Stuck Like Glue

London is like a cruel ex-boyfriend who some days gazes on you scornfully with eyebrows raised and the next morning smiles sunnily, asks you out for coffee, and makes you fall in love with him all over again. At first, I hadn't expected to feel like such an outsider. I had the accent, after all, as well as a working knowledge of the public transport system, complete familiarity with the different coins and notes, and a warm coat that had been worn before in even less temperate climes. But I still found myself stuttering over things like how to pick my messages up from my British mobile---not really as fancy as it sounds, just a new SIM card in a friend's old late 1990s Nokia; quite embarrassing, actually---and whether or not you tip in restaurants over here. (Answer: it's usually included in the bill. And a bargain at only 12 and a half percent!)

On my first day of work, no-one spoke to me, and I suddenly missed America terribly, knowing half a dozen people would have paraded past me had I been a new face in a stateside cubicle, asking where I was from and wishing me a nice day. I called my friend Josh as I walked back to the tube station in the dark that evening, feeling like I'd just finished my first day at a new school. "No-one talked to me!" I wailed. "I had to find my way to the kitchen by myself!" "Oh," said Josh, "it's because you're in England now. We don't really do that." There was a pause. "Wait," he said, suddenly suspicious. "You haven't been chatting to people on the tube, have you?"

Of course I hadn't: apart from the fact that the famous British reserve is deeply ingrained in me too, there's the small point that in order to chat to someone, you usually have to have a bit more than two millimeters of space between you. The tube, you see---at least the rush hour tube---does not afford one that luxury. I tried to remember it ever having been that crowded and jam-packed when I took it during my three years living in London and couldn't. And then I realized that, as a student in pursuit of an English Literature degree, my earliest lecture had been at the staggeringly laid-back hour of 11am, meaning I'd never before had to take the tube during rush hour. And let me tell you, it's an experience, starting your day pressed up against the hair and sweat and groins of hundreds of perfect strangers. I don't even bother holding onto the handrail anymore; I'm usually wedged in so firmly that other people's bodies become the ballasts that hold me upright. I couldn't fall over if I tried. There isn't space to fall over.

After last night, when I got lost on the ten-minute walk from the office to the tube station and had to have Josh guide me FROM AN ENTIRELY DIFFERENT PART OF LONDON---"do you see Big Ben in front of you? Well, how far in front of you? Okay, then go right"---I was wondering what I'd ever seen in the city I used to call home (and sometimes still do.)

But today, of course, London beguiled and bewitched me again, beckoned me into his flat to look at his record collection and is refusing to let me leave. People---really lovely people---spoke to me today, showed me around, helped me find the necessary power adaptors and internet cables, invited me out for after-work drinks. I realized that I can see the London Eye from my office window. (Window!) My usual tube station was closed this morning and so I walked to Euston, passing my old university on the way, smiling benevolently at the students (they can't have been English Literature students; it was half past eight in the morning), pointing out to myself all the little landmarks of my late teens and early twenties: that's where I auditioned for that play, that's where I lost my scarf, that's where I took the last exam of my life and wrote the most kickass essay on Huckleberry Finn, I'm talking with quotes from Alexis de Tocqueville and everything.

So I'm sorry, London, for the frosty thoughts yesterday; it wasn't personal. We go back a long way, you and I, and you know I can't stay away for long. You sure do know how to make a proper bacon sandwich, for one thing.

Nov 27, 2007

I spent a semester in London last year and this post made me miss everything about it - the tube, the non-chattiness of everyone, Big Ben - everything. Thanks for a lovely reminder and enjoy the rest of your trip!

natalie 42
Nov 27, 2007

that is a lovely post but, it just made me want a bacon sandwich! :)

Nov 27, 2007

And how does one make a proper bacon sandwich, by the way? I could really go for one of those.

Nov 27, 2007

I'm imagining you walking around the city, all Mary Tyler Moore in your cute outfits and sense of adventure. Hope it gets more and more fun.

Nov 27, 2007

I don't think I've ever tipped more than 10%, actually. But then we do have a proper minimum wage here...

You could stroll through the UL campus and take the 24 from Gower Street, might be less crowded and you can look out the window and stuff.

Nov 27, 2007

your writing is kickass even without quotes from've captured London and revisiting an old haunt perfectly.

hope you get squished up against a perfectly deoderised armpit and groin on the tube today.

Nov 27, 2007

glad you're enjoying, and hope this weather isn't affecting your mood like it is mine. As you're near Euston (and without sounding too much like a train spotter, i hope!), check out the new St Pancras Int. terminal - it's very impressive, and brings back the romance of train travel.....ok, really sounding like a train spotter now! enjoy the rest of your stay!

Nov 27, 2007

i noticed the not-chatting-with-new-ppl thing when i worked there for a couple months, too! they only started getting friendly just a couple weeks before i had to leave. how long will you be there? i usually keep up to date on your blog (via rss) but i guess i missed it! did you move or is this a temp thing?

Nov 27, 2007

Wait, wait, wait (wails a pedant) - wasn't Victorians our last exam ever? How *could* you forget that powder blue sweatband?!?

Nothing But Bonfires
Nov 27, 2007

Oh yes, I was thinking it was American Literature! In the Chemistry Department! But you're entirely right, Blakeburn, it was Victorians. With champagne afterwards, sprayed out of a bottle.

Rachael W
Nov 27, 2007

Your description of the tube reminded me of the metro in Madrid. Despite also being a student of English (and Spanish) literature, my first class was at 9 in the morning, meaning I had to leave my flat at 7:30 a.m. and take the metro during rush hour every Monday and Wednesday. It's good to know that public transportation is the same wherever one goes in Europe. Just gives me another reason to walk everywhere. =)

Nov 27, 2007

I'd love to visit London someday. Especially the tube in rush hour. Sounds like an opportunity to meet men. Haha!

Nothing But Bonfires
Nov 28, 2007

Anjum, I'm only here for a week. Leaving Friday.

Nothing But Bonfires
Nov 28, 2007

Wait, I mean Sunday. Crap, I should look at my ticket again.

Nov 28, 2007

You have not yet explained the proper bacon sandwich. Or did you? London sounds lovely. It always does. I want to go.

Nothing But Bonfires
Nov 28, 2007

I think it's just that the bacon is so good. It's not crispy, like American bacon; it's more...uh...PORKIER. Someone English help me out. That sounded gross.

Nov 28, 2007

Mmmm....everything is better with bacon.

Saucepan Man
Nov 28, 2007

English bacon rashers are slightly thicker and larger and cut differently. Bacon tends to be overfried in the US and is harder and dryer as a result - also saltier.

Perhaps there is a more 'gammony' taste about the english variant - rather than 'porkier' (which sounds faintly unpleasant...)

Then, of course, one needs to consider condiments and there is no substitute for Reckitt & Coleman mustard or HP Sauce...

From a (modestly overweight) expert

Nov 28, 2007

Off topic, but I thought you should know that having read your blog and having seen The Darjeeling Limited, I am currently listening to This Time Tomorrow on repeat and wondering if I'll ever get tired of it.

Nov 28, 2007

Holly, when you write like this I want to somehow perch on your shoulder and follow you around for the day. Sigh, what wonderful images.


Nov 28, 2007

Well, I guess that is a commonality of all English Majors- I never took a class before noon!


London is indeed bewitching. I lived there for a year, nine years ago. I haven't been back since and miss it ever so much. Tube and all. (Okay, non-rush-hour Tube and all.)

Nov 28, 2007

I still kind of live in London. OK not really - the very outer suburbs. But I'm another ex-UCL-ite and the other day I had a course on Tavistock Square and I felt exactly as you wrote. I just love it. It gets under your skin and it never ever leaves you.....

jive turkey
Nov 28, 2007

YUM - bacon sammiches.

I'm sure you aren't sticking out nearly as bad as I did. We didn't know about the whole gratuity-included thing when we were in London this year, and I'm pretty sure the waitstaff of every place we patronized is still living off of our MASSIVE over-tipping.

Have fun in London! I am so very jealous of you :)

Nov 28, 2007

This is so funny to me, because my blogger friend Rebecca (Somewhere Over The Pond), an American living temporarily in London, had the same sort of experience when she went home to New Jersey over Thanksgiving. Must be universal. I'm glad you got your sea legs, after all.

Wacky Mommy
Nov 29, 2007

Oh geez my knees I would last about ten minutes! I chat with practically everyone I see, even the skeezy old guy at the doctor's office today. "A-ha! My lost earring! I found it." (in my wallet, in with the receipts, of course.) he sez, "Ah... good?" Me: "Yes, I found the other one when I was cleaning house this weekend. It was on the floor!" he looks nervous, smiles, looks away.

Oh. My. GAWD!!! (West Coast girl.) Wait -- you don't say oh my GAWD now, do you?

Anyway. Living vicariously through you, as always, Holly.

Bird of Paradise
Nov 29, 2007

Glad to hear that everyone's warming up to you! Maybe you could introduce some good ole fashioned American style cookin' to London.

Nov 29, 2007

As a lowly pre-med, I had classes that started at 0800 or 0845 every morning nearly every semester. It seemed obscenely, indecently, double-fisting-coffee early. Really, I was such a baby. Now I get up at 0530. Sometimes I even run! Though I think that may be preferable to the involuntary spooning that occurs on crowded subway cars. Blech!

Nov 29, 2007


If this isn't a reason to go back, I don't know what is.

Nov 29, 2007

Emily, look for a local British or Irish pub -- I have had some pretty authentic UK foods at those. My actual fave is bangers and mash, yummm.

Nov 30, 2007

Loved your description of London! It is indeed bewitching. I haven't spent nearly enough time there, but whenever I've been there (frequently) in the last few years, it was always fun.
And no chatting on the Tube! An american friend of mine, XL in size, would try to make loud conversation from _across_ the stuffed tube! I pretended to not know him for the entire journey.
Enjoy your stay!

Dec 01, 2007

ooh...I'd LOVE a proper bacon sandwich please! I like mine with HP.