Time to wrap up my last few days, I think.
Wednesday was a long day at work, concluding with a long client meeting. I had hoped that I might talk some of my colleagues into going to a pub with me, but helas, it was not to be. So I resolved to go find that neat looking pub I’d passed earlier in the day (it’s crazy, you can easily walk to visit multiple clients in our London office), Old Doctor Butler’s Head. My thought was that with Euro 2012 going on, in business attire, I would blend right into the crowd of after-dinner-cocktail business folks and feel less conspicuously alone. Ha. I stood out like a middle-aged American woman in an ancient London pub who ordered the steak and kidney pie because it seemed the thing to do. The bartender took pity on me. From where I was sitting, I could watch the game, as well as the perfect pints of Guinness being poured. I liked watching the Guinness. It starts off as pure foaminess, coming very slowly from the taps, and then there’s this fascinating cascade as the beer gathers at the bottom and the bubbles at the top. I digress.
I sat at the bar, with the excellent steak and kidney pie, and between pouring pints the bartender told me stories about it. He talked of the glory days when bankers were superior to bankers today. He told me about the gas lights still scattered throughout the pub. And finally, he invited me to come see the ancient wine-cellar in the 300 year old pub. “It’s brilliant!” he assured me. I picked up my bag, worked my way through the crowd and carefully “minded my head” as I entered the low-ceiling, cold, ancient crypt. It was pretty brilliant. He took pictures of me in the wine cellar and the beer cellar. (He brilliantly interposed his finger in most of them – ah well!) I thanked him, and tipped like an American. He told me we were friends forever, and gave me (ironically!) a coffee mug covered in London beer logos.
I trotted home with a happy step. The bankers had completely ignored me, but the bartender was my friend!
The next night – Thursday – my colleagues did take me out, which was lovely. But their commutes are even worse than ours, and so we were done by 7ish. It seemed too early to go back to the flat and read, or some such thing, so I decided to catch the late match (Ireland -ugh. Worst team in the tourney!) and dinner at another pub. I had so far been invisible everywhere I’d gone, so I had little concern as I sat down to watch. Then a friendly looking 60 something gentleman with a long flowing silver beard came over to talk to me. He opened his mouth, and sound came out.
I had no idea – not a one – what he was saying. He was speaking English. I focused harder. If I just paid attention, I could certainly work my way through that accent – at least catch one word in three or four? Impenetrable. Every once in a while a word would out, or a complete sentence, and then disappear back into this mellifluence. I smiled and nodded. I did gather that he loved London. He’d live here for more than 20 years. He was from Glasgow. Then the conversation was once again lost. He did not seem too perturbed by my cheerful statements I could not understand a word he was saying. I had no idea if he understood me as poorly as I understood him. Everytime his mates would go out for a smoke, they’d walk by and clap him on the shoulders. They’d grin at me – but none rescued me. Finally, I caught two words, “hotel” and “cab” and finally wondered what I was smiling and nodding to. I decided (my plate of pies finished) that it was time to leave. I bid him farewell, a touch uncomfortable. One of his mates was outside smoking. “Who,” I asked, “was that?” In perfectly intelligible English I was informed I had just dined with Alex. He was a local fixture. He roamed the streets with a shopping cart during the day. He was likely the richest man in the entire section of London. And he had indubitably only charitable notions towards me. And no one else could understand him either. Relieved, I returned to my room to prepare for the morning’s departure.
Winging my way across the Atlantic, glad to be home, glad to stop working. I met with my husband, got my sons, went for ice cream, picked up our first farm share of the season, made a batch of jam and fell to sleep.
When my phone then rang at 4 am, It was actually not so off for my body’s time. I picked it up, assuming it was someone in London who had forgotten I was no longer there. But no. It was a call to say that a young man was on his way, and could I please go stay with his sister while his parents went to meet him? I brought my blankie and my phone, never happier for an interrupted sleep than this. I just got to meet sweet William a scant hour ago – his dark hair the incredible fuzzy-softness of a newborn baby, his six-pounds-and-change a tremendously light bundle wrapped in a stripey hospital blanket.