London, the daily life

Since I’m still instructed to keep my foot elevated whenever possible, and when elevated to keep it 30 degrees above my heart, and even when it isn’t elevated to keep my bloody weight off of it, I find that I’m doing very little rambling around London.

No, mostly I’m spending my time writing new chapters and revising old ones.  Which is good, ’cause I intended to do a lot of writing on this trip, but previously was too busy being a tourist to focus on the writing.

Still, I’ve learned a few things in my last week as a temporary house-bound London citizen.

First:the weather.  While it lulled me in with false promises of summer when I got here, it has rapidly resorted to it’s classic and legendary state.  For example, here’s today’s sunny, summery outlook.

Note: the image lies. There are no pretty flowers.

The reality obscured by this lovely image is that the days are gray, cold, windy, and pretty much reminiscent of Seattle.  I’ve mentioned that Seattle weather is stalking me, so perhaps I’m to blame since the weather was stunning when I got here.

Now, even though I am supposed to be sitting around with my leg in the air all day, I enact a small bit of rebellion every day and hobble around the triangle of streets near my home base.  This allows me to sample the local food for lunch, and have a chance to interact with locals.  From this I have made the following observations:

Shopping carts are superior in London in a few ways:

  1. In order to use a cart, you must put a deposit in.  This confounded me at first; there was a full row of carts, all neatly waiting for someone to adopt one, but on selecting one I discovered they were all locked, one chained to the next.  Attempting to remove this chain were unsuccessful, until I noticed the chain from the next cart locked into a small device on my chosen cart.  This device had a small slot just large enough for a 1 pound coin.  Luckily I had a coin, put it in, and was rewarded with a liberated cart.  “But wait” you decry, “I don’t want to pay one pound just to use a cart to shop with!”  Fear not: when you return the cart, you insert the chain back into the lock device and that pushes your pound coin right back out.  Simple and easy, and probably leads to number 2 (below).  Why is this an advantage, you ask?  Well simply put, people put the carts back where they belong, and you don’t find them strewn all over the place, running into cars, and stuck in the walkways of random buildings 4 blocks away.
  2. The wheels work.  I have yet to encounter a cart with the classic “bum leg” syndrome that all carts in the US seem to experience, leaving you fighting against a cart that dearly wishes to steer sideways, or dealing with pushing a cart that announces loudly either through a rhythmic “thump thump thump” or piercing squeal, exactly where in the store you are and how fast you might be going.

As for the food, I’ve sampled a few restaurants here so far.  I’ve tried fish and chips twice, and on both occasions have been surprised that instead of getting 2-3 pieces of cod with some tartar sauce and chips, I am delivered what appears to be one giant slab of whale, deep fried, on a plate, accompanied by chips of course, but also a cup of pasty green… something?  At first I thought they had sent me a year’s supply of wasabi.  Upon further inspection, this turns out to be mashed peas.  It’s not an option, this is compulsory with your order.  Myself: not a fan.

Also, a place called The Sparrowhawk makes one of the best burgers I’ve had in a long time, surprisingly.  They’ll charge you your first-born child for it, but it’s quite tasty (the burger, not the child).  You ask for it “medium rare” and you’ll get a burger that’s charred on the outside, pink on the inside, and just pretty much perfect.

Also, accents here are a source of never-ending joy.  As mentioned in my last post, I get to learn new phrases like “I won’t keep you a minute, luv”, which is at face value an absolute lie, but delivered with such a charming lilt I hardly mind.  The extreme side of this is a man who wanted to make conversation with me while I was waiting for my taxi, leg up, holding my crutches.  His lead off line was something like:

“Eh, y’ga’ a bi’ kickn yer hup eh?”

To which my brain ran through all it’s filters: was that English?  Doesn’t seem to be.  How about Spanish?  Nope.  French?  German?  Something else?  Nope to all. Okay, maybe it was actually English and I didn’t understand.  So:

“I’m sorry?”

“Ah, y’ stump dere, y’ga a bi’ kickn yer up, hey?  lie a bi’ no aie, eh?”

At this he made kicking motions with his leg.  So, I was left to guess this was probably his way of asking what I did to my leg, and whether I got it… kicking something?  Maybe playing a sport?

“Ah, no, not a good story, just twisted my ankle and came up with a broken foot.”

“Oh, aye, ye gaen gone wit stuffed bane an’ no go’ a fur bin some time, eh?”

Me: nodding, smiling.  Hoping I haven’t just accidentally agreed to something nefarious.  After a few more statements back and forth I was able to somewhat acclimate to his accent, and perhaps he to mine, and we ended up talking about Spain and how hot it was when he visited it 20 years ago.

“Ah, t’was nigh abot furty aight ina shade, so ‘twould be ’bout, oh, ‘bot mayb won twenty, aye?”

“wow, that’s too hot”

“ye be tellin’ me! No, was ’bout roasted in bot din fen wit’ de falsen bat, no?”

“er… aye?”

“oh, aye, aye.”

So, conversations can be a constant source of fun.

One last observation: tea isn’t a “sometimes” thing.  Tea is all the time, any place, for any reason.  And normally you don’t have a follow-up question of “what kind of tea?”, no; there’s just TEA.  Brown, hot, with a bit of milk in it.  Given the weather, this is a very good thing.

17 thoughts on “London, the daily life

  1. I love reading how non-London natives view the city I live in! e.g. I’d never thought before about how putting money into a shopping trolley would seem odd. Also, the conversation you describe is hilarious – I tried to say it in an accent in my head but I’m not sure I got it right 😉

  2. Even saying that conversation out loud, I don´t think I quite got it. The shopping cart thing is GENIUS. I´m telling you, these Europeans, they´re doing some things -right-. As for the tea, I need to get myself up to London. As an avid tea drinker, I think I would quite enjoy all the tea-time.

    1. Since the conversation is a phonetic reproduction of something I didn’t understand all that well, I’d be shocked if anyone could understand it.

      Shopping cart *IS* genius! Why doesn’t this exist in the US yet? You’d have to use quarters, most likely, since dollar coins are rare there, so perhaps that isn’t seen as enough of an incentive?

      1. When I was growing up in the rough streets of Van Nuys, CA, they were implementing this at most of the grocery stores. It was .25 to liberate your cart from its friends and then you got it back upon successful return. This was primarily put into place to prevent people from taking the carts home with them. I’m not even remotely joking about that. People liked to walk home with their giant carts…or put them in the backs of their trucks. Not sure a mere .25 really stopped them, but it was good in theory.

        1. Yeah, I was thinking that is the only coin that would work in the US as nobody carries around dollar coins there, and I’m not sure a quarter is enough incentive? Would be interested to see what changes CA saw due to this.

  3. Your description of the british conversation brought back fond memories of similar experiences I had with the locals during my three week stay in Belfast. Your transcription is fantastic.

    1. Thanks Jay. Holy crap man, do you sleep? It’s like 4 in the morning over there.

      I think I’ll always wonder if my accent was as inscrutable to him, if we was sitting there wondering “what the hell did that bloody yank just say? Oh well, I’ll just push on and we’ll figure something out…”

  4. I have one argument against the shopping cart superiority in England. Not a good one, but an argument nonetheless. The back wheels in the states do not swivel. This makes them easier to steer and control. This is with the assumption that the front wheels aren’t AFU. I always felt like I was 1 step away from the cart careening down the aisle unmanned and hitting an elderly person. Aside from that the carts over there win.

    1. I’d actually list that as a positive for the UK ones: I an easily move the cart in any direction: front, side, diagonal, back, etc. As for taking out the elderly person – well, one has to look at the pilot and wonder what nefarious impulses were behind such a thing ’cause these carts are pretty much the most steerable things I’ve come across.

      1. I agree, that while exceptionally maneuverable, they are difficult to push straight ahead without a little bit creep one way or the other. Regardless, as stated above, it was a weak argument at best. Remember, I do live in the land where auto racing means “go fast, turn left”. So having a grocery cart with the ability to effortlessly perform rally turns might be a bit above my skill level. As for the elderly, there is no nefarious intent, just an acute awareness of my own genetic clumsiness combined with worry about their ability to avoid the results of said clumsy.

        Get out and try the local beer for me and brag about how much you like it!

        1. I have been terribly remiss in my efforts to explore local brews. However, hobbling home with an impaired sense of balance gives me pause at the moment. Perhaps after tomorrow’s dr. visit I’ll have reason to celebrate?

  5. I don’t think he was asking you about kicking at all…..sounds like he said you got to be Keeping her up. Were you laid across the bench and not sharing?

    1. You know, you are probably right! And you got that from a rough transcription from my memory on sentences I didn’t fully understand. You are far better at this than I will ever be, I’m afraid. As for the bench: nope, there was more bench available, and this old chap was sitting on his own bench right next to mine.

  6. Love the transcription of the conversation!! I think I caught a bit about being “laid up” but what a bit of fun that convo was!

    Also we do have something a bit like this cart system in the States, no? The luggage carts at many airports are pay to remove and you get a refund when you return it. Granted, it’s a *partial* refund but it’s better than a spit in the eye!

    I look forward to reading more about your travels!

    1. Ah, I have not experienced the luggage carts as I almost always travel with just a carry-on backpack. Of course, this trip necessitated something a little larger, so perhaps I’ll experience that when I return. Especially if I’m still hobbled (fingers and toes crossed that I won’t be…)

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