I’ve been a little stressed lately—problems at work, problems with the tenants, etc.—so I was really looking forward to a relaxing, quiet weekend in London. Thanks to Guy Fawkes and the Gunpowder Plot of 1605, however, the weekend was not meant to be quiet. Bonfire night is traditionally November 5 to celebrate the foiled Catholic attempt on the Protestant King’s life, but the Britons of today extend the festivities to last all weekend. Even after four centuries, the British can’t get enough of this party.
The fireworks started as the sun set. Closing the window so I could hear the TV, I saw an enormous bonfire dangerously close to one of the sycamore trees that line the quay where we live.
“There’s a fire really close to our building down there,” I said.
“Don’t be such a sissy,” said Xavier the Georgian oil tycoon.
“Fair enough. So, do you want to watch Gok’s How to Look Good Naked or the X-Factor?”
“And I’m a sissy?”
“Point taken,” said Xavier, a big Gok fan, but who isn’t? Gok’s good for the world. Gok for Prime Minister! Gok for Prime Minister!
In the reflection of the next highrise I watched a fireworks display for a few minutes and then made dinner. With the windows closed it was possible to hear the TV if we turned it up really loud. Imagine Gok Wan teaching a pretty but plump woman how to look good naked in a war zone.
The following morning Xavier the Georgian oil tycoon and I set off on one of our famous London walks. As usual we had no idea where we were going: just seeing what we could see. Xavier thought a walk might relax me (see first sentence above). If you’ve ever been in London on a sunny day in November, you’ll know that there are calmer places on earth to be.
If you’re looking for a peaceful place to explore at the weekend in London, head for financial district. It’s a ghost town, but a few coffee shops will still be open. The architecture is interesting, and you won’t be elbow to elbow on a busy street. After that head for the Thames Path on the St. Paul’s Cathedral side, where there are fewer tourists.
This was sort of relaxing. We had soup. This was also relaxing. We walked up to Trafalgar Square by way of Covent Garden (the opposite of relaxing). By the time we got to the main square of London, it was apparent that a demonstration was gathering steam.
“Free free! Burma Burma!”
I snapped a few pictures of the protesters and walked along in front of them for a while. As we reached Cockspur Street, an Asian guy with a megaphone turned to me and asked, “Excuse me. Where is Pall Mell?”
“Do you mean Pall Mall?”
“Oh, yes, hahahaha, Pall Mall.”
I pointed in the direction of the road that takes you directly to Buckingham Palace. “It’s down there.”
“Oh, of course. Thank you very much.” And he led around 200 Burmese demonstrators in the direction I’d pointed to.
I swung around to Xavier. “Xav, do you know where Pall Mall is?”
“Of course not.”
“Neither do I.”
OK,I sent them to The Mall instead of Pall Mall, but no one's perfect . . . except Gok. I hope they saw the Queen. And if they didn't, I hope they're not mad at me. I'm the kind of guy who likes to be helpful even when I don't know what I'm talking about. Some people find this adorable. They really do.
Suspecting that I had sent them the wrong way and that they would soon realize this, we ducked inside a gallery until “Free free! Burma Burma!” trailed off toward the palace. When we felt it was safe to come out, we headed toward Westminster where we could catch the Jubilee line home. It was at first a most relaxing walk. I took a dozen pictures of fall foliage (which you can see on my facebook page). You might think this is boring, but I call it relaxing.
As we reached Whitehall street, another parade of demonstrators was making its way toward the Houses of Parliament. This angry, passionate demonstration—over a thousand strong—was against neo-nazism, fascism and islamaphobia. Most of the protesters appeared to be members of neighourhoods trying to get their communities back.
“Our street, our houses, our neighbourhoods!”
People screaming and singing, whistles squealing, a hundred megaphones. The world is not relaxing these days. There is a time for everything; maybe now is not the time to be relaxed?
I must be off,