Red Eye to London

December 1st, 2013 § 2 comments § permalink

Last Friday, I bought a return ticket to/from London on a whim, and by 10:30 that night, I was at the Buchanan bus station queuing up to board an 8-hour sleeper, the online receipt in my hand still warm from the printer. And when I say “queue,” well, “queueueueueueue” would be a better visual approximation. I was instantly weary at the prospect of the long night ahead in full single-decker. I knew I could have easily snagged train tickets for the same £50, if I’d purchased them 12 weeks ago. But for those who lack foresight (ie: me), there’s the National Express.

As I sat by the window, who decided to take the seat next to mine–but the most Glaswegian person I have met in my three months here. What does the most Glaswegian person I have ever met (and I’ve seen a few; I live in Glasgow) look like? He’s a pale, fidgety 19-year-old skinny kid in an oversized gray hoodie, baggy track pants, and when he spoke, it was tae offer me Irn Bru (a Scottish soft drink as orange as his hair), a Mars bar (raw; it is necessary only in Scotland to specify) in the theckest Glaswegian (“born and bred,” he said) accent. We chatted for a bit, and it was revealed that he was going to London for a boxing match.

“You won’t tell on me, will ya?” he said as he pulled a six-pack of Tennent’s beer out of a Tesco bag. Not that our bus driver seemed to be a stickler for on-board rules either. (Later, this kid can be seen jokingly offering the driver a beer during one of his smoking breaks.)

I turned down the brew and the Irn Bru, and retreated behind my eyelids.

One thing I’ve realized in my time here: Canadians may be known as the friendliest people in the world, but we are nothing compared to the Scots. The title belongs to them. In my first week here, I wondered why there was always a queue at the supermarket, the cafe, any time of the day. And most mind-boggling of all: why no one around me is pissed off. And when it’s finally your turn, you realize that it’s because the cashier really does want to know how everyone’s day is going.

I was woken up several times that night as my neighbour got progressively drunker. He had the annoying habit of elbowing me just as I was nodding off, loud-whispering “HEY, NICOLE, HEY, ARE YOU ASLEEP.” At one point, hearing clamouring voices and guessing that things have come to a head, I woke up only to see that the kid had made drinking buddies of everyone within a beer-passing arm-length’s radius. Even the patient older woman with the cell phone whose monthly minutes he’d surely used up by now–she was genuinely laughing as they chatted. No one in the bus seemed to mind the racket. No one except for me.

Cranky and tired, nevertheless, when the bus finally pulled into London at 6 a.m., I found myself alone in Victoria station dealing with another kind of noise, another kind of crowdedness. The impersonal, distanced kind. As I walked by Buckingham Palace at sunrise, I remember the kid pretty-much-shouting in my ear as I pretended to sleep, about what a big city London is and how scared he was of being alone here. They’re not like people in Scotland. You know. They’re not as friendly.

In Borough Market two hours later, a vendor wouldn’t take my ten-pound bill. Confused, I looked down and saw Robbie Burns’s face on it. The English are required to accept Scottish money by law, and they generally do, but not always.

At that moment, surrounded by some of the best food to be found in the UK, I couldn’t help but miss Scotland. I tucked my Caledonian currency back into my wallet. I was already enjoying London so far, but I’ll have coming home to Glasgow to look forward to at the end of the weekend.

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