The Post in Which I Stay With Strangers

Remember the nice things I said about Sprint? I take them back. But more on that later.

The flight was great. We left substantially late, but were flying in an epic tailwind so still managed to arrived on time. As we settled into our seats I ordered dinner (seared beef with crispy potatoes and creamed spinach) and had to make a decision about breakfast. I decided that, yes, the flight attendant should wake me, and that I would have the bacon butty (sandwich).


The service was impeccable, although the plane itself was a bit out of date, featuring high 90’s era technology such as bizarre adapters to provide power at our seats. Dinner was a bit of a disappointment. The high point was this utterly adorable pair of salt and pepper shakers, shaped like a bulbous prop engine (the salt) and jet engine (the pepper). I was tempted to try and steal them, but decided it was best to behave.


After all the flying, I slept like a rock. I was seriously in need of some shut-eye and definitely went for it. With the tail wind, we didn’t have a great deal of time between dinner and breakfast, so when she woke me I was still exhausted and feeling that breakfast was a bad decision.  Not the bacon butty, of course – that was a great decision! But waking up for it was not a good idea. I should have slept longer.

We landed at LHR and my phone had no service. Strange – usually it recognizes international networks quickly. So I rebooted. Repeatedly. I toggled settings on and off. Repeatedly. I re-set the SIM card. Repeatedly. Nothing. This was not good. Fortunately I had downloaded some maps earlier so I could get to my destination, where I could take more drastic action.

I took the train into town then switched onto the subway, eventually making it to Kings Cross, where I am staying with a complete stranger. Yup I decided to try Air BnB. For those of you who aren’t familiar with it, people with available rooms rent them out to complete strangers. People do it all the time, so I figured there must be nothing at all unsafe about it. I just had to find the flat.

The maps I had downloaded? Gone. And I still had no phone service. Oh this was bad. So I stood in the middle of the street like a dolt, looking at my phone, trying to find an open wireless network for a time until finally I looked up and saw Starbucks. I am not a fan of Starbucks, with their extreme proliferation, but I like their free WiFi. Riding on their wireless, I pulled down my maps, saw that my destination wasn’t far, and with that I was on my way.

It definitely felt a bit disconcerting walking up to a stranger’s house and ringing the bell in another country. (As I re-read that statement, it is probably a safer thing to do here than it would be in the US, where I would run substantial risk of being gunned down by a nutball.) It was about 930 am Sunday morning, and P opened the door looking a bit worse for the wear; I suspect the night prior had been a long one. He invited me in, offered me the contents of his fridge (beer and water being the first things he mentioned), and gave me a brief orientation before disappearing again.


My host clearly is a huge Dr. Who fan. There is Dr. Who stuff everywhere, including this pinball machine.

I paused to try and fix the phone again, but still to little effect. I wasn’t even able to make the promised WiFi calls for a long time, until after re-seating the SIM yet again got the phone to recognize that option. I called Sprint, and their systems were down. Cursing their name I gave up and instead headed downtown.

First stop – in the wrong direction (again!) – was Camden Market. Trip advisor suggested it because it was nearby and is somehow the fourth most visited tourist attraction. Camden has a series of 6 markets, of which I only hit a couple. I quickly decided that none of the pithy t-shirts interested me and there really was nothing I needed. The next market wasn’t much better, so that was that. Perhaps there was something I missed, but I decided to move on.


Oh – wait – there were the manually operated locks. Those were officiallly neat. I liked watching boats navigating the 6 (?) foot drop in the river using the locks. And the river itself was quite nice.


Next stop: Central London and the Churchill War Rooms. These were fascinating. This is where Winston Churchill and his staff led World War II from. They had the building retrofitted with 6-foot thick steel and concrete protection and, from here, coordinated the fight against the Germans.


This is the little room that contained the hotline to President Roosevelt.

As I wended my way through the complex of rooms, I reflected on how many important decisions had been made here, how many millions of lives had been touched, and what a small, confining, area this really was.

And it was really dimly lit. About halfway through, this became a problem. It wasn’t helping me stay awake at all. Had anybody been watching me, they would have seen me swoon precariously on numerous occasions. I had to get out.


Oh – there’s Churchill’s bedroom (he only slept there 3 times, I think)


I stopped at a pub for a late lunch. Sunday roast is a thing here. Lots of places have their own rendition, and I just had to have it. Here they had roast beef, broccoli, cauliflower, potatoes, carrots, parnsips, beans, and yorkshire pudding. And it was pretty darn good. And if you note – they had condiments! Condiments, I decided on my last visit here, are a quintessential element British cuisine and should not be shunned, but rather used with enthusiasm. 

From there I stumbled back to the flat where I decided to try to call Sprint again. After re-setting the SIM I still didn’t have WiFi calling, so I tried again and finally the networks were recognized. Satisfied, I slept for a number of hours before waking, cleaning up, and finding dinner (good Indian food, the second British cuisine!) And then, ultimately, a good night’s sleep.

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