I’ve had the good fortune to live in several countries, plus travelling to a lot more for extended periods. I like to check myself by keeping my situation in context. Living in Jamaica for the past 8 years, has brought me face to face with the realities of life, here. It’s lots of negatives but lots of positives. So, I’m going to try to find 5 of each, here, and in each place I’ve lived. Not living in each at the same time brings up issues of the realities of the specific time.
So, over coming days, I’ll try to trawl my memories to find things I really liked and those that drove me mad. I’ll go chronologically: England, Wales, USA-1, Guinea, Barbados, USA-2, Jamaica. Here goes.
I never chose to go to England, in contrast to almost everywhere else that follows, but did that matter?
London: so many great place in this city and things to do and find with every trip. I know it like the back of my hand, and can spot most general areas in TV shows or films. Nothing beats sights of the RIver Thames, all of whose (13) bridges I crossed many times, or crossed using one of the few tunnels at the eastern end.
Fish and chips; pie and mash: Fish and chips only taste right served in paper (not newspaper, necessarily) and eaten with the fingers, not on a plate with a knife and fork. Must have plenty of salt and vinegar. Haddock preferred to cod.
Pie and mash is traditional East London fare, with beef mince pies made freshly on site, served with mashed potatoes, and doused with liquor (a parsley sauce made from boiling eels—the core of the ‘eel and pie shop’, where this is served. Oddly, two great outlets by an East London icon, Cooke’s were near where I lived (Shepherd’s Bush & Hammersmith). Now, hard to find in London, but they can be. A must-eat each visit.
English beer, served by pump from a cask, preferably wooden. No great preferences for region of origin, though I love London brewers Fuller’s and Young’s, and rural brews like Boddington’s, St. Austell’s, Marston’s and Greene King. (I’ll deal with Welsh beer, in due course.)
Riding on buses and trains: Whether for short commutes or longer journeys, it’s hard to beat a ride on one of the major means of public transport. As a boy, I used to love jumping on and off London red buses that had open platforms at the back.
Going to football matches: Impossible to try to explain the emotions that come from watching live games being played, including pre-match rituals (pubs, meeting mates, walking to the ground, finding your spot-better when fans stood, not sat-cheering and wailing and crying, after the match). Try to catch a game on every trip to London.
Strikes: Labour disputes are part of British socioeconomic DNA: they’re meant to be disruptive and often are, whether it’s transport, miners, or garbage collectors.
Customs officers: This is throwback to the days when the UK was not part of the EU, and journeys across the English Channel from ‘the Continent’ involved having vehicles checked to see if duty-free limits had been exceeded. Even when all was in order, these people always managed to make me feel guilty. When I was over the limits, the sweating would be profuse 🙂
Post codes: I can’t recall who won the bid to organize mail around postal codes for smaller georgraphical areas, as opposed to the simple designation of larger areas, but something about the alpha-numeric system chosen, eg N17 6TH, seemed clunky, versus numerical systems common across most of Europe.
Flat, warm fizzy drinks: Back in the day, when we did not own a fridge, this was one of the banes of my life-the once opened bottle of ‘pop’, waiting to go flat, and getting warmer. 🙂
No refunds: The biggest shock I had when first living in the USA was the ready acceptance that a returned item was to be met with a return of money or credit to buy something else, no questions asked. In the UK, it was always like the ‘Spanish Inquisition’ taking something back to a retailer. “What wrong with it?” Depending on the reply, it could be a frustrating return home with the toaster that would not toast. 😦 Things have since changed.