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August 19, 2011

Travels with Gordie: In Search of Britain, Part 2

by drivingfarce

We were welcomed into Brian’s home at Lancaster Gate and were shown around the flat. There was a lovely sitting room, furnished with rather lavish furniture that was a bit past its prime. A formal dining room was located off the sitting room, dark and unused—yet well-stocked with tall bottles of unopened liquor. A small kitchen offered a bright contrast to the rest of the living quarters; its tiny appliances proved to be equal parts utility and novelty. Brian’s room was in the corner. Gordon and I would be staying in the spare bedroom at the end of the hall, conveniently located next to a large bathroom.

There were still two rooms left unexplored. “Oh, that’s Dieter’s bathroom and his bedroom. Please don’t go in there.” I was perplexed and a bit miffed. Here I was, being the best friend I knew how by intruding on his Canadian hospitality, and he had the audacity to refuse me entry into the rest of his home! He went on to explain. “This is actually Dieter’s flat and I act as a sort of roommate/caretaker. Dieter has schizophrenia. Don’t worry; he’s not a danger to anyone. I’m just here to keep tabs on him.” As we took our bags back to our room, we passed the semi-closed door to the forbidden bathroom. My curiosity got the best of me and I looked in through the crack. I saw shower curtain withdrawn to expose the bathtub, but instead of seeing towels drying on the rung I saw a large, foldable drying rack full of black dress socks. There must have been two dozen pairs hanging there, the air drying them to the crisp stiffness of cold English toast. Intriguing…

Dieter arrived home several hours later. He was an older gentleman, of average height and build; his full head of hair had greyed with the passing years. He bore a slight resemblance to Sam Waterston. Brian made the introductions, and we were greeted with a soft, squishy handflop (honed over years of staying tirelessly idle in Kensington) and a pleasant “Oh, hello!” Everything seemed quite normal about him, but he did look a bit tired. Dieter retreated to his room. We didn’t see him anymore that night.

The next morning I was up bright and early in order to view the World Cup game on the telly. Mindful of my setting, I kept the volume down to barely a whisper. As the half approached I sensed some movement in the hallway. From the shadows of the doorframe emerged Dieter, still looking tired, with hair disheveled and donning a pair of those black socks. His white Oxford shirt was perfectly buttoned, with the shirt tails delicately covering his bare genitals. He took two steps into the room, rubbed his eyes, and let out a slow sigh. He thought for a moment or two, considering the situation. Then he turned and slowly trudged back from whence he came, the bottom of the shirt covering the bottom of Dieter. I sensed that it was not his nudity, nor my presence that made him leave the room. It appeared as though he simply forgot something, like sleep. Dieter retreated to his room. We didn’t see him anymore that day.

The next day we toured the infamous Tower of London, taking in all the sights and stories that the Beefeaters were kind enough to share. It was overcast and rainy, fitting for such a damp and dreary castle filled with stories that were even bleaker than the weather. Deep within the castle were a few pleasant surprises that I was unprepared for. First, we discovered the wonder that is King Henry VIII’s battle armor. While I’m sure it never saw field service, it was an impressive bit of kit due to its sheer size and proportions. Secondly, I never expected to find the queen’s jewels to be housed in the Tower. I always assumed that they stayed with her, in Buckingham. Regardless, they are a magnificent sight, countless jewels of all sorts of colors. The crown jewel was, in fact, the crown jewel, casting beams of light in seemingly every direction with pinpoint clarity. In fact, the only thing more impressive in this regard was the disco ball from First Class on the Virgin Atlantic flight.

We walked along the Thames, from the Tower fortress, taking in the mighty Tower Bridge before heading for the Tube to get back home. Upon entering the terminal to make our transfer to first the grey line, then the red, I was struck at how absolutely enormous the station was. We emerged deep within the bowels of the city, jostling our way through the thick rush-hour crowds just to keep up with Brian.

Eventually, we made our way to the foot of the largest escalator that I had ever seen. We kept left in order to allow others less relaxed than us to pass us on the right. After seemingly several minutes on the escalator steps, it leveled out ,and we were thrust into the teeming mayhem as hundreds of people darted this way, then that. I kept my eye on the back of Gordon’s head as he was hot on the heels of Brian. Suddenly, all three of us found ourselves right in front of a rather bewildered-looking gentleman. He turned to us and, before any formalities could be exchanged, asked in a calm tone, “Have you seen my hat?”

“No, Dieter, I haven’t. Sorry.” Brian replied, with the sympathy and remorse that only a Canadian could muster. (Gordon and I took the safe American approach of standing there, dumbfounded.)

“Oh…..right.” Dieter said, now even sadder and more dejected. As he turned to head off, his slumped shoulders reminded me of Charlie Brown. I fully expected Vince Guaraldi’s “Young Man’s Fancy” to be played over the station’s PA system.

Out of all the tube stations in all of London, of all moments of the day, of all the escalators to stand in front of, Dieter had found us there. Gordon noted the peculiarity of the situation as Dieter disappeared back into the city of 7.5 million other people, still searching for his elusive fedora.

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