Here I am in bed at The Hilton. It was a good bed.
On the way over here - and when I say here, I mean to all my destinations - New Zealand, USA and UK - I was treated very well by the airline. It is rare that I ask for assistance relating to my skin, but of course I had to tell them about my creams to get additional luggage allowance. And so from Melbourne airport I had staff attend to my every need. "Miss Findlay, can I get someone to help you with your bags?" Yes please. For so long I have just struggled through grappling with my bags, being five foot one and a real weakling, it has been difficult wrestling with a 20 kg suitcase. I was also given extra water to prevent dehydration, allowed to board the plane first when a toilet was not available at the boarding gate for me to use to put cream on, and at Heathrow I was even offered a wheelchair - to which I declined of course (though I was taken on the golf buggy to the customs gates where I was able to scan my British passport and skip the long queues. The epitome of the flights (I have had three of them so far) was being given extra leg room on my way to London in the form of a bassinette seat and then being told there was EVEN MORE leg room for me at the back of the plane! I was given a "sky couch" - three seats to myself to lie down and stretch out. So I was quite relaxed when I arrived at Heathrow on Sunday morning.
Everyone has been helpful though - especially in Los Angeles where service is REALLY service. None of this disinterested shit you get in Australia! And in the London underground, men have helped me with my small case up the many many stairs.
I am staying with friends in London - old family friends. They live in the country side about 30 minutes south of the city in a beautiful house. Years ago I had one of my friends, P, stay with me in Melbourne when he was a backpacker. I feel so welcome there and we are talking as though we have known each other for years - I guess we have. P showed me a photo of me as a child that his parents had displayed - I would have been about seven - all gapped toothed and Sorbolene faced, wearing my school pinafore and my head topped with a ringlet. This is the view from my bedroom window in my London "home". I feel like I am in a movie.
Yesterday I caught several trains. One to London Victoria station, another to Paddington station - where I bought a Paddinton Bear pen and magnet - and another to Bristol. When I arrived at London Victoria I grinned at the enormity of the station - bustling with people and shops - and was so overcome with the possiblities.
This feeling has been a common theme for me at the departure gates and arrival points of my trip so far - as I departed the plane in Los Angeles, I laughed to the flight attendant, exclaiming "I am in America" and skipped down the corridor. Until I reached customs to which I was very very sensible due to the serious customs lady.
So now I am in Bristol. It is a beautiful city, with so much heritage. That is something that has been amazing me - the sheer history in England. P took me to his parents' for dinner on Sunday night and showed me buildings that are more than 500 years old. Yesterday near Paddington station at St Mary's hospital I saw a plaque stating that in a room two floors above, penicillin was discovered by Alexander Fleming. Across the road from where I am staying in Bristol, there is a majestic building that used to be Queen Elizabeth's hospital.
I am in Bristol for the Appearance Matters conference. One of the university researchers is having me stay. She and I are the same age and she is an Aussie. Again, we get along like we have known each other for years. Her apartment is beautiful - filled with books and fresh flowers. She is a great interior designer. I will be speaking at the conference on Wednesday afternoon. I entered this grand old university building - with high sculpted ceilings and stained glass windows - and it hit me. This is the reason I have come to England. Because the Centre for Appearance Research staff found my blog, tweeted me, met me and invited me to submit a speaking proposal. And here I am. So grateful for the experience. I met some of the other staff briefly. They all referred to me as a blogger - in such a respectful tone that I am convinced that being a blogger is a occupation. My new university friend has been encouraging me to consider doing my PhD. She suggested I talk to a wide range of academics at the conference to help decide what path I might take. I don't know yet. The thought of committing to research at this capacity so close after completing my Masters is scary. Anyway, I am excited to be meeting new people and learning about appearance - an aspect of my illness that I had not considered in an academic or psychological form until that tweet from The Centre for Appearance Research late last year.
I am going to try to sleep now before I have to be up for the start of the conference. It gets very light very early here. It has just gone 4.30 am and the sun has risen already. The sun sets around 10.00 pm too. I was worried the food in England would not be very good. But it has exceeded my expectations - and been a welcome relief from the HUGE portion sizes of America. After my jumbo sized cheesy fries incident in Los Angeles, I have been longing for healthier food, amd England has done well for that- especially catering for city commuters. Great convenience sized fruit tubs (I have eaten mango and lime, and summer (?) berries) and gourmet sandwiches (I had a baguette with basil, tomato and brie). I love Australian produce but here I have noticed the flavours of fruit and vegetables bought from the supermarket are so much more intense. Here is some berries in elderflower jelly, bought from a cafe at the train station.
PS - summer is strange here. It is like Melbourne in the Autumn. Dull and rainy but not unpleasant.
PPS - I will be tweeting from the Appearance Matters conference.
PPPS - my faith was restored in London folk very early on when I left my purse next to the counter in a shop and didn't realise until I was about to buy some crazy Union Jack sunglasses and realised my purse may (not still) be 500 metres up the road. And so I ran as fast as I could, through city streets - suitcase in tow - hoping my purse was still there. It would have been a disaster to lose it on my second day here. I arrived at the counter, puffed and scared. My purse was right where I left it - money and cards still there. Phew! Never have I been so relieved.
PPPS - I will be eating at Jamie Oliver's restaurant tonight and so I will be doing a full report.