London — Flew overnight into Heathrow. Took the train to Paddington Station. Took a cab to the hotel, not wanting to drag three bags through these narrow streets. Lucked into a cab driver who liked football (their kind) and gave me a detailed report on Manchester United’s 2-2 draw with West Bromwich Albion. Only then did I feel I was in England.
There’d been hints. We took the lift to the Heathrow Express, not the elevator. We were advised on exiting at Paddington to “mind the gap,” meaning don’t fall through the space between the train and the platform. My driver informed me that traffic today had been “diabolical” — that’s a big word over here, as is “shambolic” — because of some state function at Buckingham Palace.
“You’ll want to go there,” he said, acting as my tour guide. “But not today.”
He also informed me that the street on which we were driving — Edgware Road, which becomes the A5 — had been built by the Romans, who were pretty big, empire-wise, back in the day. “They built it straight so their armies could march,” I was informed, and that made me feel as if I was in Europe, where a lot of armies have done a lot of marching.
Later I took a walk up Edgware. Stopped at Marks and Spencer — known locally as “Marks and Sparks,” as we Yanks know from the 42-year-old song “All The Young Dudes,” written by David Bowie and recorded by Mott the Hoople — and bought some of the local papers. (My driver was correct on all the Man U-West Brom details. He should be a sports writer.)
I’d told the cabbie I’d come for the American brand of football — Falcons-Lions at Wembley on Sunday. “Here a bit early, aren’t you?” he’d said, and I conceded the point. But he seemed impressed when I mentioned that the Falcons were practicing at Arsenal’s training ground. (What we call “practice,” they call “training.”)
My hotel is near the Marble Arch — a monument under which the Royal Family and assorted military are allowed to pass — and you’ll recognize the name from its mention in the Leonard Cohen song, “Hallelujah.” I’m sorry to be sounding like Murray the K, but much of my knowledge of London comes from music. To wit: On my constitutional this afternoon, I saw a building marked “St. John’s Wood” and thought of “Play With Fire” by the Rolling Stones. (“Your mother she’s an heiress/Owns a block in St. John’s Wood.”)
Actually, I’d meant to head south on Edgware but got turned around. (What can I say? I’m a rube.) The lady at the front desk suggested that I take “a nice 10-minute walk” down to Hyde Park, which is where the Stones played their famous free concert in 1969 two days after Brian Jones was found dead in his swimming pool.
Ah, well. There’s always tomorrow. It’s getting dark now, and it was spitting rain — I hear it rains in England — when I ducked back into the hotel, and there was a UEFA Champions League game on the telly downstairs (The sports bar next door was advertising 1-pound beers when Manchester City, which is playing CSKA Moscow in an empty stadium, scores a goal.) Later tonight Chelsea plays host to Maribor at Stamford Bridge, which is 4.3 miles from here. But I hear traffic is diabolical.
Back tomorrow with football of a different sort.