London Fog

Banal, touristy observations from an amateur traveler continue…

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Why would I call this post London Fog? It’s a brand that has stuck for the better part of 30 years. 1993 or so – long rows of jackets or winter-coats – and my father told me to look for tags which said ‘London Fog’. I’ve never seen the brand again in my life. No one wears winter coats anyways in this part of the world. But some memories just…stick.

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Didn’t see too much fog though. Although I wouldn’t have minded it at all initially. I think I probably like winters more than summers in new places in the western world because indoors is always well-heated and the cold outside is a welcome change from the muggy climate of the tropics. But packing for winters is painful, your luggage just doubles. It’s worse in a place like London in the spring (I know it’s unpredictable all year along but spring is worse they say) where it could be cold or raining or bright and sunny depending on your luck. So you end up hauling a lot of sweaters which you may not need. But now that you’ve got them, wear them you will.

Anyways, white folks like the temperature inside the room to be around 20-21 degrees centigrade. That’s a light-sweater-weather for me anyways, thank you.

I now know I prefer sunshine in the early 20 degrees just fine though. Only need to wear a thin sweater or jacket. No mittens and headgear. That is even better than fog.

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My above mentioned preference for sunny weather with a nip in the air is just that. A preference. Never have I ever realised the importance of sunshine for a people as I did in this city. The joy on seeing a clear sunny morning in London is probably equal to the sentiment shared by millions in another city 7000 kms away when the first heavy monsoon clouds are sighted at the end of a parched summer.

The mood is lifted. Suddenly everyone is out & about during the lunch hour. Too many men are wandering around shirtless. “Need to wrap up early, we don’t get this weather too often.” Now I know why the Empire really took off. It wasn’t for those bloody spices (see above). It was for our good-old colonial sunshine.

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While all stereotypes exist for a reason, some are more exaggerated than others. Here’s one that isn’t exaggerated at all : British food is bland.

Even the great Sunday roast is difficult to swallow once you’ve finished the sauce. And I’m no big seafood-expert, but I never knew that un-marinated fish can be as bland as cabbage soup. Even the chips (read : fries) are unsalted!

It’s a bit of a paradox perhaps (is it?) but while their own food is so bland, the English are remarkably experimentative eaters in general, comfortable with all sorts of cuisines from around the world (the colonisation must have helped I’m sure). When we eat Japanese or Mexican or Thai food it’s pretty much an event. The English eat pho  as nonchalantly as I would eat a pizza.

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But bland food apart, if there’s one thing the British are the absolute Kings of – it is the humble sandwich. Or not-so-humble-anymore actually. The unending variety & options could keep you going for a month. Yes it’s not necessarily the ideal lunch everyday the cold-sandwich, but my mouth is watering again. They really put a lot of work into it.

A woman working with me used to eat a bag of crisps (chips for the rest of us), a chocolate bar and a coke for lunch. For lunch! Indian mothers would collectively faint. So a sandwich is a delightfully wholesome meal in comparison.

Remember the Holy Trinity at every corner : Eat, Pret, Itsu.

Recommended re-reading : https://www.theguardian.com/news/2017/nov/24/how-the-sandwich-consumed-britain

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Did you mix up Thursday & Friday? Nope, Thursday-night parties are a thing. Thursday you party with your friends from work. Then you go back to office hungover the next day and still pretend to work (some masochism here).

Friday you party with your friends from outside work. Then you don’t go back to office hungover, you go visit your family in that state instead. Because weekend’s are for family. How unbelievably organized.

But if it’s summer you drink in the street outside the pub because the pub is full. And everyone is drinking in the streets. Apparently you can drink anywhere in any public place except while you’re walking. So if a cop catches you drinking while walking just sit down on the sidewalk?

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It’s so nice when they serve you water in a restaurant free of cost. I’ve decided I like all countries which do so better than the ones that don’t straight away without looking at any other parameters. Also no charges for using the loo.

It’s also nice (initially unnerving, but then nice) that when there’s a public holiday, it’s a public holiday for everyone. (Why is a bank holiday a public holiday in 2018 is another question for Quora maybe.) The most popular restaurants in the most touristy areas are closed. All non-essential public services are closed (and that means trash collection as well).  Some of it is counter-intuitive (why wouldn’t I keep my restaurant open when everyone’s going to be outdoors?) but some of it makes you think about how un-inclusive a society you’ve grown up in where the maid taking a Sunday off is a matter for middle-classs memsaabs to crib about.

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