websites | cd-roms | resume | journals | wedding

E-Mailing Through Europe >> London 2001

"Just powers from the consent of the governed"

Date: Fri, 6 Jul 2001 05:28:46 -0700 (PDT)

From: k p
Subject: Independence

Nobody asked to be removed from this list, so I'll keep sending dispatches. So many of you wrote back wondering what the Brits think of the 4th of July that
in the interests of strained Anglo-American relations I feel obligated to respond.


Our American readers will be happy to know that Eva stood in front of Buckingham Palace during the Changing of the Guard with a megaphone and read aloud the "long train of abufef and ufurpationf inflicted upon the peoplef of the Colonief," as Thomas Jefferfon wrote in the Declaration of Independence in 1776. (Apparently, they didn't have an "s" key on their typewriters back then, and used the "f" key inftead.)

John snapped this digital pic at the gardens an English Manor of (l to r) Eva,Diane, Griffin, Ken. 

In addition, we shopped at the Gap, ate lunch at McDonalds and procured grande mochas at Starbucks. Take that, King George!

Actually, we entirely forgot about Independence Day, except for the few American tourists we saw wearing American flags on t-shirts, shorts, flip-flops, head bands, and any other article of clothing upon which the stars and stripes could be printed.

Instead, we immersed ourselves in British history. Tuesday began at the Houses of Parliament and Westminster Abbey, continued with lunch in St. James' Park, a tour of Churchill's secret underground Cabinet War Rooms, a view of the Royal Horse Guards and a stop at a traditional London red phone box to make some calls.

Let's discuss the British phone system for a minute. There seems to be no real reason for all the digits they use, which fall somewhere between 7 and 46 depending on the location you are calling and the stages of the moon. The three American expats I've asked about the British phone system all told me they haven't been able to figure it out, even cousin Diane, who has been here about 20 years (and still insists on using only one "n" in her name, despite my last email.)

Anyway, I bought a book today explaining how to work the phones ("For Fuck's Sake: Using The British Phone System," by Lord Figgles-upon-Bottom; 546 pages). It seems that one uses 8 digits when the Queen is in residence at Buckingham Palace, except when the Prince of Wales is in town. At that point, or when the Queen is at her summer home, one uses 9 digits, unless the Duke of Windsor is sailing his yatch, in which case one uses 10 digits in rapid succession, followed by a Zero and lots of cursing.

For those unfortunate enough to not understand the phone system or purchase a book, a number of lovely British ladies politely offer their services to aid helpless foreigners. In every traditional red phone booth, a number of women (or their agents) have left calling cards (with photos) with instructions that they'll help you regardless of your particular needs. For example: "Pre-Op Transsexual wants you to call!" or "Genuine 19 year old: Just call and leave the rest to me." She'll even make "Hotel visits" and is "Open early til late." These Brits sure are nice!

After spending a few pounds making calls, Eva and I met my friend Jana, who has been living the expat life here in England for about 9 months. She loves London as much as I love New York, so cheers to her! We ate at a trendy asian fusion place called Wagamama, then retired to a pub for drinks. After a couple hours, Eva almost fell asleep thanks to the rapid touring pace she has set, and we took the tube home.

We awoke early, and went to the Tower of London. Touristy, but interesting nonetheless. Perhaps the highlight of the Tower is the Loo, which has a helpful sign reading: "These facilites are free" in English, French, Spanish, Russian, Chinese, Japanese, Czech, and Hebrew.

How gracious of the Queen. One wonders if the Queen charged 20p for the bathroom if people would instead use the 13th century bathroom, which of course is a hole in the side of the castle.

The other highlight was the sparkly and expensive crown jewels. They were beautiful enough for Eva to backtrack and see them twice, though she was disappointed at the end that there is no bridal registry.

Then it was on to meet Jill, another US expat who has been in London exactly a week. We chose The Black Horse Tavern, and spent a couple hours drinking a couple pints. I will now describe my two versions of Guinness in excruciating detail which you probably won't want to read unless you are Ryan or Dan.

The bartender had both Guinness and "Guinness Extra Cold" on draught. I know it is my responsibility as an official Ambassador to All Beers Foreign, Domestic and Thick to--at great personal sacrifice--taste any different form of Guinness at any establishment I may wander into. I inquired of the barkeep, and he explained that the Extra Cold is 1.5 degrees colder. (That's celsius, remember.) It comes from the same keg as the regular Guinness, but is filtered twice though chilled pipes, so it's a bit thinner. Both pints were delivered after the appropriate wait with a shamrock gently embossed in the head. The taste was not too different, though of course the Extra Cold was, well, a bit colder. Yet somehow the thinner version was not as nice, and made me think it's probably designed by some marketing guy who said "Americans (or girls) like their beer colder and thinner." I'm hoping it won't make it across the pond. I will diligently pursue all other forms of the sacred drink while visiting the Empire, and of course report back my findings.

The Guinness was an appropriate pre-theater drink as we then saw the Irish play "Stones in His Pockets" which is playing in New York and London. It was terrific, and I would highly recommend it. One thing to note about British theatres: They are Extra Hot. There is no air conditioning. It was hotter than a NYC subway station in Mid-August. But we survived, the actors performed exceptionally well under the hot lights, and one feels sorry for the person who has to clean their clothes for the next night's performance. "At least `Blast' has air conditioning," as Sara J. has so often and wisely noted.

Stopped by Harrods (nice food section) and British Airways to arrange a flight for Eva. Got snitty with each other, and decided to part ways and meet up in a few hours to tour the Globe, where we'll also meet cousins John and Diane for King Lear tonight.

If you're bored, the end is coming up...

COMING UP NEXT: Ken and Eva retrace Julia Roberts steps on Notting Hill! Ken gets fitted for a Whig wig! And of course: A thorough and detailed recounting of my stirring defense of President Bush's environmental and missle shield policies on the floor of the House of Lords.


next next