London Again, or, Cambridge Again

This post may be a little incoherent. I calculate that I’ve had around 10 hours sleep over the last 4 nights, and I used most of my remaining brain power at work this morning, attempting to come up with better words with which to describe people’s plays other than, ‘good’ and ‘nice’ and ‘interesting’. And, when I say I used my brain power, I mean I typed those word into the thesaurus thingy on the side of the computer, and then got grumpy when the thesaurus didn’t feed back the specific word I wasn’t thinking of and couldn’t remember. Even that was almost too much effort. I spent a lot of time knocking into things and tripping over things in the office today. Sleep deprivation obviously affects my spatial awareness.
But, anyway. 
Last Saturday, which, the more observant of you will realise was St. Patrick’s Day, I took an evening plane to London. This might seem madness to you all, and I was a little disappointed myself when I realised I would be spending another St. Patrick’s Day away from the big celebrations, but after simply attempting to walk through Dublin around 5pm, after the parade, and after all the drinking had started, I was glad to be leaving the city. I have never seen so many people in one place before. Let alone that much cheap green stuff. I was dressed all in red, and I felt like I was the singer in some music video, pushing grumpily through a sea of green whilst being all art-y and misunderstood. You know, ‘Bitter Sweet Symphony’ but in colour and with a girl and more people. That sort of thing.
I got into London with relatively little fuss, though I stood for many minutes in a queue to have my passport checked only to be told by the passport man that as I had come from Ireland, I needn’t have bothered. Ah, well, you live you learn. I feel that sentence accurately sums up the entirety of my two and a half days in London. Before last weekend, I was very bad at the ‘quick European business jaunt on planes’ (not surprising, really, considering I had never done it before), but I feel after this very educational two days, I will be better prepared for the next times that I will have to jump across the water for various events.
Anyway, I headed to my hostel and got gratefully into my bed, only to spend most of the night staring at the roof, unable to sleep. I’m not even certain why, as my roommates were probably the best behaved roommates I have ever had in a hostel anywhere in the world. In fact, I was the irritating one coming in late to the room, switching on lights, using torches, attempting to move about quietly, but then stubbing my toe on various furnitures and cursing loudly.
The next morning was beautifully sunny and warm in London, so I dressed appropriately spring-like and optimistically and headed to Cambridge. Of course, this was a mistake, but I’m sure you don’t need to be told this anymore, and that you can imagine what happened, after all the times I have detailed in this blog days that I have been tricked by blue skies to venture out into the outside world without an umbrella/jumper/gumboots/ski-jacket and then had to deal with the consequences. I spent a lot of the day wondering if my fingers were still attached to my hands, or if I had accidently left them clutching my hot tea cup in the last cafe I was in.
In Cambridge, I met with my wonderful cousin, Kathryn, and met her new boyfriend. Well, he isn’t actually new, but I haven’t met him before, so he felt brand shiny new to me. He was very nice, and we had a lovely conversation, before he had to head off to finish some university work. Kathryn and I spent the rest of the day walking around Cambridge and catching up on a year’s worth of news. Kathryn is almost as good at segues as I am (or perhaps, I’m almost as good as she is), so we had many interesting conversations, that ranged from the intersecting problems of careers in academia and the arts, the various wives of Henry VIII and their fates, patterened stockings, hair colours (and hair dyes), our respective families, activism, feminsim, other -isms, floods in Australia and drought (ha!) in the UK, houses and housemates, and other things I can’t remember anymore. There were many times we stopped mid-sentence in one conversation and said, ‘Oh, but, wait, what was I saying before? We were talking about something else and it was very interesting….’ In short, it was an absolute delight to see her again, and we probably managed to squeeze a week’s worth of normal people’s conversations into the day and a half we spent together in Cambridge and London.
When it started to rain, we took shelter in the Fitzwilliam Museum, and I think that from now on, I will only ever go to museums with Kathryn, because its so much more fun. Kathryn is finely attuned to the inherent absurdity of these old, pompous museums, whilst simultaneously being able to appreciate the beautiful things that are on offer. One minute you’ll be laughing at a ‘guglet’ (just a fancy name for a bottle, really), and the next you’ll be oohing and aahing over an embroidered medieval portrait that uses real human hair, tiny pearls, metal string and seeds. Favourite moments included the gigantic owl (with removable head! All other owls are now inferior, as they do not also have removable heads) and finding a sign in a small cabinet saying, ‘Unless otherwise stated, all objects in this cabinet are Japanese.’ There were only 3 things in the cabinet, and they were all labelled ‘Japanese’. Oh, those hilariously bureaucratic Brits and their overly-enthusiastic labeling.
At 5pm, Kathryn handed responsibility for me over to our mutual friend, Michelle, who I had previously spent a lovely evening with in Cambridge last November, as Kathryn had a mother’s day dinner to get to with her boyfriend’s family. Michelle and I caught up on 5 months of activities over a few drinks, which turned into a few more, which turned into Jenny missing the last train back to London. I would have been more annoyed if I hadn’t been so full of subsidised college port and Bulmers cider. Michelle got out her blow-up mattress, and I put the alarm clock on for the ungodly hour of 6:30am, as I had to go back into London to check out of my (now completely useless) hostel room before 10am. Unfortunately, the air bed must have had a hole in it, as I kept having to blow more air into it during the night, resulting in my second night of very little sleep. Things could have been worse though, I could have had no friend in Cambridge and had to sleep at the train station, so I was very grateful for the bed. I was also grateful for the vegemite toast I was able to eat the next morning, something I haven’t tasted for over a year.
Monday morning was madness, as I had never been on the tube at peak hour before. It was more than a little terrifying and claustrophobic. I didn’t like it one little bit, I have to say. It was the second time that weekend that I had been a little bit overwhelmed by such a crush of people. There was a part of my brain that switched into panic mode. It wasn’t at all rational, it was just an instinctive reaction: ‘Get away, get away now before something bad happens. Before you’re taken somewhere you don’t want to go, before you’re pushed into the street in front an oncoming car, before you’re trampled to death in the push for the subway.’ Melodramatic? Perhaps. Or, maybe I should just make sure I don’t get a job in London that will require me to work at the normal hours of everybody else so that I can avoid the crush.
London was delightfully sunny again, so I sat in Kensington Gardens in the sun and read my ‘Vanity Fair’ and waited for Kathryn to arrive. About halfway through the magazine I had a sudden thought, which was, ‘Goodness me, I’m just sitting in Kensington Gardens, reading a magazine as if it is the most normal thing in the entire world. This would blow my 15 year-old self’s mind’. A moment where I realised just how lucky I was, if you will, and that I was very pleased to have gone off and tried to do the things I’ve always wanted to do. It was strange not to feel excited about being in London, strange to feel happy about being there but still, feeling like, ‘Well, yes, this is just where I am now. No biggie.’
Kathryn and I continued our tour of weird and wonderful museums, this time going to the Natural History Museum, which I had always avoided on previous visits to London, but, of course, Kathryn made it fun. We interacted most enthusiastically with the interactive exhibits and most likely annoyed all the serious elderly people, but we felt we entertained at least a few of the hip, young attractive people around the place, who kept giving us half-smiles as they went past. I don’t know why I didn’t know that the hip, young attractive people hung out at the Natural History Museum, but now that I know this, I will be coming back often.


We said good-bye on the tube, hoping to see each other again before Kathryn goes home in May (so, there’s a good chance we will), and I headed to New Zealand House in Westminster, for the first meeting of ’50 Ft Women’, the mentoring project I’m part of. I was more than a little terrified, but it ended up being a lot of fun, and, of course, everyone was very interesting and easy to talk to, and friendly and impressive and wonderful. We met most of the mentors through a ‘speed mentoring’ system, which was more than a little fun, but it did exhaust me and my voice. The nice thing was that I felt able to talk intelligently about my skills and talents to these women, and that they responded well to those things. I’m very bad at presenting myself in a good light and holding up my achievements as worthwhile to new people (I have a tendency to downplay everything I’ve done and take the piss out of myself… I’m sure none of you have noticed that), so it was good practice. A lot of the women were involved in social justice projects, or research, which I think will be interesting to be around, as I would like to consider how to combine some of my interests in the arts with politics and ‘doing good in the world’. I obviously know very little about this sort of thing at the moment (well, not very little, but, relatively little, especially compared to the other women there), but, the point of the program is to make connections, share knowledge and experience, so hopefully I will learn. I need to think a little harder about what I want out of my mentoring program before I meet my mentor (I don’t know who it will be yet), but I already feel very inspired, motivated and optimistic. I’m looking forward to moving to London all the more.
After the event I was quite wired, and whilst I had meant to go to Stansted Airport straight away (I was sleeping there that night), I didn’t feel like going just then. Instead, I paid a large amount of money for some lollies, and even more money for a movie ticket and went and saw, ‘This Means War’ at Leicester Square. It was surprisingly diverting and amusing, at least until Reese Witherspoon had to choose between the two highly attractive spy-men, and then I just got bored. Personally, I think she should have kept seeing them both. It only seemed right.
I then headed to Stansted Airport and managed to get a reasonable sleeping position, meaning I didn’t get a spot lying stretched out on the chairs, but I was against a wall, so I didn’t have to sleep with my head flung back, and mouth hanging unattractively open, but could curl up over my bag and against the wall. There was a very strange looking woman who seemed to stare at me all night long, but that might have been because when I first got there I stripped off all my warm clothing, falling asleep just in my skirt and singlet top, and then every 30 minutes, I’d wake up and put on another piece of clothing until I had taken everything out of my bag and put it on my person. If I was the lady, I probably would have stared at me too. I managed a bit of sleep, but not nearly enough, and decided that I would replace sleep with food, and when that didn’t work, I decided to replace sleep with tea, which only left me feeling nauseous and jittery at work. But, really, who cares? I love my job, I was in London for the weekend, I met my cousin and my friend and a variety of inspiring women who are willing to give me life and career advice. So, what’s a few hours less sleep?


1 Comment

Filed under London

One response to “London Again, or, Cambridge Again

  1. aw lovely!! i wish i had been there at the natural history museum (my FAVOURITE place in the world – go back, go often!) with such wonderful ladies. i'm glad you and katie got to meet up! xoxo

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