So. Last week I received a packet in the mail containing all kinds of papers regarding the next step in opening a bank account. Naturally, I thought I’d just walk on down to the nearest branch and get everything taken care of in one fell swoop. I was quick to learn that such is not case in the UK. Bureaucracy runs rampant here. It’s like a fairy from the isle of Avalon has winged its way through every office of the country leaving a trail of red tape in its wake. And, of course, I’m not the only person who must navigate this torturous web. I say all this because, when I arrived at the bank, there were at least ten people waiting ahead of me to be helped by an attendant and five or more queued up to speak with a teller. I took a quick glance around, said “F*** this,” and walked out.

I know I need to suck it up and wait my turn, but it’s my nature as a United States Citizen to be disinclined to wait. We, as a nation, generally expect to be waited on in certain respects, and the bank is one of them. Customer service is expected to be swiftly administered. I’ll admit that government offices in the US are just as intricately bound in red tape as the UK, but if I wanted to open a bank account, I would simply walk into the bank and be promptly assisted. I know because I’ve done it. And there is rarely a queue for a teller unless it’s close to 5pm. However, I will squash my indignation into a small corner of my mind and politely wait in queue with the rest of the peasants. Hopefully, I can circumnavigate the whole “proof of address” issue. I have mail, but no bills. I don’t pay utilities and my rent is paid electronically. There is no paperwork, no mail. This is the 21st century, isn’t it? This should not be an issue… There’s my mini rant, now on to more adventures.

Upon leaving the bank, I walked over to the library to sign up for a library card. Again, I faced the “proof of address” issue. The librarian did not want to accept that I had received mail from a banking institution and the department processing my National Insurance application (a National Insurance number is the UK equivalent of a Social Security number in the US). But she eventually acquiesced to my puppy dog eyes and handed me the form to fill out. *click clack beep beep boop* and I have a library card. Once I had a card in hand, the librarian became much kinder. Strange… But I began perusing the shelves. This public library was very different from the ones I have encountered in the US. For one, many of the books were paperback. This weirded me out at first, but I moved on. I quickly realized that, like in the US, libraries here are interconnected and I could request books from the other libraries in the borough to be delivered to my local branch, ready and available to be picked up. After looking through the selection available at this library, I came to the conclusion that it’s been so long since I was able to read contemporary fiction that I have no idea what’s current, who’s who, or even where to begin. So I left. I’ll do some research and return…

Being such a nice day, I decided to wander the streets of London. I made my way to the Tube station and hopped a train to London Bridge. Headphones in, I began meandering my way along the Thames. I picked up some chips from Borough Market and just walked, listening to whatever my iPod’s shuffle decided to throw at me. When I reached the Globe Theatre, I thought I’d stop in to see if I could get standing tickets to The Taming of the Shrew for my birthday on Thursday. Alas, had I come 5 minutes earlier, I would have bypassed the three people in front of me who snapped up the last tickets… But I hold no grudge. They’ll have a great time and I can see it later. I’ll find something to do on Thursday. I always do! I’m in London, after all. There’s always something just around the corner. So, I walked onward, following the path of the Thames as it flows through the heart of London. Past St. Paul’s, under numerous bridges, by the Palace of Westminster, I just kept walking (I stopped every now and then to snap a few tourist shots). I’ve walked past Westminster countless times, but its intricacy and the beauty of its architecture always invite me to take one more photograph.

The Palace of Westminster

I eventually made my way all the way down to the Battersea Power Station and Battersea Park, (which in hindsight was probably my initial goal) as I had yet to see either. I had traversed seven or so miles along the riverfront to get here. The power plant’s abandoned glory seemed almost apocalyptic. This incredible structure just left to decay in the centre of London, many of its windows broken and the lot surrounding it bereft of any life. But if one continues walking down the street, Battersea Park comes into view. A lush, green park filled with children playing and pigeons being harassed by various dogs freed from their leashes. I enjoyed the park’s beauty, but even here the smokestacks of the power station tower in the background serving as a reminder of the past. But enough philosophical waffle on my part…

Battersea Power Station

Grey skies in London? Never…

Past towers over present.

Exiting the park, I followed the signs for the nearest train station. The great thing about having a Travelcard is that I can hop on any train within zones 1-3, be it above or below ground, and go anywhere else within zones 1-3. I had no idea where this train terminated, but I was getting on. It was heading south and I thought there has to be an underground station nearby… Within a few minutes, the train arrived at Clapham High Street. I jumped up and off the train. I had been here and I knew there was an Underground station right around the corner. I swiped my Oyster card and headed home having enjoyed my day along the Thames.

Not quite Platform 9 3/4.


One thought on “Wandering

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