Friday, September 28, 2012

Luke and tilly abroad once more

I've been in the UK since Tuesday, and Til will be joining me next Monday!

Because I know what I'm like, I headed to the airport about three hours early and just spent the extra time reading Cloud Atlas (I wanted to reread it before Til and I see the film in New York; plus I read it last time I was in Europe, so it feels right). Coincidentally, my US Literature lecturer from my last semester of uni, Dr John Bolin, sat down across from me at the terminal. We had a chat and it turned out he was off to London to give a paper during UOW's mid-semester break. Til joked that I should've said, 'Oh yes, I know, I'm going to London to hear you speak.'

Our flights were only about two thousand dollars to go from Sydney to London, London to New York and New York back to Sydney, which had some unexpected repercussions, one of which was that we're flying 'the wrong way', via San Francisco instead of South East Asia. I was happy, though, 'cause San Francisco is more exciting than, you know ... Bangkok.

But the cheapness of the flights along with some other factors did mean the journey over wasn't quite as heavenly as last time. I was scolded at every step for my tatty passport, with people incredulously asking me what happened to it in Australian, American and British accents along the way. In the US I was actually sent to the 'secondary' customs room to be questioned, (tellingly) the only caucasian in a room full of Middle-Easterners and Asians. I know it's a bit grubby, but surely it's not that bad?

(I blurred out my details ... It doesn't actually look like that haha).

Worse than the mild threat of being refused entry due to an unkempt passport was the fact that the Sydney–San Francisco flight was delayed by an hour (due to a mechanical defect!), which had a knock-on effect of causing everyone to miss their connections. Worse still was the moment in the plane when I looked up from Cloud Atlas and realised there was no TV screen in the back of the seat in front of me. Instead there was, horror of horrors, A SHARED SCREEN. I didn't know they still did that on long flights. Furthermore, I was in the middle seat, which guaranteed no elbowroom or rest for the twelve hours to San Francisco (#FirstWorldProblems, much?).

My horror of the shared screen turned out to be justified, though. The programmers seemed to be determined to pick the worst, most banal, inoffensive, lowest-common-denominator movies possible (averaging a somewhat generous IMDb score of 5.6). The first was, as they say, the worst. Surely the most B-grade Diane Keaton movie ever made, Darling Companion, about a family who loses their dog, 'Freeway', the point of which seemed to be 'forget about logic, reason and rationality and HAVE FAITH!' Among other ridiculous plotlines was the gypsy who kept urging everyone not to 'lose faith' in finding the dog. Just absurd. When it finished I heard the young guy behind me say as much to the guy next to him and I actually turned around to agree vigorously.

Next up was Battleship, which I started watching, hopeful it was something good. But as soon as Rihanna made her first appearance, I threw my headphones off in melodramatic disgust. The best of the three came last, and it says more about the shittiness of the previous two than anything about its own quality that it was the most enjoyable – a recent Zac Efron affair also heavy in dog-related plotlines, The Lucky One.

It was beautifully shot, but almost too beautifully. Like, twee beautiful, nowhere more apparent than in the nature porn in the thoroughly vestigial opening, wherein Efron seems to try to find a way to jam every imaginable cliche into a single burst of narration in a lame attempt to frame the story. It turns out that Efron incarnates the strong, silent type as a sensitive, chivalrous, chess- and piano-playing philosopher–soldier who's good with kids and animals, looks like a model, and inexplicably knows how to fix boats and tractors. Not being an androphile, I think I missed out on what was meant to constitute a large part of the film's appeal. If anything his unrealistic perfection was just irritating.

And he doesn't really have to do anything as an actor. He just has to be this morally infallible, characterless, emotionless, stony-faced ideal. I suspect this is the best way to capitalise on his prettiness – let the female lead do all the hard acting work while just looks at her sullenly, eyes asparkle. I'm reminded of the David Stratton quote I've referenced here before: 'Efron, who proved he could act in Me and Orson Welles, isn't called upon to do much here except divest himself of his shirt and blink tears from his beautiful blue eyes.' Thankfully this film resisted the urge to get Efron shirtless at any point, although I thought his setting up in a decrepit old house was a sure sign of an impending sweaty, painting and cleaning and hammering montage.

I ended up having something like seven hours to wait in San Francisco, and I really wanted to go and see something, so I Google-mapped it and it looked like there was a park right near the airport, which sounded great, since it was beautiful Californian weather. I had no way to really orientate myself as to where I was on the map, though – whereabouts in the airport I was and which direction I'd have to go in to get to the park, let alone whether I could walk there or if I'd have to get a taxi or bus. I gave it a go, though, unsuccessfully, and when I came back to the airport asked an information guy for directions, and he didn't seem to think there were any parks around.

So I consigned myself to hanging around the airport using its free wifi and spending the meal vouchers United Airlines gave me as recompense for the delayed flight. It was weird being in the US, even if only at the airport and if only for a few hours. Every black person I saw I did a double-take because I kept on thinking they were celebrities (I suppose because the only contact I've had with black Americans is through TV and movies). I also constructively purchased an Australia–US adaptor and a lot of US cash.

Getting into the Cali spirit.

My second flight was much better. It had individual screens and I was in the window exit-row seat, pretty much the best one in economy (I think the lady who seated me liked me 'cause I was polite and her previous guy had been an ass). Despite the fact that I was literally falling asleep with my head resting on my hand and then waking up when it slipped off while waiting in the airport terminal, once I got on the plane I somehow woke right up.

The young guy seated next to me looked interesting, and he was reading Henry James, which was a plus in my book, so I tried to start a conversation with him, but he kind of shut me down. Then, of all the movies and TV shows available, he watched Dial M for Murder, which in itself of course is fine and good, but that in combination with the Henry James and the snub made me wonder if he was just up himself.

I got a lot of sleep on the second flight, which was good. It was also fun listing my main occupation on the entry card as 'editor' rather than 'student'. The guy in UK customs made me show him my business card as proof, though. Evidently I still look the student. I guess I was wearing my UEA jumper ...

Once in London, I topped my Oyster card up like a pro while English-accented women next to me struggled. At Paddington Station I bonded with the Asian-American woman who had coincidentally been sitting on the other side of the Henry James elitist on the plane, as well as a young Welshwoman flight attendant named Kia, over how surprisingly difficult it can be to know which train to get on to go to Victoria. 

I guided Kia to Victoria Coach Station, but my bus to Norwich was still about four hours away, so I went to Starbucks and then the nearest pub to pass the time, then wandered back through some very pretty (Pimlico?) streets to get back to the station, where I struck up another conversation with an Essaxon surfer who I was sure was Australian. He said he gets that a lot.

As soon as my four-pound bus got in I rushed to the backseat so I could stretch out and sleep the whole way. I got there at around eleven, forty-seven hours after I left the flat in Wollongong. My accommodation here is right next door to a big Catholic cathedral which people call 'fake' because it's only around a century old. When I first arrived the guy I talked to could obviously not be bothered dealing with me, which made it even worse when the code he gave me to access my room didn't work and I had to go back and check it with him. 'Is it sixty, sixty-six, sixty?', I asked him, to which he replied that it was. I said I'd been trying that and it hadn't worked, but that I'd go back and try again. To no avail. I had to bother him a third time and get him to do it for me, which he did huffily, getting it on the first try. I noticed that he'd done sixty, sixty, sixty, though, which is not what he'd told me. Take a look at the indecipherable slip of paper he gave me and tell me I'm to blame, especially after he mistakenly confirmed that the middle number was '66':

In what universe does this say '60 60 60'?

And then I flopped onto my bed and went to sleep. I think the nature of the journey was such that I essentially just skipped a night of sleep and then started following UK time, so I haven't been too battered by jetlag at all. Woke up the next morning at 5:50am, which is of course unprecedented for me, but not outside the realms of normality for awakening times. Sam tells me jetlag gives you permanent brain damage, though, which is a nice thought to leave you with. My next post will detail what I've been up to since arriving in Norwich, and promises to be mildly more amusing than this one!


  1. hey! don't bag Zac Efron. he da man.
    also, what did happen to your passport?

    1. My drivers license expired and I had to take it with me everywhere as ID, so it got a little battered. Also possibly went through the wash. And French customs guards are rough.