Quarter Life Crisis

The world according to Sven-S. Porst

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Cambridge & London

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As mentioned here a while ago, I had planned a short trip to the UK before christmas to visit both Dan and Chiho and Dave – in Cambridge and London respectively. This being a rather low-budget affair, my flights were courtesy of Ryanair, with the departure being from Erfurt.

Erfurt

Erfurt is a town that’s about one and a half hours (on a slow train) to the east of Göttingen (and which may have made it to the international news because of a school shooting they had two years ago). A nearby town – which translates to a reasonably cheap train ticket and makes it the closest and cheapest Ryanair destination you can reach from Göttingen. Even better – the airport can be reached from the railway station by public transport in less than twenty minutes at a regular bus fee.

The airport is also very small. It looked like it could handle two planes at a time. But they still had a machine around to X-ray our luggage before check-in. I started wondering who’s paying for the policemen who did this. Somehow I suspect that the cheap airlines (and thus also their passengers) abuse public services here for their cheap fares. I also noted that people arrived there rather early. Perhaps it’s just because Ryanair is really strict about not letting you on the plane when you arrive after their deadline – even if the plane is still around. Or it’s because many people went some distance to get there and wanted to be on the safe side. Most people were from the UK, returning home from work or exchange years for christmas; The guy just in front of me in the queue talked a lot and was carrying two mobile phones which I found a bit on the overdone side…

After some more waiting and a short fear that there might be snow which could delay things, off we went on schedule and we actually arrived in Stansted almost half an hour early. That’s almost a third of the travel time, so I do wonder how they made it happen. Perhaps the crew just wanted an early weekend? On the topic of Ryanair I’d also like to mention that their planes looked very new and also more cheap than the last time I went with them. They have their company-yellow on the inside as well now – which looks crappy –, you can’t recline the seats as they lack the mechanism for this and they don’t even have those little magazine-pockets. The security leaflet is simply stuck on the back of the seat in front of you.

Well, never mind those things. I’m not flying to places to sit stylishly on the way. While legroom was really short, I was lucky to get a seat at the emergency exit, despite being among the last people to enter the plane. It seemed like the stewardess had stood there and blocked it before I arrived. Nice. The flight was unspectacular,

Cambridge

Due to our early arrival, Dan wasn’t there to pick me up when I had picked up my luggage. So I had time to get some pounds out of the cash machine and once I found him, we hurried to get out of the parking within the 15 minute limit which meant we didn’t have to pay for it. We went to his parents’ house close to Cambridge and had dinner there – his mum made salmon in bacon from one of the Naked Chef cookbooks which was really nice and I’ll have to remember – before going to town, for the cinema.

Due to some wrong time information we were too late to see the film we initially wanted to see and saw Bad Santa instead – which, seeing that I dislike christmas and comedies, I was at least mildly sceptical about. But that wasn’t necessary. The film was quite enjoyable, with Billy Bob Thornton playing a messed-up misbehaving and mostly drunk Santa impersonator who likes robbing the stores he works in. And still ends up being a mildly good person. Definitely a christmas film I can recommend.

The end of the film was shortly after pub closing time. Which made the town a bit appalling, even on the short walk to the parking lot, with many rough and drunk people being around. Having visited Cambridge mostly at daytime so far, this may have destroyed the illusion created by the fancy old buildings and nice bookstores that the town may be any better than Coventry, say. I was also reminded that I’ve been re-Europeanised by now, finding that girls wearing short skirts in the middle of December aren’t normal but look like tarts (though, mostly overweight ones…).

On Sunday we then went to town again and did some shopping (hooray, Sunday shopping!) for christmas presents, which worked very well. It wasn’t too crowded and we found most things we wanted for other people – and a few things for ourselves as well. There was also time for an ostrich burger (which is probably a good idea as mincing and grilling it may be a good way to cover up the ostrich meat’s inferiority to beef) and a pint before we went back to pursue further procrastination.

London

On Monday, after breakfast, good-byes and forgetting my Powerbook’s power adaptor, I went to London by train. I decided to leave my bag at the railway station, so I could move more freely through town. This cost a ridiculous £5 for a day, but was nonetheless a good idea. Having an afternoon to spend I decided to first go somewhere to the city centre and think I randomly ended up at Oxford Street (I think). Which was horrible. It was so packed that all I could do was go with the stream of people and move the same way that they did.

I first passed a NatWest bank which I decided to escape into. I still have an account with them (who probably qualify for a ‘worst online banking experience’ award) and haven’t spoken to them for the past years. So I thought it’d be good to check whether that’s a problem. Luckily they don’t mind, don’t charge for the account and told me there’s no need to worry, which is nice. And which could be convenient in case I return to the UK. I did return my credit card, though. I haven’t used it in ages and thought it’s probably more likely to cause me some trouble by being stolen or something than to be of any use. Having thought about this since, I’m not sure this was a good idea. Apparently I had more than £1500 credit on that free credit card which was backed by an empty account. That’s by far more than I have on my free German credit card which is backed by actual money. Perhaps another hint at how the whole credit thing plays a different role in different countries.

Trying to find a way out of this, I saw that there was the new London Apple Store on the other side of the road. So I had to go and have a look. And I think it’s nice and quite huge. But there were so many people in there that it wasn’t really enjoyable. Even with Apple’s generous spacing in there, I couldn’t walk around comfortably. I still managed to get my first ‘real world’ glances at the iMac G5 which looks nice but could be a little bit thinner, particularly in the large version and the 30” display which I found disturbingly large. Can you actually work on a screen of this size? Will turning your head be enough to look from the left to the right or will more body movement be needed? That would be inconvenient but Apple could advertise it as a ‘health’ benefit.

And I wanted to use that opportunity to have a ‘Genius’ look at my iPod. It opened on the side a few weeks ago and I can’t close it by just pressing the part of the case that is affected. After my previous experiences with Apple’s customer service in Germany, I wasn’t too keen on sending it to them without a clear idea about what is going to happen and whether I could do it myself, so I figured that asking someone in person with the option of him being able to fix it, might be a good idea for both me and Apple. (Not that I care too much about the latter.)

The disappointment was that the displays said that you had to make an appointment to get some help and that the earliest one you could get was four hours away. That kind of destroys the appeal of the whole ‘Genius’ thing. Luckily there was also a girl walking around and asking for our needs and she said that the iPod guy (or so) just had a minute, so I could get help almost right away. Nice. Apparently he had seen that kind of opening before and said it had to be fixed but they couldn’t do it. He recommended that I phone the help line and send it in (which I’ve done by now, after a long phone call with a very patient person on the phone where we had to work around the fact that my iPod was bought as a christmas present last year and technically the warranty had expired a few days before I made the call). While this didn’t solve the problem, at least I know now that this is a real problem that I can’t fix myself.

After that I strolled around some more, trying to use slightly smaller streets, looking at some records, sandwiches and a 無印良品 store on the way. I quite like the stuff they sell as it’s plain and simple and without any branding on it. I got another long sleeve shirt and some office stuff. Too bad they don’t have stores in Germany yet.

In all those processes, I must have managed to lose my Underground travelcard, so I had to buy a new ticket to get to Chiho and Dave’s place where I spent a nice evening with them, being able to catch up on all the news and having a fun Japanese meal which simply consisted of fish, meat and vegetables that are served raw and then boiled in a pot that sits on the table before being eaten with some sauce and rice. Very simple and nice.

Tate Modern

As I still had most of the day before having to be at the airport on Tuesday but I didn’t want to go through shopping hell again, I went to Tate Modern once more. I think I’ve visited it every time I was in London since it opened. And I still like it. It’s always good to see the stuff you’ve already seen again. As they seem to slightly variate the exhibition over time, these re-visits actually extend the context you see. The Rothko room is still my favourite and I remain strangely attracted by that blue Yves Klein painting. They also have that Boccioni statue which I thought I last saw at the MoMA exhibition in Berlin and which decorates the back of the Italian 20 cent coin. And I – perhaps unsurprisingly – like the somewhat geometric works.

After looking at all those things and having an espresso in the seventh floor café, looking over the Thames right at St. Paul’s, it was already quite late and I didn’t have enough time to look at the special exhibitions. Time is always flying. I did walk through the non-visual thing in the turbine hall, though, which I liked and though was well done. Talking about that, I find that some modern artists don’t seem to be good at actually creating their works. Some drawings just seem rough, unfinished or even untalented. And I don’t like them. How are they better at pointing out something than a text, say, if the most obvious thing about them is that they’re not well done? The same goes for some films which are often projected to large walls in galleries. At that size it usually shows if you’re using a crappy camcorder or can’t handle the equipment. Artists should put in some more effort there. Oh, and while I’m complaining, I still don’t like the stuff by Beuys.

I didn’t buy anything in the shop this time, but I was tempted… they had nice and simple Picasso drawings of animals as posters which I hadn’t seen before. But starting to think where I could hang it put me off the plan of buying one.

Finish

After that I picked up my bag (as not to pay another day-rate for just an hour of storage or so) and then met Dave for a final coffee at the Bank of England. I managed to be late for that as the Bank underground stop seems to exit to the Monument one as well and I ended up in the completely wrong place. We still managed to have a coffee though. As Dave is working at the Bank of England, he’s probably the only person I know who actually has a sound reason to oppose the Euro: Security of his own job. He’ll also be one of the few people who say (admit) that it’s probably impossible to tell whether introducing the currency will have advantages or not. (While reading the papers, it seems that everybody happily opposes having a new currency for no particular reason but tries to find ‘good reasons’ for that.)

Afterwards, I got on the train to Stansted and caught my plane back. This time to Lübeck. The flight was half an hour late, which apparently is rare for the hyper-efficient Ryanair. This made me arrive in Lübeck around 11 and finally in Hamburg, by bus, around 12 where I stayed at Richard’s place for the night as there. I hadn’t seen him for some time as well and could look at his new flat. On Wednesday I then went to my parents’ place in Bremen.

P.S. Counting shows that this means I used seven different ways of public transport in 24 hours: Underground in London, train to Stansted, plane to Lübeck, bus to Hamburg, underground in Hamburg, train to Bremen, bus in Bremen.

December 22, 2004, 23:03

Tagged as country:uk, travel, UK.

Comments

Comment by Richard: User icon

Ah, London. That Yves Klein Blue does not look correct on my monitor! :-)

December 24, 2004, 22:31

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