London Calling

I didn’t truly know what I was seeing, but I had a hunch.

When I booked this itinerary, I wasn’t entirely enthusiastic about a 12 hour layover in London. I’ve been to this city twice and just haven’t fallen in love with it. Still, I spoke with some friends who are enamored with her and they reassured me that passing 12 hours would be easy and worthwhile. So I bought the ticket and committed to a day in London.

Last night I boarded my flight from Newark with only the vaguest outline of a plan for how I would pass the day. As I ate my “Vietnamese Pork” I considered my agenda again, and was confident that things would go well.

I slept intermittently during the flight, but was doing well enough in the morning when we landed at Heathrow. As I strode up the jetway, I began to execute those plans. My first priority was to get rid of my bag. The airport has a left luggage check, but I had to find it. I knew it was in Terminal 2 somewhere, whereas I had landed at Terminal 3. I passed easily through passport control and began the long passage to T2. It took me some time, but my first goal was accomplished! Suitcase managed.

I found the Underground station, then, and bought a day pass for unlimited rides. It was 1 pound more than a round trip ticket, so made sense. The Underground wasn’t my fastest option for getting to town (that would have been the Heathrow Express) but it felt reasonable. Transportation managed! So far things were going great.

Somewhere on the Underground I had a hint of concern that passed vaguely through my brain, but I brushed it aside.

So when the Natural History Museum came into sight, suspecting that I had reached my destination, I let myself feel a touch of excitement. I wanted to see dinosaurs, and I would get to do so! Soon I saw a sign confirming my arrival.

And then it all came crashing down. My random thought on the Underground had been spot on. During the Christmas break, I considered, parents surely want to find ways to entertain their children. So I suspected that the museum might be busy. But until I arrived I had no idea what that actually meant. The massive lines stretching interminably were too much.

I immediately redirected.

I headed back to the Underground (getting value from my purchase!) and went instead to the Museum of London, dedicated to the history of London, from prehistory to the present. While I suspected that this, too, would be busier than usual, I expected it would be less overwhelming. And I was correct.

The first thing I encountered on walking in was this 450,000 year old Aurochs head. Which is pretty amazing. And in the same display they showed evidence of early man, including prehistoric stone tools. I also learned that macaques used to live in England, although they have long left this part of the world. But those flint tools, simple yet skillfully made, chipped into shape by early man. Wow!

And then I walked the wrong way, finding myself distracted by a display dedicated to The Clash. This isn’t ancient history – it’s a history from within the relatively minuscule constraints of my lifetime. Their album, London Calling is 40 years old now, and it is absolutely iconic. On its cover is an image of bassist Paul Simonon smashing his Fender Bass. And laying in front of me was that very bass guitar, the fossilized remains from the early days of punk. Wow.

The rest of the day was less exciting and inspirational. If I had been somewht less tired I might have been more interested in the streets of Victorian London. As it was, they were fine.

Then, after leaving the museum I strangely struggled to find food. And while I could have stretched my time outside the airport, I ultimately returned early to Heathrow. As I type this I’m sitting in my seat on VS300, en route from London to Delhi, waiting for dinner.

And I’m listening to London Calling.

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