Tuesday, September 21, 2004

Snapshots From Britain

It's easy to take your home town for granted. Although I grew up in London, there are many sights I never visited until I returned as a tourist.

It wasn't until last year that I found out that the Albert Memorial is a ostentatious carbuncle that defiles Hyde Park. And it wasn't until last week that I found Kew Gardens to be a fascinating mixture of grand old Victorian hot houses, modern botanical exhibits, and relaxing garden walks.

Last week was also my first full week with both Ann and my future mother-in-law, Lillian. Even though Lillian is somewhat of an anglophile, this was her first trip to England. Ann and I introduced her to both my parents and Britain's national cuisine: Indian food. We also brought her to the London theater for the Reduced Shakespeare's Company's hilarious comedy "The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged)."

On the Tuesday evening, my parents hosted an engagement party for me and Ann. An interesting assortment of old and new friends came. For the first time in over 20 years, I met Nigel Burgan, an old friend of mine from Archbishop Tenison's Grammar School. He was as ebullient as ever and in complete contrast to my other old school friend there, the sardonic Chris Green. Present also were Rachel Goldwyn, an old Burma ally, and Rebecca and Derry Korbet-Wootton, both fellow bloggers.

Visiting Parliament Square on Wednesday night, we all found ourselves on the outskirts of a confrontation between the Metropolitan Police and pro-hunting demonstrators staging a sit-down in the street. We were unaware at the time that, just earlier in the day, pro-hunting supporters successfully stormed a debate on the floor of the House In Commons in an extraordinary breach of Parliamentary security. We ended up having a nice chat with hunt supporters without revealing that Ann and I are anti-hunting and virtually vegetarian. We left as the police linked arms and pushed everyone out of Parliament Square.

Before the Shakespeare on Saturday night, we met up with Carol Naylor, my old friend and fellow blogger. As an engagement present, Carol downloaded the picture I posted to my blog of me and Ann after my marriage proposal, cleaned it up in Photoshop, and placed in a frame. It now stands proudly on our mantelpiece at home.

Staying at a hotel in Shoreditch brought home to me how much London has changed. By day, this old working class district is now a hive of art studios, ethnic restaurants and web companies. By night, it is a teeming crowd of trendy bars and night clubs.

London has greatly changed in the 20 years since I left. After I moved to America in 1985, I found Britain to be by contrast so much more cramped and parochial. But London has changed very much for the better. The food is better and the city continues to modernize itself well. I could see myself happily living in London again if circumstances demanded it.

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