London was warm, a tad too warm if the truth must be told. And dry – well, except for that wretched Saturday evening, which in keeping with my rotten luck with these things, was the one day I decided to be out and about into the wee hours of the morning. Other than that, the contrast with the ‘Deen couldn’t have been starker – wet, barely nudging 19 degree weather and warm, dry, 26 degree weather and sunshine, separated by the small matter of sixty five minutes of flying.
I had barely managed to catch my flight to London this time, ending up forgetting my Oyster card as I frantically tossed jeans, t-shirts, shoes and my trusty MacBookAir into my holdall after falling asleep in a state of turmoil. For the umpteenth time, an attempt to get a sit-down with S. failed collosally – it is slowly beginning to sink in that I may be barking up a wrong tree here. Five missed calls and two voice mails from my friend J., didn’t help soothe my mind either. I ended up soaking wet, at 7.20am, having walked the mile between my house and the train station to drop off a package for him. That early start also meant I skipped breakfast, which was why my first action after scaling baggage reclaim at Heathrow was to head off to the Giraffe for a coke and a sandwich. An hour later, I was seated on the Piccadilly line for Cockfosters, hoping to get off at Kings Cross
Across from me, a man sat, hunched forward, headphones in, swaying almost imperceptibly from side to side to whatever music he was listening to. His face had that calm, meditative mien of one at peace with the world and himself, his sandals, shorts and a simple t-shirt with ‘Chicago’ sprawled over the front somehow adding to the image of quiet, simple, acceptance. On the other side from him, an Indian woman sat, hands folded in her lap, eye shut as though fast asleep.
By the time we were past the Hatton Cross station, our carriage was standing room only. A woman and her daughter – she had on the most garish eye lash extensions I have ever seen – had joined the carriage, a family of five – a man, a woman, two teenage sons and a young daughter who could not have been more than seven or eight.
The heat wave had been all over the news – which had prepared me somewhat – leaving images of shirtless, pot-bellied hairy men on the underground seared deeply on my memory. As I hauled my stuff off at the Old Street underground station having switched over at King’s Cross, I was inwardly thankful for having avoided anything that dramatic.
The main driver for London on this occasion was the Hillsong Europe Conference, and given how much anticipation I had had prior to actually flying, it didn’t fail to deliver. Making my way across the Northern line to London Bridge and then the Jubilee line to North Greenwich, there were dots of people clearly excited about what was coming. The sense of anticipation only heightened the closer one got to North Greenwich at which point just outside the O2 the lines had begun to form even before the scheduled 5.50pm front door opening.
Upon arrival, I joined the back of one of the lines as it inched slowly towards the doors where we were meant to swap our electronic tickets for wrist bands. Somewhere in between, I fell into conversation with a bloke who introduced himself as P. His story, as it spilled out, was one of deep desperation and sadness – apparently he was broke and needed a tenner to sort out a few bills. I ended up parting with £20. In retrospect, given how many names he dropped in the seven minutes or so we spoke for – including a few Nigerian ones – I may have been had; not that I minded much given how pumped up I was.
The conference itself was fab – Brian Houston’s call to embrace Holy Mystery rang very true with the stirring I’d been having about learning to not make everything about my ability to plan and anticipate problems. Judah Smith was funny as always, repeated a few of the jokes I’d heard since I’d committed to preparing for conference by listening to his church podcast but managed to place The Parable of the Workers in the Vineyard in a new light for me. Louie was Louie. #NuffSaid. All told, it was well worth the money, time and energy expended, that I may have made a couple of new friends was a great bonus to tack on.
The one complaint my friends south of the border usually have is that I don’t come down as often as they might wish. Each trip thus tends to morph into an exercise in optimisation; trying to cram as many meetups into a weekend as possible.
I ended up not meeting Si. A combination of bad planning on my part and having to sort my bags out on Sunday morning at the Dominion meant the little window we had vanished quickly.
I did get to catch E. at Nandos on Friday, at the back end of the conference. And she was great company for what it was worth, at 11pm on a Friday night, clearly knackered from what had been a busy week for her.
My friend K. has always been my one counter cultural, rebel, overly liberal acquaintance – and when it was certain I would be in London long enough to meet up, it was with some trepidation that I agreed to. For starters we argued about where we’d meet – a Starbucks for coffee or a pub for drinks. We ended up at a pub somewhere around Old Street. We got on famously, no issues there,; I ended up accompanying her in the piddling rain as she burnt through three fags in the 2 hours and some we’d spent.
These jaunts are usually incomplete without the obligatory airline gaffe. This time, my flight from Heathrow ended up delayed by an hour and thirty minutes. The culprit, a stuck partition between first class and economy.