London: Bamia and Allen Keys, Part I

Posted on April 1, 2014



I just returned from an eight-day trip to London to visit friends and to not be in Egypt. It passed in the briefest of milliseconds, and here I am coated in exhaust again, obsessively tugging my top up and down in order to avoid attracting harassment, and reading about boundless streams of state murders. Anyhoo.


My flight there was largely uneventful, except for encountering a family friend who was leaving Egypt for good with his wife. Of course. I congratulated them and moved on to counting the disproportionately large number of women at the gate in “Spanish-style” hijabs in preparation for trying to blend in in England. I pity these women and the fairly pathetic outcome of their struggle with competing pressures. But they’re less sad then the ones going with the snowcap-and-scarf combo. Ladies, your insecurities are visible to all. 


Note to Heathrow and England at large: what is the point of the commonwealth countries if citizenship thereof does not involve some kind of border fast track? Huh?


As soon as I stepped out into the frigid air I felt care slipping off my shoulders onto the unfamiliarly even and spacious pavement. Waiting at the bus stop and everywhere else I was invisible, and it was glorious. Eye contact with passing men was permissible, brief, harmless, and unconnected to either of our sexual organs. It was so freeing I didn’t even mind immediate and unending exposure to my top two peeves, Cold and Carrying Unwieldy Heavy Objects Especially on Public Transportation.  These are also the top two reasons I moved to Egypt and continue to live here, as longtime readers will know. I’m a spoiled little asshole like that. Normally I happily part with vast sums to avoid experiencing either peeve, but I had already been forced to pledge all my future descendants to the public transport system in order to obtain an aptly named Oyster card. London is a rich man’s New York, I observed to myself (creatively and originally).


Many hours later I arrived at the residence of my host near Wimbledon, best friend and Egypt escapee the Singer (better nickname in progress. Not that there is much that is anonymous about the blog anymore). Other friends were expected from other parts of Europe: Joy, Dreamy Brown Man and his wife D. Hugs were dispensed all around. These three people remained basically the only non-Egyptians I hung out with throughout my visit. But since they all speak it we were able to carry on shouting profanity loudly in Arabic in the time-honoured tradition of Egyptians abroad, all over London.


The Singer went off to a rehearsal and Joy and I made our way to Leicester Square to meet another Egyptian friend, Beard Teeth. I only grant him this appellation because these were the first two words that popped into my head when I imagined his face, not because his beard looks like teeth or his teeth look beardy. Sorry dude. Numerous misdirections and cogitations later we had mediocre Indian food (Gopal’s of India) and met the Singer at the Carlisle Arms. We ordered drinks and I began examining a portly middle-aged man standing at the bar. He had a feathered mullet and was wearing a dark wifebeater topped jauntily by a beige scarf tied at the neck in a quite effeminate loop; but the reason he caught my eye is that he had a large tattoo on his upper arm of what appeared to be, to my amazement, St. Paul’s Cathedral.


I drew Beard Teeth’s attention to this and he speculated that it looked more like Capitol Hill (!!) We duly took bets and Beard Teeth went off to verify, returning with the intelligence that it was in fact St. Paul’s Cathedral, that Capitol Hill was a close second for which we were to be congratulated, but without anything in the form of a reason for the selection of an arbitrary house of worship as a permanent visible decoration. Did he sing in the choir? I burned with curiosity but since the portly gent asked me later on with great interest whether I was Portuguese I just nodded at him while backing away in the accepted manner of (youngish) women approached by fat drunks the world over. That pub had phenomenal music and non-skeezy bartenders who actually noticed customers trying to get their attention. It’s a thousand times more than what I’ve grown used to (and either way I would have lost the approximate value of a kidney buying drinks).


Then of course we had to execute the “Londoner’s Hustle” and throng into the underground for the last tube. The very idea of being forced home by mere transportation considerations blows my motherfucking mind, but since I now also keep Cinderella hours in Cairo out of well-founded fear of being abused by one of the million checkpoints I suppose it’s not much different. Thanks for killing one of the few remaining advantages of Cairo, dickwads. As we walked to the Singer’s house along the silent cold terraces Beard Teeth blurted out with palpable relief, “I should tell you this since I know you’re all nerds. I have a public library card in Reading and I go there all the time and borrow the shit out of those books!” A chorus of reassuring assents followed declaiming the genius of lending libraries and the countries that have them and the lack of shame attendant on their patronage. Ghetto-ass libraries are one of the two things I miss most about Canada. The other is hotdogs. Now I have had to become the world’s best ebook pirate and ebook-dropbox-networker. Hashtag developing world blues.  


Then we arrived, meeting Dreamy Brown Man and D at the door, and I feel asleep embarrassingly early on the couch as chatter swirled loudly around me. This is how every evening I spend out ends, in case you didn’t know. I maintain that I could represent Egypt in the Sleep Olympics (the details of which I have painstakingly worked out in my head and may one day be the subject of an entire post).


Um, this might be one of eight posts about that trip. This is because I took notes. Brace yourselves.     


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