Monday, January 10, 2011

London 21.12.2010: Second Sleep and Queue Police

Now in London.  We walked a bit in Kensington High Street yesterday after we arrived, and then I crashed.  Slept from 5 P.M. to 8 A.M. with a little wake-up period around midnight, when I drank a cup of decaf coffee and had a comforting tiny dram of brandy, thinking of Pepys and others (Shakespeare?), who write about the second sleep, when people got up in the middle of the night on long nights, ate, drank, smoked, made love, visited with neighbors, and then returned for a second sleep. 

And the nights are dark now in England.  It was still full dark when we landed at Gatwick at 7 A.M., and 16° F—the coldest December in over a century, with snow all over the ground.  We were lucky even to be able to land, since Heathrow was shut down to a great extent the last two days, due to the inclement weather.

And tonight’s the winter solstice, and this morning, we’re told, a full lunar eclipse, though I doubt many people in London could have seen it, since it’s so gray and overcast.

Writing this at the locks of Camden Market, in a coffee shop right lockside.  I can look up from my journal to see the dark, rippling water outside, with a ruff of dirty, lacy snow beside it.

Before we crashed yesterday, lunch in Kensington High Street at a Lebanese restaurant with very bright cushions of synthetic leather and silk in eye-catching colors like mustard yellow and puce.  The food was very good—perfect for a cold, snowy day.  We had lentil soup redolent of cumin, served with a slice of lemon, and a plate of mezzes: dolma, kibbeh, hummus, m’tabbal topped with pomegranate seeds, falafel, and a mix of marinated vegetables that seemed to include roasted eggplant and green beans, with pine nuts added, and a pinch of cinnamon.

All with soothing mint tea.  And then a quick look around Waterstone’s Books and back to the Parkcity for the two sleeps.

Distracted by the conversation in the coffee shop.  The young man and woman running it seem to be Canadian (he) and Russian (she).  He’s talking about someone (a boyfriend?) who’s going home for Christmas and will no doubt come back smoking again.  “It’s just so nice to smoke.”


Wonderful little crystallizing vignette as we bought tickets at the Gloucester Road tube station near us.  As we stand in a longish line waiting for service at two windows, a man supposes he’ll simply walk to the head of the line, to the window that happens to be free at the moment.  Whereupon two employees of the station, queue police, nab him and send him to the back of the line.

I say “crystallizing vignette,” because the difference in this experience and one that happened to us in the Little Rock airport speaks volumes about the difference between American and British culture.

There, we were in line to check in our luggage, and a woman nonchalantly steps ahead of us and plops down her luggage.  Then turns and informs us we have to check in at the kiosk first.

As if it’s any of her business, something I point out to her immediately.  At this point, a Delta employee who sees what’s happening intercepts us and helps us, but no one tells the woman to wait her place in line.  And so I point out to the Delta woman, including the line-breaker in the comment, that it seems strange that a customer has taken it on herself to do Delta’s work and inform people to use the kiosk—when we’d come the day before and waited in line to have our boarding passes printed.

And Steve looks at the woman and asks point-blank, “Are you breaking in line?” to which she replies, “I’m just playing.”  And I conclude, “Hardly.”

Point being: she still got away with breaking the line, because the staff who should regulate this refused to do so, though they did rescue us.  But the queue police at Gloucester Road did their job.

And the cultural conventions won’t work unless someone enforces them when people decide to contravene custom . . . .

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