Arriving in London, 1997, Part 1 of Several

A journal can be like a tightly bound coil. You start to unwind it, and it springs outward faster and faster until you have a big, jumbled mess. So many memories are compacted into precious few words. Most of the important stuff isn’t in the pages of the journal at all but in the head of the writer.

I’m going to start rewriting some (maybe all) of the journal entries I kept while I was in London on an overseas study program in 1997. I’ve been having trouble finishing any posts recently, so I’m hoping that looking back on something I already wrote might give me more fertile ground.

Recopying an unedited journal is tediously self-indulgent, not to mention unpardonably boring. Who cares about the contents of someone else’s journal, right? My duty now is not to relive my memories from 13 years ago, but to make a story out of them worth reading today. So, some light editing is definitely in order. I can’t resist correcting myself, so it’s actually easier for me this way. Besides, I was 20 at the time, it was a creative writing program, and I was trying very, very hard. There are plenty of youthful linguistic indulgences I can now take the opportunity to stamp out. i’ll let a few of them slip through β€” for effect. I don’t promise good writing, but I do promise, at the very least, the truth.

June 28 to June 29, 1997

I’ve boarded the plane, and after a delay of nearly an entire hour, we’re somewhere above Canada. Lauren lent me a stuffed giraffe to keep me company. Mom bought me a sack of snacks for the flight. I’m set. Eight hours from now I hope to be at least on the steps of Commonwealth Hall. What happens after that is anyone’s guess.

It occurred to me while checking in at the Northwest terminal that I’ll be wearing these clothes until tomorrow night. But I’m losing five hours. It’s not that bad, right? πŸ™‚

It’s 2:00 a.m. Detroit time. I’m over the Atlantic. The fish and I are witness to a beautiful sunset from both sides of the clouds. Unfortunately it’s keeping me awake.

I miss Joonu as I think of her presently. [<– “youthful linguistic indulgence.” You’ll see no more of that word, I promise.] I think I’ll send her postcard first. I thought of her as I was considering my body odor. I’m reasonably sure it’s not bad, but I always worry about it, and Joonu thinks it’s the funniest thing. I wish I’d packed cologne in my carry-on. At least my hair smells okay.

It was strange to see the sun set and rise within the same five hours. I couldn’t sleep on the plane β€” jealous of everyone who could sleep. I sat next to a girl from CMU who was traveling for the Reporting in London program. A little bubbly β€” but nice, and good with conversation.

An hour outside of London, I set my watch the necessary five hours ahead. It reads 9:14 a.m. The flight attendants passed out warm, moist towels. Receiving one is not entirely unlike being handed a wet diaper. My face and hands smell something like lemon. Can’t say much about the rest of me.

11:40 a.m.

Andy the coach driver says the ride to London will take about an hour and a half. He says: No sex, no eating, no smoking, but we can buy a Coke for 50p, or $1, because it’s hot.

I met up a girl named Sarah at the airport, and we agreed that we should cling to each other all day β€” because we were so clueless. We found out we worked in the same building back home, and we made fun of the same people. She’s cool as hell and she cracks me up. If we stay together, I know we’ll have fun.

After a quick check-in at the halls of residence, as they call them here, we were dispatched to a walking tour (How exciting! This is Virginia Woolf’s turf!) and a lengthy orientation. They want to keep us awake to kill the jet lag.

The guide’s name is Tom Knight. How veddy British. He had a lot of witty things to say about the city and its history. Passing the British Museum, he said of the artifacts contained within: “A lot of people might think β€” quite wrongly in fact β€” that we stole them. Truth is, we acquired them. We kept watch over them and protected them.”

6:00 p.m.

Sarah and I met another girl, Lisa, and walked to a pub down the street for fish & chips and a pint of bitter. I thought it was just called beer. Not so, apparently, as any Londoner will brightly explain. Though I can’t tell the difference. The pub was a little brighter than I expected, but still “authentic” enough for my condescending American expectations.

The woman was somewhat rude, the way she repeated everything I said: “Oh, you want the fish ‘n’ chips, as well?” / “Oh, you’re sitting in the corner table, too? That’s just dandy.”

Sarcasm? Anti-Americanism? Maybe it’s just the way she talks.

I’m exhausted and trying to kill time and stay awake another hour or so. I have some running to do tomorrow to establish myself, and I have a paper to write for my writing class. I found the shower room, but I don’t know where the dining room is. Hope tomorrow goes smoothly.

It’s 8:30 p.m. UK time. I feel like a wimp going to bed this early, but as I was sitting here reading, I was falling asleep. There are things I can read, plans I can begin to formulate, but I think my best bet is to sleep while I can. I may be up early tomorrow morning, but that’s OK.


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the untallied hours

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