*Day Two: 29 December, 2003*
The second day in London we awoke surprisingly well-adjusted. We had half-developed a series of plans for the day during our self-imposed vigil the night before, and now felt rested enough to actually embark on a few of them. Three in particular made the cut:
# Get tickets to the stage production of *The Lion King* and another play we hadn’t yet decided on;
# Spend our Harrods gift certificates;
# Reserve seats on a train to Bath for the following day.
Whatever else we happened to stumble into in the meantime was welcomed whole-heartedly. At around 9 AM we set out of our hotel and made our way toward the discount theatre ticket sellers in Leicester Square.
The more we walked and talked, the more the tickets to *The Lion King* were coveted. By the time we actually reached Leicester Square, desire became obsession.
Throughout the honeymoon we made predictions regarding how many people would be in each place we went to, always rationalizing that ours was an odd time-frame, wrapped up in the heart of the cold, wet season of the United Kingdom’s finest towns and cities. In each prediction we hoped for a light stream of bodies, not empty but not overwhelming. In each case we were wrong. Everywhere we went, there were crowds of people; great gleaming seas of heads, feet, arms, hands and faces.
There were queues to eat and queues to buy, queues to browse and queues to pee. Most of all, it seemed, there were queues to buy discounted theatre tickets. Leicester Square was veritably filled with black coats, deployed umbrellas and varied American accents.
In truth, we didn’t mind so much. Queues are only aggravating when one has someplace else to be. As we had no such place, we queued patiently and hoped like hell that all tickets to *The Lion King* hadn’t been sold out for the next few weeks. Predictable thoughts ran through our minds of the people in front of us buying the last tickets. We secretly cursed their hypothetical luck. The secret cursing was funny, and we laughed.
The laughing attracted the attention of the hypothetical ticket-stealers. They turned around and greeted us in heavy east-coast (New York?) accents, and we made small talk about our honeymoon and what shows we wanted to see. They were perhaps in their sixties: the woman meticulously made-up and all-smiles; the man gracefully balding and fixed with a look that somehow combined worry and boredom. They were pleasant people, with pleasant things to say. They came to London often, to see the shows and visit with friends. When it came their time to purchase tickets, the conversation dissolved and again we descended into various conspiracies involving ticket-scarcity.
When we finally got to the front of the line, we breathed a collective sigh of relief as we bought tickets to *Anything Goes* for that evening, and *The Lion King* for 1 January, 2004. Granted, both were in the extreme back row of the highest theatre balconies, but it didn’t matter. They were bona-fide tickets, and we guarded them closely.
From Leicester Square we made our way to Harrods of Knightsbridge via the tube on the Piccadilly line. We sensed something was amiss as we descended into the underground with thousands of other people and witnessed no one coming out. Everyone, it seemed, was headed in the same direction. When the train stopped at Piccadilly Circus and still more people got on, we began to consider whether going to Harrods was such a good idea. But there were plenty of possibilities yet.
As the train stopped at Green Park (one stop from Knightsbridge), the train manager’s voice crackled to life from dozens of tired speakers, informing us that he would _not_ be stopping at the Knightsbridge tube stop due to overcrowding. He continued to note that all passengers bound for Harrods should leave the train now and walk the remaining distance above ground. We knew we had made the wrong choice the instant he uttered the word _Harrods_; suddenly the heads and eyes of hundreds of people crammed into the small spaces diligently avoiding eye contact with the hundreds of other people crammed into the small spaces came to attention. In the midst of an odd sea of varied heads, each nodding their individual comprehension of the announcement, Tina and I found each other’s eyes and realized we had made a mistake.
Let this be a warning to you, dear reader: never, ever go to Harrods between Christmas and New Year’s. I mean it. No matter what perverse twist of fate pushes you in that direction, do the right thing and run far, far away. Hide in a dark room of you must, lock the doors and flush the keys; just don’t go.
Virtually every passenger on the train disembarked onto the platform, spewing forth in great waves of shuffling individuals and leaving a few relieved passengers behind. Tina and I took our places among the shufflers and slowly (painfully) ascended to street-level.
The street was no better. The sidewalks to and from Harrods were full of teeming flows of shufflers traveling to and from Harrods. They spilled out onto the street and a few brave souls danced through traffic, inciting a ringing cacophony of accented profanity, cab horns, and screeching, wet double-decker bus brakes.
When we finally managed to battle our way inside the store we were greeted with a scene no less chaotic. The ground floor was packed wall-to-wall between various cheerfully designed “10% Off Everything In The Store, Boxing Day [Dec 26th] To Jan. 5th Only!” signs, and the shuffling continued until we found our way to the nether-regions of the upper floors, to breath deeply and combat our rural fears of large, condensed gatherings of people.
We had been blessed with no foreknowledge of this accursed sale, and sought to ease our enochlophobia in a nostalgic trip to the ice cream shop on the third floor to treat ourselves to some champagne strawberry sorbet. Only, they didn’t serve that anymore. We retreated to the furniture floor, defeated, to regroup and relax in the comforts of overpriced splendor.
Concepts reshaped, we wandered around for a bit longer and found a lovely, high quality duvet cover and sheet set for our bed, proudly purchased them with our gift certificates, and exited Harrods into the unchanged, undulating mass of bodies to make our way back to the hotel.
Later that afternoon we secured tickets on a train for Bath the following day, and that evening I dozed through the plot development scenes in the back row of *Anything Goes*. The grand musical numbers roused me from my waking slumber, and I squinted and leaned forward to make out which characters had returned onstage since my last span of focused consciousness.
At intermission two teens fought about something initially indeterminate. The argument was conducted in brotherly fashion, half in French and half in English; each outburst spoken in perfect accents of each respective language. The older brother, I eventually deciphered, was chastising the younger for his inability to stay awake through this fine specimen of English Theatre.
The Older spoke in and affected a disgusted tone, honestly not able to comprehend his brother’s lack of respect for Culture. The Younger, in what seemed an accustomed routine, became tight-lipped and defensive of his alleged transgressions, never looking his brother in the eye and affecting the _great injustice of it all_ through his pouting facial expressions. After the intermission, the man I assumed to be the father (who spoke with an unmistakable English accent) sat between them. Intrigued, I tried to stay awake to see whether or not the Younger could do the same. In a testament to the Older’s reinforced frustration, the Younger’s head nodded throughout the second half as well.