Friday, March 26, 2010

London Found (Part II, See Part I below)

As it goes, I wasn’t meant to find spring on Sunday. That evening, however, I did find an exceptionally good Thai restaurant near Canary Wharf. I ordered spring rolls with the provision that they were made with 100% rice flour. Sadly, there was wheat in the mix, so once again, spring eluded me.

The next day I didn’t have to be at the airport until one o’clock in the afternoon, so I decided to take one more walk around London. I got out of the Tube at Bank station with the intention of walking all the way to Leichester Square where I wanted to take some pictures for a friend. For the uninitiated, that’s quite a hike.

But it’s a thrilling one, especially when the sky (and cranes and bridges) is blue. Surely I would find spring on a March day like this.

Through traffic and throngs of Monday-morning suits, I headed for the Thames. If you’ve never walked the Thames Path, well, you should, for the simple reason that London is prettiest from this perspective. London, though I love her, can be an ugly sow. But not here along the Thames: the architecture, the history, the bridges. The London Eye . . . sore.

The first part of my walk was sunny, even—I dare to say—spring-like. I made it to the Tate Modern in about ten minutes where I took this photo of trees I would like to plant in my backyard. White bark. I like white bark.

A few metres further, the Thames path was diverted by construction. Let me stop here and establish a theme: construction, cranes, workmen. London is under construction. The entire city is spiffing itself up for the 2012 Olympic games. Spring might not have been in the air on Monday, but cranes certainly were . . . everywhere.

But then I discovered something marvelous. A gem. Right in the middle of London is this half acre of land devoted to the poor. Charles Hopton in 1730 left money in his will to provide housing for poor men and their families. These cottages still provide homes for the poor. Maybe this was the patch of spring I was looking for. Maybe. I hope.

The Charles Hopton Alms House, London
As I walked, continuing toward Leichester Square, the scenery started to stimulate my memory glands. The theme music to The Twilight Zone started when the National Theatre emerged on my left (in the picture below, you can see The London Eye rearing its ugly head behind it). And what a god-awful ugly building it is. What strange memories it brought back.

Fifteen years ago, I landed in London, dropped my bags at my youth hostel and headed to the National Theatre. I was in London and—gosh-darnit—I was gonna see me a play. I had, after all, just received a Master’s degree in English literature. I wasn’t here only to dance all night in trendy dance clubs.

The only thing playing that evening was a Tennessee Williams play. I can’t remember which one—the one about the lesbian boarding school teachers?—but I can remember that the characters were supposed to be southern. The accents were hysterically wrong: something like The Beverly Hillbillies meet Macbeth. I fell asleep and was awakened by someone long after the play had ended. I remember that I had no idea where, or who, I was.
Flashback over!

At the National Theatre, I took the footbridge across the Thames to Embankment and Charing Cross station. As you can see, blue skies weren't following me any longer. By the time I arrived at Leichester Square, the weather had turned windy and cold. On top of this, what I wanted to photograph was no longer there, so I started the long walk back to London Bridge where I would catch the train to the airport.

I walked back through the Victoria gardens, hoping to see tulips and daffodils and the tender green innocence of spring. Yes, there were beds of flowers, but they were unimpressive and certainly not mature enough to represent the bushy innocence I was searching for. At Temple station, the garden was in an appalling state. Embarrassing. Ugly. I think there were drug dealers amongst the unplanted flowerbeds. This was anti-spring. For a moment there I thought spring was lost.

But then . . .

I found . . .

spring . . .

incarcerated spring.

Oh, stop it, Chris. You’re not a poet.
Hmmm. But if I were, I’d put
spring behind bars
until it screamed for freedom.
Then I’d set it free
and watch it dance
and laugh
and burst with green.
I’d shout, “Dance, March, or I’ll
blow your bloody feet off!”

I’d be mean.
I’d be really mean,
but only because I’d
walked my own feet off
on my quest for spring.
And all I’d found was
Richard Quest
and skimpy tulip greens.
I wanted more . . .
BUT! I found London again
and I need to tell you that I love her!
Shh. We’re back together.
Invite us to dinner.

We’ll bring the Carménère.

I must be off,

Thursday, March 25, 2010

My Quest for Spring

(Important! If this post is cut off at the bottom, please reload the page. This usually solves the problem. I look forward to your comments, your shares and your kisses.)


In London last weekend the blue sky and mild weather pulled me out into the city. I was on a quest to find the spores of spring. (By the way, I brushed by Richard Quest, the CNN presenter, in Baker Street on my walk. Richard, if you’re listening, you need to watch your tendency to overtan; it’ll catch up with you, brother.) I knew the spores were out there because I’d seen this freshly, albeit meagerly, planted flowerbed at Canary Wharf.

On my walk, I set out north—on the Tube of course; I’m not crazy—toward the bustling markets of Camden. I hate the word bustling, and I hate markets, so I knew this was going to be a great day.

The high street in Camden is crammed with trendy shops that cater for fourteen-year-olds who spend all their money on the ugliest clothing imaginable. This is not true of course. Most of these fourteen-year-olds just stand around outside these shops and smoke. The sidewalks were so crowded with the carcinogenic haze of teenage attitude that I found it difficult to machete my way through it. But I did.

And if you make it through the crowds and up the street to The Stables Market, you’ll be rewarded with a unique experience: a maze of outdoor and indoor markets selling everything from clothes to furniture. Chain stores aren’t allowed here. We could have stayed at The Stables all day. I even found a stall at the Camden Lock Market that offered gluten-free bread stuffed with delicious Spanish ingredients. Muy bueno. Yes, I'm silly.

“Your quest, Chris. Don’t forget your quest,” a little voice told me.

“What quest? Richard Quest?” I asked the little voice.

“Spring, you idiot. Daffodils? Buds? The tender green of new, hopeful innocence?”

“Oh brother.”

So my little voice sent me in the direction of Primrose Hill, where I took this picture of myself. I have a goofy smile on my face because the sun was tickling me all over. At Primrose Hill, a common very close to the London Zoo, I watched dogs play and poop, poop and play for half an hour before heading to The Regent’s Canal, which cuts through the zoo (which I didn’t want to pay for).

While The Regent’s Canal is a popular walk, I didn’t find spring there.

Even when I rose from the canal path at Regent’s Park and took this picture of what will certainly be my future home, I had to admit that spring was still a wallflower here.

But you wouldn’t believe that from the crowds of Londoners at Regent’s Park. It was as if we were all forcing March to dance. You know, like a mafia thug holding a gun to spring’s feet, saying, “Dance or I’ll blow your bloody feet off!”

On the other side of the park, I spotted two beds of tulips that will look good in three weeks. I didn’t take their photograph, because I know how it is to need a few more weeks at the gym and one more trip to the tanning salon before you can take the perfect photo.

Which brings us back to Richard Quest and his übertan. (I’m sorry, Richard, that I keep coming back to you, but you could have at least given me—yes, a perfect stranger, OK—a friendly smile.) It was in Baker Street on the other side of the park where our lives crossed for that brief moment. Was he the sunny harbinger of spring I’d been searching for? Nah.

I still had one more day in London to hunt down harbingers. Come back tomorrow and find out if my quest was a success. ::said in the scrapy, annoying voice of Richard Quest::

I must be off,


Christopher Allen is the author of Conversations with S. Teri O'Type (a Satire), available to sweet people everywhere HERE

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Lessons from a Wise Sky: Number One

A Wise Sky
Since I’ll be flying quite a lot this year, I’ve decided to spend the next few weeks cataloguing all the knock-down-drag-out fights I’ve had on airplanes. I thought about starting with a sequence of stories entitled “Adorable Psycho Banned from Airline,” but I think I’ll save that story for my series “Adorable Psycho Banned” so that I can include restaurants, dance clubs and churches.

I’m going to ease you into my world in the air with the story of my flight home from Bangkok (Thailand of course, not Texas).

A quick opinion poll:

How many of you like sitting next to a talker on a 15-hour flight? I don’t see any hands. Good.

How many of you ARE talkers on these 15-hour flights?

Our story begins (and ends) on Garuda Indonesian Air, flight 724. When I sat down and got myself situated with ten or twelve crossword puzzles, my journal, a Bill Bryson book, and assorted snacks, I sensed the hot presence of my rowmate. Maybe it was her breath on my neck; maybe it was her burning passion to talk.


I pretended to have an attack of narcolepsy.

“Are you OK? My name’s Andrea.” She was talking to an apparently unconscious man. She nudged me. She actually, physically touched me. “Hey.”

Deciding that talking was preferable to touching, I opened my eyes, stretched demonstratively and spoke: “Oh, hi”—coughing—“I have a bit of a cold.” Hee hee. That usually wards them off.

“Oh, me too,” she said. “I’ve been a snot machine for the last two days.”

A diatribe in a nutshell, Andrea talked for hours. But that wasn’t the worst part about it. The worst part was that I had to cough from time to time so she wouldn’t think I’d been lying about the cold. And on top of that, I had to be funny. I can’t talk to anyone without wearing my harty-har-heart on my sleeve.

“God, you’re so funny,” she kept saying.

“I try.” Too hard.

Miraculously, Andrea wound down over the Ionian Sea, so I was able to get some shut-eye. When I awoke, the purser was making an unintelligible announcement, something about oäinetäpion mpoerjnf mo imndm fm ehgm lmoe, fü´k shfgi, if you understand what I mean.

“There’s fog in Frankfurt,” Andrea said. I swear she’d been watching me sleep.

“So, we’re flying straight to London?” I asked the purser, who was standing a couple of feet away.

“No, sir,” he chirped with a rather irritating smile. “We are flying to Amsterdam.” With that smile, you’d think that Amsterdam was the most beautiful place on earth.

An hour later we were sitting on the runway at Amsterdam. Two hours later we were also sitting on the runway at Amsterdam. After three hours, I heard the footfall of an angry German coming up the aisle. Sure enough, a man brushed by me, coming to a halt in the purser’s face.

“Please, tell me why we are not able to get out of the plane,” the German passenger said. “And you can wipe that silly smile off your face,” he added. Thirty or forty passengers, including myself, woot-wooted.

“We do not have the authority to unload passengers here in Amsterdam. We must stay on the plane until the fog has cleared in Frankfurt, sir,” the purser said, trying desperately not to smile.

“Well,” the German passenger said, “we’ll need food soon.”

“I am afraid, sir, that we have run out of food.”

What? I couldn’t believe my ears. I don’t do well without massive amounts of food. I quite like my food. In fact, my existence is in great part dependent upon all the food I ingest. Food, glorious food, and all that.

“I’m hungry,” I said to myself, but of course Andrea was listening.

“Don’t believe him,” she whispered. “They have food.”

“How do you know?”

“My father works for this airline.”




“Stop it. Just go up there and tell them you’re hypoglycemic and that you need food or—”

“—or I’ll start slapping people?”

“Or you’ll pass out,” she said, backing away from me for the first time.

“Oh, OK.” I got up and went to the galley where a smiling flight attendant was rearranging stirring sticks for the umpteenth time. “Hi,” I sighed. “I really need something to eat soon or I’ll start sla—or I’ll pass out. I’m a hypochondriac . . . I mean hypoglycemic.”

“We no have food, sir.” Bitch saw through my game.

“She no have food,” I told Andrea as I slouched back into my seat.

“They do. Watch me and weep.” She made her way to the galley and returned a few minutes later with an Indian curry.

The wonderful thing about an Indian curry is its aromatic spices; the terrible thing about an Indian curry on a plane filled with 230 starving people is the aromatic spices.

Tucking into my curry, I felt the heat of envy²³. Passengers were actually standing up to see where the curry was.

Ever the comedian, I held the curry in the air (I know this will not make me prettier, but what the hell) and shouted, “Who’ll give me 20 pounds? Thirty? Hee hee. Forty?”

Two hundred and thirty faces turned against me at that moment. It was the airborne equivalent of Michael Richards shouting racial remarks at the Laugh Factory. Not pretty.

“That didn’t go over well,” I said, turning around to Andrea.

“You are so funny,” she said.

“Thanks,” I said with a mouthful of lamb madras. “Actually, thank you very much, Andrea. It’s been nice talking to you.”

More lessons learned in the friendly skies next week, but for now . . .

I must be off,