Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Namastey London

Piccadily Circus is a London landmark
I guess I have been an Anglophile ever since I can remember. My nanaji died at the ripe old age of 92. Having lived for almost a century, four decades of it under the British Raj, he had many stories to tell of life in British India… some good, some bad. But he always stressed on the importance of education that the British brought with them and how he was influenced by it. Though he was never able to pursue a college education, my nanaji had a voracious appetite for reading. Among his favourite authors were the English humorist PG Wodehouse and the Scottish physician and writer Sir Arthur Conan Doyle who created Jeeves & Wooster and Sherlock Holmes respectively. There were others too… HG Wells, Charles Dickens, Rudyard Kipling and Jane Austen to name but a few. It was natural that he tried to influence me in those early years... some of the first books / novels I read were his hardbound classics, wrapped in yellow and faded newsprint… ‘The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes’, ‘Jeeves & Wooster’, ‘Pride and Prejudice’… I was also captivated by Agatha Christie’s Miss Jane Marple and HerculĂ© Poirot murder mystery stories. Not to mention Enid Blyton’s stories of British children who had exciting adventures and went on summer picnics with a hamper of egg sandwiches, caramel buns, ginger ale and a never-ending supply of crumpets and clotted-cream scones.

The British (or is it English?) summer was always portrayed as one of fun and frolic and days at the beach. Never mind that it barely lasted a few weeks and the rest of the year was largely wet, cold and depressing. Nonetheless, I came to like, even love most things British and fervently wished that I lived in the good ol’ days of the Raj.

But I digress…

I first went to the United Kingdom about five years ago, in 2007, over an extended Christmas and New Year break that lasted close to three weeks. Apart from the fact that it was my first major trip to an European destination, I was excited about going to London! Suddenly, all my childhood fantasies were coming true. Or so it seemed. While it wasn’t the British summer holiday I had dreamt of, London at Christmas and Glasgow on New Year’s Eve weren’t bad at all. Christmas in London is straight out of a fairy tale… happy revellers, twinkling lights and snowfall.

A year and a half later, I was in London again – this time as a student. Student life in London was challenging and exciting. Living in the student halls on campus, fending for yourself, night outs in London town and being part of this gigantic melting pot – a great experience to say the least! Living in London finally meant that I experienced the British summer in all its glory! Suddenly, the long coats, wraparounds and gloves were out and skimpy shorts, tops and summer tees ruled. On campus, chappals made an appearance and thrill-seeking skater boys miraculously appeared all over the city’s boardwalks. Summer brought about a riot of colours and styles never seen before – there was so much to see, to do, learn.

In the hustle-bustle of city life, its traffic and noise, London’s parks remained an oasis of calm and greenery. Delightful sunny days were spent in the park – from St James’s Park and Hyde Park to Regent’s Park and Hampstead Heath. Take a book or two, a bottle of wine or ginger ale if you please and crumpets and clotted-cream scones and there you have it – you’re bang in the middle of an Enid Blyton book! Crave for something more urban and city centric? Head to Piccadilly Circus, Covent Garden, Oxford Street and Carnaby Street where tourists and shoppers pound the pavements. At Piccadilly and Covent Garden, stop and watch street acts – dancers, musicians, actors, jugglers – peddle their skills for some pennies and pounds. You’ll be surprised at the talent you’ll see!

A day trip to Cambridge in summer is an experience
It was also the time for travel. How can any British summer be complete without the mandatory day trip to Brighton with its rocky beach, old-school pier and roller-coaster ride? Fancy a day trip? Take a bus or train to some of the UK’s most popular cities and destinations. Both Oxford and Cambridge, with their pebble-stone pathways, church steeples, quaint shops and rich history are a traveller’s delight. Go punting down the River Cam and soak in the summer sun. Bath is one of the most beautiful British cities with a centuries old Roman bath. Head to Windsor and visit Windsor Castle, the summer home of the British monarch… you may just be invited to tea! And while you’re at it, don’t forget to head to Stonehenge and marvel at this ancient wonder that still has archaeologists and historians pondering over its origins.

I could ramble on but I guess you know by now that if I could, I’d take my friends to London and some other places in the United Kingdom. I have so many marvellous experiences of the city / country and they bring back happy memories of the things I’ve done there. I know my friends would love to share them with me, we’re happiest when we’re together! Be it shopping in central London, clubbing in Soho or East London or travelling the countryside. I’d love for us to be together at a St Patrick’s Day parade in Ireland or going on a whiskey trail in Glasgow. And nothing beats the thrill of facing your fears – and ghosts – in the dungeons of Edinburgh Castle or hoping to catch a sight of Ness, the elusive Loch Ness monster that has captured the imagination of millions. What better way to experience old and new adventures with friends?!

I’m already dreaming of a British summer holiday, sitting outside a London pub with a pint of beer and some fish and chips to go! Cheers!


Arvind Passey said...

I'd say the best part in this post was when you compared INR with GBP... yes, it is tough to be a tourist in London now...

Arvind Passey

Naina Redhu said...

I love London!