02 July 2005

A London Journal—Day Two

Not your typical day in London

London bus

LONDON—I slept till 10:00 AM. I don't know how I accomplished that in spite of the early summer sunrise and traffic noise. But Darlene was quietly watching Wimbledon on the telly when I finally awoke. After I finally got ready to go out, she wanted lunch and I wanted breakfast, so we walked to Waterloo Station, where I went to Starbucks for coffee and a scone. She got a healthy lunch at McDonald's, and we sat together at a nearby table. I love her.

On the way home, I got a haircut at a randomly-chosen barber shop in the neighborhood. Risky, I know. But it looks pretty good.

There was a lot going on in London today: the Wimbledon women's singles final (Venus won), the massive Live 8 concert at Hyde Park (I was nowhere near the place), a one-day cricket match at Lords (the Pommies fought Australia to a rare draw), a televised rugby match from Wellington, NZ, that had people packing into the London pubs (the All Blacks had their way with the British and Irish Lions); and the Gay Pride parade from Hyde Park to Trafalgar Square. Oh, and did I mention the massive cleanup job left by last night's Canadia Day reveling?

My thoughts on "Live 8"

I hate to be a killjoy, but I find all the hype, hysteria, and hypocrisy of Live 8 nearly as revolting as the Gay Pride proceedings. Live 8 was broadcasting all day, so it was on the telly in the barbershop and everywhere else I went all day. Is there a silly rich blonde girl anywhere in London today who wasn't handed a microphone so she could emote for the audience about how "no one has done anything about poverty for 20 years, since the original Live Aid Concert"? I doubt it.

The BBC's coverage also featured a non-stop parade of worldly luminaries who have devoted their whole lives to shallowness—now suddenly smitten in conscience and determined in a single day to "Make Poverty History." Someone (I think it was Bob Geldof) convinced everyone that they could end poverty the same way Hal Roach's Little Rascals survived the Great Depression: "Hey! Why don't we put on a show?" The celebrities alternated as if on cue between giddy and grim.

Do sane people really think Western materialism, self-conceit, and celebrity-worship can be leveraged to solve the problem of African poverty? I agree with this guy.

The most disturbing picture of the day was when Snoop Dog took the stage and began spouting appalling profanities in rhythm to a rap beat. The camera cut away to an English dude (probably a banker) in a pin-stripe suit and tie, squinting as if deep in thought and nodding in time to the cadence—as if he really gets it.

Sorry. I know stuff like that tends to make most people get all teary-eyed and sentimental, but it has the opposite effect on me. John 12:3-8 seems appropriate in this context. There you see an artificial concern for the poor motivated by selfish pretext. It's a sin at least as old as Judas. And consider how arrogant the "Make Poverty History" slogan is, in light of Jesus' words in verse 8.

Anyway, to something only slightly less dour—

More about London food

Actually, the food situation in London is not as bleak as some travelers like to make out. I think the biggest problem is the high price. But that is true of everything in London. I know how Londoners could end poverty in Africa if they really took a mind to: turn all the restaurants in London over to African owners. The food would be better, I'm sure. And a couple weeks' profit could probably pay off several developing nations' debt.

But the scarcity of good food in London is exaggerated, frankly. If you know your way around, you don't have to resort to Pizza Hut to find edible dishes. (I swore off British Pizza Huts some 15 years ago, because the pizza didn't have an authentic Pizza Hut look and feel. I like sausage pizza, and sausage in the UK is—well, that's another story. Bangers. An acquired taste. Not bad for breakfast, once you get used to them. But they don't work on pizza, and never will. First time I asked for sausage pizza in England, the waitress said—and I am not making this up—"Ha! That's an interesting idea!) Anyway, the restaurant scene all over England has vastly improved over the past half decade. They still have a way to go, but there's no need for an American to feel like a total foreigner.

Tonight, for example, I took Darlene to Chiquito in Leicester Square. They offer a reasonable facsimile of Mexican food. The tortilla chips have a vaguely rye flavor, and in order to make the nachos substantial enough for a meal you have to buy a side cup of chili (look for "chilli beef" on the menu), but the jalapeños are authentic and the salsa is pretty decent, all things considered. I've been there before, and the chimichangas are passable, too. Darlene always has the cheeseburger. She gave me a bite tonight, and it was decent—not like the typical English cheeseburger, designed to be eaten with a fork and knife. (More about English manners in a minute.)

Then, as one of my commenters pointed out, there's always Chinatown, a block north of Leicester Square. I've eaten in three or four of those restaurants over the years. Every one I have tried was authentic and superb.

If you're in a train station and want fast food, skip the American chains like McDonald's and Burger King and go for the Cornish pasty shops. Really fine. I wish we could get decent Cornish pasties in Santa Clarita.

MinstrelsFor snack food, the Brits have invented something really wonderful: Galaxy Minstrels. They are like M&Ms, only four times as large. I'm not a huge fan of sweets and chocolates, but these are really, really good. (Note to self: Bring back two large bags for the bowl on Kim's desk.)

English manners

The difference between the English and the Americans can be summed up by a look at their respective road signs:

English
American


Plus, the English eat everything with a fork and knife. Not only cheeseburgers, but even chicken wings. Tonight at Chiquito, people at the tables on either side of us were trying to eat fajitas with a fork and knife!

Porta-looSo, since the English are known worldwide for such impeccable manners, can someone please explain to me why central London is now dotted with public, doorless urinals? I'm not talking about the Live 8 concert here; they have one of these things in the Strand, traditionally thought of as an upscale location, just across from the Hotel Savoy, and right in the main traffic pattern of one of the busiest sidewalks in central London. They have them at Leicester Square, too—always the busiest, most crowded spot in London when Live 8 is not in town. I confess I don't get it. I suppose it could be just a big joke for the tourists' sake. You never know with the British.

See you tomorrow.


13 comments:

Bill said...

Hey, Phil...find a grocery store and buy a package of HobNobs. They're the best cookies (biscuits) you will find, in the UK or otherwise. They're like, uh, well, like chocolate-covered granola. Excellent. They're a good substitute for the other lousy food...

Mark Ritchie said...

I've only been to England once, so this is a risky statement, but I found the food fun and tasty. We didn't have enough money to sample English "cuisine" (probably wouldn't know it if I saw it), but we had pizza at Pizza Express, Pizza Hut, and at small pretentious places, and we never had a bad pizza. We had fish and chips. I've never seen such a huge, real fish at any so-called fish place in the USA. We had Chicken Tikka Masala -- delicious. We had Indian food, of course, and "Traditional English Breakfasts," which are wonderful. And what about those "Jacket Potatoes." Not at all like baked potatoes in America, they are covered with the most odd things, like baked beans. Wonderful with a pint of Real Ale from a hand pump!

I also enjoyed the English insistence that coffee and tea should be drunk from actual ceramic cups. Styrofoam was the exception rather than the rule.

Chris said...

"I wish we could get decent Cornish pasties in Santa Clarita."

What do you know? Janet Jackson said the same thing not long ago. Oh... maybe you meant pastries.

Hope you guys have a great time on your trip.

Terry Lange said...

I ate at Chiquitos in 1998 when I was in London and also found out that the best food is in Leicester Square and the surrounding vicinity!

Editor, Living Room Section said...

Who DOESN'T have their way with the Lions?

Amish Ruth said...

Welcome to London. I live in England and i hate London. Also i am glad to know someone else shares my views on the Live8 thing. I hate pop music anyway. The public urianls mmmm don't know about that.

Paul said...

I'm enjoying these London posts a lot (living not too far from there...) It's great hearing an outsider's view...

Alex Crocker said...

Phil,
I enjoy your words and musings and whole heartedly agree with you on your views of "Live 8". I am always amazed that these stars and starlets think they can change the world by getting up in front of TV cameras and telling everyone to pay attention to change the way everyone thinks! As if that is going to change the selfish self -consuming nature of man!
On a sepreate note, while in London and England, try the bread! It was the best part of the cuisine! But the Shepherd's Pie is not bad either. God bless and keep up the good words in His Spirit!

Sven said...

"There you see an artificial concern for the poor motivated by selfish pretext. It's a sin at least as old as Judas. And consider how arrogant the "Make Poverty History" slogan is, in light of Jesus' words in verse 8."

That's completely ridiculous. I hope you're not insinuating that because Jesus said "we will always have the poor with us" that plans to help the poor as much as possible are "arrogant".

"If a man shuts his ears to the cry of the poor, he too will cry out and not be answered." Prov 21:13

Why is it so often the case that non-Christians are showing more concern for the poor than those that claim to follow Jesus?

Phil Johnson said...

Sven, "plans to help the poor as much as possible" would be fine. That's the church's duty all the time. It as been for centuries; it will be for centuries more unless the Lord returns first.

The notion that a bunch of shallow, self-absorbed celebrities can "make poverty history" with a rock concert in Hyde Park is arrogant in the extreme.

Ditto for the claim that non-Christians are doing more to help the poor than Christians.

anoninva said...

the picture of Madonna on the link you provided says it all.

there are worse, much worse things than being poor.

Yankeerev said...

Phil,

As an Brit living in California the mere comment of Minstrels and the notion of a piece of hot toast, butter and lots of Marmite send me into convultions....

Peanut butter and M&M's just don't cut it...

Machaira said...

What a urinal. I prefer mine covered at least around the waist.