When London Calls

When London Calls

By Chris Erskine
Los Angeles Times

LONDON ~ A wonderful thing, a daughter. It’s what the creator gave me instead of a way with money or a firm jaw line. I have two daughters, the oldest of whom is accompanying me to London for a week of work. She is lovely. She is patient. She is … gasp … 25?

“I-can’t-wait, I-can’t-wait, I-can’t-wait,” she says a few days before we leave.

She talks that way, briskly, so that the words run together to form contractions. I understand only half of what she says. I become jet-lagged and dizzy just from hearing her speak.

But we get along well, she and I. There is a sort of mutual respect. She is the oldest of the siblings; I am the oldest of the parents. We both understand the rigours of seniority.

Before we depart, I lay out the ground rules for the big trip:
– I occasionally need and enjoy a nice nap.
– I don’t drink during the brightness of day nor the pitch black of night. I drink in that dreamy netherworld between sunlight and darkness, usually starting at 4pm and running till about 8. I do so with dignity and honour.
– In a new city, I talk to everyone – cops, bartenders, muggers, millionaires. Some people are put off by this. I don’t care. I once had a two-hour chat with an old guy in a stamp shop (“Hey, where’d you get that great sweater?”).
– I never ever buy souvenirs, but I have a weakness for any sort of street food and will always leave a buck or two to street musicians, even drop a fiver in the hat if they are any good. It’s my way of supporting the arts.
– I like to eat where the locals eat and – to soak up colour – rely almost exclusively on public transit.
– I travel light, with two pairs of jeans, one pair of dress slacks, five T-shirts and a sports coat I’ve had since 1987, a tweed jobber that you can wad up into a pillow on an airplane or a jail cot and it will spring back to life unaffected. I think it is 30 percent rubber. It is the best sports coat a man ever owned.
– I get up early and go to bed in the wee hours – sometimes as late as 10 o’clock.
– I’m told I snore a little.

That’s it. Besides those little quirks – I call them my principles of hearty travel – I have zero demands on my travel mate, other than to have a good time, for vacation is therapy, a brandy for the brain.

The lovely and patient older daughter seems OK with these guidelines, even though her siblings scoff at them and fear openly about her journey with Dad.

Being young, they have never encountered a man with principles before.

“I-can’t-wait, I-can’t-wait, I-can’t-wait,” she says again, like a mantra.

“Are you sure?”

“I-can’t-wait,” she says.

OK, so we go, out of my favourite airport, LA-HEX. After nearly a dozen hours in steerage (limited toilet use, poor food), we land in Londontown, renowned for its sordid and hasty royal weddings (a topic I know a little something about).

And we are off. …

We take London like two Vikings. I like to lead the way, but so does the lovely and patient older daughter. As the eldest of four, she doesn’t like to wait for other people to make decisions. By sheer will, she can change stoplights and get waiters to bring us more bread.

On the frenetic London streets, my daughter dashes this way and that. She is proud of how assertive she has become, a trait she links to growing up in Los Angeles, a trait I link to the boiling bloodlines of her dear mum.

“This way, Dad,” she says.

“No, this way,” I say.

In a crowd of 10,000 screaming idiots at Buckingham Palace, I find her, then lose her, then find her again.

Fortunately, the sun hits her like an autumn day. I can locate her in a crowd just by the chestnut in her hair, the reds and browns of mid-October.

“If I lose you, we’ll meet back at the hotel,” I tell her at one point, fearing we’ll get swept apart in a crowd, then spend too long looking for each other when we should be enjoying the sights.

“How about we meet at the subway platform?” she says.

“Back at the hotel,” I say.

“The platform.”

“The hotel.”

It is our only real argument, though I do scold her for pulling out her iPhone during a profoundly stirring service at Westminster, then the next evening in a spectacularly ancient English theatre.

“You need cell-phone rehab,” I tell her later.

“I know,” she says sheepishly.

At times, I want to throw the damn iPhone into the Thames, so hooked is she on its little screen and messages from her buddies back in the States.

But I don’t.

A daughter is a gift, remember? No refunds, no returns.

Next week: The lovely and patient older daughter weighs in.

Erskine can be reached at chris.Erskine@latimes.com.

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