I was sure that my trip to London would quickly cure me of my recent bout of homesickness. Fantasy versus reality and all that.
It started out promisingly. I flew to London on American Airlines. You get what you pay for. I got $500 of crap. Shabby seats (mine next to the bathroom as usual), no movies, a missing meal and a couldn’t care less attitude from the pig-ugly flight crew. Thank god it was a night flight, the cabin was too dark to see them most of the time. Couldn’t get much sleep though, thanks to the spluttering passenger next to me with the annoying case of tuberculosis.
By the time I arrived at Gatwick I was grumpy, tired and prepared to be screwed over by just about everyone. I headed straight for the American Airlines desk to complain about the service, just to prove my point. They were extremely nice and apologised for the old hag on the plane and confirmed my meal and seat choice for the return journey. Had to be a fluke.
After a suspiciously easy journey on the tube I got to my hotel. Great location right on the Thames, very few annoying tourists (are there any other kind?), friendly staff, a non-smoking bedroom which didn’t stink of smoke, matching and modern furniture, a window that opened, free internet access and a view of something other than the rubbish skips. Ridiculous.
And so it continued for 5 more entirely pleasant days. It only rained on the last day and I think that was just to prepare me for the return journey on American. The sun was out most of the time and I walked around without a jacket, which was helpful because I’d forgotten to bring one. When the weather’s nice everything seems better over there and while it’s obvious that most English people are still quite ugly, they outshone the AA crew.
I got surprisingly good service in most shops. Admittedly this is probably because there are no English shop staff anymore, they’re all from Poland. The exception was the staff at Topshop on Oxford Street, who were still refreshingly rude, refusing to make eye contact and treating anyone over the age of 20 with contempt. In the changing rooms they should have had age-inappropriate tags to hand out with the number of items tags. They’d read ‘don’t bother love, you’re too old’. This would save the staff a lot of smirking and eye rolling. Hurray, I finally had something to be pissed off about.
Went to see a couple of nights of stand-up. Having proclaimed British stand-up to be superior to American, I can hardly back-track now and say the shows were only mediocre. Watching stand-up as an audience member is highly enjoyable as you can laugh honestly when something is funny, without secretly wishing the comic would contract a debilitating illness to stop them getting any funnier. And you can smirk when a bit doesn’t work and hear yourself saying ‘so, you still think you’re all that?’ Both shows were in the upstairs rooms of pubs in Soho. Tiny places, the size of a British living room or an American bathroom. Full of smoke, rickety mismatched chairs, sticky carpet and no proper stage – just a black curtain pulled across the windows. It made Austin’s Velveeta Room seem classy and it was just what I wanted.
I even enjoyed going home to see my mum. She’s been talking about moving to a smaller place and I’ve encouraged it, partly because I hate going back to the house I grew up in. It hasn’t changed in 38 years, apart from my bedroom which is now filled with junk from every other part of the house, meaning that I can’t stay over there because I can’t get to the bed. Yes, I could sleep in one of the beds in the spare room but the mattresses are over 60 years old and my dad died on one of them. So, no. But I felt a bit nostalgic as the train pulled into Lenham station and I looked forward to the short walk to our house. Unfortunately, mum had decided to come and pick me up in the car. Fortunately she’s decided to stop driving when she hits 80. 80 years old, not mph or children.
We had a nice chat and went to the pub where she’ll be having her birthday party and organised some things for that with the far too accommodating landlord. Went to Lurcocks grocery/delicatessen where mum bought overpriced Lemon Barley Water. Smells like vomit but they serve it at Wimbledon. It took me till 4.00 to get to my usual state of irritation with her and I’d arrived at 11.00. She asked me for the eighth time in 10 minutes if she could make me something to eat and why didn’t I want anything to eat and would I like some soup, or she had a nice cod and prawn pie that she could defrost, it only takes 3 minutes in the microwave dear. But even that frustration didn’t last and I left relatively happy and looking forward to seeing her again in 2 days, on Mothering Sunday.
Left London on Monday. Damn American Airlines – this time they had seatback TVs and brought my correct meal. Mind you, it looked disgusting and the TB ward had apparently emptied onto the plane again. Cabin crew was better looking too – big haired and overly made-up but not frightening. We arrived back in Austin on time and I drove straight from there to San Antonio for the finals of the Funniest Person in South Texas contest. I was overtired and jittery from too much coffee but feeling fairly cheerful. Where was the sarcasm, the superiority complex, the grumpiness? My set was rubbish.
One week later and I’m still missing London. But the good news is that I’m in a particularly bad mood. Depressed, irritated by all noise and by anyone that speaks to me. I feel bloody-minded, self-destructive and ready to start a fight. Today Austin feels like home.