London Lantern

Putting the Spotlight on London

London Revisited - Arrival and Finding Kings College Hampstead

26/10/1999, By Robert Rickman

Reader Rating: 2.9 from 17201 votes

I visited London for the first time, in September, since a student tour just after graduating high school. During my two week stay, I kept a daily diary of my experiences. September 1, 1999 - My arrival in London. I wasn't jet-lagged when I stepped off the plane at Gatwick on a beautiful sunny morning on the first day of September, but I was tired. My blue trousers and blue striped shirt looked as if I had slept in them, but I hadn't.

(I had gradually moved my waking time to that of London's over the past few days and had only a few hours sleep on the previous night and virtually no sleep on the plane)

The seat-belt sign was left "on" during the entire flight of the fully loaded Boeing 767 out of Philadelphia. Some people on the flight blamed we Americans for the hurricane off the Atlantic coast of the U.S. which caused the turbulence, and, on behalf of the United States, I took full responsibility. This usually resulted in a chuckle or two.

On the long walk through the bright skylighted terminal, my mind started wandering and I imagined myself as other people would see me had they been paying attention.

They would have noticed the brown haired, bespectacled, moderate height man, of indeterminate age, making his way through the labyrinth of customs, and thence to the railway station, while asking periodic directions here and there along the way.

He was pulling one of those luggage bags with two wheels on the bottom, which is very popular nowadays. And as an added feature, one of the wheels emitted a loud squeak from time to time, which served to alert people to his approach. This seemed to aggravate everybody, but it also helped him to move through the terminal quite rapidly.

At immigration, he told the woman that even though he was an American, he thought his English was pretty good. She smiled, although we're not sure if she thought it was funny.

(Editor: unfortunately, she had probably heard it twice a day ever since she started working there)

I broke out of my daze on arriving at the railroad station, took one look at the automated ticket machine, and decided that my single operating brain cell couldn't handle its complexity. So I got in the queue to purchase a ticket for the Thames Link train to Kings Cross Station.

The train was delayed about 1/2 hour because of construction. The conductor apologised for the delay; something you don't hear much of in the U.S. And, since it was a crystal clear day, the delay afforded me some enjoyable site seeing from the train windows.

At Kings Cross I entered the underground which, at the time, was more confusing than the ticket machine at Gatwick. I stood before the underground diagram in a dull stupor trying to remember which station I was at, and attempting to locate the piece of paper on which was noted which station I was going to.

Since I read somewhere that the British are not as casual about starting conversations with complete strangers as we are in the U.S., I was loath to ask the grandmotherly looking lady standing next to me for help. At this point several unpleasant images started to intrude into my thoughts; images such as me riding around and around beneath London for hours,......... or days,............ or weeks,...... until by sheer chance I stumbled out at the proper station one day.

"Ma'am, do you have any idea where we are?" I blurted-out.

She was from out in the country visiting her sister in London and was relatively new to the underground system herself. The woman guided me with my squeaky baggage up and down escalators and stairs, through tunnels and, finally pointed me in the direction of the right platform. Then, when I got there, I found her standing beside me in order to help me to find the proper train. This was one of my first impressions of the British.

I exited at The Finchley Road tube station and didn't have the slightest idea where Kings College was, the place where I was going to stay. I asked the newsagent and he pointed down the street and said, "It's at the top of the hill".

It was a very long hill, and because I didn't want to deal with anything else complicated, like buying a bus ticket and asking the driver to call-out when we were near the campus, I decided to walk there, with my baggage in tow. Besides, I'd been more or less sitting for 16 hours and needed to move around a bit.

It's truly amazing how it's possible to walk right past a five foot by three foot sign which reads in five inch letters: KINGS COLLEGE HAMSTEAD CAMPUS, and completely miss seeing it.

So, I found myself several blocks later stumbling into a beauty shop and asking directions from one of the beauticians. I parked my luggage against a wall, only to watch it topple over because it was top heavy. The woman consulted with several other employees and customers and came up with a very simple set of directions.

What impressed me the most at this point was that all of the British I encountered were sincerely trying to help me; they didn't appear to be merely brushing me off.

So, I squeaked my way back up Finchley Road until I spotted the five by three foot sign. At the college I paid for my room, and along side me checking in was Zev, a Canadian in his twenties. Zev and I later experienced what I will call the Hampton Court Palace/Richmond/Fish and Chips Adventure a few days later.

In the dorm room I hung up my clothes, and got my quarters squared away by throwing everything else into the closet as well, being the organised bachelor that I am. It looked like a typical dorm room with a sink against the wall, a desk with a beat-up lamp, a couple of chairs, an end table, and a bed.

The WC was down the hall. I had looked upon that as a distinct disadvantage at the time because I am an enthusiastic coffee drinker. But I later, found that I met some very interesting co-eds who also ingested lot of caffeine in the form of tea, going to-and-from, and in-and-out-of the WC. This more than cancelled-out the disadvantages of the WC being located down the hall, as we shall see later.

It was about 3:00 PM and I had four hours to kill before my early bed time. I was determined to stay awake until 7:00. So, I took a walk around the neighbourhood, marvelled at the old buildings and quaint side streets and gardens; sights we don't see in the U.S.

I thought a little bit about how nice it was to be in London, how I came to make the decision to come there despite a restricted income.

And how I was going to make the most of it while recharging my batteries, on my first real vacation, since 1993. I wandered around the area in a daze for several hours, fighting-off my increasing urge to sleep. When 7:00 O'clock rolled-around, I fell into my bed and slept like the dead.

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Re: London Revisited - Arrival and Finding Kings College Hampstead

By June 12/04/2002, (Rating: 2.9 from 15976 votes)

Hey - Where's the rest? I was really enjoying reading this amusing little story, and it suddenly ended. More, please.

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Re: London Revisited - Arrival and Finding Kings College Hampstead

By Lizbeth 02/07/2002, (Rating: 2.9 from 15723 votes)

The story seemed a bit hokey and pokey at the start, not to mention a tad bit self-conscious. But then I sort of warmed to it and found myself wondering more about the writer and his previous Philadelphia story. There was somehow a wiff of sadness, regret and yearning there perhaps.

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