Thursday, June 16, 2016

Musings over Afternoon Tea in Britain

As I stood in line at the immigration counter at the airport, I wondered whether the Brits stood in line when they arrived in India. I believe it's a little hypocritical of them to check others before letting them in into their country. I thought that maybe I should at least get a free beer as restitution for the plunder they carried out over the centuries. Though minor detail, I should have taken up my case with the Portuguese, not the Brits. I looked around and noticed that all the signs were in English. Obviously. But this is the first place in Europe that had only one language. At least they should have had signs in French as well to placate the French for losing out as the universal language.

The first port of call was York, famous for its medieval setting. At the station I was disappointed not to see the famed queuing tendency of the Brits when the train arrived. But I was well pleased to see rules strictly observed on the stairways. Basically you can only walk up/down on the left side, with prominent 'No Entry' signs on the right side. And even if one side is packed, no one would walk on the other side. Given that people depart a station in waves and arrive in trickles, it made no sense to have both lanes to be of equal width. While on the topic of no sense, what's with sinks that have two faucets, one for hot water and one for cold water? I was left constantly alternating my hands back and forth to prevent scalding and freezing of my hands. Also, they use a curious mix of metric and imperial units of measure. Distances are in miles and elevations are in feet for instance. All things aside, the one thing that I applaud the Brits for is the double decker buses. Why haven't other countries thought of that? It's such an efficient use of space. Plus you get great views from the upper level.

Getting back to York, after that important tangent. The York Minster is one of those places where you spend more than 5 min just because you paid a hefty entry fee and you linger around pointlessly to get your money's worth. Couldn't they tell you that the church has been converted to a theater temporarily? All you could see was the ugly back side of stage sets. The main draw of a Gothic structure is the feeling of space, created by the tall slender columns. Here, there was scaffolding everywhere. I darted for the exit once the respectful 5 min was up. The bright side of leaving right away was that I caught a 'free' history tour of the city. A colorful guy talking about the colorful past of England was an ideal combination. Potter around the medieval streets and along the city wall, and York is a great day trip destination.

The next stop was Bristol. It is where London hipsters go to retire, just like Calif hipsters retire to Portland. It has a great vibe or maybe I'm just biased towards hipsters. A visit to the pub felt like gate crashing a family gathering. The atmosphere was that homey. There were some guys who seemed to have come straight from their evening run, all sweaty in their running shorts. We need these pubs in Calif. Once I went to a neighborhood dive bar in Santa Clara and I thought I was at a convention of AA rejetcs. While on the topic of drinking, we know that the Brits love their tea (PS: The Brits stole tea from the Chinese). Afternoon tea in a garden was an experience to savor, just like thinly sliced scones slathered in clotted cream and jam. A light drizzle and ominous clouds weren't enough to deter the Brits from being outside just a little longer. After all, a light drizzle would be considered good weather in Britain. Blessed are those with low expectations.

The final stop was London. That's where the party was. It was the Queens 90th birthday. I am beginning to believe she is immortal. The queen is so old that her memory is in black and white. Meanwhile, thousands of royal aficionados lined the street for the parade. The event though was a yawn fest. It was a lot of doing nothing, just like the royals I suppose. Occasionally a few guys in funny hats marched by. It was the kind of party where, even if you didn't have any expectations, you'd disappointed. I saw the queen for about five seconds, too short a time to ask about that Kohinoor diamond she's been holding hostage. I'll get her next time. And just like that, the parade was over. The fans of the royals obviously continued the party by excitedly discussing her green dress, her wave and her (purely imaginary) smile. While I will never understand the concept of royalty, I applaud her longevity in her role as the queen. Waving to peasants a few times a year is a tough life indeed.

After the extremely mild dose of excitement at the parade, it time to wander the streets of the great city. London is an eclectic mix of cultures and architecture. There is no old town in London. The city is a mix of beautiful Victorian and Georgian, ugly 60s and bold modern. London, or England in general, is expensive for a tourist. It was a good thing that I had a few extra pounds on me from all the desserts I had eaten over the past few months. One penny saving tip, attend a service or free organ concert in St Paul's Cathedral for a free viewing of this impressive church.

Meanwhile, Catholics looking for a good Sunday service should head to the Jesuit parish in Mayfair. I'm not playing brand ambassador here, but it was a wonderful service and I met some awesome young adults who hung out at a nearby pub thereafter. It was great to get an insight into the Brexit debate that is raging in London. My take from the discussion was that Brexit was mainly about immigrants. And these (probably liberal) young professionals felt that the 'exiters' were just a bunch of xenophobic racists. I'm not entirely informed about the whole debate, so I'll pass no further judgement. But one things is for certain. The immigrants have definitely improved the food scene in England.

With that, I cast off across the moat to France. Au revoir!

Cheers to Matthew, Nikhil and Milroy for hosting!

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