BlathrWayne Lorentz

Blathring in September, 1997.

Saturday, September 6th, 1997 Alive 9,629 days

Good news: The toiletries I bought at Harrodʼs work. Bad news: I didnʼt get up early enough to be first into the shared bathroom. Maybe I shouldnʼt have left my headboard tuned to classical music all night.

The soap is unremarkable, but the shampoo is great. Instead of coming in a cheap plastic tube like Iʼm used to, it comes in a tall, slender ceramic bottle with a metal screw-on cap. Very classy. The bottle is the same off-yellow/mustard color as my hotelʼs carpeting, but the label is a bit more orangish. It proclaims “Geo F. Trumper” which has apparently been around for over a hundred years.

In another surprise, the shampoo isnʼt a thick, viscous goo like American shampoo. It comes out freely, like water. But a tiny capful still lathers up as vigorously as a handful of American stuff. Iʼm starting to think that Iʼm paying for a bunch of filler when I buy Suave at home.

Todayʼs task: See London without being seen. Dianaʼs funeral is today, and Iʼm not sure what to expect from a nation in mourning. I expect lots of things will be closed, so itʼs probably a good day to go to parks and squares and other outdoor places.

❖ ❖ ❖

Friday, September 5th, 1997 Alive 9,628 days

I went to Harrodʼs today. Not because Iʼm fancy, but because the rooming house Iʼm staying in doesnʼt have toiletries. In fact, I donʼt even have my own toilet. I have to use a shared bathroom down the hall from me, like in a dorm or a youth hostel.

One benefit of being excited about being in a new country for the first time is that I woke up early and was able to shower before anyone else stirred. But I donʼt have any soap or shampoo with me, so Iʼm relying on cold water and Right Guard to keep me socially acceptable.

I picked Harrodʼs as my first destination because it advertises “Omnia Omnibus Ubique,” which means “Everything for everyone everywhere.” Well, Iʼm someone and somewhere, so it made sense to see if it really has “everything.”

Good news: It does.

Right on the ground floor near the entrance I found a little wood-paneled salon featuring menʼs grooming supplies. I picked up a bar of very normal-looking soap, which was a relief because I was afraid of a repeat of the Budapest red soap issue. I also got a bottle of shampoo. I picked it because Iʼm not going to be in London for a month, and it was the smallest bottle.

Harrodʼs is clearly a special place. All of the salespeople were very nice and attentive. They were also super patient with me, and happy to cash my American Express travelerʼs checks. But there is a sadness at Harrodʼs. I couldnʼt quite put my finger on it until I came across the central escalator area. There, between the up and down options was a gilded easel with a big portrait of Princess Diana on it. People were standing around, seemingly at a loss for what to do. It was so quiet, you could hear the hum-clack hum-clack of the escalators — not something that happens in department stores.

A few people had violated the velvet rope barrier to lay flowers on the floor, and I imagine if the easel was of the correct height, they lay where her feet would have been.

I wonder if thatʼs why London seems… less vibrant than I thought it might be. I wasnʼt expecting New York, but I wasnʼt expecting a place as quiet as Vienna. Iʼm sure not everyone feels the same about what happened, but if enough people feel a certain way, itʼs contagious, and can cast a subconscious pall over a city. I should try to be more patient with my mustachioed hostess, and perhaps more grateful for the Harrodʼs store clerks demonstrating their British stiff upper lip. Time to make myself inconspicuous.

❖ ❖ ❖

Thursday, September 4th, 1997 Alive 9,627 days

My hotel is… not quite what I expected it to be. But at the same time, it is familiar because I have been known to watch British shows on PBS.

Itʼs less of a “hotel” and more like a “rooming house.”

It looks like a converted brownstone, like the ones I know from Brooklyn. The main entrance brings you immediately into what can only be described as a shabby living room about the size of a small bedroom. Thereʼs a decrepit television teetering on a spindly-legged television cart. The cart is firmly embedded in what was once yellow shag carpeting, but is now a mustard-colored fluff with goat paths revealing the backing. The perimeter of the living room (I guess “sitting room” is the correct term) is lined with the kind of overstuffed armchairs you often see next to trash cans on the side of the road.

At the (not very) far end of the living room, a hole has been cut into the wall and thereʼs a counter with a small magazine and a lady with a better-formed mustache than I will ever produce. Whatever the British equivalent of an unlit Lucky Strike hangs from the corner of her mouth. Sheʼs not interested in my credit card, she wants British pounds, but we settle on American Express travelerʼs checks because thatʼs what I have, and I donʼt think sheʼs in a position to turn down someone staying as long as I am. I think I overpaid, but like with Grumpy Grammarian at the train station, I just have to take her word for it.

The room is fine. Itʼs not up to American standards, but I didnʼt expect it to be. However, itʼs not up to Austrian standards, either. I guess the same way a hotel in Mingo County, West Virginia isnʼt going to be of the same standard as one in Bucks County, Pennsylvania. Still, this is London, so I expected it to look a little less like a 2am black-and-white movie.

Itʼs arranged galley-style, meaning deep and narrow. At the far end is a window. It doesnʼt open, and isnʼt clean enough for me to see through. For all I know, it may have a direct view into the private doings at Buckingham Palace. But more likely, itʼs a well-lit brick wall.

The bed is oddly narrow, like a college dorm bed. And thereʼs a radio conveniently built into the headboard. It has two knobs. One for power/volume. The other turns to positions labeled 1, 2, 3, and 4. Station 1 seems to be all about the weather in places Iʼve never heard of; which makes sense since Iʼve learned from PBS that the Brits are obsessed with the weather. Station 2 plays Duran Duran. Station 3 is classical music. Station 4 doesnʼt seem to work.

There is no television in the room. I guess Iʼm supposed to watch TV in the sitting room downstairs. Iʼll try to remember to bring a newspaper with me, because it appears the correct way to watch TV in a British boarding house is to lay back as far as you can and put a newspaper over your face while you snore.

❖ ❖ ❖