Wednesday, October 31, 2007


A London October Log Moment...Thing...

19 October 1987

Have I really been in London for over a month? Can't believe it myself, but there it is. And what a month! Here are a few highlights:

--I have mastered the Tube (okay, schoolchildren ride it everyday so it's not exactly rocket science, but still)

--The other day, two American tourists asked me for directions (did I sound so loud and braying when I first arrived? My God, I bet I did). The best part: I knew the street they were looking for and was able to direct them. "Have a nice day!" they screamed at me. What an odd sentiment--I never say it anymore.

--I have found a pub, a really important thing in the life of any person living in England, I think. It is a place called the Swakeley, somewhere in Shepherds Bush, not far from the flat of two photo students with whom I have become fast friends, a tall drink of water named Jon and a diminutive creature (well, short, anyway) named Gretchen, who aside from being a very nice person, and aside from being a very nice person who introduced me to my new favorite drink (the mighty hard cider known as Strongbow. What will I do in the States without it?), also happens to think I'm one funny bastard. At least, she laughs at my jokes, which is more than I can say for Betty these days (we are currently enjoying a phase as roommates who are not speaking to each other, except via scribbled notes left on dirty kitchen counters of bathroom sinks clogged with stubble--not mine, I'm growing a beard).

--I've found a comics shop. Actually, I've found several--every Virgin Records I've been to stocks a pretty good selection of American comics, but what I'm enjoying these days are the weekly British comics. I found the famous comics shop Forbidden Planet a week or so ago, and there they recommended to me a comic called 2000 A.D., famous for the futuristic lawman Judge Dredd. But right now they're doing a story about a superhero/pop music brat named Zenith. It's hard to follow because it's a serial and I've missed several weeks, but it's an interesting story. [and no wonder. It was one of the earliest comics series by legendary comics scribe Grant Morrison]

--I have my plans set for mid-term break next week (actually, end of this week). After much deliberation and a careful review of my funds, I took advantage of a student-travel discount and got a flight to Egypt. Cairo, in fact. I'll be spending a week there, thus fulfilling one of my lifelong goals. I'm going to the Great Pyramids. No, I haven't made any reservations other than my flight--booking a hotel package from London was too expensive and more than a few student travel guides suggested I could haggle my way to a better deal once I got to the airport in Cairo and was accosted by any number of travel agencies looking to glom onto my American dollar. My mom would freak out if she knew I was going--remember how I promised her I wouldn't fly anywhere? But man, it's Egypt. For $199 round-trip. When will I ever have this chance again?

Also, Betty is coming with me. Even though she's not talking to me right now. That should be fun.

But now must run as my local Boots the chemist (that's a drug store to you and me) has my anti-malaria pills in stock and I need to start taking them now (actually, was supposed to start taking them two weeks ago, but didn't know it). Tomorrow, I'm skipping class and taking myself to some place very interesting. I'll tell you more tomorrow.

20 October 1987

Oh my holy God.

Where to begin?

Hmm, okay, here...

Since I'm going to be in Egypt over Halloween (or at least flying back at that time) I thought I'd celebrate Halloween this week. Last night at the Swakeley, I convinced Gretchen and Betty (who after last night is talking to me. I made a peace offering by giving her her very own bottle of anti-malaria pills) to come with me to Highgate Cemetery, of which more later. The evening started in this direction when I mentioned that I was celebrating Halloween this week and then Betty opened her big mouth and told our assembled friends that MM had lived in a haunted house for six years.

This is not a part of my life I like to talk about very much because, well, I think true ghost stories are a bit passé among the college crowd in the late 1980s. Having said that, Gretchen and my friends perked right up when this fact was mentioned and so I felt as though I had to tell at least the story of our first night in the house, and the tapping sound my brother and I heard, followed by my sighting of a woman in a blue dress sitting on the end of my parents' bed, a woman I actually mistook to be my mother, until I realized that I could see through this woman. But it's an awkward topic, you know? Because I know what happened and I know what I believe, whereas other folks are skeptics and if you go on long enough, they start to wonder about your sanity and then they're not such good friends with you anymore. So I deftly turned the subject to haunted London, and realized that of all the places I'd read about as a child--the Tower of London, the Grenadier Pub, Highgate Cemetery and many others--I had yet to visit a one of them in my time in London so far.

So we decided on the spot to go right then to the nearest place. We'd already had a few pints and so after a hasty and probably not very accurate review of our Streetfinders, we decided Highgate was the closest. I was excited. Besides boasting the final resting places of Karl Marx, William Wordsworth and members of Dickens' family, Highgate was also infamous as being the site of a series of grave robberies in the late 19th century, which was apparently associated with the vampire hysteria borne out of the publication of Dracula in 1897 or thereabouts.

Moreover, several sane, sober witnesses--people unlike us at that moment, in other words--have reported seeing ghosts within the graveyard over the past 300 years. One can be seen on certain nights at the main gate: just a shadowy figure that vanishes when you get too close. Another is said to be that of an old woman who has been seen running through the cemetery, apparently searching for the graves of her children, whom she murdered in a fit of rage.

Well, that was enough to get us moving to the Tube, where we got the next train out in that direction, then walked a few blocks to find ourselves at the main gate. Of course, it was now the middle of the night and the gates were locked, but we lingered, peering through the wrought-iron fence, catching glimpses of moonlit stones beyond. It was very eerie.

And then, about a third of the way down the fence from the main gate, I stepped right into a cold spot and froze.

Ever since my experiences growing up in a 200-year-old farmhouse in southern New Jersey, after seeing things like a transparent woman in my parents' bedroom and other weird things too numerous to mention just now, I have since found that I'm strangely sensitive to what a psychic friend of mine used to call the unseen. This friend was actually the daughter of a crazy old man who lived out in the bogs of south Jersey and was considered a genuine witch man. He wasn't so nice, but she ended up really helping me and a friend of mine after my brother started screwing around with a ouija board in our house and some truly scary stuff--terrible smells, animal growling--started coming out of the old chimney at the back of the house. Yeesh, I really don't want to go into that right now.

Anyway, my friend told me that once you're exposed to this weirdness, you get a sense for it thereafter. And at least in my case, she was right. I've had one or two experiences where I'd be some place--a place I generally had never been before, knew nothing about--and suddenly found myself feeling strange. I'd feel cold spots in otherwise perfectly warm places; or a tingling sense, like every hair on my body was standing on end, followed by other weird stuff--phantom smells, shadows or strange blurs moving across the room, stuff like that.

Now here I was outside the cemetery and there was a spot right there on the pavement that felt like I'd just stepped over a grate that was blowing air direct from the Arctic Circle. It felt like that--a really freezing wind. I could have sworn my hair was blowing all around me--although Gretchen Betty say no such thing happened. What did happen, they say, was that I got the strangest look on my face--for a second, Betty says, I didn't even look like myself, which really freaked her out--and my eyes got all buggy and my teeth started chattering. I guess they thought I was having a fit or something.

And just like that, it went away. Poof, gone. I looked around, thinking I might see something. But there was nothing. Just the cold spot.

(I know. Sorry. But that's how these things go some times.)

"I'm outta here!" I cried, and took off running for the Tube stop. It had been a while since anything that weird had happened to me and I guess I was pretty weirded out. Gretchen and Betty were too, since they were right on my heels and we ended up catching the late train of the night.

In the morning, I felt a lot better. Really, I think I was kind of invigorated by the whole thing, which is easy to feel in broad daylight. I tell you this so you can understand my frame of mind, understand why I might decide to blow off class and go visit one of the other places I'd been talking about the night before. I mentioned it to Betty and she was intrigued enough to skip class and come with me.

Thus it was that by 10:30 we found ourselves at the gates of the Tower of London...


Ooooh these are the best!

Tell us more!

tell us the oija board story!
awesome!! But I want to hear the Ouija board story, too! Please don't let the end of the month be the end of the October Moments :(
Dang, you started young with those ellipses!

I want the end of this story and the ouija board story. Nay, I demand them. (And I have a right to demand things'm awesome?)

Anyway, I really enjoyed this entry. I'm sure you find the casual wittiness somewhat painful, but I think it's cute :> Besides, you still write like that. Just better ;>
These October moments send shivers down my spine!
love the october moments. Thanks for capping off another Halloween for us.

Cannot wait to hear about the Tower of London. Will we have to wait until next year for that and the ouija board story? I will, if I have to. Your writing is just that good.

Thanks MM.
I'm guessing we'll get the Tower story next and we'll have to wait for the ouija board story :( But I'll be here next year regardless.

Don't take this the wrong way, MM. And I know you were probably writing your journal for yourself. But man, London MM seems like such a goober; an over-energetic, self-absorbed goober. Did BB ever hit you saying, "And this one's for being a goober!"?

You know, whenever you mention comics I wonder if there are any stories about procuring your entire run of Batman.

Thanks for the story.
London is really expensive city!

I am always wondering why it is so expensive!

But I love London!!
Smells and growling noises? maybe you had a raccoon in the chimney. Or the ghost of pot roast past.
Boots! Many years ago, when I was in London, I shopped a bit at Boots and fell in love with a particular after shave they sold. It was a cinnamon-spicy sort of fragrance. I bought something like four bottles of it and took them back to the US.

I was about the only person I knew who could stand the smell. I'd get folks wrinkling up their noses and making faces when I entered the room. I toughed it out for a month or so, but finally decided enough was enough and went back to whatever else I had at the time - probably Old Spice.

The stuff sat and ast and finally pretty much evaporated from the bottles. I'd open one once in a while and splash some on before going to sleep, I liked the aroma so much, but that was the only use I ever got out of it after the first few weeks.
You know...Green Mountain Beverage in Vermont imports Strongbow...
I'm just sayin'...
Mmmmm... I like Strongbow. I really miss Strongbow Ice, which was all over when I was in London. I asked our importer about that one, and he says that one is too potent to legally be sold in the states.
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