Sunday, June 26, 2016

Rocks/Stinks: London Edition

I'm a total Anglo-phile.  I love London.  I love the history and the heritage.  I love the accents.  I love the pomp and the Queen and especially the cute little way that Britain can't quite believe that they're not in charge of the whole world anymore.  If I could afford it, I'd spend every summer in London, popping in and out of our little Airbnb flat, riding double decker buses, practicing using words like whilst and fortnight and copse (Go ahead.  Look it up like I had to when someone used it to give me directions), stopping every afternoon for tea, and pretending that I TOTALLY live this way all the time.

And while there are some things that Britain rocks harder than Mick Jagger at a free summer concert in Hyde Park, there are some things that dear Mother England just hasn't quite mastered.  This, my friends, is my Rocks/Stinks list.  London style.

Rocks: Window Boxes

Seriously.  You could sling one of the Queen's beloved Corgis in any direction and hit at least one stunningly beautiful window box.  I mean, these things are EPIC.  Some explode in color as they cascade down off the sill.  Some are simple, relying on symmetry and shades of green and white to create a visual effect.  Whatever the colors and arrangements, they are stop-you-in-your-tracks-and-make-you-not-even-care-that-you-look-like-a-tourist-with-your-camera-out gorgeous.  Or at least that's what they did to me.



Stinks:  Bathtub Heights

You read that right.  Bathtub heights.  I don't know what it is about flats and hotels in London, but every single one I have encountered has a bathtub that is too high to climb into comfortably.  It's like the tubs are sitting on a platform or something!  And it's not just that the sides are too high.  The floor of the tub isn't flush with the floor of the bathroom; it's higher by several inches.  So you are stepping over the sides but then kind of up.  I don't get it!  

And I imagine that the number of bathroom falls in this city is staggering.  I mean, my legs aren't short; I'm an average height.  But climbing into the tub in London always brings flashbacks of my younger self on the farm, hauling myself over a fence and into a pasture, except without the planks to put your feet on and the soft grassy landing.  Instead it's just me shimmying in my birthday suit over a solid wall of porcelain that would be a more appropriate height for someone in the NBA and then landing on the bathroom equivalent of an ice rink.  

And getting out is just as bad!  There's a huge drop from the tub to the floor as you try to repeat the process in reverse, only this time you're in the buff and dripping wet.  Quite a mental picture, isn't it? 

You can't really tell in this picture how the floor of the tub is a different height than the floor of the  bathroom, so you'll just have to trust me on this one.  The smile on Knox's face clearly indicates that he hasn't yet tried to keep his balance while dripping wet and straddling a porcelain fence.

Rocks:  High Fat Dairy Products

People, let me tell you about the wonders of double cream. This. Stuff. Is. Awesome.  It is spreadable like whipped butter, but it tastes like a delicious, fluffy, rich whipped cream.  

(Momentary aside here: Cool-Whip is not whipped cream.  There is no place for non-dairy whipped topping in my life.  In fact, it shouldn't even be a food.  So if you're trying to think of double cream as some sort of British cousin to Cool-Whip, well, I can't even start to explain to you how un-Cool-Whip-ish double cream is.  In fact, if you think Cool-Whip is food, just skip this part.). 

Double cream is actually 48-60% milk fat as opposed to American heavy whipping cream which is only 36% milk fat.  I know.  It's an obscene amount of fat.  But it's so. Very. Yummy.  And then there's table cream (18%, so not actually a terribly high fat dairy product).  And clotted cream (55%).  There are all these delicious high fat dairy products in London that don't even exist here!  What is up with that?!

Stinks:  The Way the Spellings of Proper Nouns Don't Relate in ANY Way to Their Pronunciations

The Brits have this thing with dropping syllables.  Actually, it's not just syllables.  Sometimes it's entire strings of letters.  Let me show you.  I'm going to give you some names, and I want you to pronounce them.  Like, just go ahead and say them out loud.  Then below, I'll show you how they're really pronounced.  Here we go.  No cheating!





St. John




And, of course, Thames.

Now, here's how you really pronounce them.







/Cock'-fost-ers/  Yeah, I know.  This one is pronounced just like it looks.  I just think it's funny.


But, lest we Americans think we're above pronunciation reproach, remember Brett Favre.  Just sayin'.

Rocks:  Fish and Chips

I don't know how they do it, but the Brits manage to take what could be considered a children's menu item and elevate it to something other-worldly.  I love the crunchy coating enveloping the delicate whitefish.  I love the never-greasy fries (known as chips, of course).  I love the squeeze of lemon and the tartar sauce.  And I even love the mushy peas.  I know, I know.  You've probably never heard of that part, but I assure you it's a thing.  It's basically green peas smushed up with some lemon juice and salt.  Simple and delicious.  And they don't give you a heaping serving.  It's more like a little edible wasabi-sized garnish. 
It may be basic pub fare, but fish and chips is still a yummy choice.

Enjoying fish and chips with one of my former students, Michael, who was in London at the same time.
Stinks:  Washcloths

Hand towels are not reasonable substitutes.  They just aren't.  Trust me.  If you're going to London, bring your own washcloths.  Actually, if you're going pretty much anywhere outside the US, bring your own washcloths.  This seems like such a simple little piece of fabric, but, evidently, it's pretty much an American thing to need a six-inch-square piece of terry cloth to wash your face with.

Rocks:  Roundabouts, And A Whole Country Full of People Who Know How to Drive in Them.

'Nuff said.

Stinks:  Doorknobs on Exterior Doors

I'm actually not even sure why the British have doorknobs on outside doors.  They certainly don't perform the same function that I'm used to here in the US.  I mean, they're these giant knobby-shaped things located in the middle of the door that don't even turn!  They're strictly for pushing and pulling, I guess. What's up with that?  It's like they're put there for looks, just to see how many Americans will try to turn them.  Maybe there's a hidden camera set up near each one so that groups of British people in pubs can have a pint and watch a live feed of some Yankee grabbing a doorknob, trying to turn it first one way and then the other, then letting go and staring at it curiously while glancing up and down the street to see if anyone noticed, then trying it again just in case they didn't quite try hard enough the first time, only to give up and give the door a little frustrated kick before walking away in disgust. I can just see them there in the pub, laughing and shouting, "Look! She's bloody well gonna try to turn it again!"
If you look at the front door to our flat, just above the brass mail slot, you'll see the doorknob.  Trust me when I tell you that it doesn't turn.  And whoever heard of putting a knob in the middle of a door, anyway?

Rocks:  Tea

Well, duh.  Stopping every afternoon for a cup of tea with a little nibble of something sweet is a marvelous habit.  And, unless you're at the Orangerie at Kensington Palace or The Ritz or something, it's really surprisingly unpretentious.  I highly recommend it, no matter on which side of the Atlantic you happen to be. 

Completely, unabashedly pretentious tea at The Ritz.  (Notice that the picture isn't mine...because I've never had tea at The Ritz.)

Somewhat-pretentious tea with Amanda and Elizabeth at the Orangerie at Kensington Palace in 2011.

Completely unpretentious afternoon tea at Kew Gardens, near the home of King George III.

That's it!  And in case you didn't notice, there are more Rocks than Stinks.  And I didn't even mention some of my other things that rock like charity shops, cute little towns, and British brands like Ted Baker and Cath Kidston that probably merit posts all of their own.  But I'll get to that as soon as I finish my tea. 

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