• Day 95: London Calling!

    Date: 2010.06.02 | Category: Uncategorized | Tags:

    London is a short hop from the south of France but arriving here is such a sweet, yes, jolly, occurrence that I want to kiss the first Cockney-accented cab driver I meet. And some cab drivers in London still have Cockney accents and call you “love” and in the case of the first one I got yesterday, did grow up in the East End.

    Perfect! I quizzed him about the old days in the East End for the entire length of the cab ride. And who doesn’t love the stately cabs?  Always make me wish I was an international assassin/spy arriving for an overnight briefing at 10 Downing Street or MI6 headquarters before being sent on a highly-classified mission to Moscow…

    I am fascinated by the East End (and even spent a week at British military boot camp for women in Devon with actress Brooke Kinsella – great person and wonderful at commando raids! – who starred on the long-running British soap East Enders.) Even better, Brooke’s father is a true East Ender who drives a cab!   Sadly, the East End, once home to, roughly, ten trillion pubs, is now Bangladesh West and there are now, like, two pubs.  No Jack the Ripper, no docks. Sigh.

    But the real reason I love coming to London  is the English sense of humor, so different from the sensibility in the Latin countries like France, Italy and Spain.  And by humor I mean they’re funny – and in good humor as well!   It’s so refreshing after months on the fractious Mediterranean.

    If you head one island over, to my ancestral homeland, the people are really funny, but I don’t get to Ireland more than once every two years.  No one is funnier than the Irish, even though my real Irish friends bristle at any Irish-American attempt of mine to idealize Ireland.    One Irish acquaintance calls people like me “plastic Paddys” and is quick to tell me that Ireland is a “floating madhouse” full of drunks and dysfunctional families.  To which I say, who cares, they are so funny!

    Time was, I’d be considered a traitor to love England and the English.  They didn’t crush the spirit of Ireland but they did wipe out my ancestors’ language. One of my friends still lives in the cottage in Ballyforan outside Galway where he was born across from the river Suck. On the other side of the river is the old abandoned, stone manor from which the English tyrant rode over from every morning to whip the Irish into going to work. We always walk over there and examine it.  He’s still bitter – and he’s only 49 and all that happened a century ago. I love it!

    But how can you hate England these days?  Today, the place is filled with home-grown, dark-skinned foreigners speaking English with a perfect plummy British accent; payback is a bitch, baby.

    But I digress from the entire point of what is actually a bittersweet trip to London.

    I normally love coming here because the U.K. is chockablock with the most fantastic candy. It’s everywhere the minute you land here.   Seemingly dozens of different Cadbury chocolate products alone – the basic bar, the Flake, the Cadbury egg – and that’s just one of a million candy bars for sale. The British teeth aren’t famously bad for no reason, you know.  Even Madonna talked about her obsession with British candy when she lived in London:

    “One of the worst things about Britain is that it has such fabulous candy,” she says and lets slip that when she has worked particularly hard at something, like the rest of us she rewards herself with a treat.

    “I love Cadbury Fruit and Nut, Crunchies and Maltesers. But my absolute favourite is a Cadbury Creme Egg. I bite straight in to it and suck all that good stuff right out!”

    Suck it, sister!

    For comparison, how many candy bars does France have?

    Try a paltry four or five brands of candy bars – Mars (Zzzz…,) Snickers (ho hum,) Kit Kat (snore), Bounty (double-snore), Smarties (ugh.)  Then they have the big supermarket chocolate tablets.  OK in a pinch but not that exciting. Lindt? Toblerone?  Not even French and not that dynamique.

    England has roughly one million different brands of candy bars in a typical newsstand kiosk.   Ireland, as it happens, has about ten million candy bars.  All you need to know about me and my sweet tooth is that I am of 100 percent Irish descent.

    But this trip to London is my first to the U.K. during My Year Without Candy. What a tragedy and struggle. I walked the aisles of the candy-stuffed stores, looking, gazing, fantasizing… but never touching!

    In between two business meetings I ignored all my actual London-based friends and met up with my wonderful friend B. from New York whose husband was there on business the same day!  We hit two different coffee bars, the fabu 202 restaurant in Notting Hill for lunch and went shopping on Portobello Road.

    Most fun? We both love the movie Notting Hill and we ran right into the actual “Travel Bookshop” where Hugh Grant met Julia Roberts!  Of course we went in and I asked shamelessly about the movie – as if the shopkeeper (who was not Hugh Grant, I might add) had never gotten THAT question before.  ”It was filmed in a studio,” she said, barely concealing her boredom and scorn at my Jethro Clampett question. (Wait, is this France?)

    Then it was teatime and that’s when this story gets most tragic.  After all the succulent candy, what’s better than high tea and if not a crumpet, then one of the to-die-for enormous chocolate chip cookies or banoffee pie or cakes dotting the windows of every other cafe, tearoom and restaurant in London?

    Such a waste.  I sat disconsolately with B. and drank cappucino without sugar.

    However, there is a silver lining to being in London while eschewing sweets:

    Three words: salt and vinegar potato chips.  I mean crisps!

    Love them.  And bags of them are everywhere. I ate two in one day. Could have had a third.

    So now I’m wondering – does this water make me look fat?