Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Britain, family and friends

One of the things people asked us most whilst in the UK was, "What's it like being back?". For me, it was my first time in the UK in nearly two years. Alan's had a couple of business trips during that time.

I made some notes in an attempt to answer this question while sitting eating breakfast at a London cafe last Friday morning. So here's a few observations, peppered with some photos of people and places...

People in suits were such an odd sight. Particularly in London as there were so many of them. You almost never see a business suit in Austin. Formal work attire means long trousers instead of shorts, but there's still a good chance of a Hawaiian shirt.

Jill and Steve

One thing the Americans just don't seem to have got quite right is bacon. Good, honest, tasty bacon. Alan and I availed ourselves of plenty of cooked English breakfasts whilst home to make up for lost time ;-)

Bury St Edmunds from the air

There's about a million Czech and Polish people around these days. In London it's actually very hard to hear an English accent, especially if the person is behind a shop counter or bar. Local corner shops advertise Polski food alongside English and Asian foods.

In fact, there is even more ethnic diversity in general than I remember there being. Again it was most obvious in London, but in other towns - Ipswich for example - there's people from everywhere in abundance.

Jane and Chris of the Mason's Arms in Bury; a proper British Pub

That breakfast cafe had one example of the many unfamiliar signs in shop windows. Some new review website network that we'd never heard of. New tehnologies, new websites, communication systems etc. The world moves on and we have missed the last two years of European tech development.

Peter, Alan, Kate, Sarah and Paul

They say there's a recession on, and it is evidenced by the many shops closed and/or gone. Places we once knew in Bury, Sudbury and Ipswich are boarded up or replaced with other things. RIP Kings Deli in Sudbury; a sad loss.

Tracy and Paul about ten minutes after we met them in Ipswich

Sadly, it is my duty to report that the British fashion sense has not improved any since we've been gone. There were staggering numbers of really quite unfortunate examples of how not to dress, in all parts of the country. Granted, neither Alan and I are ever going to be catwalk kings or queens but there are certain lines that should not be crossed. Shell suits is one of them. Tight hotpants on large ladies is another, and let us not forget the cropped shiny leather jacket and unfeasibly short skirts (Aeroplane skirts, a friend of mine used to say. So short, you can see the cockpit!).

Nairn, Paul, Tracy, Elizabeth

Alan and I made a discovery which may shock some people. It seems that in general, we now prefer US beer. Maybe it was Alan's cold (which lasted the whole trip) hampering his taste buds, but a lot of London beers we tried were pretty flat and just not as good as we remembered them. That said, we did find some outstanding pubs.
The Cittie of Yorke at 22 High Holborn has to be visited, if you're in the area. It's a Sam Smiths pub which is always a good thing, and the building is truly fabulous.

A ferry leaving Harwich, probably heading for Hook of Holland

I love the brilliant green English countryside. In summer it is a delight to behold. So lush and verdant. It was my privilege and pleasure to go flying with Nic, where we could see plenty of it from the air. Likewise, a summer evening's walk with Sarah through the pathways and water meadows in Bury St Edmunds was delightful. Early morning on the common lands of Sudbury, next to my hotel, was so refreshing. I do miss common lands and footpaths. Texas is all private land and has not had the weight of years in which to build these networks. Britain should cherish them.

I'm not so impressed with the Carbuncle in Bury, however. Otherwise known as the new shopping centre. They have built a rounded-corner monstrosity which is going to be a Debenham's store. It is actually a lovely bit of architecture; it just shouldn't be within a hundred miles of Bury. It doesn't suit the town At All.

Delightful cool British weather is the source of much moaning by Brits but much relief from the likes of us. Two weeks of not sweltering all the time was a luxury. It is a British sport to complain about the rain (and yes, we got our fair share during the trip) but being on a 5-day watering schedule during an alarm stage drought makes you appreciate it, for sure. Remember how I like the green countryside? It's very brown in Texas.

London has always been busy but seemed extra-busy this trip, and nowhere more so than in the British Museum. We went in there as it was so close to the hotel but didn't stay very long as you could hardly move for all the visitors. That said, here's some views of it.

British Museum new section

I was amazed at how many examples of Egyptian relics they had. There is a vast number of excellent things in here.

Egyptian heiroglyphics on a tomb

Egyptian gate guards

I'd love to go back when we had more time and it was less crowded. Granted, mid-July probably is not the best time of year to visit anywhere but you takes your chances when you can. Oh, and I was so delighted to learn that the Romans played marbles! They had five lovely, shiny, big round colourful marbles on display. Something so old, yet so ordinary. I just thought it was cool.

Near the hotel there were two Pavilions, built by architectural students. I like them. I like the big London terraces behind them, too.

This one is made of thin concrete sheets

This one is made of wood

So, a big shout out to everyone who looked after us in the UK. It was brilliant to see you all.

Next Monday, I'm off to Oshkosh. I intend to provide daily blogs from my phone, so watch this space!

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