Saturday, June 24, 2006

Leaving London



Water scalded me as I was deciphering the shower system (looks like those things Schwarzenegger blasts to bile and steel in movies) in the hotel after they made me wait for over four hours to give me a room.

I flew with a flu, through Delhi, was jetlagged, hungry, scalded and further got a mail from Brad that he is stranded on the tarmac in DC. His plane never took off as there was a tornado scare in Denver and he went back home. Three days in London with four meetings, creative workshops. I just landed and I was already beat. This was not bound to be a good trip.

I used to live in London for a while six years back. I used to work for a multinational interaction design and dotcom rainmaker, under a racist Director Creative Delivery with loveable warm English and Australian graphic designers. I remember wet and cold days living in a comfortable attic of a very fancy house in the northern suburb of Hampstead, walking through Jaguars in cold mornings to the tube station, reach Bank station with Armani clad Japanese land sharks and tall well kempt Englishmen all in black. Weekends used to be for making off-peak tube passes for cheap, a visit to a Korean laundrette, cold Hefeweizen draught and ultra-long walks in central London. I loved being there.

I am back here staying on Regent Street at Langham Place, overlooking the rather severe spire of All Souls Church and a vast part of the city. I had this urge to aimlessly walk. Walking on the shopping streets for lunch on a summer day is like a tropical carnival with well-endowed summer birds in lingerie and plumage. The streets have a fever of personalized fashion, creative freedom and the general sunshine for your mind. Belgian confectioners’ caramelized air, middle eastern women in tight fitting trousers and nothing much else, lanky locals in fancy spectacles, suits and thin leather portfolio cases, ambling big flowery ladies with flitting shaggy dogs, shaded Bangaladeshis in brown trousers and striped shirts, Indian kids with spiked hair and hip-hop pimp roll, huge Keira staring from the bus sides, advertisements for a Kerala Restaurant, African bike messengers with sling bags and trunked radio and I was way hungry. I landed at this small Italian bistro called Strada with a pavement band serving Peroni Nastro Azzuro wth fantastic fare including wood fired gourmet pizzas. I had a beans and pasta soup with a salami pizza washed down with Peroni. I had to hit the tube soon.

Londoners love excessive information. The steel alien staring at me in the bathroom had a graduated scale, 20 30 40 50 60, written around a knob that turns if you press a sinister red button on its side. I turned it all the way around. While I was screaming as I was rendered impotent, I reckoned that it was the celcius scale. In the same vein I saw plenty of Asian tourist staring at the Tubemap in crowded stations. The key for the map took a huge estate of your mind space and along with inane information on minding the gaps between the train and the platform; spreading along the platform and not crowding at the entrance etcetera left you tired to plot your route. However, if you have the time and penchant for excess information, which I did, you will love the tube. The time I landed in London was a busy one – summer sale was on, World Cup on telly and so was Wimbledon. The trains were running full all the time. The tube is filled with characters that can pale a PG Wodehouse. Finished my meetings, met friends, downed some Grolsch (lovely bottle, bad beer) and headed for supper.

A huge soup pot of Kare Lomen at Wagamama with Ramen noodles, shrimp paste and grilled prawns in it was supper. Sitting next to a bunch of cackling teenage schoolgirls from America was not particularly appetizing. But Wag stood good. The sunset was at 10pm.

The dawn was at 4am. Long days. At five I was getting scorched in my bed. We had a meeting that morning and afternoon was free before I catch a flight back that night. At noon I was heading to the Design Museum on Butler’s Wharf near the Tower Bridge. Nothing interesting. I decided to walk the Thames to Tate Modern. This was the most exciting thing I had done for sometime. I found alleyways through glass and concrete, found hidden markets with vendors making spice rice, and heard England vs. Ecuador from quaint pubs with adobe walls, drank lemonade at an old prison and reached tired at Tate. Took a break, drank Lucozade, crossed the Millennium Bridge, visited St Pauls and burrowed into the Tube again. Resurfaced at Paddington to claim my left luggage and head to Heathrow.
Tate Modern was a thermo electric power station called Riverbank that was converted into this astounding temple as a homage to modern art and its patrons. On a sunny afternoon. The play of light on the main platform leaves you speechless. The carefully lit glazed elevator chutes and the backdrop of sheer brick walls, steel structures and space creates an ambience of a place of worship.

Talking about places of worship, St Paul is getting renovated. Londoners as always thought up of something smart to do while it is being repaired. The facade has been meticulously rendered as a pen and ink illustration on huge pieces of sheet screens that cover the front of the church. The eventual effect is authentic and interesting. Click on the photograph to see the facade better.

The structure till the circular cupola on top is a drawing. If you walk closer you can also notice that it is a precisely done cross hatch pattern that has been blown up. Interestingly the entire print has been grey-ed down to sepia to make it less stark.

As always I was running to the airport. London was and is the most charming place on earth. Feels like home!

Please excuse the quality of these pictures. They have all been shot on my Sony Ericsson K750i mobile phone 2.0 megapixel camera. I did not carry my other cameras and the quality suffers. I will make up for this mishap soon!
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