Monday, July 2, 2012

London on 3 pounds a day

Three pounds a day is how much weight we gained.  There's no telling how much money we spent, but it was a lot. The good thing about dollars being worth less than pounds is that everything seems reasonably priced, as long as you don't think about it.

This is the sort of thing you don't see much in the States. I'm not sure where these old guys were headed, but I really wanted to follow them.

Anyway, we went to Britain because I was invited to speak at a symposium on Computers in Music Performance. Biscuit finds my work with laptop orchestras only slightly less amusing than my work in digital humanities, but she became quite suddenly interested when she found out I was going to London.

I will spare you the details of the symposium.  I've prepared a graphic to illustrate the character of the event (see Figure 1). There was a concert pianist who uses math to create shapes (mostly spirals) from recordings of performances, a guy who uses electromagnets to pluck piano strings or hammer vibraphone bars, and it went on more or less like that for two days. We had a great time discussing a lot of the finer points of music, computers, and performing one with the other. Papers were discussed. Plans were made. Breaks were taken with sandwiches and tea. I loved it. Most people would probably rather have a root canal.

Figure 1. Researchers love figures, and Venn diagrams.

Since it seemed silly to endure 22 hours of plane flights to spend two days in London, we decided to make a vacation of it. Biscuit spent the symposium days napping and wondering how so many people could fit into the British Museum. She also discovered a bar in the basement of our hotel, which seemed to help pass the time. We had a lovely dinner with our host and his family at the loudest restaurant I've ever been in after the symposium ended on Friday. I've always been mystified by my ability to befriend remarkably good people, a group that does not include me.

The next day we changed hotels, moving from the quiet college district to a big tourist hotel at the foot of the Westminster Bridge. It felt a lot like staying at Disney World. It was especially crowded on Saturday afternoon, so we made a forced march back to the old neighborhood in search of a pub we had wanted to visit. We didn't find it, but we did find The Boot, which was definitely the least touristy of anyplace we visited. There were about three people in the place, and they looked like they had been there since it opened. I suspect you would find at least two of them still there at closing. But the beer was well-kept* and the food was English, and we were much fortified for the tube ride back to our hotel.

I don't know if being mentioned in a Charles Dickens story is something I would be all that proud about.

Saturday night we rode the Eye. Biscuit came through once again, getting the Champagne Experience tickets for the sunset ride. It was also the only day that rainy and windy turned to partly cloudy, so we had a pretty good view of London. I had not been looking forward to it, as I'm not a huge fan of rickety tall things, but it didn't really feel at all like riding a ferris wheel or a cable car. In fact, it was hard to tell you were moving at all. Two glasses of champagne took care of any lingering anxiety.

The Eye from our hotel room window, and Houses of Parliament from the Eye, toward the end of the ride. It's around 10:00 pm and still light outside, which is not at all what this southern boy is used to.

In addition to all the sights, which were wonderful, too numerous to mention, and most of which you already know all about, we saw about a million Sikhs in Trafalgar Square, rallying for independence. Then they all streamed out and got on buses for ... I'm not really sure where they were going.

You don't get the impact of "hundreds of thousands demonstrated" on TV. Not only was there a sea of orange in Trafalgar Square when we rode through, there was a continuous stream of orange down every street for a couple of hours as people left the square.

Sunday was our last sightseeing day in London, and we were pretty tired, so we bought 24 hour tickets for the double-decker tourist bus and rode around town most of the day. It accidentally became literary themed pub day, as we hit the William Shakespeare and the Sherlock Holmes. The Shakespeare felt a little like it was next to the train station -- which is was -- but the Holmes was surprisingly homey for a downtown London pub. I was starting to get the hang of this pub thing, and the money. I was able to pay at the Sherlock Holmes without putting on my glasses.

I'm unclear on whether the real William Shakespeare ever drank here, but I think the toilets are the same. It's also the place that I first got to say, "Full English, please." Image from here.

People in London don't seem to be 100% clear on the fictional nature of Sherlock Holmes. The pub is several miles from Baker Street, where Holmes "lived," but the Sunday roast was outstanding.

* I still don't really know what this means, but they make a point of mentioning their well-kept beers in all of their advertising.


  1. Full English please...loved the Parliament picture == it was great! Hope you took in the Tower of London and the crown jewels...the British museum is many magnificent things to see...can't believe YOU were on the Eye...

  2. If you think the Sikhs were pissed off, wait til Greece gets its act together and they come back for their marbles...

    Enjoyed the vicarious adventures... but your Venn made me snort. And it was a full blown dorksnort at that...

  3. For me, any beer that is not "lite" and has been in the refrigerator qualifies as "well-kept".

  4. Looks like a wonderful trip! Color me jealous!