Just got back from a week in London to attend the wedding of our son’s first girlfriend last Friday. Not that he was holding a torch, mind you. Dan and Tash, after all, were just months shy of their third birthdays when their budding romance was laid asunder by none other than media magnate Rupert Murdoch. The tycoon shipped Tash’s family back to England so her dad could be a top editor on The Sun, a tabloid newspaper even more racy than The New York Post where he had toiled for Murdoch for 18 months. While Dan and Tash bonded, both sets of parents developed a now 35-year friendship. Dave and Gemma Banks lived around the corner from us on Parkview Court in White Plains. Indeed, the edges of our back yards touched. We met when our first borns were about 18 months old.
I’ve been to London almost a dozen times, for business and pleasure. It is one of the most walkable cities, with each district providing a unique experience. This time we stayed in a hotel in Islington, a borough in the northeast quadrant of London. Islington is undergoing gentrification. Along its High Street (the term used for the major retail avenue of most communities), restaurants and shops abound, though they have to compete for space with real estate offices proffering apartments and homes that, given the usual small size of English residences, would make an observer gasp at the prices. Million, even multi-million, dollar homes were the norm.
Now that I no longer publish or edit a retail industry magazine, I am under no obligation to dart in and out of stores. Yet, England has been said to be a country of shopkeepers, so the pleasure of being served proved alluring. Service levels were extraordinary. In the major department stores of Selfridge’s, House of Frasier and the like, one had to walk through a phalanx of eager sales people, and not just on the ground floor. Even in small shops, like the Ben Sherman outlet in Islington, the two salesmen were engaging and friendly, commenting about the sad state of the NY Knicks but optimistic that Phil Jackson could turn the team around (I said they were engaging and friendly, not sports mavens).
London traffic is worse than New York City’s. However, during our week-long stay we never observed a single double-parked car.
Using public transportation to get around London is a pleasure. An Oyster Card allows unlimited hopping on and off the Underground and extensive bus network. Most convenient were digital signs at bus and train stops advising wait times for desired conveyances. Each Underground and bus stop was preceded by discernible public address messages that often included mentions of nearby tourist attractions.
All seats on the London subway have armrests which struck me as a form of collective weight control. We didn’t see any obese people in London, especially not on the Underground. Maybe the weight-challenged know they would be restricted to seats just 24 inches or so wide.
I did observe one interesting and perplexing advertisement in the first Underground ride we took. A picture of some businessmen horrified by the prospect of a terrorist attack advocated avoiding trouble by using a teleconference service for their next meeting. Not the most desirable commentary on the safety of London.
Perhaps as a carryover from the days of IRA bombings, I noticed most pubs had no trash bins in their bathrooms. No paper towels, just electronic dryers.
One other strange pub occurrence. In the pub hosting the pre-wedding get-together for out of town guests the single TV screen featured a show on dogs. Now I know the British love their pooches, but I would have thought a soccer game or cricket match would have been the favored screen fare.
By the way, English beer is chilled, not cold, and not really carbonated, so you don’t fill up as quickly as in American bars.
Here’s another comparison between the Old and New Worlds—security personnel in London were numerous and for the most part seemed to be from the India-Pakistan subcontinent. We were embarrassed by how few American passport control agents handled our flight at JFK. What a poor show of efficiency to the hundreds of foreigners waiting to enter our country. Moreover, the mostly Hispanic agents talked Spanish among themselves. Gilda opined that it would seem to be a violation to speak in a language not understood by the public as the guards could be commenting about people in an inappropriate manner without their knowledge.
Finally, back to the reason for our trip to London. Unlike the outdoor weddings of our two children, nuptial ceremonies in England must be held indoors, with a roof overhead. Tash and Ali exchanged vows in the council chamber of Islington town hall. No religious readings are permitted in the ceremony, nor is the mother of the bride included in the procession. Dave, however, circumvented tradition as best he could. When asked who gives away the bride, he replied, “I do, as does her mother.”
Tash and Ali are a most adorable couple. Like her father, Tash is an accomplished journalist, recently promoted to a lead position for the science section of The Guardian’s Web site. Alister is a makeup artist chosen to be part of the two-man team to create the beast in Disney’s soon to be filmed Beauty and the Beast, to be played by Downton Abbey alumnus Dan Stevens (Matthew Crawley, Lady Mary’s husband). Born in Scotland, Alister wore a kilt. The last time I saw a groom dressed in a kilt was at Charlotte’s wedding to Trey MacDougal on Sex and the City.