The weather report for my trip to London predicted super hot, muggy days; the warmest in ages. After sweltering in Paris, I figured it was just going to get worse. Surprisingly, the weather in London has been absolutely lovely. I left the battery charger for the camera in Paris so I only have a few photos of the jolly green city.
Quick, what’s the first thing that comes to your mind when you think of rude restaurant service in Europe?
How dare you think that of my beloved French friends! No, the true answer, at least for me, was an Indian restaurant in London. Yeah! Indian food in London! I ended up walking out of the restaurant after waiting 15 minutes for them to take an order.
Instead, I went next door to a pseudo-Italian place with mediocre to really bad food. Can you believe I found bad food in England? I was craving something fruity for dessert and ordered the apple pie. I’m not lying, the guy opened the fridge and cut a slice of uncooked apple pie. The crust was white and the apples tasted like applesauce thickened with flour. The service was nice and the people were polite.
Friendly and polite people serving bad food in England? I guess some stereotypes can come true.
Just to round out the food adventures, I had several cups of “jus de chosette” at the hotel and local coffee joints. I just didn’t have the heart to go to Starbucks. They seemed to be on every block when you didn’t need one. But when a fella needs a good cup of joe, they’re nowhere to be found.
I got a super tour of Old London. My guide Martin, the swellest guy in the land, led me to old churches, Roman Ruins, ancient markets, new markets, and places filled with gory history. This is my third trip to London. This was the first time I found the city really interesting.
The Angel is a small pub that sat between the prison and the execution forum during the Victorian days. The hangman would stay on his wagon with the horses as the condemned guy would pop in for his last pint or two. This is the origin of the term “on the wagon.” I asked what happened when the hangman fell off the wagon, but he didn’t know.
Oddly enough, it’s London’s macabre scenes that seemed to have survived. One hospital’s façade still carried the battle scars of Hitler’s blitzkrieg. Former cemeteries have been converted to parks with the tombstones stacked against a wall. A pub that sits on top of a horrendous debtors’ prison hosts the ghosts of long-gone peasants. There’s a town square where the thieves would gather and share their loot after a day of pillaging. With the exception of the busy hospital, these places are now pleasant possibly quaint pedestrian places.
Soho aka So many Hos
The @media conference had an evening get together in the Soho neighborhood, not far from my hotel. I got lost and ended up walking down many streets and alleys, seeing all sorts of things that would make a less worldly person blush. Let’s just say that there were things on sale that I hope I never see again. Shiver me timbers.
Paris has Rue St. Denis, which is actually a fun street to walk along. The girls on that street are like cartoon figures waiting for their next close-up. You’ve got the little schoolgirl in this door, the 75 year old pensioner down the street wearing spike heels, a large woman wearing fishnets and nothing else in an alley doing her best cancan imitation, and don’t forget the 7 foot tall dominatrix in full leather gear watching your every move from the middle of the street. You don’t want to mess with her!
In typical French fashion, if you’re going to do something, do it well. If you’re going to sell a fantasy, sell a really good fantasy. Don’t go Soho and just flop it out like someone selling cotton candy at the county fair.
(Dad, you may not want to print that section out for Mom to read :) )
More London food
The English desperately want to have good food. Or at least that is what it seems like on the telly. This has manifested itself in recipe names with fifteen words. You can’t have an egg on toast, no it is ‘A free-range chicken egg, delicately cooked with fresh herbs, hand-churned butter, and whole-grain wallpaper paste bread.” Even the oatmeal is “stone-ground grains with filtered Cartesian water, steamed over oak chips.”
Fortunately some foods have simple names. “Really gross parts of cows and pigs, mixed with blood, leftover stone-ground grains with filtered Cartesian water that has been steamed over oak chips, free-range chicken beaks, and assorted crud from the bottom of our rice cooker” is pleasantly titled “black pudding.” Replace the blood with lamb-brains and fish testicles and you have “white pudding.”
The World Cup
I don’t think anyone in England actually watches the soccer matches. Instead, they feel compelled to meet in a pub, smoke, get drunk, and do everything but actually watch the game. They wait for the crowd to scream on the telly then turn around en masse and yell hooray. Then they quietly ask: “who scored?” Afterwards, they drunkenly stumble down the streets singing songs that are completely incomprehensible. I swear I watched two guys singing a song about Old Mother Hubbard who lived in a shoe and sat on a spider until their voices gave out. I have no idea how this related to Beckham bending something.
I did what any reasonable person would do. I waited until the news came on to watch the 20 seconds of interesting action replayed from the day’s matches. Then I belched and stumbled down the halls of the hotel singing show tunes. Somehow it just wasn’t the same.
How do I get in touch with Saatchi Galleries? I’ve got a great idea for installation art and I think we could work on a deal.
Darkness surrounds you when traveling through the Chunnel from France to England. Overcast, drab skies welcome you to England. What kind of experience is that? I want to be seduced by the island. I want to feel the warm embrace of sunny England. Well, maybe sunny isn’t the best description, but you get the idea.
So, here’s my plan. About ½ mile before the exit, begin placing some warm colored fluorescent lights near the tracks. At first they are wide spread, eventually they get closer and closer until the train is bathed in a warm light. When the train finally emerges from the tunnel, create a short bronze-colored glass tunnel to give the riders the feeling of emerging into a sunny oasis. Sure it will quickly turn to grey but wouldn’t that be a nice experience?
Chuck, have your people call my people and we can do lunch. We’ll chat over the details, eat black pudding, and sing nursery rhymes to the ho’s in Soho. Actually, you can eat the black pudding, I’ll stick to a glass of water, it’s hard to mess that up.