Virtually Real

For the most part, I am pleasantly surprised when meeting…Oh, wait, it’s the first of the month…pinch, punch and white rabbits and all that…now, where was I?
Oh, yes, meeting up with a person who has heretofore been among my virtual acquaintances, someone who—although I have been engaging with them on Facebook and/or exchanging missives with them via e-mail—I have not actually met and therefore have no reason to believe that we could tolerate, much less like, each other in real life, or—more to the point—that they are not actually a 45 year old serial arsonist currently residing in a secure facility.
Happily, as I began to indicate in the opening sentence, neither of those two scenarios is generally the case, as was true when I met up with Abby, an Anglophile from Sulphur Springs, Arkansas and author of The BritophileDiaries who was in London wrapping up her first “trip of a lifetime” to the UK (and Switzerland). We met up on a rainy Friday morning in front of St. Paul’s and as I approached, she looked at me from under the hood of her wet rain jacket and I nodded a greeting from within the hood of my own waterproof coat and she said, “Hi Mike,” and I said, “Hi Abby, welcome to summertime in Britain,” and we set off to find some place get out of the rain.
It was, as usual, like meeting up with an old friend instead of a virtual stranger. There was no initial awkward phase as we decided whether the actual person was less interesting or more likely to be an axe murderer than the on-line persona we were more familiar with. So we went for brunch at Café Rouge and had a lovely natter about, well, everything.
It was so nice talking with an American—something I do all too infrequently—and for her part, I think by then she was a bit homesick and just as glad for the non-foreign company. She was chatty and friendly and seemingly comfortable spending time with a man who is, frankly, old enough to be her grandfather.
After lunch, we took the tube to St Pancras station because it was one of the few things I thought she ought to see in London that she hadn’t already visited. So I gave her the 50-pence tour, showed her the clock and the big statue and the grand architecture—both old and new—and bought her her first glass of champagne at the (reputedly) longest champagne bar in Europe (also in contention for the most expensive).

Abby having her first ever glass of champagne. Shhh! Don\’t tell her mom!

She then returned the favour by giving me a tour of nearby King’s Cross station, which I had not been to since it re-openned in 2012. Specifically, she showed me the baggage trolley sticking out of the wall at Platform 9 ¾. Abby is a fellow Potter-geek, so she was happy to wander through the station’s Potter store with me, even though she had already been there. (She was, incidentally, on her way to the Harry Potter Experience, so in the Potter-geek arena, she’s got me beat.)

Platform 9 3/4 and a tourist having her photo taken by the resident photographer.
There is a queue and it costs, but you can snap a picture like this for free.

Soon, it was time for her to head north for her appointment with Potter and, as casually and abruptly as the meet-up began, it ended. At her tube stop, she stepped out of the carriage with a backward wave, as if we were long time friends expecting to see each other in the not-too-distant future.

It was an easy, engaging afternoon that made me, once again, grateful for virtual acquaintances, and how easily they can slip into the territory of real friends; it was also a day that reminded me of how American I still am, and how much I enjoy talking with a fellow countryman, even if I occasionally have to explain things, like “pinch, punch, first of the month” to them.