After a late arrival the night before, we woke to rain and wind on Sunday. It was our first full day in England and the storm was not a surprise. Fowl weather is the standard late in November in the UK. For us, the downpour led to a downsizing of our Southampton daytrip plans. Gone were the thoughts of trips to see the sights in nearby towns. Instead we dodged the showers, headed to downtown Southampton, and wandered over to the docks. It was a casual visit. Perhaps the highlight occurred when we ducked out of the cold and into Southampton’s Maritime Museum with its Titanic exhibit. The museum was interesting. Getting warm was good, also. It wasn’t long before heading back to G&C’s house for dinner and wine consumption.
The following morning, Becky and I and our impossibly large collection of bags headed by taxi to the train station for the trip to London. In London we rustled our belongings over to another taxi and squeezed in.
“Where are you heading?” the driver asked, amused that we could possibly have so much gear.
“The Zetter,” I said, giving the name of our hotel. “It’s on Clerkenwell.”
The driver didn’t seem to understand, but after he looked at our sheet of paper with the reservation information, he knew exactly where to go. We were quickly on our way. It was our accent that he had trouble with. The route was easy.
Missing in London’s Black Cabs was the ubiquitous GPS receiver that is found elsewhere. To receive a “Hackney Cab Licence,” taxi drivers in London must pass an extensive “Blue Book” test that demonstrates that they have what is referred to colloquially as “The Knowledge.” Passing the test usually takes a year or more of full time study to learn the details of London’s streets and its attractions. Aside from knowing the best way to our hotel, the driver was also able to give us details of the history of the building that The Zetter now occupies. I’m pretty sure that the history of The Zetter is not available on our TomTom or, for that matter, on our unfortunate alternative navigational system, the BeckBeck.
When our driver told us he has “The Knowledge,” I couldn’t help but recall our many past travel navigational tribulations. “The Knowledge” seemed like a very good thing indeed.
“Do you have ‘The Knowledge’?” I wistfully asked Becky, a.k.a the BeckBeck system, my erstwhile back up navigational system.
“I have ‘The Knowledge’,” the BeckBeck system asserted with a stony mechanical voice that dared me to doubt the statement.
“Then where are we?” I quizzed the BeckBeck system, just a slight bit suspicious of the BeckBeck’s claim.
“Van Ness and Market,” the BeckBeck immediately responded with full assertive confidence.
I didn’t check the street names on the sides of the buildings blurring past the windows of the blocky black taxi, but I was pretty sure that that “Van Ness and Market” was an intersection in San Francisco, not in London. Perhaps the BeckBeck system was also suffering from severe jet lag. Who knows? I just valued my life enough not to dispute the claim. I briefly contemplated doing a BeckBeck system reboot, but the rebooting process is illegal in 48 of 50 states and might be illegal in the UK as well. I gave this one a pass.
Though the London cabbies have The Knowledge, they also seem to have “The Mania” and drive like taxi drivers everywhere. (Is there are “drive like a madman” test for all cab drivers?) All too quickly we reached The Zetter. Once we settled into our trendy, pink light lit room, we headed out into the neighborhood for lunch and to start our search for signs of the Invasion of London.
A Parisian artist, Space Invader, has placed pixilated early era video game themed tile mosaics in visible public spaces in more than 40 cities around the world. We first noticed these unusual mosaics in Bilbao Spain and then later in Barcelona on our Spring 2009 trip. For us, spotting Invaders seemed like a good urban game. Looking for the mosaics mandates closer observation. It takes you to parts of cities that you would otherwise not visit. So, after a little online research and the purchase of Invader’s “Invasion in the U.K.” guide, we started our search for the tile interlopers on the streets of London.
We track the results of our search in the following link. In London, we found the sites of many invasions, though we saw the tiles only in nine spots. Often, when we found the site of the invasion, the tiles were gone. Clearly not everyone sees the attraction of Invader’s efforts. Some say that the mosaics are street art. For others, the tiles are the work of a vandal.
London Space Invaders:
Space Invaders main page:
Before we headed out on our Invader search, we had noodles for lunch at an Asian restaurant near The Zetter. It was a filling meal, so it was late when we headed out for new age cocktails and some light nosh for dinner.
Our first stop was at The Lab. The “Lab” is not the name of a place that I would think served adult beverages, but in this case the name is short for the London Academy of Bartending. The bar was somewhat divey, but the cocktails were good though a bit on the sweet side. Maybe the drinks were not on the level that we had during our recent visit to Cyrus, but, nevertheless, we’d certainly stop in again.
A light salad and a couple more cocktails at the stylish Fifth Floor Bar in Harvey Nichols on Knightsbridge ended our long day. Eating light this night was a good thing. The next day we are off for our gastronomic marathon at the Fat Duck.
12 Old Compton Street