Sunday, October 21, 2012

Tales From the UK, VOL I, or "Curry on a Thursday"

(Generous guy that I am, I'm giving away for free - yes free! [As if you jokers would pay for anything], the very first installment of my UK memoir. Initially shared only with a few select friends, it was meant to be either the first in an ongoing series, or the first chapter of a book. Still want to write that book - thinking of calling it Curry on a Thursday- but I have to figure out how to approach the latter portion of those years, which were not fun, without sounding self pittying. In the meantime, content yourself with this!)

"Should I have done you any wrong at any time during our acquaintance, I have now been thoroughly punished for it.  Flying Air Transat is the kind of purgatory once reserved for semi-penitent sinners, an aeroplane seemingly engineered for the specific purpose of antagonizing my lower back. Had I been hogtied with piano wire and tossed into a chicken coop for seven hours, I could not have felt more cramped or uncomfortable.  Only the truly jittery among you will appreciate the personal insult inherent in covering the floor of the plane with round, slippery surfaces, devoid of any nook or cranny in which to perch one’s toes for temporary relief.  And once my neighbours fell asleep, visiting the restroom required a display of gymnastics that would put Jasper Schuringa to shame.

 I can say with perfect confidence that Gatwick airport is the ugliest building this side of York University. It looks like an experimental laboratory from a Jon Pertwee era Doctor Who episode, the kind of place where they breed slime monsters.  With my nifty new British Passport however, I did not have to spend long in the place. Unlike Canadian customs agents or border guards, who are as interested in your reasons for returning to the country as for leaving it, the British didn’t seem to care at all why I’d been “abroad” for so long. I marched straight through, and the bored-looking guard didn’t say a thing.

But for me the fun was just beginning.

The town where I had arranged to stay for the night was a place called (and how English is this?) “High Wycombe”, which had no direct train connection from Gatwick airport  The lady at the information desk casually suggested I simply “take the tube” from central London, advise which only a nitwit tourist like myself would have taken.

See, the thing about the London tube is that it has well over a hundred stations connected, many of which were built before the invention of escalators, connected by more than a dozen lines through nine different “zones”.   It is no place to trundle about with 26 kilos of luggage. (There would have been even more had strict post 9/11 weight restrictions prevented the packing of Education Psychology ).

I traveled from Gatwick Airport to London Bridge, to Elephant and Castle, to Marleybone stations, each transfer necessitating the traversal of yet another flight of stairs. The journeys themselves were spent staring at a ghastly advertisement warning about the dangers of taking unmarked mini-cabs (rather like decorating TTC stops with stills from Hostel) and listening in on other people’s conversations. I got a good glimpse into the minds I’ll soon be shaping when a little girl told her mother in all earnestness:

“I wouldn’t like it if Daddy set me on fire.”

Indeed not.

I finally arrived at my destination some four hours after landing in Gatwick. Or it might have been a measly three hours, I don’t remember. Time does not fly when one lugging all his worldly possessions up and down stairs. It not called luggage for nothing.
As luck would have it, it was raining, and my shoes were leaking. The countryside looked like a soggy lump of canned spinach.

High Wycombe is a town mainly known for its litter. Its habit of decorating streets with chip bags and beer bottles earned it the 26th place in the British General Union “Filthiest cities in UK” survey. There is £20 fine for failing to clean up after one’s dog, which encourages surprisingly few people to clean up after their dogs, and the potholes were recently the subject of a double page spread in the Buckingham Times.  Despite all this, High Wycombe is not without its charms. The petrol station across from my hotel is fully stocked and opens at 5:30 am. The Falcon pub downtown serves curry on Thursdays, and there is a cinema/bowling alley across from the library, which actually stocks Ian Gillan records and Octopus vs Mega Shark, which I have been dying to see.  It is home of the doubtless fascinating Chair Making Museum, and was apparently the place where the Hellfire club used to meet. Every year the mayor of High Wycombe is weighed to ensure he or she is not getting fat off the tax payers.

By the time I arrived at the modestly named Buckingham Hotel (without utilizing the services of an unmarked mini-cab), I was utterly unconcerned that my room was less than two metres wide, and rather more preoccupied with the fact I was soaking wet and hadn’t slept for 26 hours.

I woke up at midnight, still in my suit, and realized that not only was I now fully awake, but that everything in town was closed. Even the Bird in Hand. I had eight hours to kill in a room the size of a coffin.

But I had arrived.

Welcome to England!


-         “New Years Eve among the trouserless”


-         “Shoe Shopping with Steve”


  1. Can't help feeling you made Wycombe sound more appealing than it actually is.

  2. I did get mighty attached to Wycombe while I was there, pot holes and all!

    (And after spending several weeks in Dartford, I vowed never to speak ill of Wycombe again. . .)