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Written in a hostel in Monmatre, Paris

[I’m going to have to post the most recent two days separately, but I wanted to get something up now.]

Lugging our gear was pretty much what I expected. We left Portsmouth with plenty of time, but we got off the motorway too early, and experienced the extended crawl that is London traffic, with the added “margin of time trickling away” thrill. But in the end there were no problems handing off the car; however, it started to rain, and the car drop-off point was not handily at a tube station, so there was a certain amount of wet trudging. Nevertheless, we eventually made it to King’s Cross, where Meredith dashed off for Amsterdam EuroStar train.

C’s brother wasn’t finished work yet, so we went and paid the exorbitant left luggage rates (eight and a half pounds per piece!), and then headed towards the British Museum. Margie pointed out that this would take us towards the excellent comic shop Gosh London, lair of the infamous Andrew. Margie hadn’t seen Andrew for eleven years, but they’d played together in a game run by Morgue, and that will mark a person. (I also know him well enough through Morgue to be a Facebook friend.) He was about to go to lunch, so we popped into Pret and chatted for a bit about London, babies and the state of the comics retail industry.

We then hied ourselves to the Museum to briefly scratch the surface of the Antiquities Wing, seeing things like the Rosetta Stone and the palace of Ashurbanipal (who may be familiar to some of you from the They Might Be Giants song, “We’re the Mesopotamians”). Then we hung around the front of the Museum waiting for Drifter to come and whisk Margie off to his flat (where she was going to crash), and then heading back to the flat, briefly stopping to grab some apple pie and ice-cream. This was our first experience of the Tube in the (tail end of) rush hour traffic; feeling the Tube doors ruffle your hair as they shut just above your head can be a bit alarming.

The next day we decided to have a bit of a rest and reorganise, and then met Margie at Boroughs Market (where we encouraged Margie to eat a giant German hot-dog); we then walked to London Bridge, and then along the waterfront to Tower Bridge, stopping and admiring the Tower of London. We then went back to the flat and met C’s brother (who we shall call… D), and headed out to Soho/Chinatown to find some dinner.

We walked for a long, long time – it turned out that D’s partner (K) is an essential component of the food-place decision-making process, and she was having work drinks. Luckily, she was able to meet us, and (after a bit more wandering and a surprise tuktuk ride) dinner was had. This was followed by a late-night visit to M&M world, and then we walked through Piccadilly Circus. (And then we tried to catch the Tube home, along with, it appeared, all of Piccadilly Circus.)

The next day the partners decided that this would be C & D’s day to do their duty for their mother. I should explain – their mother had spent many of her formative years in Putney, living in a lovely house among many other lovely houses while her father did diplomatic-type things. We were under strict instructions to take C & D there; to go to the Green Man pub (which had been her “regular”); and most importantly, to take plenty of photos. And so plenty of photos were duly taken, with only minor rebellions on the part of the siblings. The pub was very, very good, and I believe D & K have plans to return. I also discovered the joy (and danger) of good alcoholic ginger beer.

We were meant to go to a barbecue at a cousin’s place; since there was a two-month-old baby that C had not met, we wanted to take her a present. And because she has a three year-old brother, we wanted to take him a present, to stop him being jealous. Picking a present for a baby was relatively straightforward, but the three year old caused us some dithering – we knew he had a Thomas the Tank Engine obsession, but didn’t want to get him something that he already had. We eventually selected a yellow digger that looked like it might fit a small train in it’s maw; he later took it to bed with him. Present success: achieved.

The next day we decided to go to the Tower of London with D & K. The Tower Guards who give the tour are all ex-Sergeant Majors, and have been since the Duke of Wellington’s day; this means that they are mostly men, have voices good at projecting to the crowd, and have an interesting range of experiences (one of them briefly mentioned guarding Rudolf Hess in Spandau Prison – Hess being one of the last prisoners to be held in the Tower, coincidentally). The crown jewels were as impressive as the line for them made them appear – a line which moved quite smartly, by-the-by. Almost all the regalia was post-Cromwell, since it all got sold off or melted down during his Protectorate; I suspect that this contributed to its impressiveness, since it would have been a show of the restored monarch’s legitimacy.

And the diamond in the sceptre is big. Really, really big.

There were also a whole bunch of oddities, like the crown that was made for Queen Victoria to go to India to be crowned with (which hasn’t been used since); they had hired jewels to be used in this (and some other crowns) when they were worn officially, and the jewels had been replaced by paste versions when we saw them.

We also went into the White Tower, which has exhibitions from the Royal Armoury. It’s interesting to see the different bits that they’ve managed to keep, and how different ages have regarded these sorts of artifacts – they showed a bird made out of bits of obsolete guns, for example, which probably wouldn’t happen now. (Well, apart from a dragon.) I also learned that livestock that falls off London Bridge still technically becomes property of the person who runs the tower. There was enough to see that we ended up losing D & K (who had to hurry off to do their weekly shop); in fact, we ended up being kicked out, as they closed soon after. We headed out to Camden to be shown around the Stables market and have a lovely Italian dinner and sorbet with Margie and Drifter. Plans were made to get to the station on time for our trip to Paris.

So the next day, we got up extra-early, fitting in showers between the different flatmates, and then it was off to Kings Cross/St Pancras again, handily beating the rush-hour. We had a restful breakfast at Pret, watching the passing travellers, and then soon after Margie turned up it was off to check into the EuroStar, where I dozed fitfully. We arrived at Gard du Nord, and then to the surprise of all (including myself), I successfully navigated us to our hostel. On the trek up to the fourth floor, we discovered that we have quite a nice view of Sacre Coeur, so we traipsed up for a visit. Except we remembered that we hadn’t had lunch, so we stopped on the way for some traditional French food (I had a croque monsieur and an Orangina); the service was not particularly fast, but the food was fine, and we negotiated the minefield of tipping adequately.

One of the things that I’ve noticed about the part of Paris that we’re staying in is that it feels a lot more feral than any of the places we visited in London. There are a lot more beggars, for a start, and a lot more scam artists – I was accosted by five or six. Some of them had fake petitions they want you to sign to occupy your hands while they pick your pockets, and the rest were “friendship bracelet” sellers, who were quite aggressive in wanting to tie the bracelet to your wrist – apparently they then demand 20 euro for this act of friendship. I actually had one touch me and demand whether I wanted to fight after I told him no twice; I told him, “Non!” louder, and kept walking.

There were other people with blankets with pull-strings on the corners (to more easily gather their wares and run if the police appear); the weird thing is not the terrible junk they’re selling (4 for 1 euro!), but that I noticed that the exact same junk was available from the local tobacco shop for 22c. Why they need a three-cent mark-up over a fixed retail store was unclear to me.

We looked at the view, and then looked back at the cathedral. I thought I told C that I’d just pop up to the Cathedral door to see if there were prices and/or opening times; unfortunately, she didn’t hear me, and I didn’t notice that they actually went into the cathedral. So I returned to where I thought they were… and they weren’t there, Meanwhile, C & Margie were walking through the cathedral, getting more and more annoyed that I was lagging so far behind, and that they weren’t able to find me. I hoped that they might have gone in (rather than wandered off somewhere else, or been kidnapped), but I decided that it was best to stay at the last place I saw them. It seemed like a long time before C appeared.

Then they kindly walked through the cathedral with me, so I could have a look at it.

Then it was down to brave the hawkers a second time, and back to the hostel where we were meeting Meredith & a friend of C’s who I’ll call… G. (I should really get around to getting permission to use names on this blog.)

Meredith hadn’t gone up Sacre Coeur, so we started traipsing up the hill again… but Margie, C & I decided to stop partway up, and admire the two-story carousel, and marvel at how many cigarette butts were in the grass we were sitting on.

We didn’t really want dinner, but G had some bread and cheese for us to help her eat. Then it was back up four flights of stairs, and to bed.