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.


To eat, or not to eat: that is the question

So. I’ve had a friendly face visiting me in London for the past few days! Stephanie is cooking her way across Europe, but she deigned to visit London for a few days and I acted as her unofficial tour guide. We met up on the South Bank and walked over to the reconstructed Globe Theatre. Our hope was that we would be able to score a pair of cheap tickets for Shakespeare’s comedy As You Like It. When we arrived, however, we were informed that standing tickets had been sold out and the only tickets left were seated and out of our price range. After asking if there was a possibility of tickets being returned, we left with the slim chance that tickets would be available upon our return.

Part of my mission as tour guide over the few days she was in London was to show Stephanie that the reputation of British cuisine was unwarranted. Of course, the meat pie being a British staple, we meandered our way toward a small shop on the South Bank called Pieminister. Tucked into the corner of a small courtyard, Pieminister serves a great pie at a great price. I snagged a Deerstalker with creamy mashed potatoes, smothered in red wine beef gravy. The hearty combination of venison, onions, and lentils was just what the cool, cloudy day was calling for.

After filling our empty stomachs, we headed back to the Globe. Our hopes were temporarily dashed when the attendant informed us that there were still no tickets available. However, a student group had two extra tickets as some of their students had not shown up. The seats were a restricted view, but for £10 each we snapped them up. As there was still a bit of time before doors, we got some hot chocolate and wandered through the souvenir shop, chatting away about our recent escapades.

We were finally let in to the theatre and proceeded to climb to the top of the East Tower. Our seats were “restricted,” but we thoroughly enjoyed our view looking down upon the groundlings. The procession from chaos to order that is a Shakespearean comedy (complete with cross-dressing and phallic jokes) had us grinning and laughing from start to finish. Our side view provided us the opportunity to see both cast and crew prepare for the next scenes and, having worked for Memorial Hall and the Union, it was a nostalgic view that emphasized how much I appreciate all aspects of performance.

We topped off the afternoon with a few pints at a local pub, continuing our earlier chat about life, love, and the pursuit of happiness. What else would you talk about over pints? But our stomachs were beckoning us onward and we wandered back along South Bank, looking for a place to grab a bite to eat. Along one of the many side streets/alleys that comprise the area, we found a Gourmet Burger Kitchen and our mutual love for a good burger drove us inward. GBK never fails to impress and we thoroughly enjoyed a Bacon Cheddar Burger each with a shared order of chips. Being the foodies that we are, we attempted to determine the ingredients of the delicious barbecue sauce that accompanied the burger. But our evening was drawing to a close. But what quintessentially English day would be complete without a bit of rain? As I walked Stephanie back to her hostel, a light drizzle began which turned into a downpour shortly after she walked inside. So I splashed my way to the nearest station and headed home. We had parted for the night, having marinated all day in good food and better company, with the promise to meet again on the morrow.