That's when things got a bit interesting.
As I said before, we traveled to London on the 10th of November. What we didn't know was that there was a protest being held in the city, regarding the raising of tuition fees for students. Another thing we didn't know – but soon discovered – was that the protest had gone a bit wrong and a riot had broken out. What should have been a ten-or-fifteen-minute ride (and a ten pound fare) took nearly forty-five minutes and cost quite a bit more than planned, as we attempted to circumvent the crowds and found ourselves diverted repeatedly. In some areas, traffic was at a virtual standstill. Luckily, we arrived at the hotel (literally right next to the London Eye) just after my mother and friend had checked in.
Soon we were reunited and headed out for dinner. We went to a small restaurant across the street from our hotel's door, and tucked in to a few hearty dishes. (I'm always starving by the time I arrive in London, it seems.) Then we took Mom and Cristy over to the 24-hour grocery store nearby so they could get themselves a few snacks and breakfast munchies in case they didn't make it down to breakfast in the morning. This was followed by a stroll 'round the corner so they could see the Eye lit up as well as the Parliament building across the river. Unfortunately, it was cold and windy, so we soon retreated to our respective hotel rooms and settled in. In short order I found myself doing what I'd be doing every night I had the time for it: watching QI, Mock the Week and Have I Got News for You while enjoying a hot cocoa and a cookie (or two). (Seriously Knobbly Cookies in white chocolate and cranberry are my favorites, but the Sainsbury's white chocolate and raspberry we found the day before the launch were great, too.)
Thursday morning got off to a lively start. After breakfast there was a test of the hotel's fire alarm system. Unfortunately, we didn't see any of the notices posted in the lobby (I have some extensive quibbles about this, I confess) so it was all a bit of a shock for us. Once that was sorted, Alle and I only had time for a quick visit with my family before he and I headed to Waterloo to take the Tube to Tottenham Court Road. We had a short walk to the British Museum, where we met SJ Hecksher-Marquis for a light lunch and chat regarding the upcoming launch and various and sundry Diiarts/Ask Me… related business. Afterwards, Alle and I caught a cab with SJ back to Waterloo Station, and then met with Mom and Cristy for dinner that evening.
Friday was a touristy day. We all took one of the guided bus tours around the city, and even though it rained a little, Alle and I stayed in the open-air part of the bus while Mom and Cristy sat under the covered portion. It got pretty cold, but I enjoyed it so much, I didn't care. Because of the rain, however, I didn't take any photos (I didn't want to get my lens wet). We actually went round again and repeated nearly half of the tour because one of the stops was just outside the street for our hotel. We hadn't realized we could get "door to door" service! Oh, well, it's good to know for next time, I suppose.
Saturday we opted to walk across Westminster Bridge (some great photo ops there, of course) and took the second half of the tour we'd paid for – this time on a sightseeing boat on the Thames. I did take pictures, and some turned out pretty well. Afterward, we had planned on going to the bookshop where the launch would be held, but weren't able to go. As happened last year, the Lord Mayor's Show threw a wrench into a few plans, but that was fine – we simply took advantage of the free time, went back to the hotel and then rode on the London Eye. Then we went out to dinner again before returning to our rooms to rest and relax for the evening.
On Sunday, we took it easy. In the late afternoon, Alle and I took the Tube up to High Holborn and checked out the Waterstone's where the launch would be on Monday. Of course the shop was closed, but that was okay, too. I got a couple of photos of the notice in the window about the launch, walked with Alle down to the local Sainsbury's to buy some snacks (the cookies I mentioned above, for example), and then we caught the Tube again back to Waterloo. We hung out with my family for a bit and then retired to our room for the night, where we were promptly startled out of our impending sleep by another fire alarm! This time it came from the Mariott on the other end of County Hall (but they're all connected, of course, so if one goes, they all go), and was quickly silenced, but still – not at all a pleasant experience at 11:45 at night.
Monday was a busy day. After breakfast, we went to Waterloo to catch a train to Leatherhead so we could do the following things: Get my mother's hair done for the launch; have a nice chat about business, etc. with SJ over lunch; and, as it turned out, give/receive a Christmas present. My mother bought me a brand-new camera after she'd spotted me admiring Cristy's Nikon! Surprise! Then we hopped the train back to Waterloo to change clothes, pretty ourselves, and head over to Waterstone's in High Holborn for the launch. As it turned out, it was a rather small affair, with only a few attendees. However, Richard Pierce-Saunderson – a long-time online friend since the Authonomy days – made it down for the event, and we spent the hour-and-a-half chatting. After wrapping things up there (I had eight pre-sales to autograph! Two copies of Ask Me... are still in the shop, btw.) we toddled back to the hotel for a nice long dinner in the hotel restaurant, then went up to bed and sweet, sweet sleep. After QI and Mock the Week, that is.
Tuesday was a "free" day, of sorts. We took Mom and Cristy up to King's Cross Station so Cristy could try to see "Platform 9¾" but I'd confused where it was supposed to be and didn't find it. Next time, Cristy! I swear! We had a walk along the road past St Pancras Station and went to a pub for lunch. Then it was another trip along the Tube to get back to Westminster, so "the girls" could see Westminster Abbey. Alle and I wandered around and got some shots of the exterior of the Abbey while they took the tour. When they'd finished with that, we strolled across Westminster Bridge back to our hotel at dusk. We got some lovely shots of the clock tower with the moon behind it, too.
Wednesday morning, I made my way alone via the Tube to Euston Station to meet with my lovely and talented cp, Nell Dixon. We found each other easily even in the confusion of the main concourse, and soon we - along with her good friend Vik - were on our way to John Lewis to meet up with fellow writer Phillipa Ashley. We talked, we laughed, we ate - and after a measly three hours I had to make my farewells and was bounding across town yet again (this time in the midst of a protest by the cabbies!) to join Alle, Mom and Cristy for the train to Oxford out of Paddington Station.
Late afternoon found us toting a few copies of Ask Me… to the East Oxford Community Centre for the fundraising poetry competition for the Oxford International Women's Festival. At last, I got to meet the amazing Dan Holloway. He's another one of my online friends since my time on Authonomy. He's also been a big fan of Ask Me if I'm Happy since Authonomy, and a supporter of my writing in general. It was a thrill and an honor to finally get to meet him in person. The event itself was fantastic! There were at least 40 people in attendance, loads of talented people performing – writers, poets and a singer-songwriter with her pianist – and an atmosphere of creativity and encouragement like nothing I'd felt before. Three copies of Ask Me… were sold: two of them were given as prizes to the winners of the competition, and one was purchased by a poet who read her work that evening. Exciting stuff, and it kept me buzzing all the way home, which was good, because we didn't get in 'til after midnight.
Thursday I spent a little time with my mother (after another fire alarm test!) before Alle and I went to Oxford for the second event. She and Cristy were too tired to travel all the way out this time, and they had to pack for the flight home on Friday. Disappointing as this was, I knew they were tuckered out after all the running and touring around London. So Alle and I went alone to Oxford Castle for the Into the Desert Live Event. The exhibition was held, appropriately enough, in the O3 Gallery in Oxford Castle; what a setting for a literary event! Though the space was tiny, the split-level effect made a truly unique environment for the readings/performances. Not a bad seat in the house, so to speak – and no need for a microphone in order to be heard. I really felt like the audience appreciated the readings – mine included – though the only two books sold were the other author's. When Alle and I got back to the hotel, we visited a little with Mom and Cristy again, and promptly sold six books to them. LOL! I had fun signing those, too. Then we toddled off to bed so they could finish off their packing and rest.
Friday morning, Alle got up and went to take Mom and Cristy to Victoria Station and the Gatwick Express train. He saw them safely off, then came back for breakfast with me before we went out for our final day in London. We took the Tube up to White City, because I was determined to have a visit to the Westfield Shopping Centre and the Butler's Chocolate Café there. (I'm not addicted to their chocolate. No way. Uh-uh.) We also hit the bookshop (five books – four for me, one for both of us) and the Lego shop where we got a gift for our niece, Mia. One hot cocoa (and a delectable chocolates purchase) later, we returned to the hotel to drop off our purchases and organize a final meeting with the illustrious SJ.
One final goal remained to be met, however, and we launched into it with gusto: A viewing of the latest Harry Potter film. I checked the internet, found the closest theatre (not in IMAX), and off we went to an early evening showing. I enjoyed the film and Alle did, too, which was a relief. The audience were appreciative and post-teen, which made the film that much more enjoyable too. The best part of the whole thing? The premiere had been just a few days before, not far from where we saw it. Seeing the London scenes in the film was even more fun, because I'd just seen many of the places for myself that week.
Ah, yes. It was all I had hoped it would be. But this meant we were approaching the end of our stay, and I returned to the hotel with a somewhat heavier heart than before. We spent the evening after dinner (at the fantastic Troia restaurant across the street) packing up our things. Or, rather, Alle did. I watched QI and Mock the Week for the final time. When everything was packed away we settled down to sleep with a real sense of accomplishment.
Saturday morning, we had our final "full English" breakfast and went to catch a train to Leatherhead after checking out of the hotel and putting our bags in the Left Luggage room. After this final meeting with SJ – once again over coffee – we returned to retrieve our bags and make our way to Victoria Station, then Gatwick. Since we were so early (nearly four hours!), we were really able to take our time, and found the whole trip back relatively stress-free. We strolled around the shops in Gatwick, had a leisurely dinner and dessert at one of the restaurants there, then waited patiently for our gate to be announced. The flight home went smoothly – not many people traveling on Saturday night, it seems – and after a few "Welcome to Italy" bumps in the road, we arrived at home, tired and eager to pile into our bed after a sometimes frantic holiday.
So now it's back to the "real world", as it were. …sigh… I've still got loads on my plate – lessons to plan, schedules to make – so I'd better get on with it.
Ciao for now!