England Swings

“England swings like a pendulum do. Bobbies on bicycles two by two…” – Roger Miller

“It’s a dangerous business, Frodo, going out your door. You step onto the road, and if you don’t keep your feet, there’s no knowing where you might be swept off to.” – J. R. R. Tolkien

“A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds…” – Ralph Waldo Emerson

Let’s face it. I’m a sucker for a big city. Perhaps I should hedge my bets on that statement though, since I’ve not been to them all. But cities such as New York, Paris, and now, London are all ticked off, and I am a happy boy to have had the pleasure to see them. Actually, even more to truly experience them. Not as a native though, I’m sure my exuberance would be tempered were I to have to commute by the Tube — or Metro, or Subway — to work every day. As a tourist, I try to avoid the Tube during rush hour. It’s a do unto others sort of thing.

London. Oh my, it’s all I can do to keep from using cliché British phrases whilst writing this (Oops). But back to London. A place I’ve known existed since I was a child. Being an avid reader — thanks mom and granny — I’ve had many an adventure in England, London, and a whole slew of other places. “The game is afoot”, Holmes said to a young Marvin, and in wide-eyed amazement I followed the great sleuth, even to his mysterious end. During this week, the legendary, and mysterious, city of London became much more real to me.

Me and the Tower Bridge

The places I’ve seen in my mind, or perhaps on the silver screen, came alive. Admiral Horatio Nelson in all his one-armed and one-eyed glory stood tall and proud in Trafalgar Square. Having read some of the Aubrey-Maturin series, by Patrick O’Brian, anything sea related from that period had such a romantic stir. You’ll know what I’m talking about if you’ve seen Master and Commander with Russell Crowe. Sir Francis Drake’s Golden Hinde was another relic, though a replica, of another famous ship sailing out of my imagination. As a fellow who has himself been deemed worthy of the Order of Magellan, these figures loom large to me. Sadly you’ll have noticed that I digress much too often. Sorry. (Not sorry.)

On pomp and circumstance. The changing of the guard. When I was serving in the Navy, at first I actually liked all the marching and standing tall and such. But, when you get down to doing the job — a job sometimes entailing being up for thirty-six hours — and then having to pomp and circumstance, I grew weary of it. Looking back now I respect those things. There’s a stirring of the soul with much of this ceremony. And I felt it when I saw a couple of changing of the guard ceremonies. Wonderful. As a quick aside, much of this I saw whilst taking a walking tour arranged through AirBnB. Caroline’s Walking Tour of Central London. Alex was our guide, and what a guide he was. A Shakespearean actor, Alex spoke with directness and projected such an air of confidence and authenticity. It was lovely. During the changing of the horse guards, Alex told us the story of Charles I, Oliver Cromwell, and subsequently Charles II and the forming of this changing of the guard ceremony. The pomp and circumstance was alive and well, and wonderful. And the experience of London continues.

One of the Life Guard

As a quick aside, when I first met Alex, and the rest of the group, at Covent Garden, he started introducing us to a bit of English history. He showed us a picture of a rotund regal fellow, and asked, “do you know who this is?” I immediately sang a refrain from “Henry the VIII” by Herman’s Hermits. Everyone just looked at me, Alex saint, “uhhh, yes.”. Sigh. I’m old.

A “foolish consistency” may be a hobgoblin, but a routine is, to me, a calming ritual. I can’t speak for everyone — though I sometimes try to — but I seem to naturally seek and settle into routines. Especially morning routines. Keeps me from having to think too much… perhaps this is the hobgoblin of simple minds Emerson was speaking of, but it sure helps me ease into the day. My London trip routine was based on morning visits to Pret-A-Manger. A chain, yes. But the food offerings had a decidedly British bent. And in a recently watched Jame Acaster special on Netflix, which included a Pret-A-Manger theme, I felt no qualms heading here for my morning repast. And here serendipity struck again. The crew each morning were wonderful, helpful for the silly American (who just couldn’t quickly count the coins) they were patient, friendly, and so very helpful. On my last full day in London, after I mentioned I was flying back the next day, two of the baristas gave me my routine coffee free of charge. (Even after explaining on the offer of the second free coffee that I’d already had a free one, I got, “well, not from me.”) It’s simple acts like this that restore my respect for humanity.

My new “Pretty-A-Manger” friends.

And speaking of humanity, even in the mass of humanity that is central London, sometimes individuals stand out. Take Yeu-ing for example. On my first full day in London, as I headed out for a recon mission in fixing my new surroundings into my hippocampus, I met a lovely woman walking her dog. Wolfgang. Well, Wolfgang is the dog, Yeu-ing is the woman. And a friendly woman she was. She talked with me, and walked with me. Showing me the way to Waterloo station, and all the cool things thereabouts. The Hole in the Wall pub (which I tried to go back to once, but it was packed), among so much more.

Yeu-ing & Wolfgang

When I mentioned to Yeu-ing that I wanted to try so much of the delicious British foods, like the must-have fish & chips, she recommended the Fishcoteque, a great and traditional fish place. Which I visited for lunch that day. And delicious it was.

Tasty fish & chips

Having a guide, especially an impromptu freelance one, was wonderful. Walking with Yeu-ing I learned much about London proper. That is to say modern London with all its glorious and grimy bits. Along the way we sam a great many cool things. Take the Leake Street Arches for instance. Graffiti is illegal in London, Yeu-ing saying that it is taken quite seriously. But there is one place (at least) where graffiti is allowed. And this opportunity is certainly taken advantage of by the local creatives.

Entryway to cool art
Expression of creativity
Absolutely stunning

I met with Yeu-ing one more time, at the Kings Arms pub, where she gave me a book of poetry and works, and we chatted about England. An enlightening discussion where I learned so much of the ups and downs of London life.

At the King’s Arms

To recap, my London trip was totally satisfying. The Anglophile in me was more than content. And, as with every cool place I visit, my mind immediately went to, “now how can I manage to move here?!” Sigh. I always do this. After the discussion with Yeu-ing (remember the ups and downs) I harkened back to a quote from the mini-series Lonesome Dove. When Diane Lane’s character is waxing poetic about how great life is going to be when she gets to San Francisco, Robert Duval’s character responds, “Lorie darlin’, life in San Francisco, you see, is still just life. If you want any one thing too badly, it’s likely to turn out to be a disappointment.” There are too many things I want to see and experience in life. The wanderlust in me is strong, but oddly when wandering, the desire to set down roots, no matter how temporary, emerges. Who knows. Maybe one day those roots will actually take hold. But no matter, I will try to focus on the remainder of Robert Duval’s character’s quote, “The only healthy way to live life is to learn to like all the little everyday things, like a sip of good whiskey in the evening, a soft bed, a glass of buttermilk, or a feisty gentleman like myself”.

Peace and love. (And a little wanderlust as well)


New York, New York…

“We got rats on the west side, bed bugs uptown.” “Go ahead, bite the big apple, don’t mind the maggots,” and yet Jagger sums it up: “Pile it up, pile it up/pile it high on the platter.”

Shattered, Mick Jagger

“I love New York. You can pop out of the Underworld in Central Park, hail a taxi, head down Fifth Avenue with a giant hellhound loping behind you, and nobody even looks at you funny.”

Rick Riordan

“One belongs to New York instantly, one belongs to it as much in five minutes as in five years.”

Tom Wolfe

“What’s the use of a great city having temptations if fellows don’t yield to them?”

P.G. Wodehouse, Carry on, Jeeves

What’s that? You’ve never had a dirty dog? What sort of plebe are you? I suppose we all remember our first. I certainly do. And it was terrific. Sorry, sort of turned down a blind alleyway off memory lane. But New York was one of those fantastic places I had heard of; a place that existed in books. How could such a place exist. Surely it must be down the same ethereal street as Shangri-La, El Dorado, or gasp Camelot. These places have loomed large in my mind since childhood. Peter Maas’ Frank Serpico described living in Brooklyn in such glorious detail, I could taste the fresh mozzarella. It was a place of magic as well. I mean why else would a sea of humanity cram itself out in the freezing cold just to count down to an arbitrary division of time?

These fantasy cities are similar, as memories, they are often disjointed, discreet, pieces of wildly vivid, and familiar, sights, sounds, and importance. Lady Liberty facing the sea, welcoming all. What a wondrous thing to exist. “Can I sell you a bridge?” Ahh, the Brooklyn Bridge. Say no more. (Yet I will.) The first time you went to the top of the Empire State Building has to be a place fixed in multitudes of memories. Or, and this is one of my favorites, watching the face of a Times Square virgin as they come up out of the subway and see the extravagant splendor of a veritable day at night. I’m afraid this post would be much to long-winded if I were to name all these landmarks, but suffice it say, just as with all the mythical places. And indeed the landmarks are fixed places in space and time. Or so it seems. A somber visit to the World Trade Center memorial helps to bring reality home. Unlike true fantasy cities, this city is real. And what makes it real is the tendrils of reality interwoven between them. The seedy sides, the soft sides, the thriving humanity that truly makes this city.

By the glistening bicep of Thor! Yes, Thor’s bicep is indeed glorious, yet it’s nothing without the sinews and ligaments holding it in place, and allowing it to do its superheroing. And as such, how could anyone write about New York without mentioning the sinew that holds it together? The connecting ligaments which give it the strength to do its superheroing? The MTA. The Subway. Is it a blessing, or is it just something to put up with? “The ‘R’, or ‘Rarely’,” every New Yorker has a phrase to sum up his or her love/hate relationship with the subway. “What is this, a local?” Kenneth’s quip had meaning on that elevator, and this aspect of the city follows you everywhere. I have to admit, my visits to the city are infrequent enough that I tend to forget all the little lessons and shortcuts of subway travel. But then that sort of makes the refreshing of the layout even more fun. The subway may be packed, may be smelly (on occasion), and the hawkers can be quaint until they get a little too pushy. But I love it enough to wish this curse on my city. My god if there were a subway, or light-rail, in Nashville, I would definitely make a trip up there frequently. Who knows… it might even be magical.

I’d guess I should just say… it’s my kind of town.