Tag Archives: Great Britain

10 THINGS I LOVE ABOUT BRITAIN (as I say goodbye to her)

Before I launch into tales of my new adventures in other lands, I’d like to take a moment to consider the country of my birth.

As I plan to end the longest stint of living in Great Britain in my adult life (over seven years) it is tempting to justify my departure by rattling off a list of things that drove me to end my residency. The English liberal middle classes are as riddled with national self-loathing (perhaps a legacy of colonialism) and joining in with Britain-bashing is an easy trap to fall into. Considering my determination for writing positive things about other places I have lived in or visited – Iraq and Pakistan for example – it feels only right to resist being drawn into a wholly negative take.

OUTDOOR PEOPLE

England - London - Three city office workers sunbathe during hot lunchtime1. I love how we worship the sun. It only has to briefly show its face and office workers crowd to patches of pleasant green during lunchbreaks and roll up sleeves and trousers to soak in Vitamin D. I love how in the summer the sun shines long into the evening and the fact that we buy more convertible cars than the French, Spanish and Italians. images

2. I love how we love gardening. I love how we mark out our territory neatly with walls and fences and how even the bleakest of council estates will have a row of bungalows with perfectly planted pansies. Allotments thrill me.

CROWDED ISLE

images-13. I love sitting on the tube and being surrounded by people of all shapes, sizes, colours, religions, nationalities, ages, attitudes. I love how despite the diversity everyone manages to avoid eye contact.

Unknown4. I love my personal space in Britain. People don’t queue too close and mostly avoid the continental cheek peck and needless hugs. We need to maintain our large personal space and save the hugs for when we mean it. Unknown-1

5. I love how when we have really enjoyed something, we say it was “Quite good”. We need to cling on to the under-stated and save the awesome for the truly awesome.

TOTALLY SICK

Unknown-26. I love how being ever-so-slightly mentally ill can be viewed as charmingly eccentric (for the middle and upper classes at least). raynerlarge

7. I love how although we still have a class system, the middle classes now shop at Aldi and overall economic hardship is being shared beyond the working classes.

Unknown-38. I love how Brits dramatically pull over to let an emergency vehicle past. This doesn’t happen in lots of countries, and in some countries it only happens for ambulances.

9. I love that we have emergency ambulances. And free health care to those that need it. Many countries have neither.

NEVER IN IT TO WIN IT

LOST-532_1535358a

10. Finally, I love the English ability to lose graciously. Losing is our default starting point – but we still enjoy a good match.

 

And with the later in mind, I am well aware that perhaps I haven’t chosen the best professions to succeed at in Britain: the civil service, teaching, publishing and being an artist. Perhaps I didn’t put myself in the best place to make Britain work for me over the past seven years.  But I still think Britain is great. Not because it hosted the Olympics, or has a Queen, or any reasons associated with recent attempts to turn our national flag into a commodity. For me, it’s the cultural nuances that will help me be gently, quietly comfortable in my English skin as I once again embark on an overseas existence.

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1500 miles to London Town

train photo

I’ve been sooo excited preparing to take my 4Nomadic travel blog readers  on a trip to Pakistan in the next few weeks, that I totally neglected to blog about perhaps the most crucial bit of travel in my life at the moment.

Considering many of you are off-shore readers (IE investing your time outside of the British Isles) I realise that my daily trips to London town may be worth sharing as something of a foreign commodity for you.

Over the past month I have travelled over 1,500 miles (2,414 km) making regular, sometimes agonizingly early treks from my sleepy village home on the Cambridgeshire/Hertfordshire borders into the heart of the city of London.  Since the clock change, I invariably tip toe out of my home under the cover of darkness (only once waking neighbours as my wing mirror hooked a forgotten wheelie bin and dragged it noisily down the drive way).  My children, in various states of awakeness suffer my departure with sleepy kisses, “can I borrow your hair dryer” or by pulling a duvet back over their heads.  My other half usually keeps me plied with green tea and kind words and then deposits me at the station (perhaps better he drives given the wheelie bin incident).

The trains run to several an hour and are generally on time (if they are delayed, early morning commuters tend to tut quietly – is all).  The ticket itself is bloody expensive – to buy an annual pass to cover my train miles costs £3400 ($5400, EURO 3780, 37,800 CNY, 262800 INR).  I know this is more than some of you earn in a year, let alone spend on trains.

Aside from the occasional tut, my fellow fare payers are generally wrapped up in their Blackberries, books, work papers or if it’s really really early are fast asleep (see picture taken this morning).  They travel alone and avoid eye contact and small talk.  occasionally work colleagues will travel together, generating passive aggressive sighs from fellow commuters as they break the dull silence by daring to talk.  And if it happens to be school holidays and you should decide to use rail travel with your talkative young, expect people to blatantly move seats to be at a distance from you or huffily plug their ears with headphones.  If you are American, it’s strongly advised that you remain mute, less you should offend – something about the tone of voice that carries and will disturb this sacred silent time.

The journey home on the same train is a little more animated.  A similar group of commuters, but this time wrestling under a sea of free newspapers handed out by low paid masses who thrust said paper in your face at every  train and tube station in London.  I sometimes can’t resist and after a hard days strategizing with government, I find myself drawn to  know more about Jude’s relationship with his illegitimate child, a Winehouse breast falling out at a party or Paris’s British Best Friend.  Actually I cheat, I pick up discarded papers from seats not from touts and consider my actions one of ethical recycling.  Besides I feel very uncomfortable with myself  straining to read tabloid filth over someones shoulder.

Sometimes when I arrive at King’s Cross in the morning I decide to walk all the way to the office.  Like I did this morning, taking far too long (50 mins) and generating bloody blisters on the backs of each heel.  Sometimes I wear proper shoes, fit for purpose – like many a suited officer walker, and can manage the distance in a 35 minute march.  The journey clears my head and I love to glimpse shop owners preparing for the day, and get wafts of Great British fry-ups from cafes, or encounter jet-lagged tourists awake far too early for anything to be open.  It reminds me of early mornings in Sri Lanka where people stretch and stand in the street brushing their teeth from a communal tap.  Seeing a place wake up is an intimacy not to be taken for granted.

Not far from the British museum I usually come across groups of labourers gathered over steaming polystyrene cups and cigarettes.  Their laughter makes me envious, as my own work colleagues aren’t as colourful or at ease with one another.  Walking through Convent garden, which seems entirely recession-free and littered with stupid boutiques selling quirky things that nobody needs, and onto Trafalgar Square where I quietly nod  a hello to an alledged relation on top of his column and head down towards Big Ben and the powerhouses of British Government.

Sometimes I don’t walk, I get the tube (subway), which unless I time it right involves some very close bodily contact with complete strangers (who still manage to maintain the silent no eye contact thing despite being an inch away from your face).  It’s a fear of loosing dignity thing I think – we simply pretend not to be there.

The good thing about the commute is the amount I read.  As  a mother of three with a full-time job, reading is an absolute luxury, so to have been able to fill  my heads with the mountains of the Hindu Kush and Britain’s immigrant community in the east end of London, as well as Winehouse, Jude and Paris as the shadows of British countryside flash past in the dusk and dawn light has been a thrill indeed.

So, just a glimpse at my daily travels.  I realise that if I had travelled 1500 in a straight line would have reached Azerbaijan by now.  But I like it this way, close to home for now.  See you in Pakistan in a few weeks!

1500 Miles  to London Town

I’ve been sooo excited preparing to take my 4Nomadic friends on a trip to Pakistan in a few weeks, that I totally neglected to blog about perhaps the most crucial bit of travel in my life at the moment.

Considering many of you are off-shore readers (IE investing time outside of the British Isles) I realise that my daily trips to London town may be worth penning as something of a foreign commodity for you.

Over the past month I have travelled over 1,500 miles (x km) making regular, sometimes agonisingly early treks from my sleepy village home on the Cambridgeshire/Hertfordshire borders into the heart of the city of Londoan.  Since the clock change, I invariably tip toe out of my home under the cover of darkness (only once waking neighbours as my wing mirror hooked a forgotten wheelie bin and dragged it noisily down the drive way).  My children, in various states of awakeness suffer my departure with sleepy kisses, “can I borrow your hair dryer” or by pulling a duvet back over their heads.  My other half usually keeps me plied with green tea and kind words and then deposits me at the station (perhaps better he drives given the wheelie bin incident).

The trains run several an hour and are generally on time (if they are delayed, erly morning commuters tend to tut quietly – is all) but they ARE bloody expensive.  To buy an annual pass to cover my train miles costs £3400 ($) – I am guessing more than some of you earn in a year.  Aside from the occasional tut, my fellow fare payers are generally wrapped up in their Blackberries, books, work papers or are asleep.  They travel alone and avoid eye contact and small talk.  Occassionally work colleagues will travel together, generating passive aggressive sighs from fellow commuters as they break the dull silence by daring to talk.  And if it happens to be school holidays and you should decide to use rail travel with talkative young,expect people to blatantly move seats to be at a distance or huffily plug their ears with headphones.  If you are American, it’s strongly advised that you remain mute, less you should offend.  Like the Norther Irish, your voice carries and will disturb this sacred silent time.

The journey home on the same train is a little more animated.  A similar group of commuters, but this time wrestling under a sea of free newspapers handed out by low paid masses who thrust said paper in your face at every  train and tube station in London,  Even I pick them for a read – after a hard days strategising with government, I find myself drawn to  know more about Jude’s relationship with his illigimate child, Winehouses breat falling out at a party or Paris’s British Best Friend.  Actually I cheat, I pick up discarded papers from seats not from touts and consider my actions one of ethical recycling.  Besides I feel very uncomfortable with myself  straining to read tabloid filth over someones shoulder.

Sometimes when I arrive at King’s Cross in the morning I decide to walk all the way to the office.  Like I did this morning, taking far too long (50 mins) and generating bloody blisters on the backs of each heel.  Sometimes I wear proper shoes, fit for purpose – like many a suited officer walker, and can manage the distance in 35 minutes.  The journey clears my head and I love to glimpse shop owners preparing for thday, and get wafts of Great British fry-ups from cafes, or encounter het-lagged tourists awake far too early for anything to be open.  Not far from the British museum I usually come across groups of labourers gathered over steaming polysterene cups and cigarettes.  Their laughter makes me enious as my own work colleagues are far less colourful or jolly.  Walking through Convent garden, which seems entirely recession free and littered with stupid boutiques selling things nobody needs, and onto Trafalgar Square where I quietly nod  a hello to an alleged relation on top of his collum and head down towards Big Ben and the powerhouses of British Government.

Sometimes I don’t walk, I get the tube (subway), which unless I time it right involves some very close bodily contact with complete strangers (who still manage to maintain the silent no eye contact thing despite being an inch away from your face).  Its a lack of dignity thing, I think we simply pretend not to be there.

Good thing about the commute is the amount I read – as  a mother of three with a full time job, reading is an absolute luxury, but I have been able to fill my heads with the mountains of the Hindu Kush and Britains immigrant community in the east end.  Shadows of British countryside flash past in the dusk and dawn light ).  Realise that if I haad travelled 1500 in a straight line would have reached x.