We arrived Wednesday afternoon, with plenty of time to take the Tube from Heathrow into London, find our lodging, check in, and make it to a dinner for conference delegates arranged by the event's organizer, Dr. Ian Williams. The 10-hour flight was terrible--wailing toddlers and bumpy all the way, I don't think the seat belt sign was turned off once--so you can imagine how sharp and fresh we felt joining the gang for dinner at Mildreds. It was still great to meet Ian and a few others I'd known only as e-mail correspondents, but by the time we returned to our hotel at 11 p.m. we were pretty exhausted.
the Goodenough Club. It was.
We slept in and poked around the city a bit on Thursday morning, so missed the beginning of the conference (I wasn't scheduled to speak until 2 p.m.), coming 'round a bit before noon. Supported by the Wellcome Trust and held at the University of London, the "Graphic Medicine" conference was a tremendously interesting mix of academics and comics enthusiasts, medical practitioners and ink-stained wretches like me, all interested in what happens when you mix healthcare with comics.
The event was limited to 75 attendees; just guessing based on who I met, I'd estimate that about half were from the UK, one-third from the U.S. and Canada, and the rest from various elsewheres. Most of the talks took place in one large classroom (really two, with the dividing wall between them open), with breakout sessions in a smaller room downstairs, and lunch and an after-conference wine reception held in a large central hall.
I think my keynote lecture went very well. I had to improvise when I realized that not everyone could read the comics in my slides due to how the room was configured, so I read them all aloud. People said nice things afterward. I spoke for about 40 minutes, took some good questions, and then sat in on a couple of other sessions before doing a panel discussion with Darryl Cunningham and the effervescent Philippa Perry that closed the day. I found Darryl's cartooning particularly interesting; in addition to his book Psychiatric Tales, based on his own experiences working in a psychiatric hospital, he's done a journalistic comic eviscerating Dr. Andrew Wakefield, the discredited quack who convinced millions that the MMR vaccine causes autism, and hopes to do future work taking apart the Moon Landing Hoaxers. I admit I wasn't familiar with his work before, but I think he'll be one of my favorites in the future. I also enjoyed getting to know Ada Palmer, whose day job is assistant professor of Renaissance history at Texas A&M but who would rather study the work of manga master Osamu Tezuka.
Friday and Saturday, Karen and I got to be tourists doing the mandatory tourist things: the British Museum, Tower of London, Buckingham Palace, Trafalgar Square (one of the great public spaces in the world), Covent Garden, Parliament and Big Ben (which I know isn't the name of the clock or tower, but of the big bell inside). Even Harrod's, which was nuts. I won't bore you with stories of our blistered feet nor more than a couple of photos.
One of Karen's "artistic" shots: the famous Tower Bridge peeking over the walls of the Tower of London. We were very smart at the Tower of London: got there as soon as it opened at 9 a.m. and went directly to see the Crown Jewels. Almost no one else was there; there's a moving walkway that carries visitors past the display cases that we were welcome to circle around and repeat to our hearts' content. After that, we went back to the gate to join a free tour guided by a Beefeater. Our very entertaining Beefeater, Ray, also happened to be the Tower's ravenmaster. If you can put "Ravenmaster" on your resume', you are the coolest person I've ever met.
Two armslength self portraits at Buckingham Palace and Big Ben to prove I'm not lying, because I could tell you were getting suspicious.
We relied on the Underground for pretty much all our transportation, but lucked into a double-decker bus tour through the center of the city when a Tube station we'd planned to use was unexpectedly closed and we had to find an equivalent land route. It turned out to be a great way to see London and probably my favorite surprise of the trip.
Our home base, the Russell Square Underground Station.
Karen watching the train blur by. "Mind the gap."
I liked everything about this Underground sign: its tile work, its design, its colors, its font. I remember watching the original British "Prisoner" series, and the "Way Out" signs that prominently figured in some episodes, when I was a teenager. In that program, they were eerie and ironic; there was no way out of the Prisoner's Village. I hadn't thought of that in decades until I saw these signs everywhere. They made the Tube just a bit spookier to me.
Our double-decker. We lucked out and got a classic old Routemaster model from the 1950s, which is the same kind I drove as part of my university's transit system when I was in college. If our driver had had a heart attack and I was somehow able to dash down the spiral staircase in the back of the bus, run around to the front, pull him from the cab, and hoist myself up, I could have saved us all.
Perhaps the world's most jarring combination of form and function: a great old building blasphemed by a BK.
We loved London, met some talented, smart, committed and very friendly people, and hope to see more of both the city and them in the future. It's a fun and exciting town, and even moreso when English footballers are competing for the World Cup. Many thanks to Ian for inviting me, the University of London for hosting, and the Wellcome Trust for making it possible for me to attend. I'll do it again anytime.