Friday, 3 June 2011

A Night Out in London

Last night, my Dear One and I had a night out on the town, boring-old-fart style.  Dinner in a cozy-but-lively restaurant was followed by a night in a hotel.  The restaurant had a good atmosphere, but while I enjoyed my meal, DO was not as impressed.  A poached egg, lardon and crouton salad elicited the following dialogue:

DO: Aren’t lardons supposed to be squares of bacon?
Me: Yes.
DO: I thought croutons were meant to be crunchy?
Me: Yes... but does it taste good?
DO: Well, yes...

Unfortunately, his beer-battered fish and chips didn’t even achieve the tastes-good factor, and his side order of extra mushy peas not arriving until he’d almost finished everything else meant he no longer wanted it.

So, on to the hotel.  We checked in only to be informed we’d been up-graded to a suite because several people had prolonged their stays.  Score!  We adjourned to our suite, and after reading one article in a glossy I was ready for bed.  Yes, it was barely 10pm, but likewise, this was a chance for me to sleep uninterrupted by Big Boy - not to be sneezed at or wasted on magazines.

Given we had a suite, we both left most of our clothes in the living area, as DO was going to say goodnight and then get up and read a bit longer, and I knew I’d be up before him in the morning.  So, leave the clothes where we can get dressed without disturbing each other - makes sense, right?  It was a warm night, so I was dressed in my birthday suit, while DO kept on his grey with a maroon-stripe boxers (their original colour scheme and not a laundry accident, I hasten to add).  He closed the door between the living room and the bedroom, and we had a little cuddle, then I said I was going to sleep.  DO gets up and tries to leave, only to discover that the door handle on the inside doesn’t actually affect the locking mechanism - we’re locked into our bedroom!  There was a second door out into the hall from the bedroom - but our room keys were in the living room, and neither of us was dressed to face a bustling hotel reception!

Thank heavens for hotel phone systems.  We pick up and dial reception.  And wait, and wait, and... no-one picks up.  So, try the Concierge.  Same thing!  Now we’re getting a twilight-zone feeling - is the up-grade and the locked door part of some Candid Camera prank??  Before our paranoia can completely run away with us, we try Housekeeping (who knew there were so many separate systems inside a hotel - I guess it is pretty big).  Quickly, someone answers.  DO explains our plight, and within five minutes someone comes and rescues us, agreeing that no, the door doesn’t work from the inside and that maybe it would be best just not to close it :duh:  Still, after all that it was the best night’s sleep I’ve had in a month and a half!

Sitting in the hotel restaurant having breakfast this morning, instead of reading the paper or surfing on my phone, I people-watched.  The clientele were multi-national, with lots of tourists, and I became unable to stop glancing at one particular table.  The two somewhat older men sat there didn't draw my gaze due to their sexy physiques or interesting conversation, though.  It was more that sense of watching a train crash.

It started with a croissant.  One man speared it on his fork, and started taking bites out of it.  My first thought, "If you're not going to use your hands, wouldn't it be easier to cut it with a knife?" These were, I thought, probably Chinese men, and I've heard from people who've visited China that it's considered rude to touch food with your hands.  So much for my cultural sensitivity, I "got" not using your hands.  But biting hunks out of a whole croissant speared on the end of a fork reminded me of films from the seventies where cavemen or Vikings or some other "primitive" people (please, Thor, don’t smite me, this is just the impression I got as a child watching American movies) jabbed a fork into a whole leg of lamb and proceeded to devour it in large, messy mouthfuls between splashy swigs of mead.

Next up was a rasher of bacon, which was also eaten without the benefit of a knife: noodle-style, with the end flicking juice as it swirled up towards his mouth.  By this time, the second man had also started in on his croissant, with copious lip-smacking.  Fortunately, beans were a simple scoop-and-shovel affair, and mushrooms popped in easily.  However, every rasher of bacon was slurped in a way that made me worry for their shirts, and the renewed attacks on the croissants seemed rather aggressive.  I had to wonder what they’d make of their bananas...  They just peeled them and ate them holding on to the smallest bit of skin they could without the banana falling out of their hands - whew, not too bad.

I realised that my inability to look away was all about social mores - they breached the cultural code of eating in a restaurant by Western standards.  And although I like to think I’m culturally aware and open-minded, the differences were jarring in a way I found very hard to challenge.  Objectively, I realise that there is nothing inherently right or wrong about different ways of eating.  But at a visceral level, the “wrongness” - the difference - struck me at every bite.  I am reminded of people who have visited China saying how uncomfortable they felt because people would stand “too close” when speaking to them.  Just a different perception of social space, but we become so habituated to our culture’s norms that no amount of rationalising can change the fact that it just feels “wrong”.  

And so, finally, an explanation of the two versions of the Eight of Swords I chose to illustrate this post.  In the first instance, our thoughts kept us locked in the pleasant surroundings of our room, too embarrassed to go out in underpants.  In the second, my cultural prejudices wrapped me in a tight bundle, hard to break out of.  I could see it was prejudice, but I couldn’t change the way I felt.  Ah, the prisons we create for ourselves...

Illustrations: Eight of Swords from the Ma'at Tarot by Julia Cuccia-Watts and from the Universal Waite Tarot  coloured by Mary Hanson-Roberts, inexpertly blinged by me.


  1. I really love your exploration of the 8 of Swords through your two different experiences and perceptions during your little holiday.

    Even DO's enjoyment(or lack)of the meal illustrates how we box ourselves in with expectations of how things "should" be.

    It is true that we voluntarily stay within our cultural parameters, it often being too frightening to step out and be ridiculed, or in the worst cases, depending on the culture, ostracized or even killed...

    I never really thought of the 8 of Swords in that way before, as being a conscious choice. Unconscious, yes, through lack of self esteem or erroneous beliefs about our situation. This is very interesting, particularly since you chose the very radical Maat Tarot 8 of Swords.

    For a U.S. citizen, or anyone aware of current politics, that card has a whole set of meanings that dear Pixie never envisioned... Whew!

    Thank you for a new perspective!

  2. Hi Chea,

    Oh, I hadn't thought of that, but it's true, that we box ourselves in with our expectations, even over such little things as what makes up a salad.

    I agree that most often 8 of Swords moments are about our unconscious choices, but I think that we can bring awareness and choicefulness to our preconceptions and biases, and often we realise that we're stopping ourselves, but do it anyway...

    Yes, the Ma'at card is quite radical, well, the whole deck really. I love that we can find and create new perspectives - as you do with your sex tarot readings ;-D