So it’s now been a few days in London, and things are wearing thin. We are exhausted. Years ago traveling was nothing too traumatic or liminal; it was more or less like daily life as a graduate student. These days, however, the split between “real life” and “road days” is intolerable, and attempting to attend to them both is like trying to jog on pavement and swim in water at the same time.
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I am now glad that I didn’t go to gradate school here, or move here. Truth is, now that I’ve been here a while, I’m not too keen.
First off, the food is uniformly bad. I now understand why fish & chips is such a famous export—it’s the single most edible thing to regularly be consumed here, believe it or not. The alternatives are things like “prawn cocktail” and “smoky bacon” flavored crisps (the former basically sugared vinegar flavor, the latter liquid smoke flavor), meat pies of various kinds (with precious little meat in them; basically lard, gravy, and a tiny bit of flour to stiffen it all up, with nary a spice and very little salt or pepper), salad sandwiches (imagine sandwich shops and grocery store aisles full of dozens and dozens of different “flavors” of sandwiches that are all basically “various bits stirred into mayo” flavor, with not a single cold cut, whole vegetable, or slice of cheese in sight), and donuts, cinnamon rolls, and other pastries that are all inappropriately made from thin Greek-style pastry dough and a kind of deep and soulful absence of any kind of sugar whatsoever.
Next, the people are inconveniently and abnormally nice. If you are standing in the middle of a grocery store aisle blocking access to the canned beans, a Brit would rather leave, get in their car, and drive to the next grocery store down to avoid inconveniencing you than ask a simple “excuse me,” but they will then of course passively and aggressively complain about your inconsiderateness behind your back. They seem at turns overhelpful and underhelpful but never quite the right balance.
More seriously, Brits appear to have a deep attachment to and respect for inconvenience. They wear it like a badge of honor. Hot water for dishes and a shower? Perish the thought! Hot water is available for two hours a day and only two gallons at a time at that. Need to wash a dish and take a shower? You’ll just have to choose between the two and do one of the tasks tomorrow—either that or simply make due with cold water. After all, waste not, want not. Need a cash machine? Well you can’t have one. So there. The only cash machines are at banks. The only cash machines that work with out-of-country accounts are at large, international banks. Find yourself in the middle of London somewhere on a very busy street where you’d like to sample the local fare but need a pound to do so? All you’ve got to do is take the train two stops back to the nearest bank to get some cash. What’s that? You don’t have money for train fare? Then I guess you get to walk three miles! We can’t possibly have cash machines everywhere, no—that simply wouldn’t do.
Perhaps most offensively, everything in the U.K. is alarmingly and frustratingly small and quaint. The padlock on your door is the size of a peanut and can be pried apart by a bare-handed five-year-old. The knob on your door is the size of a poker chip and rotates exactly one quarter turn before the door opens. The sliding bolt looks something like a piece of wire hanger that’s been docked off and stuck in a sleeve. But none of this matters because the hinges are so fragile and the door so light that if you sneeze, the door will be blown across the room and shatter into bits on the much heftier tinfoil radiator. The only thing in the U.K. of any heft is their massive, woolly-mammoth-sized electrical plugs, which if dropped from a height of four feet, will easily crush a passing Fiat. Exactly a dozen U.K. electrical plugs can be shipped at a time across the Atlantic in the cargo bay of a standard-sized barge, or one at a time by air on a Boeing 747 with extensive cargo-specific modifications.
I don’t know. Maybe I’m just too accustomed to coarse, brash, ugly America with its thirty-two pound lead doorknobs sized like hubcaps to be impressed by the daintiness that is the United Kingdom or their remaindered World-War-II deprivation stoicism.
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Kiddo has chosen now to cut her first tooth. Very convenient. The poor thing—she went through her first cold, then vaccinations, then a seven-hour plane trip, then her first uninterruptable hours-long car ride while crying, then a strange bed, bedroom, and house, then a horde of raging (Elmira-styled) child, then doting grandparents hoisting her about, then yet another strange bed, bedroom, and house, then her first late night on the town in a loud, filthy urban setting, and finally now we top it all off with teething. By the time we top it all off with yet another long car ride, another seven-hour plane trip, and then an unceremonious dumping back into the lap of auntie babysitter so that mommy and daddy can go right back to work, she’s going to be ready to stand on the baby picket line.
I can’t blame her.
I only wish I could do something to make her feel better.
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Have seen the underground, the view from the top of a double-decker, the Thames, Big Ben, Westminster Abbey, Buckingham Palace, the eye, the changing of the guard, that strange phallic building That Shall Remain Nameless Due To Forgetfulness, parliament, and the oldest wine bar in Britain, which is something like a series of tables in a catacomb.
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Still trying to have one meal together (apart from airport/airplane) on this trip. The nature of life with baby, I suppose.