Travel Guide – Episode 5 – It’s A-OK in UK
Hullo, wotcha, and an ay-up to everyone. No, I don’t really know what they mean, but from ye olde English writings, I understand the words were hot stuff yonder in London. And it felt mot juste to start off this account that way. Mot juste, FYI, was one of the phrases frequently peppering Wodehouse novels. It was all right for Wode, but why, or wherefore (to use one of Shakespeare’s gimmicks) am I resurrecting these old phrases in this paragraph? I don’t really know, but for some reason, these words always pop up when the mind wanders to London. And you can hardly expect one to write about a visit to The Square Mile without one’s mind wandering off to London, can you? Forsooth.
So yes, I finally got to pack up my gear and hop over to the United Kingdom. As I boarded the plane, I knew that I’ll soon be marking my first footprint outside Asian soil. A momentous occasion. Well, maybe for a geologist. I wasn’t sure I’d be able to differentiate between the soils, but I tried real hard to delude myself that it was momentous. Yet, every time I tried, I’d remind myself that I’m on an extremely brief trip, with most of my already short time devoted to slavish work. When you have just three days in a place like London, two of which are devoted to the office, it’s hard not to think about the time insufficiency. I had about 10 hours to see the place. It was like a reality show –
“You have 10 hours, and 44,267 landmarks to see. Your time starts…… NOW! GO!”
Thankfully, I was able to use my phone-a-friend lifeline. My prodigious cousin, Rosh, and his wife, Ashy, have temporarily established foundations in the land of Big Ben, and together, we conspired on how to best allocate my 10 hours to productive use. Perhaps, we could allocate a priority based algorithm to derive the most important landmarks, and run past as many as possible till sundown. Maybe we could just taxi around town till time runs out. Maybe we could create a historic mystery out of the monuments and rush from place to place like Dan Brown characters.
– “Look! The birds are flying over that statue of Napoleon Bonaparte… and he’s pointing up at a 75 degree angle. Clearly, we need to run up the stairs to Big Ben and look for more clues.”
– “Whoa! Hold on, there, Hammy. Firstly, that’s NOT Napoleon. Secondly, that’s not even a statue. That’s a French tourist, complete with sunglasses and camera. And thirdly… and perhaps most importantly, he’s NOT pointing! He’s just picking his nose!”
– “Hmm… You make a strong argument. Let’s go.”
On second thoughts, that’s just silly. I can never run up the stairs to Big Ben. I’m told there are 334 steps… and that too, spiral. No, thank you. I have simpler ways of killing myself.
We finally arrived at a plan that screamed simplicity from the word go. We’d just get dropped at a random location in Central London, and then walk all day, stopping at whatever landmark is gracious enough to pop up on our way. The less co-operative landmarks and sceneries will have to wait for another day. It was the only fair way, we decided.
We strolled through London bridge, across the whachamaycallits, near Westminster Abbey, the stores around the thingamajigs, and the whatnots… (Man, I should really take up travel writing on a professional level), Shakespeare’s theater… from the outside, and, – at the risk of repetition – the London bridge… Despite all the stories in rhyme we were subjected to when we were kids, I would like to assure you, that London Bridge is NOT falling down; a bit rusty at parts maybe, but it looks stable enough. Enough to withstand another thousand nursery rhymes, in fact. So if you were worried on that count, well… don’t be.
I wanted to try out the traditional English fish ‘n chips. So on our way, we stopped at a restaurant called… “Fish ‘n Chips”. That was the name. Asking for a menu sounded redundant.
– “So what do you have, my good fella?”
– “Ahem. What do we have? You walked in to a place called ‘Fish n Chips’, so tell you what… Why don’t you take a wild stab at it? A shot in the dark, if you will. I’ll wait.”
I enjoyed the stroll. London is a beautiful place, and on a personal level, it was a revelation. My London visit clarified a lot of confusion carried forward from my childhood days. The most important of these was the Western fascination with summer. I have read innumerable stories and poems where the author/ poet glorifies the beauty and magnificence of summer. This was always confusing.
To understand why it’s confusing, you’ll have to sample a Summer from South India. Summer, as a season, comes scorching the land like a forest wildfire. The rational response of most citizens is to jump away from the sun and hide in the shadows like soldiers dodging napalm fire. In Chennai, I’m still convinced that people are always hurrying about because those who stand in one spot under the sun spontaneously melt into a wavy puddle on the hot unrelenting roads.
But like I said… London was a revelation. I get it now. London was a cold place. All around me, people were heavily geared with coats, jackets, sweaters, scarves, earmuffs, gloves, vests, overcoats and woolen caps… and I’m talking PER person. People were still shivering, gloved hands shoved in pockets. When I saw couples hugging, it was difficult to decipher whether romance was in the air or whether they were just strangers trying to beat the cold. Every time the sun peeked out from the clouds, it sent a fresh wave of short relief; a reminder that all will indeed be well. I can understand how they’d regard summer with awe and adoration. The sun was not a threat; not the villain, he is the hero around these parts; the iconic rock star of every winter. If he could sign autographs without burning his fans to a cinder, he would. There was an unwrit…
“AAAAANNNND time’s UP! Let’s see how Hammy has done. He had 10 hours to allocate between 44,267 landmarks. How did he do? Let’s go to the judges”
In the blink of an eye, it was over. I was heading out to the airport, suitcase in hand, bidding adieu before I ever really said hi. I guess the most apt ending to the account of my short visit to London would be an appropriate quote from William Shakespeare. However, since I can’t think of one offhand, you’re gonna have to settle with –