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Sunday, 30 March 2008


Getting There

By Andrew Hamilton
London is expensive. I booked Ryanair to Nimes, and have to hold over a day, and the cheapest I could do on the Internet was £65, at a flop called the Crestfield. That includes £15 for the toilet in the room, which may not be worth it but I got to make the flight and Colonel Blimp could squat for an hour on a hall toilet. This joint is across the street from King's Cross/St. Pancras, which is where the trains leave for Luton, which is where my Ryanair is. Ryanair flights run from zero to maybe £39, to obscure towns all over Europe, but then you pay for checked bags, for being in the first boarding group if you want that, and at Luton, at least, there is an arbitrary £6 check-in fee.

For a hotel, I could have got by for £40 overnight in Bayswater, but then I'd have to hustle a ways to the Tube, then down the escalator, and ride to the station. Funny, it's £4 from Notting Hill Gate to King's Cross, unless you have the Oyster, when it's £1.50. The Oyster is a magnetic card, and doesn't cost anything as far as I can figure out; you just buy credits good for the Underground and for the bus, maybe for regular trains as well.

If I'm right, it's totally different from Paris, where you buy a Carte Orange and you have to give them a mug-shot, and that gives you a good deal if you happen to be there for a week starting Wednesday. I'll research it more -- retirement, plus the Internet, means you can go into all this stuff in exquisite detail before you are an hour from the nearest sidewalk.

I'm sort of remembering London a little bit. When we came back from the Corps de la Paix, we stayed there about a month, in bedsits. Ended up in one near that Notting Hill station. It had an electric heater than ran for about 15 minutes on a shilling, and didn't give off hardly any heat at that. I was trying to wire it to the overhead light to bypass the shilling, with the aid of a Buck knife, and I got a jolt of electric through the heart area, and dropped like a sack of potatoes onto the bed, Blew every fuse in the manor. The bloke who ran the place had to come in and fix everything. But, as I remember it, I finally did get the heater scabbed in.

T was a surprise.That blasted English drizzle after two years on the equator, and finding out that the heaviest cotton jackets we had tailored in the Côte d'Ivoire weren't up to it. We had come through Spain to Paris, stayed a week or so in Madrid, and I bought a pair of flamenco boots in memory of Rudolf, and they hurt like hell all over Paris and London, and that was in October. Most idiotic men's footgear ever invented. Franco was still alive, and Madrid was Fascistic and oppressive compared to the African bush. All the women seemed to be wearing black pants and sweaters, and the bartender at the tapas joint wasn't allowed to talk to you.

The fiancée, the woman or young girl I was travelling with, was an outgoing type, and we'd engage the bartender in conversation. But he'd get antsy and clam up because the boss could see him wasting time bullshitting with the clients. And, of course, when you went back to the hotel at night, you had to clap your hands for some medieval turnkey to come up the street and unshackle the doors to to your hotel And from the hotel room you could look across the street into a window where people were rolling cigars on 12-hour shifts.

That was the time that, once we got to Paris, I bought a brolly at Maine-Montparnasse, and lost it on the Tube and went to the Underground Left-Luggage, and there were 6,000 to choose from, and none was mine. Ended up buying one at Harrod's, that big one that the Arabs eventually bought. Nice umbrella: It had a wooden snout with a brass cap on it, and it only blew out three or four years ago.

The woman, or young girl, bought a white night dress, a shift sort of thing, that remained exquisitely sexual for years. The thought of it makes me reflect that I maybe should have figured out better ways to treat her.We got milk delivered in bottles and poured it over cornflakes, and we drank at the nearest pub every night, and saw Oh, Calcutta which was the season's hit and a piece of shit, and, in fact, ended with the line "Who wrote this piece of shit?" A joke because it was a bunch of sketches written by different authors without specific attribution.

We went to London that fall of 1973 because Paris was a disappointment. We looked dumpy, or whatever the equivalent is for a man, amidst the fashionable Parisian splendor, and it rained all the time. We stayed in the cheapest hotels and went to the municipal baths to clean off, which at the time there were only one or two left. and we went down to Roger La Frite for dinner, and it was no fun.

By the time we settled in a little in London, we had warmer clothes, and they had there the sort of food we were looking forward to after a couple of years of pounded yams. London put out a good cheeseburger in 1973.

My old man was a Londonophile since the buzz-bomb days and always claimed you had to go to Simpson's, so we went to Simpson's, and they wouldn't let us in. The doorman claimed it was the lack of a necktie and jacket, but I've always thought it was the flamenco boots.

So, for this trip I left a whole free day in London on the back-side, and will stay the two nights in Bayswater or Paddington unless anyone can suggest something better. Maybe go to a play, or at least go to the local. Or maybe, if I find out what my son's upcoming wedding is going to require, I'll get myself a bespoke dinner jacket or a cutaway. Maybe I'll give the wedding team hotdogs in the park for the rehearsal dinner, but I'll have the finest duds at the wedding to make up for it. My old man used to get Savile Row jackets with working button-holes on the cuffs, and ridiculous hats from Scotland recommended by the Duke of Hamilton, and I guess I'm following in his footsteps. On Savile Row pavement. Maybe I'll get a fitting for Lobbs as well, unless, that is, they don't let me in. You know, the flamenco boot thing.

Now, to continue with the schedule,
Expedia.com offers me 20 bucks off on a hotel as a reward for all the money I've been throwing at them. So I think I'll book this certain cheap hotel for a couple of days in Nimes, use it while I do a touristic check-out of the Roman ruins and all, or to check out the 45-year-old widows at the dance parlour if I can figure out where it is.

Then I'm looking at a holiday type rental in Sete, which at €250 per week is no cheaper than a hotel, but which has Internet and a washing-machine. I've just about resolved to do it, because I don't have the time to rent a real apartment, but at the same time I want to hunker in and feel the city. OK, you've got me convinced, I'm going to e-mail the madame and try to rent the joint for the first full week of my trip.

If Ryanair and the Hotel Crestfield fuck up, I can still get there in time on the Eurostar and the TGV, with a stop-over at Yvett's Hotel in the 15th arrondissement in Paris. Then, after that first week in Sete, with everything clean from the washing machine, I can either travel if I want to, or stay in Sete if it turns out to be the sort of place where you want to stay.

(Andrew Hamilton, an ichthyologist, lives in Northern California).