London Memories

The good, the bad, the ugly and… the French?

I write this in England. In my Mother’s house. In the room in which I that I grew up; the room in which my marriage began and spent its first five years before we went forth on our own voyage of discovery.

And I don’t feel a thing. No nostalgia; no attachment; no sense of history or belonging. This simply isn’t home anymore.
So much water has passed under the bridge; so much time has passed since we last slept here about fifteen years ago.

This is not a rich part of London, but it has come down in a big way since we left. With the bypass built, the area has become a quiet back road and most of the local businesses have closed. In spite of all of the money that has been spent beautifying the area, crime and vandalism have increased dramatically. Many houses – including this one – have bars on the windows and grilles over the doorways. The smell of fear is a barely palpable undertone. People no longer greet each other in the street. Few of them know their neighbours anymore.

Most pedestrians hurry past each other with looks of annoyance and boredom, or spend their time yapping on their cell phones. Sometimes –  but rarely – they speak English. It is rare to see a smile. Joy is in short supply in this neighbourhood.

It’s good to be here, but I’m glad I’m not staying.

I’ve come to the end of the circle, only to find that but it’s not the place where I began. It’s true; you never really go home…

I leave with the following observations:

  • Inch-wide round black stains on pavements everywhere. The cause? Discarded chewing gum. Perhaps the chewing-gum companies should be made to pay for the cleanup…
  • Cellphones here are smaller, sleeker and nicer-looking than the ones currently available in the US, and cellphone, cable and Internet services are substantially cheaper. Why are we content to pay so much for so little?
  • Rude women who push in line and talk loudly… in French. Coincidence? I think not…
  • Incredibly tiny, cute cars that get great gas mileage. Shame we won’t see them here anytime soon, since Americans equate size with safety.
  • Mini-roundabouts everywhere. Like their American equivalent, the four-way stop sign, they replace an unequal share of priority with an equal share of confusion.
  • The world’s most pointless speedbumps.
  • Broadband: $15 per month with a free router. When are we going to see a deal like that?
  • Souvenir T-shirts that are kind enough to remind us that London is, in fact, in England. Great for those who failed geography, methinks!
  • People standing in line for half an hour or more in the bank… and they can’t even threaten to take their business elsewhere, as all of the other banks offer equally abysmal service.
  • Clothes here are generally of a higher quality, and last a lot longer.
  • Petrol: about $2 per litre. The reason? Taxes. About 85% goes to the Government. Not bad for a net exporter of oil…

Now Reading: Atlas Shrugged, by Ayn Rand

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