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Day 2 : London

As a nerd, and dad of a certain age I'm drawn to history. In Vancouver it can mostly be summed up as "this is first nations", or "this was related to logging/mining". That's pretty much it. In London of course, there hundreds and hundreds of years of Western civilization everywhere you look. Remnants of an age old foundry or shop or the vestiges of a garden that fed a monastary that was long since been outlawed. As a fan of plaques, as I've said before, there are not nearly enough plaques in London. But then again, there would be no place to walk, or put up a wall, or a window if everything was plaqued up. It would a city of engraved history, for which about 1% of the entire tourist population would find endlessly enjoyable and the rest would find rather tiresome.

A running joke between my son and I became something along the lines of "and this is where the founding of the banking system originated, anyways, now it's a shoe store". That's more or less what we experienced. Very new and modern shops housed in what looks to be a historically significant building, or at least a building that's very, very old. I want/need/must know what that curiously weathered alley was, what that mismatched church is. But we are hurried past to look at this shop or eat at another Pret a Manger. Pret a Manger, Ready to Eat for those of you not haunted by high school French, is the sort of bright and bubbly ready to eat delicatessen that has somehow been mass produced and replicated more than a Starbucks in the Pacific Northwest. How many people need a sensibly portioned ricotta and sprout sandwich. All the people, apparently.

We trundle down to Millennium Bridge. That wondrous foot bridge across the Thames. The first and maybe only really odd thing I find out about it, is that the surface of the bridge is a little slippery to my shoes in the rain. Not making a  pedestrian bridge grippy, in the rain, in London, feels like an enormous oversight by the engineering team. Or maybe, more likely,the engineering team had a perfectly good, durable, grippable surface all sourced and priced out and at the last second a higher up who had no business making any engineering decisions at all but who had a rather fancy title said 'i think aluminium foot bridges are quite shiny and fun!', and that was that. That's almost certainly what happened. 

As we are crossing, there is Tate Modern in the distance. Tate Modern is one of the many Almost Facts I have tucked away in my brain. I know it's renown.. and I know it has to do with modern.. art? That's it. But the wife calls back "we should stop in Tate Modern, it's free and open for everyone". Oh, I think this is someone who has more than the Almost Facts I have squirreled away. This notion evaporates quickly as we get closer and I notice on it's massive facade these words set in massive lettering "Tate Modern : Free and open for all". 

Well, it'll get us out of the rain at least.

It may surprise you, or maybe not at all, that I understand modern art about as well as I understand sports. I'm a real Renaissance man of Ignorance. Some of the abstract paintings I find quite pretty, most confusing, and many pieces make sense but only after I read the rather lengthy plaques associated with them. This may be because of my love of plaques, or my insistence that I BETTER understand it after reading all that text. Mental defense mechanism perhaps.

The Tate Modern itself is housed in an old electrical power plant. It has a massive central chimney structure and two arms that spread over a vast area. Me, distrustful of how far architectural firms may go, and perhaps awed by the mere name, assumed it was built from scratch, on purpose, for the art gallery. My daughter, crafty and wily 17 year old that she is, notices the moss on the brick, and assumes it's far too old to be made for it, and guesses, correctly, it was some sort of industrial building. Well it was. And, yes, I should have known that art, and even moreso, modern art, must rely on whatever building makes itself available. This isn't the building for the history of Derivatives and Other Monetary Tools (which if there was ever any interest in it, would have the money to make something from scratch, probably from pure gold, or maybe the futures of pork belly pigs, I don't know.)

So anyways it's a building that looks like a few dystopian sci fi movies in the 90's that didnt have nearly enough funding was shot. It's massive, impossibly high ceilings; the sorts of angles and (previously) unprotected sheer drops to give you vertigo. This is a building that housed giant machines of power generation, whirring and spinning. all employees talking in a perpetual shout, the smell of something like oil but cleaner and more sinister permeating everything. 

But now it houses art, so, at least as intimidating as before.

We walk about, clearly unschooled and clueless. After a particularly challenging few rooms, my daughter, who's had literally hundreds of hours of drawing under her belt and draws still, obsessively, leans over and whispers to me "I have no idea what art is", with a sardonic smile. We go through all sorts of room but there is really only one thing I want to see, Babel, a tower made of old radios and looks like what might be in the sequel to Gilliam's "Brazil". 

We find it. It's everything I hoped it would be. I was least confused by it and a little enthralled. Overall, a win.

We exit and make our way to a pub to have a proper Sunday roast with my cousin, who has generously offered to pay. Me, well aware that the British pound to Canadian dollar exchange rate hovers at a rather eye watering two to one, gratefully accept.

We pass a busker who is doing some dad jokes while figuring out what to play next on his guitar. Surprisingly, this Irish fellow (or maybe he was just waving an Irish flag because it was St. Patrick's day?) chose "Country Roads", a country folk song written as an ode to country music by man named after a town in Colorado who was actually from New Mexico. Or, as my daughter noted "probably a grab at American tourist dollars". Where did such deeply jaded and sarcastic thinking come from? Yes, I'm as mystified as you are. 

We meet my cousin outside a lovely pub, hugs, catching up, a great time. And the pub, as all buildings in London, exudes this sense that every square inch costs more than even the Museum for Derivatives and Monetary Tools could afford. Everything is cramped and befuddled and charming. In certain parts of North America there is nothing but space. The buildings are palatial. You get exhausted finding the directory that'll lead you to the floor where the bathroom is. But here in London I wonder constantly if these rooms are up to code for fire safety.. or .. any safety, full stop. But that only adds to the charm. The roast was delightful, the sort of slow roast and real care put towards all the food. It's rich and decadent and I feel like the lord of a manor, or at the very least, a well to do farmer at Christmas (Michaelmas?). 

Dinner done, we say our goodbyes and wander off. For no reason at all we stop at a store. Large, Tudor style store with prices that make you think they misplaced the decimal place. But, as is common for me, there is the modern clothing and fashion, but all around it is some exceedingly old architecture. Old enough to send me slightly batty, looking for plaques or brochures to tell me what this place used to be. My daughter, again, driven by a prerogative to do mischief to her own father, trolls my curiousity into a frenzy, she leans over and says "I wonder what this place used to be? Like what's the history? Why was it built? WHEN was it built?". She wonders none of this, she just knows it'll send me into a nerd tailspin.

As is MY prerogative as a dad, I am immune to embarrassment and perhaps lean towards it because I'm middle aged, I have hair growing out of my EARS, for god's sake, I have nothing to lose. So I walk over to a shop clerk and ask her if she has any brochures or literature on what the shop used to be, to the terror and grimacing of my two teenagers. She gives me a practiced spiel that's actually on the website, Liberty (she must've had her fair share of middle aged dads bumbling about incoherently). Just google 'Liberty', she says. Me, computer nerd, think "surely a shop will not be found just by putting in one dang word into google" and hoooboy am I wrong, this is the world famous Liberty shop, integral to bringing fashion to the globe in the early 20th century. Of course Google knows what this is.

From there we walk about some more, Michelle has the con, as it were, and I was just following, but apparently we did a tour of Soho and Covent Gardens. My daughter got to get her nerd on in a manga shop, and at some point we pass a busker in Leicester square on the way home. He has a piano and sings and plays beautifully. He's playing, of course, "Country Roads".


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