What I learned on a London long weekend

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.

london-museum-natural-history-charles-darwin-statue7. 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.


13 Responses to “What I learned on a London long weekend”

  1. February 5, 2009 at 9:16 pm

    wow – that ad really hits the message home doesn’t it?

    I love the look on your wife’s face as she gazes at Darwin’s statue

  2. February 5, 2009 at 11:41 pm

    Yeah, I thought that ad was very effective too.

    Can’t wait to see Slumdog Millionaire.

  3. 3 lilalia
    February 6, 2009 at 12:59 pm

    Can’t understand how you don’t get the charm of Luebeck’s airport (smile).

    Once in my life I would like to step into one of those multi speedo custom lanes designated for residence or EU or anything but “Others”. We (you and I) do not even get this joy when travelling to Canada, for we (Canadians) are so utterly egalitarian and benign that we don’t have any lanes for Canadian residence, but bunch all travellers into one snail-paced-bumper-to-bumper-traffic-jam line up. Grrrr! Just once, I’d like to be waved through by some disinterested custom officer sitting in the quick lane.

  4. 4 Michele J
    February 6, 2009 at 6:19 pm

    Ironically, I had a very positive experience at Stansted in November of 2007. I was I believe the only non-EU/non-UK passenger on board, so I had an entire customs dude all to myself. The Ryanair experience is another matter but perhaps Stansted would be a better choice, with a train and all into downtown London? Does Ryanair not fly into Stansted from anywhere near Hamburg? I mean, just as the lesser of several evils.

    When flying into the US with my Swiss husband, I have been told to always go together through the US-citizen line. In fact they made me go retrieve him from the end of his line of 50 bajillion people. So you might just try this next time in Luton, despite whatever that official told you.

    The guy narrating that rat ad sounds Irish to my untrained ears. A few months ago I saw an absolutely terrifying UK ad against drunk driving (or “drink driving”) which if I’m not mistaken also had an Irish narrator (can’t find the ad at youtube at the moment, but a girl and boy kissing on a stone wall get hit by a drunk driver, he is killed, she apparently loses her legs?). Is this a phenomenon? I mean the language, not DUI. Is an Irish accent particularly pleasant/believable for some reason? Is it the equivalent of having Swabians narrate ads (wir können alles, ausser Hochdeutsch)?

  5. February 6, 2009 at 9:50 pm

    … exactly why I am a British passport holder… direct Norwegian translation is the travel picture!

  6. February 7, 2009 at 10:14 pm

    I think michele is onto something there. Guinness ads also feature an Irish narrator🙂

  7. February 8, 2009 at 3:56 pm

    An Irish narrator for a Guinness beer commercial? What were they thinking? 🙂

    @Michele, I wish I’d thought of that. It could be that my luck was just not there that evening, but at least we made the bus. It was already getting late.

    To get to Stansted you have to go Ryanair from Lübeck, an hour away. Easyjet goes from Hamburg airport to Luton, and of course you can fly the regular Lufthansa, etc to Heathrow but it’s a lot more expensive most of the time.

    @beaver – me granny’s birthplace lets me qualify, but I don’t travel that often to make it worth all the hoops I’d have to jump through to get that British travel picture.

  8. February 8, 2009 at 11:50 pm

    o yeah… beautifull smile… I think michele is onto something there. Guinness ads also feature an Irish narrator

  9. February 9, 2009 at 10:00 am

    Flying into Heathrow in Oct. last year I found that out about the passports. The Non-EU/UK line took forever – fortunately I was in no hurry.

    That commericial reminds me of the story “Letter to a Young Lady in Paris” by Julio Cortzar, in the which the writer of the letter describes his inclination to vomit up live, baby bunnies. Just googled it and found there’s a short film as well: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TW1FzSXWw08

  10. February 10, 2009 at 8:09 pm

    Funny thing, I’ve never had a problem at Heathrow. Maybe it’s just the arrival time – if you get there around shift change, or they’re short-staffed, the non-EU passengers get screwed.

    Maybe the ad people had read that story too?🙂

  11. February 11, 2009 at 5:49 pm

    Slumdog Millionaire was truly a fantastic film-watching experience, in every sense; never trying too hard to “be something”, but entertaining all the way!🙂

    PS: it is almost lunch-time, so maybe it IS the better time to click on that rat-drug advertisement (as opposed to AFTER lunch), but I’m still not going to😉

  12. 12 Sandari
    October 4, 2009 at 1:08 pm

    What is it with you people and your passports.
    Get your paperwork in order BEFORE you enter my country.
    We are the dumping ground of Europe and the rest of the World for that matter people have the nerve to travel over 8, 9, 10, 11, countries to arrive here by any means they can, they then move in get fake ID’s and live off our welfare state.

    Try getting into America with fucked up paperwork and see how quick they throw your arse out and ban you for life.

    If you don’t like it don’t come, we have survived this long with out you, I’m sure we can survive some more.

  13. October 4, 2009 at 2:15 pm

    What is it with jackasses like you who can’t read a simple post properly? MY paperwork WAS in order. It was the bullshit set-up at that crap Luton airport that almost made us miss our bus. Just in case you missed it the first time: while some passport clerks sat idle, I, a mere weekend visitor, had to stand in line with people who were obviously seeking some sort of refugee status, merely because I didn’t have an EU passport. I suppose you figure that will keep me from living off your welfare state?

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