Tuesday, October 30, 2012

The national treasures of Great Britain as ascertained by my twelve-year-old self

I am headed to the UK on Saturday to work out of my company’s Oxford office for a week. It has been 17 years since my first trip to England, but the impression the experience made upon me was indelible.

What follows is a comprehensive list of the very best things about England as determined by my very wise twelve-year-old self, punctuated with photographs of me at a delightfully awkward moment in my adolescent development.

Benetton sweatshirts
We arrived in London in June 1995, ready for a sunny summer week in Merrie Old England. Boy, were we surprised to discover that the high temperatures in London that week were barely going to reach the 50s Fahrenheit. Our Tennessee flipflops and tank tops suddenly seemed woefully inadequate. Possibly this was for the best.

I proposed that we take advantage of the plush spa robes in our hotel for outerwear:

But my mother did not think this was a tenable solution. So we had to make some purchases. Mama bought me a United Colors of Benetton sweatshirt, and by some miracle of the internet I have found a stock photo of the exact sweatshirt:

And just like that, I fit right in in foggy Londontown.

Take That
The only song in London that summer was “Back For Good” by Take That. It played on MTV Euro approximately a dozen times per hour. I became instantly obsessed. It was cold and rainy outside, and if I had had my druthers I would have spent the entire week ordering room service and watching Take That croon soulfully in a rainstorm on the TV installed above the bathtub in our hotel room.

Hearing the opening notes of this song still gives me a pang. I was furious when the song became popular stateside a few months later and my own private England song became available for public consumption.

tiny cars
We went to Lloyd’s of London headquarters to visit my uncle Larry, who was based out of NYC but who commuted to the UK regularly for work. We took a van so small that I probably could have reasonably brought it onboard my return flight to Nashville as a carry-on.

mango chutney
I had my first proper Indian meal in London that week. My dad and I went for a special dinner, just the two of us.

We were served fresh mango chutney. Our Middle American eyes had never seen such a condiment. We tried it--and we liked it. And then we talked about it for years to come. Mango chutney is still just about the fanciest thing to me.

Apparently Americans aren’t the only people who enjoy a giant department store. Harrods is like Walmart, if Walmart was REALLY fancy. Their motto is Omnia Omnibus Ubique, which is Latin for Everything for Everyone Everywhere. (Name another country where even the department stores have Latin mottoes.) While I appreciate the jaunty Latin (and you know I do), I would amend it to Omnia Divitibus Ubique or Everything for Rich People Everywhere.

I begged and begged my mom to let me try the sushi at the famous Food Hall. She said I had to wait until we were back in Nashville where I could get to a doctor if I needed to. Sushi is dangerous business.

wax sculptures
I mean, we had to go to Madame Tussauds.

A lot about English culture seemed really foreign to me, but they have one tradition that I found very easy to get on board with: afternoon tea. I truly don’t understand why Americans haven’t adopted this brilliant custom. Fancy snacks with tea? YES PLEASE. I had never had a scone before this trip. My family enjoyed afternoon tea so much that we had it every day we were in London. The waiter spoke with a heavy accent that has resulted in my family referring to to milk as “mik” for the last seventeen years. We are highly impressionable people.

stones of scones
Enthusiastic as I was for afternoon tea, I was STOKED about going to see the Stone of Scone. Just imagine my disappointment.

As you can see, I am pretty much an expert on England. That’s why I’m so looking forward to my glorious return. I have been promised a cream tea by my colleagues. I THINK THAT MEANS SCONES Y’ALL

Discussion question:
Have you been to England?


  1. I went to England when I was two, and have exactly one memory of that trip: we went to the zoo, and we couldn't see the lions. That's it.

    My mom is from Liverpool though so I am well versed in scones.

  2. That is pretty much EXACTLY how a 12 year old girl should see and remember London. Awesome. This time you will be interested in some different things for sure.

    I have been thrice to London and once to Oxford. First you will simply flip out in Oxford. Just amazing, amazing, amazing. Architecture, cobblestone streets, sweatshirts, ice cream, everything. As someone interested in literature and education, you will just adore being at the oldest university in the world (or 3rd oldest, depending on how you view it). We thought Salamanca (where we studied in Spain, and the 5th oldest university, founded in 1218) was incredible - Oxford simply puts it to shame.

    We went up there for a day trip on our European Vacation in 2009 (I was in Brussels for a week for my Duke MBA program, then Amber flew over and met me in Vienna, we spent a few days there, took the train to Prague for a few days, then flew to London and spent a weekend there with said day trip to Oxford). We loved everything about Oxford, although I will say we did have to check out the room that the Grand Hall at Hogwarts was modeled after, and it is seemingly a bit smaller than it appears in the Harry Potter movies (thanks Hollywood for that).

    If you can, take the train to Oxford from Paddington Station in London (or vice versa). Paddington is another experience in itself.

    As for London itself, as you well know, it's like New York or any other major city, you simply can't see everything even in several days. Our first time there was a 3 1/2 day weekend when we were studying in Spain in college. Amber and I flew there (just us together - SO scandalous!) for literally 39 Euros on EasyJet airlines, of course it was some far away airport (London Luton) but they are all pretty far away so it didn't matter. We stayed in the tiniest "hotel" (hostel) between Hyde Park and Notting Hill. Charming location. The Tube station right by our hostel was closed (as were many others) due to a strike (my first experience with labor strikes for public transit), so we had to catch the bus to Oxford Circus which was an amazing / terrifying experience.

    I remember just walking the streets in Oxford Circus and window shopping. It was also the first time we went to a H&M. Of course we saw Buckingham Palace and Kensington Palace, Westminster and the Houses of Parliament. We were simply amazed at The British Museum, even just the mummies are incredible.

    Of course we had to go to Harrod's as well. I still have a pen I bought there that cost almost as much as my plane ticket.

    From the first trip we remember not really liking the food except for some amazing sandwich we had near our hotel with bacon and avocado (remember this was Dec 2002 when these items were generally a rarity on sandwiches). Oh and that it didn't get light until about 9 or 9:30 and was dark by 3:30, first time I had ever experienced that.

    Second time was before said trip to Brussels, I flew to London and spent the day there walking around by myself before meeting a classmate who works at the London Stock Exchange to get an overview, then we took the Eurostar under the Chunnel to Brussels. I really enjoyed just meandering throughout the city by myself, walking across the Thames by the House of Parliament and along the shops on the other side (near the London Eye), then crossing back one of the pedestrian bridges to St Paul's Cathedral which was next to the LSE.

    When we flew back in, as I mentioned we did the day trip to Oxford, but spent the rest of the weekend in London-town, this one was just about fun since we'd already seen most of the sites. Shopping, meeting our friends for dinner, staying in a quaint little place near Paddington.

  3. Oh and as an of-age adult, you should be certain to try Pimms and lemonade. Have you had Pimms? It certainly seems right up your alley for this trip, although it's not summer. And I quote: "The British beverage is almost as much a tradition as the cup of tea, and the British down the gin-based drink by the gallon during the summer months." (source: http://www.viewlondon.co.uk/pubsandbars/pimms-no-1-cup-feature-996.html)

    Lastly, I took a work trip to northern England (Birmingham and a small suburb called Solihull and an even smaller village called Hockley Heath) but there's not much to say about that. It was January and icy/snowy and the town was cute but nothing stayed open past 5 pm except restaurants (the mall was open until 8 pm one day per week...wow!).

    Well as I seem to have posted comments longer than your original blog entry, I shall sign off. Have an incredible trip - can't wait to see the encore post!

    1. Noopy, why do you not have a blog??? Thank you so much for taking the time to dish about England with me. I am definitely a Pimm's Cup enthusiast.

      I cackled at: "Architecture, cobblestone streets, sweatshirts, ice cream, everything. " You know me too well.

      Maybe I should get another Benetton sweatshirt while I'm there. I bet they are incredibly expensive haha


  4. I loved everything about this post. Especially the picture of you and your father making the exact same face, the fact that your mother appears to not be aging at all, and the tiniest minivan.
    Let's bring back tea time.

    1. I don't remember if you were around for this, but I think IHOP is bringing back tea time, at least in the great city of Mysteria.

      I pray that I have my mother's genes--beautiful then, beautiful now, beautiful always.

    2. You girls. If you're fishing for a $20, consider it caught. You and Lani are the beauty queens. I'm just along for the adventure of being Katie's mom.

  5. This makes me want to go to London with you so badly. Now or in 1995, either way. Please write down everything you think about.

    1. Thank you, pet!!! Let's travel together sometime plz

  6. This is awesome. You are hilarious. In a good way.
    I went for the first time last fall, and I kept kicking myself, wondering why I hadn't been earlier.
    So, eat some scones for me.