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.