Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf?

Weird things happen in London. It’s the next to last full day of our Magical History Tour and this morning Joe and I woke up to a terrifying experience.

We’re staying in a lovely studio apartment in the Notting Hill area, which, if you don’t know, is a particularly posh area of London–very safe and secure and clean. The place itself is lovely– very simple and very modern and comes with a kitchenette. The bathroom is compact, but functional, and we have one burnt orange accent wall decorated with a David Hockney print. The foyer in the entrance hall is likewise decorated with modern-styled art, and a few orchids arc gracefully in front of stained glass windows. In our flat, on the basement level, the walls are fairly thin, so we can hear, to some extent, the comings and goings of our temporary neighbors, but fortunately that’s not unlike home.  Aside from a few thumps and bumps, most of what we can hear is through the bathroom– I suspect the vents are linked– so we close the bathroom door and it’s been little bother.

Until this morning.

After several days in a row of getting up for early morning breakfast, driving, and adventures, Joe and I were taking advantage of a flexible schedule for a few days and were having a bit of a lie-in. Everything seemed fine. We dozed in and out as people stomped and tromped about, conducting their usual activities (It is a work day, after all.). And then I found myself suddenly awake, aware of a loud thump at the door– a single loud thump and then, a second later, a single quieter thump. This alone is little cause for alarm, but it was followed by very clear, very loud, sustained inhalation, like someone smelling something very deeply. This went on for long minutes. It was very clear– immediately outside the door, as if something was taking huge nosefuls, mouthfuls, lungfuls of air from our doorjamb. This sniffing continued loudly, only ever right outside our door. It never moved on to the other doors in the hall, and it wasn’t in the center of the hallway. It was barely inches from our door. You could hear the tiny vibrations made by the unknown creature’s nose hairs as it sucked in deep draughts of air from just a few feet away, as if it was trying to take an especially deep breath through a thick pillowcase, over and over.

Joe and I were paralyzed, afraid to move lest the creaky bed we were laying in betrayed our presence. Even if we wanted to, we couldn’t see what was making the noise without unlocking and opening the door. There is no peep hole, no chain or bar which would allow a narrow, marginally secure, opening of the door. There’s just the door, the single deadbolt [which, at the moment, seemed woefully inadequate] and the mysterious heavy breathing behind it. It could be anything.  And so we were reduced to the only reaction one can have in the face of an illogical, irrational situation– an illogical, irrational one. We sat very still and very quiet and hoped it went away (we did stop short of pulling the covers over our heads). There was no logical explanation for the strange noises, who/what was making them or why. This was no inquisitive dog. Dogs do not take gaping raspfuls of air at mid-door level. They do not do it several times over. They are not that LOUD.

One of man’s biggest fears is the fear of the unknown, and I can tell you, not knowing the cause behind this unlikely, unexplainable sound was SCARY.

It– whatever it was– eventually went away, without leaving a clue to its identity or its purpose.  It was just there, taking its deep breaths from our door, and then it wasn’t. Joe and I were unfailingly awake now. We sat silently for a while after the noises had stopped, then wondered to each other about the strange event– in whispers at first, then louder as we grew more confident that who– or what– ever made the noise was now gone.

We now think the thumps on the door were very likely caused by the change in pressure from the opening of the door down to our level. The door did this several times as various people came in and out of the other flats on our floor. But it wasn’t the door’s subtle motion that scared us this morning.

Joe and I discussed the mysterious breather further at dinner and he revealed that it actually happened twice this morning– the first time, apparently, went on for even longer than the time I heard and the longer it goes on, the less rational and explainable– and the more terrifying– it becomes. Joe’s hard to rattle, but as we joked about it hours after the fact, it was with a somewhat nervous laughter. Even considering the possibilities throughout the day, neither of us could come up with a rational explanation for the sounds we heard.

As I write this, Joe is laying next to me, snoring loudly. The window is secured as much as a window can be, and the door is locked (Joe made sure it was the first thing we did when we came in this evening). The TV is off and the building is silent.

I’m about to brush my teeth and go to sleep. Hopefully tomorrow starts better than today did. It’s our last day and we’re hoping to make it a full one. Wish us luck. We might need it.

London, Day One

Made it!

Day one of the Magical History Tour down and out. Arrived at Heathrow 20 minutes early (+/-) and proceeded into the city via the Heathrow Express to Paddington– the only way to travel. A little bummed they weren’t showing clips of BBC News like they usually do. Still, knitted away and the trip was over before I knew it. That’s the magic of express trains.

Found the hotel after much running about– obviously I hadn’t planned well enough in terms of actually mapping the hotel before our arrival and actually bringing the map with us. Imagine. We probably should have just paid for the cab, but after watching Sherlock Episode 1, it sort of makes you think twice about who’s driving you around London.  After hefting our bags around for blocks and blocks, backtracking and everything else, we were sore and sweaty (and tired from the redeye!), but fortunately our room was ready when we finally DID find the hotel, so we could go up to the room and relax a little. Joe napped, I showered, and we both got a kick out of watching Top Gear before heading out in search of pasties.

Unfortunately, our pasty mission was a failure. My go-to pasty spot in Covent Garden has apparently closed and been replaced with something or other, so we wandered aimlessly for a few blocks before finally acknowledging that pasties were unlikely to happen. At least for that night. The pasty mission will begin anew on day two. Wholemeal vegetable pasty, here I come!

We ended up getting dinner at the Crusty Pipe Wine bar/restaurant in Covent Garden. It was a little expensive (tourist markup, I suspect), but we dined inside the restaurant in a dark little cove (not outside among the street performers), which was very charming.  From there, we started hitting our usual haunts in Soho, my favorite place, starting at the punkrock classic, The Ship.

Awkward: Asked for two pints of cider, holding up two fingers to back up the audio since it was so loud. “Two pints of cider please,” says I, holding up two fingers. “Two?” says the guy, smirking and holding up two fingers in return. “Yeah, two.” Only afterwards did I realize I made the classic mistake of giving him “the two fingers” by holding up two fingers with my palm facing me. Whoops. Fortunately, at a punkish place like The Ship, that’s hardly an offense, especially if you have an American accent. (Given that its patrons commonly refer to one another as c**ts and tw**s, the two fingers from an American girl is hardly a crime.)

After The Ship, we navigated the streets of Soho to Garlic and Shots, downed a bloodshot each and continued on to The Intrepid Fox. I’m pleased to report that when they first moved to their location on St Giles High Street from their old home on Wardour Street (now the home of “Byron Hamburgers at the Intrepid Fox”– offensively shiny and bright compared to the darkness of its former life), it seemed a bit contrived, like they were trying too hard to replicate the atmosphere of the old Fox. Now, however, it seems to have settled in and feels much more natural, although the clientele seems to have shifted more towards a younger set– or maybe I just feel like that because I’m nearly a decade older than I was when it was my local. Still, very enjoyable time, just hanging out, listening to music and people watching.

And then homeward. Found the hotel without a hitch this time, and just settled in for a solid night of sleep after the spotty napping on the plane ride here.

It’s technically already tomorrow here, but it’s time for a few more hours of rest before getting up and embarking on Day Two.

More to follow, hopefully with pictures.