Thursday, September 26, 2019. London, England.
Soundtrack: Dropkick Murphys – The Gauntlet
England was a trip, man. I’ll need a few posts to get through all this, so I’m going to break this down into bite-sized pieces.
I survived the Ryanair flight, narrowly, and after the pilot landed the plane like a dribbled basketball I stepped out to the sweet solid ground. This particular solid ground, however, was British soil.
My last name is English. It’s not something I think about very often. I’m an American boy, and that’s as much heritage as I was ever given, beyond Ma’s painfully Irish complexion.
Now, I’m a firm believer that America is the greatest country in the world, despite our leadership, outrageously overpriced health care, disastrous system of cultural values, police brutality rates, test scores, lagging literacy, carbon emissions, obesity rates, car-centric comfort culture, academic debt slavery, intellectual cowardice, pop culture exportation, and humiliating representation on the global stage. I’m a patriot, and we’re still mad about the Revolutionary War.
I say this because it turns out, we modern Sons of Liberty aren’t the only ones.
The rest of the survivors and I were herded out into the little cattle chutes that led into the Southend airport, then divided into two groups: those with an EU passport, and those without. I was the only one without, and stood alone, like the cheese, until I was… regarded.
It’s said that the English take queueing (which is a special Metric system word for “waiting in line”) very seriously. I wasn’t prepared for quite how seriously.
It’s hard to picture this, but imagine a huge, open room with those little cloth bank turnstiles forming a maze. On one side of the room is everyone. On the other side of the room is me. I was being scolded for standing alone ten feet (that’s about 3 meters) of where I would otherwise be standing alone.
“How long are you planning on staying?” he asked, once he decided I wouldn’t experience the appropriate level of shame and started doing his job.
“Definitely not long,” I said. “I’m flying home from Dublin on Friday.”
“Enjoy your stay,” he said dryly, and stamped my goddamn passport already.
I left that charmer behind and found an ATM, withdrew a bunch of regal Monopoly money with one or more queens on it, then caught the train to the Tower of London (see next post). Then, I headed to my hostel, which was in a pub.
My first impression of London is that very few people there seem to be English. I mostly overheard Spanish. All the food stands were run by people from India or the Middle East. Both bartenders I encountered on my walk to my hostel were from Spain.
The people who ran my hostel were really nice, and really English. I chalked Angry Santa up to a fluke. In fact, all the English women I met on my trip were really nice and uniformly exuberant.
Four beers later, I discovered I was drunk! These are the dangers of eating one meal a day, friends. Man cannot live by a single burger alone.
The pub was starting to fill, and had collected a large number of Lads. I had been prepared for the Lads; I was informed that they would be raucous, perhaps cheeky. I did not anticipate them all being in their mid-thirties, or sitting at a table ten deep.
They were all ladded up, though, crowding the booth,shouting. I figured, if this was the rule, it must be real discomforting for British women. Maybe that’s why they were all so demonstratively bright and chirpy.
But that’s just at a glance. I would gain greater understanding of this great nation in the coming days. It was too noisy and ladly now, and I was full of beer. I slung my pack over my shoulders and stumbled out to sightsee.