Update: contains comment by an idiot who can’t read
The Germans have a saying, short and clear: Reisen bildet. You learn things when you travel.
A few random things I learned on our three-day trip to London:
1. London cinemas can play the most shocking pre-show advertisements. We went to see Slumdog Millionaire at the Odeon near Leicester Square Saturday after a wonderful late-afternoon dinner at the Lido in nearby Chinatown. Watching the adverts, we almost brought it all back up. A tall, thin man with grey hair is standing in a white kitchen. Close-up to his hands punching out a pill from a blister pack, another as he takes a drink. Then a close-up on his face as what looks like a hairy worm starts to emerge from his mouth. Just as the entire audience is gagging in disgust, the worm becomes a tail that he yanks on to reveal a slimy ball of feet and fur that lands with a resounding thud as he drops to the ground a large, grey and very much dead RAT.
The message: Rat poison. One of the ingredients you might find in fake prescription drugs bought on illegal websites.
You’ve been warned.
1a. Sometimes you wish you’d not arrived on time.
2. Slumdog Millionaire deserves every award it gets. Fast-paced, furious, fun, only one or two spots to challenge your suspension of disbelief in a story that will seize you by the shirt. Try to see it in a movie theatre that has gut-rumbling sound.
3. If you arrive at Luton airport, and don’t hold a UK or an EU passport, you will be treated like an asylum-seeker. After 45 minutes of watching first my wife and then about 700 other passengers breeze through customs as I shuffled forward in another line at a glacial pace right behind a clutch of people holding what look to be sheets of handwritten paper with fuzzy photos pasted on, I asked a fellow in uniform standing around if, as a holder of a Canadian passport with a permanent EU visa, I might slip into the other queue so we wouldn’t miss our bus. No. Can’t help you.
Just as I was about to give up hope, they opened up another window, and we made our bus.
Any Americans, Canadians, non-EU passport-holders reading this? Don’t go to London via Luton.
5. Then again, if you’re in Hamburg and want to avoid the drive to some desolate airstrip near Lübeck nearly an hour away to sit in a windy hangar festooned with clownish advertising before boarding Ryanair to Stansted, fly Easyjet to Luton direct from Hamburg, allow for lots of time upon arrival, and forgive yourself for thinking while entering that horribly out-dated Luton airport that you’ve arrived in some 1960s time-warp.
6. Riders of the London Underground don’t use cellphones. Our friend Douglas says that’s because they could be used to set off bombs, so the transmitters were removed after the Madrid attacks. If that’s the case, terrorism does have its upside, because the result is absolute bliss. The constant mindless chitter-chatter yadda-yadda you overhear on the buses and trains in Germany has been the main reason my wife K now refuses to take public transport unless it’s absolutely necessary. It was nice to enjoy relative tranquility and the voices of real people talking to neighbours for a change instead of self-important yahoos barking bullshit into their damn phones.
7. K is a huge fan of Charles Darwin. OK, I knew that already. But in addition to being a great wife, the loving mother of my only child, an innovative cook and the decorator of a lovely apartment I’m always happy to come home to, K is a well-respected teacher of Biology, French and English celebrating 25 years of German public school service this year. Biology is her main subject, the proper study of which would be impossible except in the context of evolution. At the magnificent Charles Darwin exhibit on now at London’s Museum of Natural History she was like a student again discovering a love for her subject for the very first time. No wonder, really. In detailed, yet easy-to-follow presentations the life and work of the great man and his revolutionary theory are laid out for the visitor in an exhibit which should be first on the list of anyone with an interest in biology or natural history. Especially this year in the 200th anniversary of his birth and 150th anniversary of the publication of his most famous work, On the Origin of Species. We loved how they displayed his hand-written letters to colleagues, family and his future wife, his compass, impossibly tiny pistol and geologist’s hammer.
Part two in a couple of days, or next week. These are very busy times.