Friday, June 18, 2010

London, Day 2


The next morning we managed to sleep in just a touch, to about 7:30. Progress. We decided to spend the day in Chelsea. On the list: Harrods, Lebanese Food With Jenny, the Science Museum, and Dinner At A Gastro-Pub With Jenny And Pricey.

We got lost on the way to Harrods because I forgot which color represents north on a compass and guessed wrong. We only ended up about ten minutes out of our way, however (practice for Florence), and arrived at Harrods in time for a good romp through the food halls, which were totally awesome. Harrods is the Tiffany of food. They sold chocolate shoes!

I repeat. Chocolate shoes!

Aside from chocolate shoes they sold all sorts of fancy items that are hard to get most places, like passion fruits and foie gras. The pastries were really beautiful. Sophie was drooling. We didn’t buy anything both because we were about to eat lunch with Jenny and because we wanted to have some money left for the rest of the trip. The prices were, well, less than reasonable. Like Tiffany. Minus the magical blue box.  But they did have incredibly tempting biscuit-like scones at the bakery.

Lunch was at Al-Dar II with Jenny and Griffin. The food was really delicious all around, but I made the terrible mistake of ordering the “spicy salad.” Let me tell you: never order “spicy salad” at a Lebanese restaurant. The Lebanese are serious about their spicy food. At first glance it was a normal salad. Lettuce, onion, tomato, olive oil, a bit a of lemon… but peppered throughout were thousands upon thousands of fresh green chili seeds. Now, if you know anything about the anatomy of a chili, you know that the seeds themselves don’t actually produce any capsaicin, but they are attached to the most capsaicin-laden part of the plant: that white membrane on the sides of the pepper. And these peppers must have ranked about sixty gazillion Scoville units, so it was sort of like the seeds had been rubbed down by a fiery goddess of chili spice. In spite of all this, I forced myself to eat the whole thing (I was paying for it, after all). Sophie wouldn’t touch it. The mouth-blisters weren’t worth it to her.

Griffin is an extremely pleasant lunch-mate. He only ever has two things to say. One of them sounds like the word “shush,” but apparently can mean anything from the word “juice” to the word “more.” The other word is “yeah.” Sitting across from Griffin works out a lot like this: “SHUSH SHUSH SHUSH SHUSH SHUSH SHUSH SHUSH, SHUSH SHUSH SHUSH: SHUSH SHUSH SHUSH SHUSH yeah.” The rest of the time he’s drinking juice like it’s the best thing he’s ever had. And you know what? He’s two years old. Maybe it is.

After lunch Sophie and I decided to go to the science museum. Science museums tend to be hit or miss, as you may or may not know. They tend to fall in one of two categories: boring and not-boring. Luckily, the London version is not boring, and on top of that, it’s free! Socialists.

The very first room you walk into contains about ten giant nineteenth-century steam engines that each have little computers with moving diagrams that explain to you how they work. Sophie, not being of the boy persuasion, breezed through the exhibit in about five minutes. “Engines!” she thought. “Huh!.” I, on the other hand, had a pressing need to understand exactly how each steam engine worked, so that I could build one if I ever really needed to.

“Oh!” I thought. “The steam goes in there.” My favorite piece of engineering was the type of governor the later engines used to regulate the steam supply and prevent blowout. The engine’s rotational motion was transferred to a little thing that had two weights connected to a valve. As the engine sped up, the two weights’ distance from the rotating shaft would increase (like an ice skater), partially shutting the steam valve. As the engine slowed down, the opposite would happen. In this way a feedback loop was set up that mostly kept the engine at a certain speed, depending on how the governor was tuned. Look it up. It’s really clever and exciting in a very dull kind of way.

This particular science museum also had a pretty giant hands-on section. For you Alaskans, it was like a giant Imaginarium. Unfortunately, it was densely populated by about a hundred fourteen-year old English schoolboys who were trying desperately to break everything in the room when we arrived. The museum people anticipated the presence of schoolboys, of course, and so built everything in the room out of forged steel, but they were noisy and not very accommodating and so Sophie and I decided to browse the museum’s rather large medical history exhibit. I won’t bore you with any of the details. Instead I’ll show you a picture of this castle, made entirely out of pills.

For dinner, Pricey and Jenny had hired a babysitter so we could all go out to a gastro-pub in Chelsea. Since I’ve forgotten the name of the place, and Sophie and I conveniently forgot to take pictures, I am not very motivated to tell you about the meal in detail. The highlights were:

Sophie’s obligatory Pimm’s and Lemonade,

My pea mousse,

And the sticky toffee pudding that we all shared for dessert. Yum.

Rest of night uneventful. Next up: traveling to Cork for the Midsummer Festival and being told off by Mike Daisey.


  1. A castle of pharmaceuticals!!! A scone as big as your head!!! Toilet paper made from the softest kittens!!! Rogue monologists!!! Why, oh, why would you ever leave Ireland???

  2. Oops, I mean Ireland AND England of course ;-)

  3. I hope your post-Europe plans include building a steam engine.