It was mostly chilly in London, and rainy, which seemed right, but we had a bit of sun too. One morning Sam and I rented some of the public bikes you see around everywhere, and rode through Hyde Park. Such a great way to cover more ground, even though it was terrifying every time we had to ride along a street or cross a thoroughfare. I never have been able to figure out what pedestrians are supposed to do in England. You would think, since cars drive on the left, that people would walk on the left too, and pass on the right. But whenever I'm running (and, as I discovered, on a bike) there seems to be no coherence to how anyone behaves. Whatever I did, it always seemed to be wrong. Maybe all the native Londoners pass on the right and all the foreigners don't, and that's what makes it confusing?
We saw this funny ice cream truck. I find most of the cars in England funny. Is that wrong?
After awhile some clouds rolled in, and I told Sam airily that the rain in England always just came down gently and mistily and didn't saturate your clothing. At which point the heavens parted and we got SOAKED. We became immediately and wholly drenched to the point that here was no sense in seeking shelter, so we just rode wetly on. I could literally wring my shirt out when we got back to the hotel. Shows what I know! But everything was quite pretty in the rain, and when you don't have mad cold babies crying at you, there's nothing too awful about being wet.
|The weather really looks quite a lot cheerier in this picture than it actually was|
It poured unceasingly for the rest of the day. The people we were there with had organized one of those "hop-on, hop-off" bus tours for us, and, not wanting to seem ungrateful, we cheerily assured them we'd still enjoy it in the rain. After a forty-minute wait under a dreary-looking awning, the bus arrived, but the bottom, covered, deck was packed to the gills, of course. We sloshed up the steps to the open upper deck and barricaded ourselves in with complimentary plastic ponchos. There was an English family of four sitting in front of the bus like ship's figureheads, looking dour. They had the appearance of a family who is determined to get the value out of their weekend holiday if it kills them, and I couldn't tell if they were grudgingly impressed with our little party's intrepid trek onto this bathtub of an upper deck, or if they felt that it somehow devalued their own grim sacrifice.
It was absolutely frigid. I propped my umbrella up over my head and it rested on Sam's shoulder, dripping. There was one of those portable audio tour devices with headphones, but they were outside the ponchos and our hands were in, and there was no way I was going to emerge and expose any more skin than I had to, so we just sat as still as possible, squinting through the downpour and shivering. Every so often I would slowly turn my head (so as not to allow rainwater down my neck) and try to see if Sam was enjoying himself. Each time I did this the umbrella would slip a little and the lady in front of me would give a forceful snort of indignation. I recalled this sort of thing from my previous sojourn in England: the British, generally, are too genteel to make a rude comment, but not so genteel that they don't make their displeasure blindingly obvious by pursed lips and sighs and terse expulsions of breath. "Oh, did I bump you? I'm so sorry!" I said, smiling charmingly, but as she didn't deign to turn and benefit from my smile, the only reply I got was an exasperated hunch of the shoulders and a gathering-my-poor-chicks-in-from-the-wolves sort of motion as she pulled her son closer to her.
The wind picked up then, and I became totally consumed with holding the umbrella steady so it wouldn't cause any more snorting from the lady. I tried resting it on my shoulder, my seatback, and, finally and fatally, my head, where it immediately funneled copious amounts of water, with military precision, down my scalp and neck. The nervous strain of all this, of course, caused my hands to develop several involuntary tics and spasms, and the umbrella began to blow gracefully inside out, dripping, if possible, more than ever.
After a small eternity, I managed to collapse the thing down and fold it up, but by then the grim family were preparing to "hop off," standing and shaking off the rain from their ponchos as if it were the dust from their feet. Their departure left our little group of four sitting alone, braced bravely against the wind like gargoyles, water dripping off our noses and chins. Sam and I assured our worried, apologetic hostess, through blue lips, that we were quite comfortable and indeed would be happy to continue in this state indefinitely, but we looked at each other with mute, expressive eyes.
When I spotted Trafalgar Square I suggested, in a burst of inspiration, that perhaps the artists among us would like to see the National Portrait Gallery, and everyone agreed fervently that there was nothing they'd like more. And so our bus journey came to a merciful end.
On quite another subject, I feel it would remiss of me not to show a picture of these pillows in the lobby of our hotel. They were always resting on the couches like this, on their points. I found it continually hilarious, for reasons that are inexplicable even to myself.