My time in England was, without a doubt, lovely. In the six weeks I spent there I realized that while I have the most unfortunate luck in my professional life, my personal life flourishes with good fortune–besides encountering an overwhelming sense of football passion (having been there during the World Cup), I stumbled upon a mish-mash of bubbly barmaids, South Africans, rambunctious rugby players, hobo hostels, benevolent English families, magnificent site-seeing and an unforgettable British bloke.
1) Rosie: Upon arrival to London, I stumbled into the Halfway House in Earlsfield (appx. 40-minute train ride from the Gatwick Airport) around noon, draped with too many handbags and lugging behind a very over packed suitcase. Vital to my health, I decided to order a belgium beer which is where I met Rosie, the best barmaid in the world, and completely “off her trolly”–even though that is the phrase she uses to describe most of the people she knows. Rosie is blunt, boisterous and bloody brilliant. Little did I know that Rosie would become one of my closest and most helpful friends during my unexpected six weeks in England–tours of Central London, Brighton, Camden Town, Wimbledon and even a few days at her house while we initiated a five-day celebration for her 22nd birthday.
2) South African housemates: There is an undeniably large South African population in the London area. I was fortunate enough to have a connection with one such bru (SA slang for dude) who offered to take me in for, what I thought was my only, one week stay in London. It was a full house of South Africans and their hospitality was above and beyond incredible. While cruising around with them, I may have met more than half the citizens of Durbin. With strong opinion, due to my large sample size of acquaintances, South Africans are the epitome of “work hard, play hard.” They took me on my first rugby adventure, Rugby Sevens, which is an annual summer event bringing together rugby teams from all over the world to play quick, short-circuit games throughout the day. Meanwhile, the fans were encouraged to dress up as superheroes in hopes to break the Guinness world record of the most superheroes in one place. They began drinking at 10 am and continued getting “pissed” the rest of the day and night. Basically, the day is equivalent to an American college football game day. This day, the unexpected happened–I met my British bloke (see below) and a swarm full of rowdy rugby players.
3) Brighton: I took a break from my South African experience one sunny day when Rosie offered to take me to Brighton, approximately one-hour train ride from London. Brighton can best be described as the Coney Island of the United Kingdom– equipped with yearlong carousel rides, homemade candy and pebble-side seafood by the mouthful. The Lanes are retro, Bohemian, homemade and tasty. Wandering is the ideal activity, eclectic is the theme word and secondhand shops are the first choice for fashion.
4) The Tube: I’ve never lived, nor experience the tube lifestyle and was quite fascinated by the lack of interaction between people forced close to one another. The experienced are smart to bring a book or grab the paper; those that are in a hurry have either mastered the glance-away-at-last-second jolt or are masters at avoiding people and the rest just choose shut-eye. Then there are people (like me) who are either obsessed with meeting people and/or observing people (call us the Walt Whitmans of the world). I have neither mastered the dart-away gaze nor could I even pretend to care about reading in such an exciting environment. I would find myself four minutes into analyzing the woman sitting catty-corner from me—her hairstyle, personality, career—as soon as I began to ponder if the way she was sitting reflected some type of age range or energy level, I realized my unnecessarily extensive gaze was making her squirm in her seat, which was already squished too tightly between a dozing, therefore bobble headed man in a pinstripe suit and a woman reading “The Georgians: A Historical Outline of Britain Life.” I knew, at least I felt all three of them were worth meeting and I would have rather talked to them about their life rather than guesstimate for 40 minutes according to the color and position of their shoes, so I decided to meet them. Turns out, people on the tube could care less about chatting with cheery strangers. Needless to say, I resigned from my Walt Whitman persona and resorted to the local newspaper.
“The London Pace” is also a practice worthy of noting—this consists of a fast-paced, dead track speed walk of Londoners that know exactly what they are doing and exactly where they are going at all times. If you find yourself a lost, lonely or inquisitive tourist, or just have a desire to relax then steer clear of the tube between 8-10 am and 4-8 pm. Otherwise you will find yourself overwhelmed, dictated and trampled by the direction of other people.
5) Print journalism readership: Due to the advanced use of public transportation, the amount of people who absorb print journalism on a daily basis astounds me. In London, they still offer out a free morning paper, The Metro, as well as a free evening paper, The Evening Standard. I would love to be a journalist in London because regardless of the income, I know my writing would be read by many, as opposed to the state of print journalism readership in America. And that, my friends, is the most exciting part about being a journalist—having your words read by many.
6) Suffok, Sudbury: I spent a week in Sudbury visiting a friend from college. I was only meant to spend a weekend in this area, but in face of an extraordinarily generous English family, I was offered a place to stay for as long as I needed. While there, I developed an adoration for evening bike rides through the England countryside—fields of barley, bumpy footpaths, hidden ponds and trees that form blooming tunnels from one side of the road to the next giving the feeling that one should be on a carriage rather than a bicycle ride. I was also lucky enough to attend a local beer festival, visit a historical castle in Colchester, one of the oldest towns in England and spend a weekend canoeing down a canal infested with evil swans and carnivorous plants.
7) Camden Town: A place where bright red hair is the trendy hair-do, the buildings comes to life and artistic expression is displayed through myriad tattoos on almost everyone you see. Camden is very diverse in style–aesthetic appeal is retro, grungy and eye-popping. This is an area of rebels whose main priority is to challenge and disobey the norm. The backstreets are loaded with countless food shacks and waterside fronts making it a great place for simple day dates. Camden is also an affordable place for shopping with its giant fashion flea markets and barter opportunities. Do be careful of bums and drug dealers, otherwise enjoy the funeral street parades and nonconformist attitude.
8) Hostel Experience: I stayed in a hostel for one week out of my six weeks in England, days intermixed. This experience birthed a feeling of sentimental nostalgia and a plethora of flashbacks of my backpacking trip just two years earlier. Hostels are a place where you can meet a swarm of good people from all over the world, instantaneously. They are like a social orgasm–everyone’s energy exploding with sensational stories and personalities that blow your mind. I have made some of my closest friends in hostels (shout out to Iceland) and will never consider the sometimes unfortunate living situations too much of a burden to bear because it is not about the stay, it’s about the stayers. One huge discovery: there is nothing better than a loaded foot-long after two weeks of pasta and apples.
9) England football (soccer) passion: Football rules the country. I was fortunate enough to have been in England during the start and almost to the end of the World Cup. The first game, which was England vs. USA, left them jaw dropped and dumbfounded as it ended in a draw (1-1). It is important to note that Englanders spend more time watching football than any other country (roughly 10-hours a week). The outcome of a match will dictate the mood of every British soul–a win leads to happiness and celebration while a loss leads to a surly and shutdown bunch of blokes and birds (equivalent to the American terms: dudes and chicks). I was ever shocked to witness the change of tone in newspapers after England got dominated by Germany, losing 4-1. My favorite paper, The Times, became the most subjective, dramatic piece of print journalism I have ever read in terms of football, thrashing the players’ passion and the coach’s abilities in a humorously, unprofessional manner.
10) Would you like a cup of tea?: For me, too much tea usually leads to too much pee, but as your addiction grows, so does your bladder. The British awake for ‘bed’ tea, break for ‘afternoon’ tea, ‘before and after dinner’ tea and of course a nightly tea cap. I am sure many American’s response to the British tea craze is a lot like my Grandma’s, “ Milky tea? Yuck!” But to America’s dismay, it turns out that a decent brew, a splash of milk and one or two dollops of sugar is quite a delectable daily (if not hourly) slurp.
11) My British bloke: Taking away the sexy English accent and the
undeniable charm, what do I love most about British blokes? They have the driest, but most witty sense of humor I have ever come across and, to my astonishment, they understand mine. They are sweet, but humorous in the most ambiguous of ways. They live off of banter. Ideally, you give me a sweet sense of humor then you give me my model man, but I realized it goes deeper than that. Regardless of all the qualities my British bloke had–sweet, charming, sexy, patient, understanding, kind, chivalrous (to a point)–take all that away, he still made me sparkle. He made me come alive without thinking. When I was with him, I held nothing back–happiness, sadness, anger, nostalgia, frustrations–he got it all. In the five weeks I spent getting to know him and he me, we built a kind of bond I had never had with any guy. We communicated on an entirely different level of maturity–intimacy through words, if you will. He took me to Hampton Court, an unforgettably wild wedding of Northern Englanders and made sure I stayed alive in England. At a time when I find myself wanting to say so much, I can’t find the words to tell a story that I know isn’t finished. Due to the circumstances, we bid each other farewell, for now…