.

*

After some more bottled water (evil! It's evil! and you're carrying it in a plastic bag!!) we made our way along Whitehall past various impressive memorials, brilliant white stone buildings, the ever-popular Downing Street, hoards of cheering fans-- no, wait, protestors with confusing and sometimes difficult-to-parse signs-- towards Trafalgar Square. We admired Nelson's Column. (Sometimes you hear people describe such-and-such as "eight times as tall as Nelson's Column" and I for one never really registered that as an impressive statistic until I saw how tall Nelson's Column actually is.) We ignored-- pooh-poohed, even-- the National Gallery and skipped around the side to the slightly better-hidden National Portrait Gallery.

While Deb tried to figure out where the portrait she wanted to show us was being kept, I invited people to give me their definitions of art. The most popular response seemed to be a slightly dumbfounded "...". That's a sufficiently artistic response that I think I'll take it.

And here is where I blush and apologise profusely because, while I believe that the portrait we were specifically directed to look at was the one of Elizabeth I (16th Century) standing on a map of Great Britain (in such a manner that Solihull was looking up her dress, which has to be symbolic of something), I am not entirely sure of this because I and the rest of the geeks in the party (which was well over 50% geeks by volume) were distracted by an anamorphic portrait of [much Googling goes here] Edward VI. "Anamorphic" meaning "drastically distorted so that it only looks right if you view it side-on, through a pinhole to the far right", meaning "totally awesome". Pay attention at the back, Sam.

On the way out, a new addition to the NPG was spotted, a portrait of Lady Jane Grey: supposedly a diminutive, slightly red-haired, pale-skinned lady who ruled England for nine days and enjoyed planning nodermeets.

Onward, multifaith'd soldiers! We went to Charing Cross, location of the twelfth of twelve crosses erected by Edward I (13th Century. Temporal double-back complete) in memory of his late wife Eleanor of Castile, marking the progress of her body home to London. Apparently this monument is officially the location of London when you see something say "X miles to London". Unfortunately it was surrounded by construction fences. So we took turns putting our hands through the bars and being the closest to the centre of London. Fabulous.

NEXT: THE TUBE. We headed up the Strand towards Holborn station-- past Deb's office, apparently, I didn't see it, maybe I'm blind-- and rode to Bank. Unfortunately the Monument we'd gone there to see, Monument to the Great Fire Of London, of course (17th Century), was covered in scaffolding, with a painting of the Monument hung over the scaffolding. The scaffolding, being 60-odd metres tall, was fairly impressive in itself, and worthy of a few photographs, but still, boo, let-down. (Voltaireontoast, BaronWR and Wntrmute all brought large, substantial cameras to the meet. Commendable. I can only assume online galleries are forthcoming.)

At which point we were called upon to decide which of two locations to visit next, and, rather than go and take a good long look at some Roman wall and the Tower of London (which Junkill and/or Dimview, being visitors-to-our-great-nation, reported having already seen recently), we crossed the river and headed west along the south bank of the Thames, enjoying the sun and the views. We spotted a food chain called "Eat." and obeyed the imperative. "Eat", Junkill suggested, was a spectacularly good name for a food-serving chain, because people would simply look at the sign and go "Eat? Oh, okay!" so we logically extended this to a bar called "Drink", a televisual retailer called "Look", a music store called "Listen" and, generally, dystopic commercialised chains called such imposing things as "Purchase", "Buy", "Acquire", "Hoard", and "CONSUME".

Coke was drunk, mysterious objects initially resembling boiled potatoes which were actually strawberries coated in white Belgian chocolate were munched, and Hazelnut - a man who self-confessedly enjoys verbally abusing things - inadvertently broadcasted profanity to passing little ones. "Shut yo' mouth!"

We carried along past the Tate Modern to the Millennium Bridge and crossed it, to meet-- who? Whom, rather? A bald, grinning German named Heisenberg! Plus one! whose name I never got. We headed back to the approximate middle of the Millennium Bridge, discussed copyright law and analogue photography, and made a spirited if largely symbolic attempt to shake the Bridge down. Curse those excellent retrofitted vibrational dampeners and our collective absence of knowledge of architectural sabotage. Considering alternate means of causing civil unrest in London, we hit upon the perfect plan almost by accident: hold up tourists crossing the bridge under the pretext of taking a photograph, and keep them held up forever until central London grinds to a halt. Who needs a tank? Even a tank with six legs and thermoptic camouflage?

We then headed past the always amusing Knightrider Street to Mansion House station, stopping off briefly at an incredibly tiny park to take pictures of peonies. Next stop, South Kensington, for Hyde Park, roller-skating hockey players (roller skates: a serviceable alternative to the Steadicam? ...no, not really), the Albert Hall and the unbelievably, monstrously ostentatious Albert Memorial (19th Century. Ack, did I blink and miss one? Sorry!). This is obviously what inspired the modern term, "bling". I mean, this isn't simply the dictionary definition of "bling", it's the Platonic Ideal Bling Form. We collapsed on the grass for a while and discussed tiredness, feet, missing noders, four-dimensional pie (to be noded separately) and other, less technically challenging possibilities for dinner.

*

Andrew Aguecheek and voltaireontoast left us to check into their hostel and pick up DTal, who was due to be arriving sometime in the next two hours or something ridiculous. We followed the rapidly-moving Heisenberg Plus One back to South Kensington Station and Tubed it up to Angel. Heisy left us at Angel, to go to a Was (Not Was) gig, but had promised there would be gastropubs nearby. Or promised to lead us to a good restaurant he knew (but didn't). Or something. It was all a little uncertain. Deb had no specific plans beyond the 19th Century so it fell to myself to say "right, you non-committal ditherers, we are walking in this direction until we find a place serving food" and then to do just this.

It was at this point that we belatedly realised that it was Saturday night in a portion of central London with which none of us were particularly familiar and there were no appealing eating establishments within eyeshot.

We found a moderately uninspiring-looking Italian restaurant, and, with no better ideas, took up a table for ten. That's ten: me, Wntrmute, The Debutante, BaronWR, Junkill, and Dimview. Yeah, seriously. Hazelnut stopped for cash just as we were musing over entering the Italian and then sprinted away past us, not hearing Junkill's shout (due to bad hearing, in turn due to heavy metal). This is a bad move to make when nobody has your number and your phone is, in any case, broken. It was some time before he located us again. Hazelnut would have been our seventh man and Andrew Aguecheek, voltaireontoast and DTal would have been eight, nine and ten, but, as the main course was served, none of these people had arrived. Slightly embarrassing.

And so we dined, under what I would term overly-loud, tiresome, cliched, even oppressive music. An unusually enthusiastic waiter danced as he cooked. Salad, pizza, calzone; Wntrmute and I had lasagna with both the reddish-black appearance and the temperature of molten lava. Hazelnut did turn up eventually and did a heroic job of catching up food-wise. The remaining three phoned to say they had found DTal and were on the train to us (not, e.g., around the corner). Translation: half an hour out at best. Wonderful. We decided not to order for them.

We skipped dessert, all the better to get down to the dirty business of all nodermeets since time immemorial, namely drinking. We adjourned to the nearby Wetherspoon's, which is officially the closest pub to the ancient location of The Angel, Islington (i.e. next door; the original Angel building is now a bank), and hence appears on Monopoly Pub Crawls, which up until now have formed the bulk of my experience of London. Drinks were bought (five drinks for just over ten quid? In London? Apparently Wetherspoonses are this cheap all over, but still, the mind boggles.) Junkill had a Guinness. Dimview also had Guinness, a drink she apparently does not like but has been badgered into trying again. She, again, did not like it. That's science, baby.

One pint later, Aguecheek, voltaire and Tal finally arrived! Full complement achieved. Further drinks were ordered and we shifted to another table where we would not occupy the entire pub. This had been a cunning choice of pub since food was still available to order, so the incoming three would still have a chance of acquiring sustenance. However, how the remainder of the meet played out, I do not know. I can only assume the party was just warming up when I, alas, had to depart, at around 9pm, to catch the last train home, in order to get back to Nottingham, in order to catch the last bus home.

*

The weather was great.

Deb led us unerringly to dozen interesting places in London largely without cartographic support where I would have been consulting a Google Maps printout every fifteen paces. It takes a lot of effort to look that effortless.

Noders - known or unknown - are Good People To Talk To. It's been far too long since I had so many good conversations in a single day.

Thank you for having me. I had a lovely time.

*crunch*

Slightly Belated Thoughts on Amazing People, Self-Doubt, and the Trip of a Lifetime

I have to make a bit of a confession: I have a lot of self-doubts when it comes to my level of education, creativity, even intelligence—especially intelligence. At the risk of laying it on too thickly, E2 features some people who are so intelligent, educated, creative, and talented, that I find noders pretty intimidating, even after having been to four nodermeets now, and met with several of the great minds of E2 outside nodermeet context.

It seems to be that initial impressions often frame our expectations of future events, and, while I've enjoyed my excursions to the Great Midwest quite a bit, I have to confess being a bit blown away by the sheer intellectual wattage that tends to congregate there, at Wiccanpiper and Briarcub's house or else at Gwenllian and Apatrix's home.

The first nodermeet I ever attended found me drinking with people like Izubachi, SciPhi, eien_meru, Wiccanpiper, and Briarcub—wonderful chaps, every one—but it should be sufficient to say that I felt more than a little bit outclassed in the old brains department.

And yet...these turned out to be some of the most wonderful and interesting people I've ever met.

I could hardly wait to meet the Britnoders—I'd heard so many tales of their wacky adventures. But there was still that familiar sense of apprehension: not only is that a very smart, creative, and talented group...but they are foreign to boot!

To the USAvian mind—well, to many of us—Brits and Europeans have an automatic gravity and coolness to what they say and do. Well, most of them do, I mean, not necessarily Benny Hill or Mr. Bean, but I think you see my point. Never having been out of my home country in 44 years of life, there was some slight concern in the depths of my mind that I might wander in like a strategically-shaved Neanderthal, pointing at great architectural treasures and going "Haha! Britties make purty building!"

And yet, somehow, I survived meeting lots and lots of noders, and I never seem to have been a clod or a boor, and, despite being Texan, even proved that I can pronounce 'nuclear' correctly.

Within a few days of arriving in London, I whisked off to the home of La Petite Mort and StrawberryFrog. These gracious Southern(hemisphere)ers treated their Texan guest like visiting royalty, welcoming me into their lovely home where I also met the brilliant and upbeat Auduster. LPM paid me a very great compliment when she told me that I didn't look like a tourist. The evening was so much fun that there was no room for me to have self-doubt—just to enjoy the company of three creative and intelligent friends who fed me a delicious dinner and, taught me about the joy Pimm's and Wii (a wonderful combination, really). The trip had started well.

A few days later, Dimview and I met up with archiewood and his charming girlfriend. Again, it crossed my mind that hanging out with two such brilliant noders could be quite intimidating, but Dimmie and Archie are both charming and good humoured companions—I was instantly at ease.

Another noder I got to meet, before the nodermeet, was AspieDad. Dimmie and I met him at his place of employment, and after a turn through the Borough Market and a quick tour of Southwark Cathedral, it was off to the Aspie home for a stunningly enjoyable evening featuring wonderful conversation (and lots of laughter) with his delightful family, a terrific meal (courtesy of one of GinSoaked's recipes)...plus a few bottles from the wine cellar.

At this point, I was having a hard time justifying my noder-phobia, but the big test would come on Saturday: a full-fledged nodermeet with a dozen or so of Everything2's most colourful and amazing denizens. I was to meet luminaries such as the Debutante, Sam512, and Heisenberg—if ever there was to be a time to panic, this would most certainly be it.

After a short time, walking and hanging out with this eclectic group, I started to put aside whatever self-doubt I had. Soon enough, I found myself talking history with the charming Ms. Debutante, whose historical knowledge is stunning...laughing about games (especially classic Magic: the Gathering) with the wonderfully raucous Hazelnut...chatting about a hundred subjects with the interesting and garrulous voltaireontoast and the less talkative but equally interesting Andrew Aguecheek...conversation with Sam512, Hazelnut, and BaronWR about the funny possibilities that a food place called Eat bring to mind (see Sam's writeup above for more info on that conversation)...discussing medicine and anatomical geekery with the very charismatic Heisenberg...pleasant conversation over a Guiness courtesy of the brilliant and fun Sam512...talking about the USA with DTal...or about Texas with that delightful Dane, Dimview...reciting Eddie Izzard routines with wntrmute...it was really an amazing day.

I'm sorry...what was my point? Oh yes, scary noders. The thing is, they weren't! Despite my foreignness and my sometimes clueless demeanour, everyone I met at the nodermeet or separately—without a single exception—was interesting, fun, and open...decidedly non-scary.

The man whom I call my "second father" referred to this vacation to England as my "trip of a lifetime," and it was. To travel a quarter of the way around this big old planet, and find such wonderful, warm, and welcoming friends made the experience far more enjoyable than I'd ever dreamed.

I look forward to the next time I get to confronting my inner demons by meeting some of the amazing people of E2.

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