The Art of Losing: A Comedy of Errors

I mentioned in an earlier post that I prefer small towns to big cities on school trips. London is not a small town. London is a city with multiple tube entrances, snaking back alleys, and gated parks planted in the middle of residential communities. London seems eager to lose its tourists.

On our last night, we took the tube to West End for a performance of Shakespeare in Love at the Noel Coward theater. It was a great performance, a mixture of laughter and star-crossed love and pretty incredible stage props and setting. Of course, some of the kids were chatty and elicited complaints – come on now, a 15-year-old can’t help but laugh at Shakespeare’s exposed buttocks – but overall, they enjoyed it.

In retrospect, we should’ve anticipated an adventure early that evening when we arrived at Holburn station and a student dropped her iPhone onto the tube tracks. After an initial gobsmacked gawking from the platform, I went and retrieved a station attendant who radioed her supervisor and informed us that no one was allowed onto the tracks to retrieve the phone, nor could they use a claw-type device to grab it from the platform.

“There was a terrible accident the last time someone attempted this,” she told us cryptically. “We can get it when the trains stop running and have you come collect it tomorrow morning.”

She promised to keep an eye on it until then and collected our contact information, but our student was understandably upset.

“No one can steal it,” I promised her. “If someone jumps onto the tracks, they’ll get arrested.”

We assured her that this wasn’t Egypt, that even the attendant wouldn’t be able to steal it because her supervisor had been notified. Slightly mollified, she nodded. We were now running late.

We made it to the show right on time and would’ve left before the crowds hit the metro if I hadn’t lost my program. I’m not one to lose things – Icelandic gloves aside – especially things that cost 4£, so I was determined to find it. (David suggested I purchase one, as Shakespeare in Love is in my curriculum next year.) I’d last had it in the ladies’, and noticed I’d misplaced it mere seconds after leaving, so I promptly returned. Londoners hate “queue jumpers”, but the looks of scorn quickly changed to looks of pity when I frantically explained that I’d lost my program in one of the stalls.

It wasn’t in any of them.

“Someone’s probably grabbed it already,” remarked an older woman, with pity. (She’d been about to tear my head off when I cut her, but she clearly knows the value of a 4£ program.)

At the desk, I explained that I’d dropped the program and it had either been swiped in the loo or swiped someplace else. An usher regarded me suspiciously before searching the aisle and returning empty-handed.

“I’ll look upstairs and see if there are any from yesterday,” a woman from the counter told me, taking pity on my desperation. I waited in the lobby with two women from Idaho who were there to complain about their seats.

“We were so far back, their heads were cut off,” said one angrily. “They said there should’ve been a warning with those tickets, but there wasn’t.”

“British theater is a bit strange,” I conceded. “Where was the standing ovation?”

David shook his head at me later about this.

“Americans ruin standing ovation. You’re only supposed to give it when something is exceptional,” he told me.

“But everything is exceptional on Broadway!”

The woman returned with an older copy of the program for me.

“The top of this one is ripped,” she said apologetically. “But it’s all I could find.”

I thanked her profusely – I spent $6 on this stapled pile of paper, I don’t give a dang if the top is ripped! – and ran out to meet the group. David was determined to get the kids back to the hotel quickly, so we marched past the steaming Idahoans – no refunds for them! – and past the stage door where the actor who had played Shakespeare was making a hasty getaway but probably could’ve posed for one photo if we weren’t in such a hurry.

The tube station was jammed with people packing into the turnstyles, and I immediately lost sight of David. Two of the students couldn’t get their tickets to work and had to purchase more, so Trish and I lingered behind with them until they returned empty-handed, citing long lines at the ticket booth.

Somehow, we managed to pass through the turnstyle two at a time, and finally made it down the stairs to where a group of about twelve students were huddled in front of a tube map.

“We lost him!” they cried. “How will we get back?”

I took a second to peruse the map, mentally navigating the lines back to Bayswater. I was tempted to switch up the route, but decided to retrace our steps and take the Picadilly line back to Holburn, then switch and get off at Queensway.

This turned out to be a smart move.

As we descended to the Picadilly line platform, I counted my students and noticed with panic that a dodgy-looking fellow was talking to one of the girls and handing her a backpack. I practically teleported myself to the end of the line to intervene, but the girl looked at me wide-eyed and said, “This is Farah’s bag. It was just sitting here. The man said someone left it at the platform.”

I was still pretty confused, but Farah was rummaging through her bag and explained that it was hers, and here was her passport, her wallet, and lots of cash. I was suddenly extremely grateful to whatever had stopped me from taking an alternate route home. If we hadn’t come back this way…

We got off at Queensway and let the kids get McDonalds before heading back to the hotel. Trish and I were keen to find out what had happened with David and the others, so we sent the kids to their rooms immediately to find the other students.

“They’re not here yet,” one of the girls explained, emerging from her room. Trish and I exchanged worried glances. They’d left before us – how on earth were they not back?

We’d been deciding what to do when, ten minutes later, they arrived back at the hotel. What followed was, at least to me, a pretty hilarious account that was straight out of a Shakespearean comedy of errors:

One of the students with David had had Farah’s bag, but when they boarded the train, he’d forgotten it on the platform. Petrified and terribly guilty, he confessed this to David, who had the students get out at the next stop and take the next train back to the station where he’d left the bag. At about this time, our group was arriving and retrieving the bag, so when David and the students arrived back at the platform, the bag was missing.

The poor boy was probably panicking at this point. David and co. filled out a report at the station and then headed back toward the hotel. Passing through Holburn, they were stopped by the attendant who had been in charge of the cell phone on the tracks. She’d managed to retrieve it and could give it to them now if they’d follow her.

You can imagine this kid’s relief to find Farah reunited with her bag and all of its important contents. It was a pretty remarkable final night, and a great way to conclude our trip through Shakespeare and London.

All’s well that ends well, right?

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