As a sort of disclaimer to my mates, this entry is in no way me 'avin' a laugh. My continued fascination with the skilled and widely varying ways in which the Brits wield the English language stems from sincere admiration, and, at times, downright awe. I would love to be able to one day take the lift up to my flat, but, regrettably, I understand that it will always be an elevator that delivers me to my apartment. I assure you that someone who calls sleeping policemen "speed bumps" with a bland Upstate New York accent is in no position to ever take the piss. That said, as best as I can, I will continue here with terminology that seems appropriate for detailing the events of the past week.
I crossed İstanbul from İstinye to the Atatürk International Airport Friday morning (thankfully) without any traffic delays. The journey involved one bus, one tram, and one train, and was in duration about half as long as the flight I was about to catch. A boarding pass, an exit stamp, and I was on my way: heading to England - and to Western Europe, for that matter - for the first time
Downtown Liverpool. Very English-looking.
ever! I felt fit as a butcher's dog.
Fortune would have it that I was seated next to an Englishman on Turkish Airlines flight #1995, nonstop to Manchester. He turned out to be good chat and did not once hesitate to make use of the overhead button which summoned the flight attendant. We probably gave the poor woman a cramp in her leg with out frequent requests for more beer. Good fun was had by both.
Before I knew it we were descending upon an endless expanse of thick clouds. "That'll be England then, mate" said my new temporary best mate, and minutes later we touched down into the wet gloom, utterly shattered.
The queue in the arrivals hall could've filled a London theater house and there was nay a loo in sight. Then some miraculous survival instinct took over and I cleverly made use of a handy old skill: literacy! The crowd was taking up most of the enormous room waiting behind a sign which read "United Kingdom citizens and European Union nationals." At the distant end of an empty roped-off area to the left stood a desk marked "Other passport holders." The wheels slowly creaked
as I looked down at the faded golden eagle on my navy blue passport and I realized that this sign might refer to me!
Proud of myself, I stumbled immediately up to the immigration counter. After filling out the briefest of forms, I walked up to the official with a hopeful smile. "Address in England?" he cunningly asked. A curve ball. I faltered only momentarily before replying confidently "Kev's house... near Liverpool," keeping in mind that I've just landed on a rather small island. But the man wanted more. "Do you KNOW the address?" he pressed on. "No, but I got his cell phone number" I reply brightly, sounding ever more, probably not only to myself, like a slow cowboy.
"Please write Kevin's name, surname, and mobile number on this form" replied the man, rolling his eyes at me. Graciously he stamped me in, no doubt convinced that I could not possibly be of any danger to anyone other than myself.
After communicating with a few people in order to get basic information about the whereabouts of an ATM, which train ticket I needed, how I wanted my coffee, and so on, I realized that I was
quickly becoming quite embarrassed about my accent, out of fear that I wouldn't be understood. It was quite irrational of me, of course, but I would not overcome this feeling before my departure. On the train to Liverpool I met a Turkish man and oddly felt more comfortable conversing with him in broken Turkish than with any of the other passengers around me, who were speaking mysterious versions of what I thought was supposed to be my native tongue.
Kev received me at the Lime Street station, looking like a proper English gentleman, decked out in a handsome suit that he had bought for next to nothing in Vietnam. He proceeded to give me a whistle stop tour of Liverpool. It turned out to be quite an attractive city - the "2008 European Capital of Culture," no less! This was a far cry from the squallor, lawlessness and urban decay that I had been expecting after four years of stories about the place.
I even emerged with my wallet. I had wrongly been lead to believe that being pickpocketted was a quintessential part of the Liverpool experience.
"What's the difference between Batman and a Scouser (someone from Liverpool)?"
"Batman can go places without Robbin..."
I am assured that Liverpool does actually still have a darker side, but I detected not a hint of it. There were some bobbies around, but not a single dodgy yob to be seen.
Kev took me on a walk through the gorgeous downtown area where we saw many "lambananas" - art project/social commentary about genetic engineering, or something like that. We paused briefly for a pint at the Cavern Pub, a place of some historical significance to the Beatles, but unfortunately neither in its original form nor location. Me now topped off and in a state ripe for swaggering, Kev next took me to the dock area of Liverpool, an integral part of the city's history.
Formby is a half hour's train ride outside of Liverpool and Kev's dad picked us up at the station. Moments later, I was introduced to Kev's mom, and three siblings, Ian, Paul, and Helen. Terribly hungover at this point and embarrassed to be introduced to them in such a state, I felt like a gormless muppet. Handing me a glass of water, Kev asked " Would you like to lay down a bit,
My first English pub ever! - not counting the one earlier in the day, but Kev and I only stopped there for about twenty minutes...
mate?" "Well, I suppose I could (snore)..." An hour later Kev woke me up and after a few bites of food I felt surprisingly refreshed. Good news, as it was time, of course, to go to the pub.
It was reunion time for the "G7" (Kev, Gemma, Wendy, Sarah, Mick, Kat, and myself - we met in Asia four years ago, it's many long stories...) as well as introduction time for many of those who would be attending the wedding the following day. It was also the first time I had the pleasure of meeting Svein Erik, the very charming groom, who generously took some time to talk with me during what must've been a very busy evening for him.
Our last full reunion took place April of last year when Kat and Mick "exchanged vowels" - hahahahaha (Mexican English can be funny too, right Kit and Mack?). It was wonderful to not only see everyone once again, but also to meet the wider collection of people who they are closest to, many of whom I've been hearing stories about for years now. By the night's end I was completely knackered, and happy to fall into bed.
sort of like a bigfoot picture, but I assure you it was a real one. The poor little things are dying of a pox brought by the invasive American grey squirrels.
Saturday morning Kev and I went into the pinewoods, braving the Formby wilderness in search of the elusive, and sadly now very endangered, red squirrel. We saw one! Feeling accomplished we walked on to Mick's parents' house to find Hazel, who was but a wee bern last I saw her, ambling full-speed ahead towards toddlerhood, laughing and climbing the whole way there. We drank more tea.
On the way back to Kev's we came across a man from the neighborhood and stopped for a bit of conversation. I didn't participate as the man's accent was so thick that I actually struggled to understand what he was saying - and I honestly missed a fair bit of it.
We arrived at the church just in the nick of time. It was quaint, old, and made of stone, with its bell ringing to summon us in. Unlike nowhere else I've ever traveled to, England continued to consistently be exactly how I had expected it to be, in every possible way.
The ceremony was short, sweet, and picture perfect, followed by hours of photographs, most of which I happily missed. At the request of Svein Erik (proving himself to have
a powerful sense of humor), there was to be an open bar all night as well as a barbecue out back, a few hours after dinner had finished.
The speeches dragged on for a fair bit and at one point during them I realised that on the table in front of me sat a full pint of bitter, a full glass of red, and a champagne flute that someone was in the process of filling. Bloody 'ell.
Highlights included Gemma's speech to Svein in Norwegian and a particularly touching and eloquent poem by Sarah, Gemma's maid of honor. The rest of the evening was splendid and blurry - lots of dancing, or at least attempts at it, and nobody complained of going thirsty.
Sunday morning with Kev's family. All of us gathered together in the living room, trying to re-hydrate after a big night. "My tongue feels like a pub carpet" said Kev. "Feels like the floor of the movie theater" answered someone else... "Would you like a bacon butty?" asked Kev's mom. "Yes, please" I replied, unsure of what exactly that meant. I assumed correctly that it involved pig meat, something I've not tasted all year
from the car window...
living in Muslim Turkey. I skipped the Tommy K. and put brown sauce on mine. We watched a DVD of Gemma's "hen do," with everyone singing a megamix of Grease songs in a recording studio. And we drank more tea.
Mid-afternoon I met up with Sarah and Stuart, who foolishly had invited this well-established squatter to "come stay at ours" the night before. Stuart is smiling, fun, and fantastic to be around - sort of a taller version of Sarah, in many ways. We bid farewell to the lovely newlyweds, who were preparing for a short trip to the lake district before returning to Norway, where they will start their new life together.
We passed many towns during the drive to Sheffield. "Is every building in England made of stone or brick?" "Reckon so, mate" answered Stuart. We passed through the stunning peak district, a wide, green expanse of wolds, stone fences, and occasional sheep.
I took the tram into Sheffield's downtown the next day to meet Sarah for a fantastic lunch at a French restaurant. We sat outside in a wide fountain-filled square, enjoying the sunny afternoon. Sarah went back to work and I set out
on a foot tour of Sheffield. I quickly discovered that I could expect to be addressed as "luv" by any woman selling me so much as a bus ticket. I paused for a few hours at Sheffield's fine library. On one wall there I found the following quote, uttered by Michael Palin, one of my heroes, who also happens to be a native Sheffielder:
"There is no institution I value more in this country than libraries."
In the evening I met back up with Sarah and Stuart and we walked to a pub called Bungalows and Bears. We picked up some beers (with names like "Fursty Ferrett") on the way home and had an enjoyable, laughter-filled evening.
The next evening Sarah determined that I was long-overdue for a chippy tea, so we set out for one. Mine consisted of a pile of chips (big French fries), a layer of mushy peas (halfway between boiled peas and split pea soup, and bright green), and a large slab of deep-fried fish, topped off with more mushy peas. Sarah's had sausage rather than fish and curry rather than mushy peas. I sprinkled salt and vinegar on mine and we walked to
Again, England looking very English here...
a park. To eat this feast I was given a thin piece of wood, slightly bigger than a guitar pick, but with points. Inadequate as it is for transporting food to one's mouth, I am assured that it is an authentic part of the experience. It was proper stodge indeed, tasty, greasy, and on par with unpretentious and beloved meals the world over (Garbage plates are on me when you make it to Rochacha, Sazz and Stu).
My final night in Sheffield was then spent in a social club, where a local theater's rehearsals for "Some Like it Hot" are being held. Sarah is their very able choreographer. I'm not familiar with social clubs and I understand that normally one must be a member in order to enter.
I grabbed a pint and sat down to watch the rehearsal. At one point a cast member lectured me about English tipping culture. "So, if the beer is £1.60 and I hand the bartender two quid..." "-then you stay and wait for yer change!" he said, as though anything else would not be worth considering.
On my last full day in England, I took the train back to Formby
to see Mick's dad, Ian. He had missed the wedding because of work. Ironically perhaps, he had been on a ship in Norway while the rest of Norway was celebrating in Formby.
That evening we feasted on superb Indian takeaway. The English mean business when it comes to curry.
Afterwards, Mick, Mark, and I took a stroll down to the sand dunes and the beach, where we watched the sunset and chatted about life. There are more nappies in the future for both of them as Kat and Wendy are both sprog farming right now and the new wee berns are due to arrive before the year is out. We walked back through a rather ominous-looking wooded area where we saw a fox and quite a few rabbits. The light was fading and none of us had a torch, so we returned home for guess what?
- a few pints of bitter.
The next morning Mick drove me to the airport and shared tales about their life in Los Angeles. We parted ways as we've done before in India, Thailand, Turkey, Mexico, and New Hampshire - with cursing, punching, hair-pulling, and spitting.
Just kidding about that
Before long I was back up in the air, convinced that England looks and sounds exactly like a movie that is set in England, only it's funnier in real life. And England tastes like an afternoon in Amritsar, but with better beer and larger, blander cups of tea.
I left just at the right time as all the spondulicks had been emptied from my wallet and I probably put on a full stone in lager weight. I'm gutted that I didn't find ways to weave all of my English-isms into this entry. I saw not one manky dog, nor did I ride the tube. I didn't smoke a fag or shag or snog anyone, though I did sit on my bum a bit in Sheffield. I am absolutely rubbish at this and I'd better stop now before I sound like a complete tosser.
Cheers again to all my mates!
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