Oops, it’s been over a week since I last did a blog post. Naughty me. In my defence it has been a jam packed week of terrible news, awful days, social activity and wonderful, unique experiences. All of that and it’s a week off work!
Anyway, I wanted to share two of these days with you, none of the awfulness of this week but some of the grimy moments and the most wonderful moments (cut down otherwise the post would be huge). This post stands as evidence that inspiration can be found everywhere and those moments are picked out in bold.
We arrived at the hotel in the early evening. The sun had recently set and darkness had settled over the city bringing with it heavy clouds and drizzle. After having a rest, we made our way downstairs to the restaurant, eyelids already drooping.
The restaurant was tiny compared to what we were used to, and it was heaving. Thankfully there wasn’t a queue but there was still a good deal of time between a waiter spotting us, saying he’d be right with us and actually being shown to our table. Beside us, two gentlemen (who were these men? Where had they come from? Where were they going? What did they think of the situation?) asked for the bill as we settled with our menus.
Our drinks arrived but my husband had been brought the wrong one. It was taken away and brought back some time later. Eventually our order was also taken. The gentlemen beside us still hadn’t paid, my husband whispered to me.
‘Hmm,’ I muttered back. ‘Looks like that might be the case with everyone. They do that to us, we’ll just walk out.’
Our food arrived and still the gentlemen beside hadn’t paid. As an entirely different waiter who had taken our order, completely different still from the waitress who had brought the drinks, laid our food before us, the gentlemen to the side took the opportunity to ask for the bill once more. Forty-five minutes later. They finally paid and were able to go on their way.
Dinner was spent watching the people around us. Watching the three members of staff running from table to table without any sign of organisation. (Did they think it was disorganised? How was their shift going? Who were they?)
We ordered our desserts.
‘Can I have the chocolate brownie sundae, please?’
‘The chocolate brownie?’
‘Oh, yes, the special?’
‘Yes please.’ I watched him leave knowing full well I wouldn’t be getting the sundae. We waited and waited, watching families come and go. Just as I was considering venturing into the kitchen myself to make my own dessert, they were brought out to us. Low and behold, I was given a chocolate brownie.
‘No, no. I ordered the sundae. The special.’
‘Oh,’ the waitress sighed. ‘Sorry.’ She turned and took it back. I sat back and watched more families come and go, my husband munching away at his apple crumble, scraping the plate clean. The waitress appeared with a bowl, the chocolate brownie placed inside with two scoops of ice cream dumped on top.
‘Thank you,’ I said without much enthusiasm, picking up the spoon she had given me. It was dirty. I could have banged my head on the table, or stood and screamed, but instead I got out of my chair and found the waitress. She brought me a new spoon, her face now a scowl.
We managed to pay quickly by standing in front of the waitress and not allowing her to move until she had dealt with us, and made a quick retreat back to our room. A faint scent of urine hit us as we opened the door.
‘Lovely,’ my husband remarked, making for the bed and kicking his shoes off. I disappeared into the en suite to wash the sticky ice cream from my fingers. The sink filled quickly despite the plug not being in and sat there.
‘Wonderful,’ I muttered.
I was kept awake that night by the constant thrum of traffic. Until midnight, there were sirens and flashing lights every few minutes(the hotel was surrounded by hospitals, we found out later. Who was in those ambulances? Who was driving them?) and eventually I fell asleep purely out of exhaustion, my dreams haunted by the din.
We woke to a city sat in fog. We walked down the street, the skyscrapers on either side only coming into view as we approached.
‘Like an old computer game,’ my husband said with a grin. We dodged the suits and crossed roads at a run, not trusting pedestrian or driver. The skyscrapers gave way to beautiful old terraced houses and we turned off the main road, heading for the gate to the park.
What a contrast! The road noise vanished, to be replaced with bird song. Golden and red leaves surrounded us as we walked down the path, following the signs to the zoo. The gardens were immaculate, trimmed hedges and elegant fountains emerged from foggy entrails. Business people cut through, striding down the wide paths. Joggers and dog walkers were more relaxed and we walked hand in hand, beaming at the beauty. We watched a dog running full speed down an area of grass, utterly joyful in the presence of mud and seagulls and other dogs to be chased and sniffed. (While his owner screamed at him to come back. His name was Cookie. He was obviously enjoying himself but what sort of day was his owner having? Was she taking a walk to get away and have a think about something?)
We passed a group of four men sat on a bench, a four pack of cheap lager by their feet, unshaven and dirty and engrossed in a tale being told by one with great hand gestures. (Who were they? Were they homeless? And what tales of adventure or retribution was being told?)
As we reached the top of the park, a strange noise was heard. A shrill cry that was repeated. We had reached the boundary of the zoo. The cry followed us down the path and along the road as we searched for the main entrance. Desperate to know what that cry was, it fell silent for the rest of the day as soon as we stepped foot inside the zoo boundaries. (What the hell was it?!)
The reptile house inside London Zoo is among the original buildings and not yet fully renovated. We met with a friend who gave us a wonderful tour of the animals she cared for, giving us a truly incredible and unique experience. As she led us out of the reptile house, we went through the centre and down into the space between enclosures. All around us were venomous snakes, locked away behind metal and locks, accessible only by old wooden planks.
‘They say it’s haunted,’ my friend said (ghost story alert! Move to red alert!) and a shiver ran through me. ‘A keeper who was bitten by a cobra. It’s a bit freaky being the last one here and closing up for the night!’ We laughed nervously, as she closed and locked the door behind us, letting us back out into the foggy world of the city zoo.
|A friend I made at London Zoo. Got to love intelligent birds…|
Tired, aching but beaming, we returned to the hotel and ventured back down the restaurant. We were too tired to find somewhere else and an early morning beckoned. There were more staff and we were seen much quicker. We were still served by each of the staff with no semblance of organisation but at least we were given the right dishes. My husband ordered the special chocolate brownie sundae to finish and I was enraged to see he was given something very different to my own sundae of the previous night.
While listening to me wittering on, my husband watched those sat behind me, nodding and murmuring where he felt it was appropriate. He watched a blonde woman enter the restaurant and sit behind us. She took out her mobile, pressed some buttons, stood and walked out. He thought nothing of it.
As we were finishing our desserts, a woman and her daughter approached the table. Some commotion followed, where she brought some of the waiting staff over.
‘My bag. Where is my bag? I left it here by accident and now it’s gone.’ (Who was the thief? Why did she steal it and how long had she been watching the restaurant? Who were the woman and daughter? Why were they staying at the hotel?)
The staff shrugged, they hadn’t seen it. Exasperated and without answer, the woman and daughter left the restaurant.
‘She had her bag stolen?’ I hissed at my husband, pulled my own bag closer. I watched then as a gentleman sat behind my husband described the blonde woman to a waitress. She nodded and shrugged. The woman would be long gone. What could they do?