We got back today after what appears to be several days but was actually only a long weekend. Note that I use the word 'we' and not the infinitely more depressing 'I' because at the last minute, my husband and the leading man of this blog was able to join me after all. He could not take the same flight though and ended up going , no, not later but a full twelve hours in advance. I like this man. I would totally marry him if I hadn't already.
That meant that I still ended up travelling to London on my own. After a cheery wave to my son and his nani (almost certainly also my mother but one can never be sure these days given that she has eyes only for the little fellow) I started on my voyage. When I say cheery wave, obviously I mean a howl of complete and abject misery but we know how these things are. However, once I reached the airport and passed immigration, I landed at the Jet Airways lounge. I loved it on sight and would have happily missed my flight and just camped there for the night if people had not made it their business to come by and check if I were indeed Ms Sharma and would I please finish the copious amounts of coffee and cake and sandwiches and commence to Gate number whatever the hell and get on with the boarding. Seriously, it was just fabulous.
Given how intent I was upon having fun, as soon as the seatbelt signs were switched off and entertainment and the bar had been declared open for the night, I immediately ordered a mug full of their twenty year old port wine and then proceeded to watch three and a half films in a row - the very entertaining art heist oldie How to Steal A Million, the almost-75%-boring Down With Love and the lovely Mira Nair drama Vanity Fair. Of course I may be completely off the mark with my opinion of these films but you know how much I love movie time. Most of the passengers went off to sleep but I was wide awake and raring to go. I am never restrains-friendly.
So then London arrived. That of course is technically incorrect. I arrived in London. More formalities and following M's instructions to the T, nearly fainting over the price of a single Heathrow Express ticket to Paddington station, recovering just in time to catch the train and then reaching the station only to cause huge amounts of confusion while attempting to find M at the station.
Me: I am at the Burger King, baby. Burger King!
M: Huh? There is no Burger King, come to the McDonald. McDONALD!
Me: I see a street leading me outside. Maybe I will just head out.
M: No, wait! Don't wander outside.
Me: Oh it will be fine, you see me outside next to, now let me see, yes....Aberdeen Steak House
M: Huh? Where the hell is that? Where the hell are you?
Me: I am here. You know, just....around.
M: Baby, please just tell me where you are. This is insane.
Me: Hmm, ok, ok, let me try again. I see a very nice place here, bakery goodies, croissants and all, it's called Upper Crust. Remember the Upper Crust in Ahmedabad?
M: This is 200 bucks a minute, stay put! I am coming to get you.
Reunion! Much jubilation at seeing the spouse after the longest time.
M took me to where were staying in Oxford Street, very nice location and a very nice area. I dumped my stuff and was itching to get out and see things, conquer cities, explore cultures. And eat. Naturally.
We walked to Oxford Street and then Regent Street and did a spot of window shopping which meant we said yay, what lovely discounts and we must come back tomorrow and buy some stuff. Couple of things were established at this point. One, we would be going home considerably poorer than we had arrived. Two, we were starving.
There were plenty of al fresco dining taking place in the area. It was completely dark when we headed to an Italian restaurant and sat outside. People were milling about at the pub next door, holding their Guiness or beer and hanging out, bitching about their day at work and what a terrible person their boss is. The vivacious waitress took our orders and assured us we would stuffing respective faces soon. A couple of beautiful women came and sat next to us. They were Iranians who lived in the US, they said.
Iranian woman: So what have you guys ordered?
Me: We are vegetarians so just some pasta and things.
Iranian woman (aghast): You don't eat any meat. Where do you get your protein from? Not that you look particularly malnourished...
They were quite friendly and struck up conversations with everyone including the American father-daughter pair sitting on their other side.
Iranian woman: Your daughter is gorgeous!
American father: Yeah, I guess.
Iranian woman, turning to the girl: How old are you? 15?
American girl: Huh? I am 28!
Iranian woman: You don't look it. Are you the youngest in the family? (Because that would have explained everything)
American girl: No! I am the eldest.
Iranian woman: You don't look it.
On our other side, two really old British women came and took their seats. The waitress came to take their orders.
Old woman: How is the house red?
Waitress (displaying an intense, deep knowledge of wines): Good.
Old woman (acknowledging the above): Oh ok then. I will have a glass.
After this refreshing bout of honesty all around, everyone's meals arrived and much chomping followed. The pasta was bland. I didn't like it and left most. Everyone commented on this and I felt I was eating at home. By the time we finished it was already early morning in India and my eyes were drooping. We called it a day.
I woke up at five in the morning the next day and started nudging M and talking to him and not letting him sleep and generally being a pain in the ass. Let's go out, I whined, why are we wasting time indoors. I have married a loon, he grumbled. Somehow I passed two hours to what he would call a decent hour. We had breakfast and read unfamiliar newspapers and then headed out to Hyde Park. Just as we were walking into the park, we saw yesteryear badminton champ and Deepika P's daddy Prakash Padukone and presumably his wife walking out. Both M and I gawped shamelessly at the man and then exclaimed what a star, what a star to each other for ten minutes after he had disappeared from sight. Post this gawkery, we ambled along the lovely park for about two hours, tsk-tsking at people who were sacrificing in the name of fitness, jogging and skating and cycling and other strenuous and wholly unnecessary activities.
M, remembering Mohabbatein. Or Canada.
Turncoat, you scream at me, you swim and run and gym yourself. That my friends, was the Parul of yore. On my way to London, I read in Time magazine, no less that exercise makes you lose absolutely. no. weight. Yeah, that's right. So I am going to be a couch potato to beat all couch potatoes from now on. A whole row of potatoes, even.
No more running-shunning. Only standing still and posing for pictures.
We left Hyde Park once the shops were declared open and then started a flurry of retail therapy that left London reeling. Gap, Zara, Brooks Brothers, Church's Shoes, Hamley Toy Shop and even Accessorize, which I have liked the sound of since Shopaholic, they were all visited and money spent.
Everything on sale. Nothing for free.
Couple time at last, so we obviously go to a toy shop.
Gimme coffee or gimme death. After hours of retail therapy.
Finally, tired, nay, exhausted, we trooped back to put our stuff because it was now time
The concert! What I had travelled a thousand miles for. M had no ticket of course, given that he decided to come along only at the last minute but he came with me to Wembley stadium. I felt a little strange as I said goodbye and made my way indoors. What sort of a person comes for a concert alone? I looked at large groups of happy friends and families that had come together, laughing as they drank large amounts of beer and ate pizza. I made my solitary way to the stand, missing M already and Adi even more and wishing that we were all in this together. Then I was shown out to my seat and as I stepped out into the stand and had my first look at the stadium, I had the shock of my life. There must have been about 90,000 people in that stadium. It was packed! I had never seen so many people together in my life given that I am sort of loser who has never even watched a cricket match live. Oh my god, this is so cool, I said and took my seat. The stage was incredible, the hugest structure ever. It was not called 360 degree for a reason. The view was pretty much equally good from all sides of the stadium. Then the crowds started making Mexican waves and I forgot all about being alone. This is U2! This is me! Me and Bono! When the band finally came on stage, the noise was deafening. The music was incredible and the musicians nothing short of masterful at any point. They held the audience spellbound for almost two hours and unlike the smaller shows that I have been to earlier, it was not just the music that was the enthrallment. It was the lights and the scale and the stage and the larger than life realization that it's U2 and then, there was the music. There is a lot of it available on YouTube already of course so if you want to feel really envious of me, you can catch it here, for one.
My iPhone could not do it justice but some glimpses of the monster stage
What was even more amazing was what happened after the show. I mean, here you have a 100,000 people getting out of a stadium and making their way to a station and all of them hope to catch a train and get home before too long. You expect people to be excited and excitable, unruly and rude and pushy and shovy and all of the abovy. Incredibly though, nothing of the sort happened. All these thousands of people made their way without as much as a 'hurry up, will ya' and then waited for their trains and got into them and left. Incredible. I mean, M and I were all set to use our elbows to nudge our way forward and do as much as RG as was required. Something of a lesson, there and I doff my hat to you all, old chaps for that amazing display of good behaviour.
Right. then. My concert was over. One more tick on the list of life. The next day dawned and fortunately I was able to sleep in a little late. We finished breakfast and headed to the National Gallery of Art. Now, I like the impressionists. They say a lot without saying a lot, if you know what I mean.
A very tired culture vulture.
The gallery had some famous paintings like this one.
The Virgin of the Rocks by Leonardo Da Vinci. It was just our luck that we could not see this one as it was out for a clean-up at that time.
We did however manage to see this.
Sunflowers by Van Gogh. A pretty picture, what?
Whistlejacket, the horse. Stubbs, the painter.
After spending a few hours in the Gallery, we made our way to the Gallery shop from where I bought a few Monet prints for my house, like this one here.
The Gare St-Lazare. God, I love this painting.
One more train journey. Heathrow airport. Terminal 3 appearing like Dadar station at peak hour. More films. More wine. Immigration. The interminable wait for luggage. Walk out of the airport. And then one face shining among hundreds mouthing the words 'Mumma, Daddy' and stretching out his arms. Running towards that child, laughing and almost crying and vowing to never leave him again, knowing that I will.
It's great to go out. It's even better to come back home.