Tomorrow I turn 21 and it feels as if I have already celebrated it because the age for drinking in England is 18. And it makes sense why the drinking age is lower. Supposedly, the English are know for putting away a lot of alcohol! Our professor actually told us that the English are the biggest drinkers in Europe and some pubs are hundreds of years old. Wow! Everywhere you turn there is a pub; Near Queen Mary University, there is the New Globe Pub, where we have seen several people having a little too much to drink. For a class trip we went to The Lamb Pub, which was Charles Dicken‘s favorite pub.I had the Kronenbourg 1664 French beer, which is has a nice thick nutty flavor. I later bought a four pack of it later. My suitemate Sunnie gave me a Carlesburg beer, which was a bit more bitter and lighter than the Kronenbourg. A week before that, I had bought a bottle of Oxford Landing’s South Australian Cabernet wine at the local supermarket. It felt good not to be carded and I must say that I enjoyed it very much; it had a nice slightly fruit taste, especially with the pomegranate. Yesterday, some of my classmates and I went to a bar in Barbican and I had a Madame Butterfly cocktail drink, which is a melon and passionfruit liquor drink mixed with pineapple juice, cream and chocolate sprinkles. It was good! I also had a sip of an mixed Absinthe drink; now that was strong despite its taste. So, cheers to me turning 21, now I can go home with a beer gut. Just kidding!
This song makes so much sense now after being on the London Undeground or Tube. Although it is cleaner than NYC subways, it is smaller, more cramped and the heat is unbearable most times because there is no air conditioning. I swear I sweated more in there than outside. Also, the tube stops working around midnight, so late night travel is harder.
Maybe I can do a song about the NYC subway system when I return. Haha.
Please give up this space
To someone worthy
Of course we are not worthy
To rest our bones
Ignore the human race
At your peril
Although magazine values
Are all around
I see tired and deflated faces
What is this thing un-happening
Climb on to the magic bus
Soon you will be part of us
Tra la la la lah (etc)
If you see an unattended package or bag
Donít ignore it, don’t touch it
Alert a police officer
Or a member of staff
Look out please, mind the gap
Watch out for the people trap
Here we are, going down
Hold on before we hit the ground
Look out please, mind the gap
Stiletto stuck, in the cracks
Look out please, mind the gap
Someone is gonna get a slap
Ditto, ok, that’s cool, that’s fine
Yes sir, no sir, sorry, no thanks
Dah dah dah dah, dah dah dah dah (etc)
Mind the gap, mind the gap
Better mind the gap, mind the gap
Tra la la la lah, la lah la la lah, la la lah …
I still need to revise it some more according to my professor (he says I need to put more of myself in it as well as talk about the freaks part at the end throughout), but here is what I have so far. Tell me what you think:
Busking: The Stage on the Streets
“All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players: they have their exits and their entrances; and one man in his time plays many parts…” – William Shakespeare
It’s four o’clock, beginning of the afternoon rush as hoards of tourists exit out to Piccadilly Circus from the station. I ride the dull escalator towards the exit. Ads for the Wam Bam Burlesque Club, Captain America and L.A. Noire movies, Mamma Mia, Fela and Shrek shows, exhibits of the National Portrait Gallery and Kate Middleton’s wedding dress at Buckingham palace, masked the walls as I went up. Wearing a purple shirt and dark blue jeans that were noticeably too large for me, its bottoms stuffed into my black ankle-length boots, I kind of wanted to hide. I might have been just paranoid; no one was really looking at me. I hoped and yet deep down knowing someone would notice.
Passing the Lilly White sports store, I pulled out my journal and walked in the direction of the large crowd. Some, either worn-out from earlier walks or fatigued from the heat of riders packed in the trains of the underground tube with no air conditioning, found any available spot and squeezed themselves in underneath the black Eros statue. Others continued to walk down the street amongst the aged, white stone Victorian buildings, taking pictures of the ostentatious architecture with carvings of Greek gods. I passed by these frozen tourist attractions unimpressed. They were like large versions of paperweights; their purpose was mostly to hold a space.
Instead I found myself viewing the Samsung advertisements on loop on the immense screens above. On it, I watched commercials for Coco Cola, Samsung electronics, Mcdonald’s, Lycamobile and even one for the support of the Japanese earthquake relief fund. That last one seemed so out of place. My skeptical mind already thought of some profit motive behind it.
Unable to get a seat on the staircase of the statue, I looked around at the five roads connected by Piccadilly Circus – Regents, Piccadilly, Glasshouse, Shaftesbury Avenue and Coventry—and tried to decide where to go amongst the commotion. I quickly crossed the street to see a crowd gathering at the front of the Ripley’s Believe It or Not Museum. A medium-sized group of people stood around the main entrance and I absorbed myself into the slowly growing mass.
“Hey, come and watch me do a magic trick,” summoned the street performer as more of the street crowd drew in closer to him. They stepped in close enough to see the upcoming show, but made sure to stand outside of the chain that circled around him on the ground.
The crowds in the streets are merciless in a different way than a regular theatre audience for they do not pay a ticket to come and watch. They can come and go as they please, so it takes an over-the-top personality to pull them in. Wearing a black bowler hat and his lean, wiry body in black slacks and a red shirt with the Ripley’s logo on it, the performer managed to show his enthusiasm through his craggily, wrinkly face.
Looking around the audience, he said, “Who wants to help me? You two guys in the front want to join me in doing this.”
Two stout men were singled out as the rest of us in the audience tried to avoid the performer’s pointing finger. They shrugged their shoulders and said, “yeah, sure,” in a somewhat lackadaisical manner.
As they stepped beyond the circular chain barrier, the performer asked the first man, dressed in a green Fred Flintstone shirt that said “Who’s Your Daddy” and an obvious protruding beer gut, for his name.
“David,” he replied. He turned to the next man, who was slightly slimmer and dressed in a blue plaid shirt and jeans, and he replied, “Peter.”
“Okay mates, let’s begin,” he said as he stood on the black, rectangular-shaped platform. “Hello everyone, my name is Tony Roberts, from Australia. I will be attempting to put my entire body through this tennis racket.” He held up an old, dingy white tennis racket with the hoop lacking the mesh of strings.
Tony took the racket and put his left arm and head through the hoop. He jokingly remarked, “It’s a boy,” as he contorted his body through the hoop and began to put his right arm through it as well. The audience let out a few reluctant laughs.
He waved at David to grab his hand and pull it through. For a second, Tony dropped to his knees and joked again, “I’m not gonna ask you to marry me. Although you do have lovely eyes and soft hands for a man.” The audience laughed a little louder.
As David pulled his arm through, Tony commented, “Give him a hand. He’s just a member of the crowd like you.” In the corner, a woman with shoulder-length blonde hair woman gasped in amazement that he fitted himself through the hoop. In a teasing manner, he replied, “Covering your mouth doesn’t stop your eyes from seeing, my dear.”
The audience clapped as he pushed the tennis racket down against his chest. “Don’t clap any louder, you might encourage the Americans. Come closer, so you don’t block the sidewalk.” I let the comment pass over my head, too involved in watching the show before me.
He then proceeded in telling David and Peter to pick up the chains on the ground and they began to wrap them around his torso, neck, arms, hands and the tennis racket. In order to cross the chain around him, David and Peter get very close and Tony continues in his bawdy wit. “Is this like Friday nights at your house,” and went on with a few utterances of “ooh.”
“Here we have two Englishmen tying up an Australian.” A few more laughs came out of the audience. Some members of the audience fidgeted within their cramped spots. A man in a black shirt and sunglasses bumped his elbow into my journal and turned around just enough to see me writing. He gave a quick quizzical look before turning back around to continue watching the show.
Tony asked Peter to open a bottle of water next to the platform and to pour some into his mouth. Then he asked Peter to stand on the platform holding the bottle of water over his head. “In the spirit of the late, great Houdini, I will attempt to escape from these locks under water,” he joked. Some more chuckles come from the audience.
As Peter stepped down, Tony asked the audience to do a countdown with him at the end of two minutes. No one answers as if blindsided. He had broken further through the imaginary fourth wall between himself and us. The same fourth wall in the proscenium theatres in which audiences, trapped in their three-walled box seats, instantly separated themselves from the action on the stage. This audience wanted to be seen as one entity with no interaction at all with the man in front of them. But even the audience participates in the drama of the performance and Tony reaction made it clear to us.
“C’mon, you’re the only audience I got. When I ask a question, I expect a response,” he begged despairingly, “Don’t worry about any humiliation, that is my job.” He asked again for a countdown and the crowd responded finally with a slightly apathetic “yes.”
Tony began to wiggle and contort out on the chains, dislocating his fingers in order to pull his hands out. As he did this, he encouraged the audience to stay by yelling, “Five floors, 700 exhibits, after I pull myself free, please join me inside for a voucher to get discount ticket to Ripley’s Believe It or Not.”
With less than 30 seconds to spare, he pulled his hands free from the chains and pushed the tennis racket down to his feet. “Okay, follow me in for a free voucher.” Most of the crowd fled as soon as he finished. A free show is better than even a discounted one.
Yet I followed him in there to see what it was like in the “odditorium.” On the speakers, I could hear Salt ‘n’ Pepa’s “Shoop.” I giggled a little because the song choice appeared to be random. But this was Ripley’s; as its sign said, “Home of the Unbelievable.” As I picked up the black voucher with the white, orange and yellow logo of the exhibit and a picture of its entrance, I looked around to see a picture of a man with his eyeballs popping out of his socket. Turning to left, a screen showed an exhibition for Marilyn Monroe. Londoners seem to be in awe of her.
The generic tan wooden floors, the red, blue and green fluorescent light tubes on the ceiling, the reflective glass walls and the red carpets with the logo on them were off-putting despite the allure of the bizarre figures surrounding me. I could probably find most of them in a book or a Google search later on anyway.
I walked back outside, looking at the facade of the building, the London Pavilion, a former music hall and theatre, which was now covered in red Ripley’s awnings. It was a good fit for a museum displaying the oddities of life, joining other huge, ornate buildings that house the oddities of every culture. You can go as far as to even say making oddities of common items by putting them on display. From its origin, museums were private collections (loot from cultures all over the world) of wealthy families and made public probably to show off that wealth and rub it in the faces of the rest of us.
Walking down Coventry Street, I noticed several souvenir shops one after another. Before crossing the street again, I looked up to see another screen showing LG commercials and the colorful stars made of circles on the signs of the Trocadero in the distance. On the sidewalk curb, a man in his dirty blue hooded sweatshirt, jeans and sneakers played The Carpenter’s “Closer to You” with and orange and white street traffic cone like it was a trumpet. Several walked by not knowing whether to feel strange or be intrigued that he was using a traffic cone. And he didn’t let the surprised stares faze him (then again, he did look “high”). If only I had a camera, it could have gone on Youtube and have a million hits by now.
Across the street, I went into Cool Britannia, the biggest souvenir shop in Piccadilly Circus. Inside was a dimly lit, red decorated store that had enough merchandise for a window shopper’s paradise. Bags, mugs, flags, posters, trinkets, plates, teddy bears, sweatshirts, shirts, decorated license plates, postcards, calendars and anything else you could think of was in there. As I went down the stairs to the basement, I briefly had to stop behind a mother and daughter who were gawking at the silver and gold suit of armor and the red telephone booth on the landing. Downstairs, I saw more of the same stuff. I soon became bored with the place after fifteen minutes and was slightly irritated when I saw a whole section dedicated to Guinness products, especially when I saw a plate item that said, “Black is Beautiful,” but with a picture of cups of beer at the bottom. I thought, “Thank you Guinness for the co-opting.” I made my way for the door.
After I left, I walked towards the Criterion Restaurant with its turquoise and blue marquee. In front of it, a tin man stood there dressed in a silver suit, and gold hat, vest and shoes. Like a pantomime, he said no words, only waiting for tourist to flock to him for pictures as he stood on his silver trunk. I stood there watching a young girl with her black hair tied back in a ponytail and in pink dress, staring him down with a callous look and he stared at her back. She then ran off and he shrugged his shoulders as if he expected that kind of behavior. A teenage boy stepped up on the trunk for a picture and the tin man quickly pulled out a toy silver gun holding it up to the boy’s neck. Catching on to the gag, the boy grabbed his neck and jokingly, the tin man pointed his gun to the boy’s crotch and back up to his neck. I wondered if he did that out of sheer boredom standing there everyday. He has to do something to keep himself going. But the picture was taken and the small crowd around him, including myself, dispersed.
I walked in the direction of the Eros statue and found another crowd surrounding three young, white Eastern European men (I could tell from their accents) on a small black and white checkered dance floor. “If you see something like I break my leg, don’t call the ambulance,” said one in ankle breaker shirt with a half-star underneath the words. “…And if you like the show, please pay for your tickets in the buckets below.”
The three men, the other two in a Funky Poser’s monkey shirt and a musical notes shirt, started break-dancing to a 90s techno song that I barely remember except for the “ooh la la,” part. While one did the various acrobatic movies, the other two tried to get the audience excited by clapping. As soon as the song finished, most of the crowd rushed away avoiding having to put any monetary amount into the light green, blue and pink buckets. The three men, however, were not disheartened as a few offered to give them some change, and just like the others before them, they left the location to continue onto the next willing audience.
I chose to stand in a corner of the window area of the Criterion Theatre, next to the Eros statue. The posters for the play, 39 Steps, based on Alfred Hitchcock’s 1935 film, covered the front walls of the theatre. As I continued writing in my journal, I notice two dark-haired men stare at me as they walked by. I guess they thought I looked strange. I should be used to the stares by now; I don’t look like the average black woman, let alone the average woman in London, not even in America. But I still couldn’t resist giving a snarled look at them and watching them hastily turn away. It’s refreshing to think of yourself as the observer observing others who in turn are observing you and our reactions to each other. Whether in the audience or in front of them, I am on display just like any other.
When I turned to the left, I saw a young, fresh-faced man standing near me in front of the doorway. His conspicuous manner of dress, a black top hat, dark gray jeans, gray shirt and suspenders, did not match his naïve and nervous as he placed his unicycle on his black duffle bag. Not knowing what to do, he took out a translucent Fushigi ball and began to glide it between his hands. I stood there awkwardly wondering if he knew my attention was on him. Gazing at the ball, he smiled as if he was lost in his own world and ignored everyone around him. The streets and its people were all seen in the reflection of the ball as if he held the world between his fingers.
Soon, others began to stop at look at him and the ball, which seemed to float between his hands. For moment, gravity did not exist as he started sliding the ball upon his arms. I knew there was a simple explanation for why the ball did that but I chose not to think of reality at that time, only the magic of the moment. A boy with shoulder-length curly blond hair asked the “magician” how he does the trick. With the ball, he steps forward and bends down to let the boy examine the ball to see if maybe there was a puppet’s string attached to it. Even a man in his yellow soccer shirt had to stop to gaze in amazement. He seemed to be the most genuine, pure-hearted one of all the performers that day.
“Are we all freaks just looking for a stage?” I said this to myself as I turned to head into the Piccadilly Circus tube station. Going down the escalator, I approached guitar player singing R.E.M.’s “Man On the Moon” in a deep, coarse voice. As I passed him, I could still faintly hear him down the hall leading to the train. Another thought came to mind. I remembered that Joe Strummer from the Clash was a busker, a street performer, like all them. I wondered if any of them would leave the streets of Piccadilly one day to the calling of a bigger stage. Would I ever want to do the same? Maybe the real fun lies somewhere on those street corners where you close enough to those who choose to stop and be part of the show.
The Smiths – London
Misfits- London Dungeon
Madness- The Liberty of Norton Folgate
Donovan- Sunny Goodge Street
Pulp- Mile End (This is where our university actually is!)
Sex Pistols- God Save the Queen
The Clash – London Calling (The song from which our class is named and we do live by the river, the East end where most of the poor people use to live)
The Clash- Guns of Brixton (About the Riots in Brixton in 1980)
Sinead O’ Connor – Black Boys on Mopeds (Also about Brixton riots, two boys were gunned down while riding mopeds)
Blur- London Loves
The Clash – London’s Burning (based on the nursery rhyme, London Bridge is Falling Down)
Adele – Hometown Glory
Saturday was music day for me! I went to the O2, which was a mall-like venue under a huge white tent at North Greenwich. Besides flat fountains that spouted up water, restaurants, a cinema and a Titanic exhibition, there was also The British Music Experience, interactive museum, and that was my destination. The museum had the concert feel, the doors opened at scheduled times and you walked into a dark room to watch on a short video on how the museum worked. Then you walked down a hall which felt like the same walk musicians go down before they hit the big stage: a lot of noise and strobe lights. The next set of doors opened to reveal a circular room with British music of the past 66 years (1945-2011) divided into sections based on the musical era. In each section, were rooms filled with fake keyboards and guitar frets used to select short clips discussing each item in the display case. Then there was a huge screen displaying facts from each time period that you could click on. with a huge mouse as well as jukebox machines to listen to several songs from each time period. Also, each room had short documentaries that you could watch with musicians and other creative people who were part of that time. Other sections in the middle of the room displayed media (ex. radio) technology that was used to broadcast music and music shows, dances over the years, geography and music, DJ culture and two studios in which you could actually play instruments. At the end, we walked into a dance club room where they mixed together all the music and music videos of over six decades on a screen to hear and see what music might sound like in the future. I find it interesting how much American, British and even Caribbean music are connected and influenced each other and I have a whole new crop of artists to listen to now. It was a great experience and worth my $12 ticket.
After I left the souvenir shop, I rode the Jubilee line again to St. John’s Wood and walked to Abbey Road, the famous crossing that was part of The Beatles’ Abbey Road album. It was hilarious to watch people try to do the pose before they were almost hit by cars; it is actual street that people walk and drive on (some say it should be cut off for visitors, but oh well). I walked a few feet down to Abbey Road Studios where people were taking pictures of the outside (visitors are not allowed to go in, boohoo) and signing the walls of the gate, so I signed it, too. On the wall, I wrote “Thanks for the great music – Sherese. BTW, I love Ringo!” Haha.
As you can probably tell from my Led Zeppelin reference, we traveled far today. Where you ask? To Glastonbury! On what? A tour bus! We were off at eight in the morning and listened to our tour guide, Chris, as he told us histories behind the East end where our university is located. This is the area where Jack the Ripper roamed looking for his next victim, where the crime family the Krays committed crimes at the Blind Beggar pub and where Winston Chruchill went to the trial of the anarchists who did the Siege of Sidney Street. We continued to the Magnus Martyr, the place mentioned in T.S. Eliot’s Wasteland, and the place where John Quincy Adams was married. We traveled under the bridges of London, where Chris mentioned the Waterloo Bridge, also known as the “Ladies’ Bridge” because it was built by women, and the Blackfriars Bridge, which was the site of a murder of an Italian banker for the Vatican.
Then we went deep into the countryside of England with the sheep, cows, bulls, horses and pigs. We passed by the Stonehenge and heard a brief history of it. As he told us the truths and legends behind King Arthur, we rode into Shrewtown, where they had a old-fashioned jail called the Cooler because they believed that a criminal had hot blood and so a cool stream of water flowed under the jail to cool them down while they were in there. Also, we passed by another town, a German one formed during the Cold War. The classed learned about the origins of the rhyme, Jack Horner, which was about a man named Thomas Horner who received deeds to manors made of lead, a metal with a latin name, Plumbum, hence the plum in the rhyme.
When we arrived to Glastonbury, we climbed a VERY HIGH holy hill, or tor, that was worst that climbing the 311 steps of the Monument and on the way met some sheep and a lot of feces. However, the view at the top, next to the St. Michael’s tower, was beautiful, even in the fog. Back down the hill, we went to the Chalice well, which was said to hold the Holy Grail. I drank from the water, which tasted like pennies. After that, we walked around the neighborhood and basically the people in Glastobury are “new age” types of people, aka hippies. They have a Glastonbury festival every year, which is comparable to Woodstock. At the end of the day, the bus passed London’s Natural History Museum, Victoria and Albert Museum and Harrods. So, today was a really productive day! Now for sleep!
The above song “Avenues and Alleyways” is by English singer Tony Christie and the song’s title covers where I have been going for the beginning of this week. I have observed the street performers, or as they are called here, buskers, in Piccadilly Circus, the mostly Muslim community of Whitechapel at night, the Docklands, the streets where the homes of Dracula (138 Piccadilly, where there is a Hard Rock Cafe now) and Sherlock Holmes (221B Baker Street) were located in the books and today, Brixton, a neighborhood similar to southeast Queens where I live in New York City. These places are definitely not your typical tourist attractions, but it is interesting to learn the history behind these neighborhoods.
Also, our professor introduced us to a 1966 British film, Morgan, which he was named after. It is actually a funny and engaging movie; not only because it has the wacky British comedy, but it also has subtle commentary on communism, capitalism, marriage, love and sanity. Here is a clip: