I spend some time looking through the Time Out Pub Guide and discover that there's a pub up the road called the Lord Stanley, which is supposed to have decent food and a cast of interesting pub characters, as well as a cat. The cat sells me on the prospect and I decide to have lunch there. Food, however, is more expensive than I've anticipated, and since I'm trying to use cash and not credit, I end up having beer for lunch. I decide to use my time lurking in the corner to watch the pub denizens and write postcards. The postcards get less coherent towards late afternoon (sorry, belladonna_ and arkany. Before I leave, the cat deigns to investigate me. He's a large ginger tom, and his eyes look about a thousand years old, and he sits down and mews imperiously at me. This is pretty rich, considering that he'd ignored my earlier overtures. The bartender tells me his name is Bobby. I pet him until he decides he's had enough and walks away. "There's no telling him what to do, is there," I say to the short order cook. "That's Bobby Joe," he grins.
I hop on the 29 bus to Camden Town and then switch to the 88 to go to Oxford Circus. I'm starting to feel rather proud of my clever bus-riding technique. I've evolved a lot over the past few days. I don't even have to sit in the front-most seat to stare at the stops any more – I count them on the posted map before I get on. Marco texts me and says I should walk down Oxford Street to look for another warm coat because this winter will be unusually cold. Apparently, I've gotten a bit cocky, because I wind up at Burberry before I realize I've walked down Regent Street instead. No wonder the shops were so uninteresting to me. I decide to go into Burberry for the hell of it. The clothes are very, very expensive and very, very English. They have spent years cultivating a particular brand of ugliness, and they are fanatically devoted to it. Curiously, I don't see a single British customer in the store, only gaggles of Japanese tourists buying the famously patterned (and hideous) scarves.
I head for Carnaby Street. It mostly bores me. While threading my way back to Oxford Street, I see a number of interesting-looking record shops down someplace called Berwick Street. An art supply store is having a sale, and since I don't even have a pad of paper at the moment, I run in and buy a few pencils and a sketchbook. There are also several restaurants that I want to try. I find myself wishing I had more than one stomach, like a cow. I smell curry. There's no hope for it, I've got to eat. I walk as fast as I can to the Rock and Sole Plaice on Drury Lane and order cod and chips and a Sprite. The Turkish waiter seats a bunch of Japanese tourists (I swear, they're like rabbits). They attempt to order from him in English, but their mutually incompatible accents reduce them to pointing at the menu after five minutes or so of animated non-conversation.
The waiter brings me a Coke. I don't complain.
Marco shows up after work and we go to a bar to meet a few of his co-workers, one of whom is leaving the company. I offer my hand to one of the boys, and he kisses me on the cheek instead. Everybody laughs when I go wide-eyed and blush in confusion. I drink half of my gin and tonic in one go.
We've only been there for about twenty minutes when Marco says we have to leave to go to a play. His closest co-worker and his girlfriend have booked tickets for "Cloaca" at the Old Vic, directed by Kevin Spacey. It got a lukewarm review from Time Out. I'm glad that we didn't pay attention to that particular critic, because the play is pretty good. It's a very funny drama that plunges abruptly into tragedy in the last few minutes. In a nostalgic moment, one of the characters marvels at the unconscious and unshakeable faith he had in his youth that everything would turn out all right for them. Using a cast of misanthropic, middle-aged characters, the writer makes the audience feel that way about the play. I am nearly convinced that the hopeless cases will be won: that the addict will stay reformed, that the husband will return to his wife. It's like driving along a pleasant country road with blue skies and chirping birds and green meadows and suddenly looking through the windshield down a thousand-foot cliff. The lead actor is probably the weakest of the four, although he isn't bad. His character is supposed to be the most retiring and introverted of the four men, and therefore, somewhat uncomfortable in the spotlight. The trouble is, it seems like the actor is discomfited when the focus is on him. His timing and delivery are subtly off. The two best actors are the coke-head and the philandering husband. The coke-head delivers a brilliant paranoid delusional monologue that's probably the best part of the play. The husband whimpers impotently about the mess he's gotten himself into with his family, but the interspersion of his rages at petty domestic issues keeps him from being completely infuriating. In the end, his betrayal seems much less shocking than it would have without such a complete portrayal of his humanity.
Will you look at that. Only been here six days and I can sound like a wanky theater critic too.