Archive for the 'London' Category

Cars: I have seen the future…

July 30, 2008

… and it goes pretty fast! These two-seaters were everywhere in London, and very aptly fit London streets, parking stalls and especially gas prices, which would reportedly approach $9/gallon here. (I also saw a one-person automobile, which looked like an upright casket with windows and wheels. Not so comfy, or fast.)

I post this now because I ACTUALLY SAW ONE OF THESE HERE! ON COLLEGE AVENUE! MAKING A LEFT TURN! Has automotive sanity finally reached our shores?


My life in shoes: Crocs

June 12, 2008

I brought a pair of black Crocs with me to London, and I haven’t worn them once. While they are rivaling flip flops as the standard casual footwear in my corner of the world, the Brits appear to eschew them. The only Crocs I’ve seen on the street have been on children and German tourists. Darn. I find them incredibly comfortable and versatile, and I’ve seen a lot of cute sandal and slipper-type variations of the original style. They even have a style with medium-high heels! How cute is that? And all those colors! I wonder, how environmentally friendly are they?

Update: Just found a pair of these on sale at Von Maur in Columbus. Hooray!

Your Girl in London: The American primaries

June 6, 2008

I just returned from three days in Stratford and Oxford to find that the American political landscape had significantly shifted. (Funny, I didn’t see any headlines about it in the English countryside.) Most of the Brits I’ve talked to have certainly heard of Hillary (and more so her husband) but they’re not sure who this Obama character is. “I’m not sure, either,” I tell them. “But I expect we’ll find out.”

As I cruised the Web, I found myself nodding at what media blogger Nancy Nall said in her summary of the campaign:

I’m thinking what happened to Hillary is what happens to people who live in a human cocoon, surrounded by ass-kissers and pillow-plumpers who either a) spend all their time covering their own; or b) telling you what you want to hear.

But I was especially interested — and saddened — by NYTimes columnist Judith Warner’s commentary juxtaposing Hillary’s decline with the ascendancy of “Sex and the City”: Read the rest of this entry »

Your Girl in London: A case of rape

June 1, 2008

The Washington Post has a disturbing story on an aspect of British life that I wasn’t aware of: “According to government statistics, only 5.7 percent of rapes officially recorded by police in England and Wales end in a conviction.”

Solicitor General Vera Baird, who oversees criminal prosecutions in England, estimated that [only] 10 to 20 percent of rapes are brought to authorities’ attention. According to government figures, 14,000 cases a year are reported and 19 out of 20 defendants walk free…

Thousands of victims each year once chose not to go to police because of shame, women’s advocates say. Now, the advocates say, the bigger reason is that rape victims feel the system is stacked against them.

Why the low conviction rate? Surveys commissioned by the police forces found a “‘culture of skepticism’ in the justice system when it came to rape cases, and recommended shifting the focus from seeking reasons not to believe the accuser to gathering evidence to support the charge.” (For a U.S. comparison, see this Wall Street Journal response.) Read the rest of this entry »

Your Girl in London: The new face of London

May 26, 2008

Theodore Dalrymple, one of my favorite contemporary essayists, beautifully sums up the unique face of modern London:

London is now the most ethnically diverse city in the world — more so, according to United Nations reports, even than New York. And this is not just a matter of a sprinkling of a few people of every race and nation, or of the fructifying cultural effect of foreigners… Walk down certain streets in London and one encounters a Babel of languages. If a blind person had only the speech of passersby to help him get his bearings, he would be lost; though perhaps the very lack of a predominant language might give him a clue…

A third of London’s residents were born outside Britain, a higher percentage of newcomers than in any other city in the world except Miami, and the percentage continues to rise. Likewise, migration figures for the country as a whole — emigration and immigration — suggest that its population is undergoing swift replacement. Many of the newcomers are from Pakistan, India, and Africa; others are from Eastern Europe and China. If present trends continue, experts predict, in 20 years’ time, between a quarter and a third of the British population will have been born outside it, and at least a fifth of the native population will have emigrated.

What he says is literally true: When I walk down the streets here, I am as likely to hear a foreign language as I am English, and much of the English I hear is strongly accented. We have very little to compare with it in the US, outside of New York City. Read the rest of this entry »

Your Girl in London: Shopping, or not

May 21, 2008

Got a blister on my left foot wandering Oxford Street yesterday — wrong shoes. I started at Oxford Circus with the obligatory stop at Niketown London. (If you’ve raised boys, you’ll understand.) I then detoured for a few minutes to Liberty (a beautiful store with beautiful things that has gotten too upscale for me) and what was left of Carnaby Street. (Doesn’t that name take you back to the Sixties? Yardley Slickers lipstick! Mini-skirts! Mary Quant! Twiggy! Going with my friends to “A Hard Day’s Night” at the movies and screaming at the screen!)

As I walked down Oxford Street, I stopped in most of the major stores — John Lewis, Selfridges, Marks and Sparks, Debenhams — and was really disappointed in what I found. I am (she said, sighing heavily) too old for most of the clothes, which I thought were quite skimpy and came in a lot of garish colors (for summer, I suppose). I know I’d probably feel the same way wandering through Macy’s or Forever 21 or the Limited in the US. And most of the sizes in the UK stores stop at a US size 18 or so — and I’ve seen PLENTY of women who are much larger than that. Where do they shop? I could fit into those sizes, but I didn’t see anything I even wanted to try on. If you’re twenty-something and a single-digit size, you’d be delighted with what I found, but if you’re a women of a certain age — and size — you may be discouraged.

By the time I reached Primark at the end of the road by Marble Arch, my foot was killing me, and I decided I’ll save it for another day. The place was jammed, and the prices seemed more than reasonable, so I’m looking forward to returning and checking it out. I also found a list of plus-size stores on the UK-based Too Fat for Fashion that I’ll consider. I’ve found a lot of lovely scarves for me and for my gift-list, but I still need to find a dress.

Your Girl in London: Harrods

May 19, 2008

Knightsbridge today, and Harrods, “the world’s most famous department store.” I took a bus, but then just walked back to the flat, it was so close. I can’t possibly afford anything in Harrods, and I mean that sincerely. I sometimes think only the Saudis can afford to shop there, particularly in its “Rooms of Luxury,” and there were plenty of them there today. (Harrods actually charges you to use the loo!)

No, I go to Harrods for its Food Court, which I think is one of the wonders of the world. The store has moved some its food operation across the street since I was here last, but the original one is still pretty spectacular: Rows and rows of gleaming counters and food bars, with all kinds of meats, seafood, cheeses, breads, sweets and all kinds of delicacies, including a caviar bar and — EGAD — Krispy Kreme Doughnuts, which was doing a booming business!

I discovered a fascinating corner where you can buy really interesting kinds of oils and flavored vinegars, which they will decant for you in special vases of all sizes. I’ve never seen anything like it.

I picked out two kinds of quiche and some lovely rolls for our lunch as well as fruit scones for breakfast, and will likely go back for some sushi next week. I also got some little candies, meringue dipped in dark chocolate, nice and light. When I handed the clerk my Visa card, I was given the option of paying in dollars or pounds, a first for me.

Harrods’ distinctive dark green shopping bags remind me of Chicago and Marshall Fields — RIP, another distinctive shopping experience that is now only a memory. (When I lived in Chicago, I couldn’t afford to shop at Marshall Fields, either!)

Your Girl in London: What I’ve seen so far

May 19, 2008

Plays and musicals, with star ratings:

Pygmalion with Tim Pigott-Smith (from The Jewel in the Crown glory)**** He was chewing up the scenery but good, and Eliza was enchanting. No happy ending here, which would have pleased Shaw, the old grouch.

Never So Good with Jeremy Irons (about British PM Harold MacMillan)**** Britain throughout the mid-century, with scandals aplenty, including the long-running affair between MacMillan’s wife and a British gangster. Jolly good fun in the Suez.

War and Peace, a two-part, six-hour dramatization of the epic novel done in the style of the Nicholas Nickleby that was such a hit several years ago.***** Lovely, imaginative theatre, and dinner at McDonalds across the street between Parts I and II. Read the rest of this entry »

Your Girl in London: Glamour

May 17, 2008

Victoria Beckham and British Vogue aside, the Brits do not seem to have the same sort of appearance hangups as we Yanks, particularly the women. I was surprised to see Dame Diana Rigg appear on an afternoon talk show looking like she’d just come in from working in the garden, unashamedly wrinkled and grey, and indifferently dressed. She wouldn’t be allowed look like that on Oprah or the Today Show. I watched a special on the long-running British soap Coronation Street, and marveled at the amorous adventures of Eileen Grimshaw, played by Sue Cleaver, one of several characters who are definitely middle aged and not particularly glamorous. The only American character I could even compare her to was Roseanne, and she certainly wasn’t much of a television sex icon.

Fashion on the street runs the gamut, high chic to grunge. I ran across one little ancient lady in the Tube station in a suit, scarf, hat, pin and white gloves, and many of the older Brits at the theatre matinees are conservatively attired, but most everyone else is casually dressed, often with a bit of European flair. Scarves are a big accessory, with the more texture, the better. Skinny jeans are big, as are leggings and longish shirts or dresses. Lots of ethnic influences are evident, too, particularly in the jewelry, and I’ve admired a lot of fun little swingy jackets. Big bags/purses still reign.

Most British women have thickish ankles, indifferent hair, less-than-straight teeth — and absolutely radiant skin, which just about makes up for everything else they might be lacking. I’m constantly astonished and more than a little envious, although even my desert-parched skin has perked up noticeably since we arrived. I just wear mascara, mostly, and it’s a relief. (We should put humidifiers in every room!)

It was still chilly when we landed, and everyone was in boots, but now that the weather’s warming, the trainers, flip-flops and sandals have started to appear. Flats are universally preferred, particularly on the Tube, since you can’t “mind the gap” or navigate the escalators very well in platforms or stilettos. I’m personally reluctant to go out in sandals much because the city is so dirty (I have the same problem when I go to New York), but no one else seems to mind.

I haven’t been to Oxford Circus and Regent Street yet (the “centre” of shopping), so I may have other observations when I get back. I need to find a “mother-of-the-groom” dress, and I know beforehand that I’ll have to go one size up to get anything to fit!

Your Girl in London: Living

May 16, 2008

A few observations from Across the Pond:

Our neighborhood in South Kensington has a lot of schools. There’s the Ecole Charles de Gaulle a few streets over (surrounded by French bookstores), with the Imperial College of London just a stone’s throw from that. And I’ve walked by a lot of smaller language schools and even an art school on Queen’s Way. So we have a lot of students, and the neighborhood is quite relaxed, with lots of coffee shops where the students congregate — and smoke like chimneys! (Do American students smoke that much?) Our building is run by an outfit called FIE, which rents flats to various university programs. We have at least four schools represented in our building, including Boston University, and several others are supposed to show up next week.

This is first time I’ve been to London when I’ve actually felt like I LIVED in London. I’m still trying to do my job, with help from my well-flogged slaves highly trained interns back in the office, so I spend about four hours a day on the Web. We’ve been to plays and museums, including a really interesting trip to Temple, which is the heart of London’s legal world and has some great Knights Templar history surrounding it. I’ve been buying groceries at Waitrose and Tesco, with my little recyclable shopping bag, and I’ve been reading and trying to find something interesting to watch on the telly. (No cable, just public channels, and Four and Five run a LOT of American television series.)

Food is fun here, with lots of ready-to-eat ethnic choices in the supermarkets. The scope of the British Empire can best be seen in its cuisine, which outside of fish-and-chips, clotted cream and the occasional Yorkshire pudding, is pretty global: chicken tikka, moussaka, samoyas, hummus, cous-cous and pita. Today for lunch we had onion bhirgy, sort of a knish. Delish. The deli counter at the local Waitrose is a thing of beauty, with its assortment of REAL cheeses, meats, salads and prepared meals. Although the dollar has made a few gains in the past week or so, we’re not eating out much because of the cost, and I’m not missing it.

I am relieved to report that there is no super-sizing in London, at least that I can see. No Big Gulp mentality here. (My sons think the definition of a great restaurant is all-you-can-drink refills.) It’s definitely made a difference in my consumption. Smaller portions and all the walking you normally do in the city has helped me lose probably ten pounds, so I’m going to have to rethink my American lifestyle.

The Brits are definitely more green-conscious than we are. Nearly all the washing machine soaps at Waitrose were rated “bio,” and there’s a real push for recycling even in our little building.

There’s a bank holiday next weekend, and the students will be gone, so we’re planning a trip southwest to Cornwall, which is supposed to be very beautiful and pastoral. This weekend we’ll go to the National Theatre for a production of “Fram” and I aim to stroll over to the V&A Museum for a few hours.