This contains no news. It is not terribly interesting. It’s just a bloggy recap of my first day in London. Read no further if you could care less. If you read further, don’t complain about a lack of relevance. All relevance has been carefully removed from this piece by experts.
When I arrived in London, it was raining like an old man pisses – stops and starts, and occasional downpours. It was wet enough to faze even the normally damp people of England – the changing of the Queen’s guards at Buckingham Palace was canceled due to the weather. This change of plans left well over 200 Japanese tourists wandering, dazed and soaking, in front of Her Royal Majesty’s residence.
I’m in town to visit two New Line sets: His Dark Materials: The Golden Compass and Inkheart. There are elements of both visits that are exciting, but I would be lying if I told you that the biggest draw wasn’t just simply my first chance to visit London, a city that looms large in the imagination of any American boy who grew up on classic rock and the British invasion. I spent the last week since New Line extended the invitation doing a lot of Google Mapping and research – I only have a couple of days in London, and during those days I only have a couple of hours of free time. It all needs to be maximized.
I only began traveling with the CHUD gig – my first ever overseas trip was to Berlin for Aeon Flux a couple of years back – because of a major fear of flying. But getting on planes on more than 17 occasions in 2006 really helps turn flying from sheer terror to moderate terror with large heapings of ennui. My red-eye left New York at 7:35* and arrived in London Heathrow the next day, which affords people who can sleep on planes a good chance to hit the ground with their bodies on UK time. I can’t sleep on planes, so I spent about five hours playing Grand Theft Auto: Liberty City Stories (I have a very nice prostitution ring and protection racket going!) and trying to read A Game of Thrones, George RR Martin’s epic fantasy that will become an HBO series**.
Exhaustion flees when you’re excited, and after deplaning I was not tired at all. At least until I walked what seemed like 40 miles through Heathrow, desperately looking for passport control. Exhaustion returned on the car ride to the hotel, as we sat in drizzly traffic on the M4, surrounded by the kind of scenery that makes the opening titles of the original Office so glum. But still – London! As a travel nerd it takes little to get me excited, so unusual highway signs or the cute cabs were enough to keep me juiced.
After checking in (my room has a king sized bed made up of two twins pushed together. Comfort is not a factor, it seems), I hit the mean streets of Westminster. Across from the hotel is Green Park, on the other side of which is Buckingham. Walking down Piccadilly I found Half Moon Street (topless Sigourney Weaver not included) and thirteen or fourteen Starbucks. And Japanese. Everywhere Japanese. I wonder if part of this comes from the fact that my hotel is right next to the Japanese Embassy – but I also think that part of it is the simple fact that all the Earth is the playground of the Japanese. Finally, their imperial aspirations realized.
Buckingham, frankly, looks like a big museum. You hope for something a little more exciting, but without the changing of the guards all that can be expected is throngs of tourists taking pictures of themselves in front of fences. That’s the way to remember a trip – “Here’s me in front of some wrought iron fencing. No idea what’s behind me. Here’s Jimmy in front of some other wrought iron fencing.” To be fair, I took pictures as well, but I saved the really nerdy picture taking for later. For Abbey Road!
Back at the hotel I ate and passed right the fuck out. Lack of sleep caught up with me like Javert on Jean Valjean or the multiball on Jodi Foster in The Accused. I was awoken to the mellifluous tones of one Mr. Drew ”Moriarty” McWeeny on the phone – he and CHUD pal and Collider.com writer Andre Dellamorte had arrived. We all met up and made our way to the Tube for some exciting adventures among the British peasantry.
As a New Yorker by birth, I despise tourists. They forget that New York isn’t just their vacation destination, it isn’t just Club Med on the Hudson, it’s a real city and I live and work there. Nothing is worse than seeing a bunch of Applebees-fed spazzes from Iowa milling about in the middle of Times Square, hypnotized and slack-jawed from the advertising. So imagine my shame as we milled about in the Green Park Tube station, just trying to figure out what the hell to do.
We finally figured it out – a day pass for five pounds – and got on the Jubilee line to St John’s Wood, where the Abbey Road studios stands. We made our way to the location and marveled at a building behind a fence (“Here’s Drew in front of a wrought iron fence”). Not that it wasn’t excellent to be there, but there’s something a touch anti-climactic about the experience. Thankfully other tourists were clustered about, making me feel less lame, even as I crossed and recrossed the famous street while Drew endeavored to take my picture. Traffic must stop for you when you step into the zebra crossing there, and I imagine it must be one of the most hated intersections for London drivers as endless waves of doofy tourists just keep crossing the street.
Next up was Baker Street, and most specifically 221B, the home of Sherlock Holmes. When you’re out in London with a guy best known as Moriarty, Holmes’ deadliest enemy, this stop is mandatory. We took a couple of potentially embarrassing pictures of Drew in front of some Holmsian things – the 221B doorway, and in front of a fresco of Holmes and Moriarty battling on the waterfall – a fresco that’s inside of the Sherlock Holmes coffee shop. Everything on Baker Street is Holmes-related, even the fucking dry cleaners.
By now it was dark. I really wanted to hit King’s Cross Station, which has a plaque for Harry Potter’s Platform 9 ¾, but we needed to head back to meet the rest of the group for dinner. At the hotel I checked my email and found a lovely confirmation for my second screening of Hot Fuzz. After a quick shower, it was off to the tour bus which would shuttle us to dinner – and possibly our dooms. The bus driver made a wrong turn somewhere in Knightsbridge down a tiny one way street. He tried to make a U-turn – or technically a 396 point turn – but nothing doing. Drew, Andre and I sat in the back of the bus, honoring Rosa Parks, so we were a little out of the loop as to what was going on… until the bus began reversing down the street. Into four lanes of fast moving traffic. Which the driver could not see from his position. Drew looked down the street, right into our own doom. Somehow we managed to emerge into traffic unscathed.
With us in the back of the bus was “Lord Asriel,” the guy who runs HisDarkMaterials.org. We got into a spirited discussion about just how you turn these books into movies – the first book and much of the third seem cinematic enough, but the second feels visually inert. And plus there’s the thematic anti-organized religion themes and SPOILERS! The death of God in the third book that makes the whole thing feel quite problematic. This is some of the stuff I hope we get to address later today when we hit Shepperton Studios.
After dinner (I tried the raw swordfish, mostly so I could reference the Marx Brothers, but found it quite yummy), we headed back to the hotel. The boys smoked some Cuban cigars, possibly because no rent boys were available, but after a beer (a Budweiser – I know, but the selection in the hotel bar was shit! The only British beer was Old Speckled Hen, and they were out of it. I could have had a Corona, I guess) I called it a night.
I wish I had more observations on British culture for you beyond the fact that the exchange rate is fucking murdering me (a pound forty for a cup of coffee sounds reasonable until you do the exchange rate math). I haven’t seen as much of London as I would like, but I am glad I got to see it wet – cities built of stone like this always look best when slicked down. Today should bring more excitement as we’re off to Shepperton Studios, and then there’s Hot Fuzzing and possibly more extra-curricular excitement. I’ve been taking a number of pictures, but I lost the cable to connect the camera to my laptop, so nothing until I get home. And then you’ll get to see Moriarty flipping off Sherlock Holmes’ house.
*In theory. We had delays caused by a guy leaving the plane and having to have his checked baggage removed. I hate when this happens because I wonder if tomorrow I’ll be in pieces in the North Atlantic while he’s on TV saying, ‘I just had a bad feeling about the flight!’
**Trying because the book is miserably written. It’s the kind of book where a sword isn’t just steel, it’s Valyrian steel! The kind that holds an edge best! Martin writes in that purple prose that’s supposed to approximate some olde fashioned form of writing, but that a) really just reads like a hack attempt at Victorian era writing and b) actually reads like it was written by a 14-year old Dungeon Master. Medieval fantasy novels use language that sort of signifies archaic speech patterns but actually have no relation to how people in swords and horses times talked, so why bother doing it? I’ll slog through, though, if only because the book cost me 15 bucks.