Shoppy Horror

Pete Townshend once said that if you don’t want people to know anything about you, then don’t write songs.

This, admittedly, could be bias on Pete’s part, as he writes a lot about child abuse and mental problems and other parts of his traumatic upbringing. If you were to write, say, a song about your girlfriend leaving you, it wouldn’t give too much away as you’d be on safe ground; it’s happened to pretty much everyone with the exceptions of the Pope and Mick Jagger.

This is beside the point, though.

I only mention the song writing comment because, questionable though it may be, it does have a kernel of truth in it. Absolute truth, however, would come more in the form of “If you don’t want anyone to know anything about you, don’t write and then post the pieces on the internet.”

Because, frankly, I’m showing quite a lot of myself these days, and tonight will be no different as I’m going to tell you about another one of my little foibles.

I like to go shopping at weird hours.

My job is partly to blame in that I work late hours and my route home often takes me past a 24 hour supermarket, but I’m fairly sure I’m the sort of person that would still enjoy impulse buying at 1am even if my job didn’t push me in that direction.

Another reason is that I have trouble sleeping. Tonight, on my way home, I decided to go and buy some sleeping pills.

Frustratingly, because the pharmacy was closed, there were none to be had. Any other ailment in the world could have been dealt with. I had at least fifteen options for dealing with constipation, and (I just love this) on the opposite side of the same aisle were a similar number of products to deal with diarrhea. A mischievous part of my brain wanted to buy an equal number of both products and take them simultaneously, just to see what would happen. Theoretically, I would stay exactly regular, although I was slightly worried that the more left-field option would win out and I would explode.

There was the option for vitamins to take care of me and my baby (which is really a great leap for medical science when you consider that I haven’t even conceived one, yet) and enough cod liver oil to completely submerge a city the size of Milton Keynes, which is no bad idea.

Lacking the ready money to buy enough oil to drown Milton Keynes was not my biggest disappointment of the night, however. As I say, you can apparently only purchase sleeping pills from the pharmacy, which closes at nine, meaning that you can’t get sleeping pills at night.

Something, which I’m sure you’ll agree, should be instantly put in the mental file marked “QUITE IRONIC.”

Undeterred, I decided to abuse my body in other ways. (Self abuse does tend to help one sleep, but this is not what I meant.)

I wandered over to the bakery section and scrounged around the derelict looking shelves until I found a 2-pack of chocolate croissants.

Sometime around midnight, I usually become ravenously hungry, so this was an unfortunately necessary purchase.

I made my way to the tills via the pizza aisle, which made me really want a pizza, and the drink aisle, which made me REALLY want a pizza, although I’m not sure why, and that’s when the trouble started.

For some finicky reason, at 1:30 in the morning, the powers that be decide that only one cashier is necessary. So, I took my place in line behind five other people, all of whom had heavily laden baskets.

I say “all”, one woman had just a tube of Bonjella, but she had brought her three kids with her. I’m still trying to imagine a set of circumstances where you would need to drag your three kids out of bed in the small hours just to buy ointment for your gums. I can’t help but feel there’s an interesting background to that one.

Ahead of her were two nubile 18 year old girls who were making me feel old. Their presence didn’t, but one of them was wearing the type of outfit that leaves her lower abdomen and the small of her back exposed, and my only thought was not remotely sexual, but rather “It’s raining out, it must be weird to only have your hips getting wet…”

I blame the fact that I was tired, I really do.

Behind the two girls was a guy who had clearly done some serious shopping, which, in my book, is against the rules.

The whole reason I love being in supermarkets at 1am is the sheer strangeness of the items you find yourself buying. A friend of mine, no word of a lie, once had to buy baby oil and was hungry, so bought himself some bananas, too, and didn’t realise how suspicious this looked until he came to pay.

The gentleman in the queue, however, had nothing that diverting. The only things I could see that were remotely interesting were DVDs, and he was clearly the sort of person who didn’t realise that if you can buy a film – an entire motion picture, one that had a budget and actors that were paid to appear in it and everything – for 97 pence, it’s probably not going to be very good.

My mother is a sucker for that. She’ll buy DVDs for a pound on the rationale that “It was only a pound and it might be good” without ever realising how heavily the odds are stacked against that outcome.

The rest of his basket consisted of about twenty assorted grocery type items, and the girls had a similar number. All in all, I was fifth in the queue.

I began to wonder just how much I wanted two croissants.

I was considering mentioning this to a man who had just joined the queue behind me, as I could see he was holding very little, but a surreptitious inspection of what he had let me see that it was something medical.

This is another thing I love; aside from random items you would never think to put in combination, there’s a strata of people who are in the supermarket at that time of the night because they’re too embarrassed to go in daylight hours.

This was the main reason I didn’t speak to the guy. I didn’t want to start talking to someone who was buying genital wart cream or a Bon Jovi CD or some sort of bandage for a ruptured anus, because I doubt he would have been in the mood for small talk.

“What brings you out at this hour?”

“I had to buy some cream after being violently made love to in the ass for too long. You?”

Having bought my croissants from a checkout girl who seemed to think I was as big a loser as I did for having stayed in the queue so long for that one item, I got back in the car and went home. I may not sleep, but hey. At least if I want to drug myself unconscious during daylight, I’ll know where to go.

Londoners in the Rain and the Tower of London

London must have gotten its foggy reputation from the burning of the coal in the olden times, because any time I visited London, I didn’t see the famed fog. Rain, drizzle, cloudy skies, mist, a slight haze, yes; but fog, no.

Usually, we explore cities by taking walking tours, but at this time, we could walk less than we thought we could. Despite the cold and the rain, when staying outside was nearly impossible, we enjoyed London. London in rain boasts of a different kind of splendor, especially when one is inside a taxi or a bus. The drivels of water soften the view of the street from the windows, as if looking out of something frosted but liquid at the same time. The edges of buildings, people, vehicles, street signs blur into each other and the city seems like one framed piece of art.

On one of those really rainy days, we took the bus. Since people wore bulkier clothes, the seats felt smaller, aisles tighter, and railings too slippery to hold. Once we sat down, we observed the people around us, checking their bus route maps. The tube is easier to figure out than the bus routes and even the resident Londoners carry these route maps with them.

Once the doors closed, the floor inside the bus glistened with moisture and the windows fogged up. The bus wrenched and twitched as we pulled out of the station. The driver was having difficulty stopping and starting. Yet, the people knew where they’d get off by the sheer sense of the road from the movements of the bus, as if in time travel.

On such a rainy day, when the bus slowed down at some place, we heard Bible verses penetrating the interior, reminding me of Broadway preachers in New York City. I wasn’t far off. When I wiped the window with the back of my hand, I saw a man under the eaves of a shop with a Bible confronting the passers-by. He had a megaphone in his hand. From their body language, I understood that the people were not very happy about this because the flow of the crowd parted and left this man in the middle, as if to strand him on his own island.

As each old city, London has its share of ghosts and some of these ghosts congregate in the Tower of London. Yet, the Tower didn’t start out to be a supernatural undertaking. Since erecting castles meant marking the Normans’ territory (wild animals come to mind), Norman the Conqueror ordered a castle built by the Thames during the eleventh century to provide a base for his power. The Tower, first, was a palace for the royalty. Later, it was turned into a prison and served as the backdrop for royal murders to take place.

What I saw when we walked through dim hallways and up and down the spooky stairways were not ghosts but excited yeoman warders, drumming up the tourist business with titillating ghost stories as harbingers of an entertaining though a very tiring trip.

The architecture of the buildings, the view of the Thames, and the bridge from the Tower were breathtaking, and the stories told by the warders grabbed everyone’s attention. Listening to them, I thought, “No wonder Shakespeare erupted from England. These Brits know how to ham it up.” To add to this aura, the insides of the buildings were freezing cold, and if we hadn’t dressed warmly, we’d surely have left no matter what the expense.

Our tour started from the West gate, but I wrote down what I could remember as soon as we got to the hotel, regardless of the tour’s progression. The funniest thing was the beefeater with the fur hat standing in front of his black hut without blinking and teens jumping up and down and waving, trying to make him move or blink. I don’t know who was more ridiculous, the soldier doing his duty or the crazy teens.

Not that I’ve witnessed the exact ghosts, but I still remember the bits and pieces of the ghost stories I heard in the towers. Sir Walter Raleigh’s image is supposedly visible on a wall in the Bloody Tower overlooking the Traitor’s Gate. He was held prisoner here and tortured.

At the base of the White Tower, Ann Boleyn was decapitated by a Frenchman and her ghost pays visits there. Another Countess’ ghost whose ghastly murder didn’t quite go right screams on the windy nights but especially during the night of the anniversary of her death. With her murder, the axe-man missed the mark and panicked, hacking her to pieces.

Since the Yeoman Warders live in the buildings with their families, they have become buddy buddy with the ghosts. A ghost smelling of saddle soap, a cavalryman for sure, joins the residents to celebrate their events like birthdays.

At the Martin tower where the crown jewels used to be housed, resides Mary’s ghost who opens doors and climbs stairs. If treated kindly, she’s an easy ghost to live with.

The Salt Tower is the toughest tower to be in, they say, because here Catholic clerics were incarcerated and some words were scratched on the walls by the inmates. Visitors have reported feeling pressure on their chests and not being able to breathe. I don’t know about this. Although I usually suffer from asthma in cold and damp places, I could breathe just fine.

As St. Thomas’ Tower was being built, where St. Thomas a Becket was kept and murdered, the tower kept collapsing due to bad workmanship. So the workers blamed it on St. Thomas’ ghost. We climbed to the top of the stairs in this tower and entered a very impressive room with a fireplace, candelabras, and a chest. The chest stood by a descending staircase. This used to be St. Thomas’ room.

People swear seeing many ghosts dressed in Tudor garb and Yeomen of the olden times with spears inside Traitors Gate, the most disreputable entrance to the Tower. Allegedly, the wives of Henry the VIII, after being brought down the river by barge, entered the tower from here.

The Tower of London housed lions, bears, and until recently, flightless ravens. Flightless because of a ridiculous prophecy. If the ravens flew away, it would mark the end of the royalists in Britain. So they are kept there, fell fed and well cared for but with maimed wings never to experience freedom. Maybe Poe’s “ungainly” Raven had its wings clipped by the British and he ended up “perched upon a bust of Pallas just above Poe’s chamber door” and that’s why the raven kept saying: “Nevermore.”

A London Love Affair

When I was 16, I got to take a trip to London. I can’t even begin to explain how amazing it was. Luckily, I was armed with a camera and a little bit of money, so I was able to walk away not only with some of the greatest memories I have, but also some souvenirs and lots of pictures. I’ve spent years figuring out how I can make my way back there. Even though I had to deal with a missing passport and finding the right kind of electrical adapters, getting to go to London proved to be one of the most inspiring and unforgettable moments of my life.

One of my favorite locations was the Tower of London. I spent a whole day reading about it’s history and seeing first hand what it was like. Probably most well known as a royal prison and place of torture, the Tower of London also served many other uses, from menagerie to stellar observatory. One of the most interesting parts of the Tower of London was seeing it’s famous ravens. The ravens that walk around the Tower have been occupants there for generations. A very old superstition keeps them there, one that says if the ravens leave, the kingdom will fall. The ravens have some of the most royal treatment of the Tower’s inhabitants, with their own personal handler and living quarters.

Everyone knows Big Ben as one of the most iconic monuments for London. Movies, stories, and art have been representing Big Ben for many, many years, and seeing it for yourself will show you why. I also recommend that you visit Parliament. This is where laws, bills, and other legislation takes place for the London government. I’ve really never been interested in the workings of government, but seeing it in action is pretty inspiring. Getting to see the “behind the scenes” government action was really special, and it amazed me how accessible it was.

Alright, I had to get my picture taken with the famous solemn-faced guards. Even though it’s pretty cliche, I just had to do it. I didn’t try to make him laugh or stick my finger up his nose or anything, as they are armed guards I’ll have you know, but I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to stand next to one and have my picture taken. I was surprised how many locations boasted a Changing of the Guards, including the Tower of London. The gardens and parks of London are definitely worth mentioning. As a completely free way to spend your day, I really recommend going. Swans and ducks swim in the ponds surrounded by beautiful banks of flowers in every color. Walking anywhere is very special when you get to walk through the parks.

Being a woman, I of course have to mention the London shopping. I visited Camden Market was blown away by the selection. From designer bags to fishnets, Camden Market has something for absolutely everyone. So get a little bit of money, your passport, and your good walking shoes, and get ready to walk away with bags and bags of stuff.

London holds something exciting for everyone in your family. I walked away from the week-long London trip with some amazing memories, and I still dream of getting to go back there someday. If you’ve never been to London, I very highly recommend it. I promise it’s even worth having to locate that missing passport.