Sunday, 22 April 2012

State of the Nation

We're back! We survived economy on Virgin Atlantic (of which more later) and finally touched down in the good old US of A last night. And, although I had my laptop with me, I decided not to update the blog until now. Partly because we were so busy - racing around the country trying to pack in as many friends and relatives as humanly possible in three weeks - but partly because I wanted to get the UK in perspective, put it behind me so to speak, before I pronounced on the State of the Nation.

First of all, London. Now, we are supposedly in a recession (or just coming out of one, depending on who you listen to). But never have I seen London look so prosperous, or its infrastructure so functional. So many additional new Tube lines! The gleaming rows of Boris Bikes! The spruced up stations; it all looks a lot more shiny and new since I was last there.

Then there are all the new buildings - the Shard! (yes, it definitely does change the skyline, in quite a dramatic way). But not just the Shard - the 'Cheese Grater', and other massive skyscrapers that seem to be popping up along the South Bank. The amount of construction work going on is just astounding. Meanwhile, a quick trip to Soho revealed many new, high end looking bars and restaurants - clearly someone is still spending money.

I'm sure much of this is due to the Olympics, for which we saw much preparation. In Greenwich, where we were staying, the park was being prepared for the horse-riding events, and we also took a trip to look at the Olympic Park in Stratford. (Thank you again, Nota Bene, for the John Lewis viewing platform tip - it was handy to have somewhere to view the park in the pouring rain). It's all very impressive, as is Westfield Stratford, which has succeeded in making Newham a destination (a thing my husband, who worked at Newham General as a junior doctor for six months, says he never thought he'd see). Yet the general view of London friends we met (Nota Bene excepted) about the Olympics was negative, or at least 'meh'. People were moaning about how they'd get to work in the crowds; they thought the Olympic park would be a white elephant afterwards. I wonder if this will change as the Games get closer? Personally I think it's all rather great, and can't wait to see London host the Games, albeit on TV.

This was a definite reminder of the difference in attitude between Brits and Americans - can you imagine Americans being negative about having a world-famous event in their home city? No, their enthusiasm would be boiling over. But Brits, particularly Londoners, love to have a moan, as I remembered each time I picked up a copy of the now free Evening Standard on the train. (That's another thing that's changed. And weirdly, there now seem to be loads of free papers left over, even at 10 in the morning - a far cry from the days when I was commuting from Clapham and you were lucky to get a copy of Metro after 8.30. I wonder if we now have free paper overload? Mind you, Littleboy 1 thought it was wonderful that newspapers were free and insisted on carrying around his copy all day. He took great delight in showing off his recently acquired reading skills to an entire train carriage as he solemnly read out a story about the FA Cup, and couldn't believe that I was going to leave my copy on the train.)

The Littleboys remembered nothing about London, I'm sorry to say. Not the playgrounds where they once played, the pool at their grandfather's house they visited regularly, or indeed our old house, which we visited briefly. The only time Littleboy 1 appeared to remember something was on the rather grotty walk between Clapham North and our house, when he saw a sort of weird brick platform between a tower block and a doctor's surgery, which he would sometimes scale as a small child. "I know this place!" he exclaimed. It was about the least glamorous place in our entire visit - I don't know what that says. Littleboy 2, meanwhile, missed his challah bread after a fruitless search in Sainsbury's, but both of them discovered 'Coco Shreddies' (which I'm cross about, as this was only because it was advertised on the back of a normal Shreddie box. How are you supposed to keep your kids' breakfast healthy when there's all this enticement to eat chocolate versions of the stuff they like perfectly well? I see there is also now Chocolate Weetabix, which frankly horrifies me. I thought we Brits did better than Americans when it came to kids' diets, but now I'm not so sure).

We managed to notch up an impressive array of relatives for them to visit (at the last count, this includes four great aunts and great uncles, two grandfathers, two aunts, one Uncle, four cousins, four second cousins and several cousins once removed). We also foisted them on several sets of friends' children and expected them to get on with it. It seems that despite their American-ness, they could still bond easily with British kids over football, iPad games and generally running around the house causing mayhem.

Meanwhile, we managed to catch up with about as many friends as we could pack into three weeks, including throwing a party for 40 people. I revelled in being able to have good British conversations with my friends, without having to subtly tweak my language to be understood, and go easy on the irony. Perhaps the most serendipitious meeting of all when we happened to be in Westfield Stratford at the same time as my old mate Four Down Mum to Go, who I thought we'd miss as she was busily preparing for the London Marathon. And, for those of you that are interested, the visa renewal stuff was completely painless this time - for some reason we got fast tracked, were out of there in just over an hour, and even had time for a nice pub lunch in Chelsea before we had to collect the boys from my father, who kindly looked after them.

The British weather was, well, typically British, with lots of showers and a tiny bit of sunshine. That hasn't changed. But London; well, it's evolved quite a lot in three years. It's looking good, and while it will be a wrench to leave Long Island next year, maybe, just maybe, returning to the UK might just be OK.


Potty Mummy said...

I think you're right - life back in London will be more than OK. (No chance I'm trying to convince myself of that too, obviously...)

jen said...

Oh dear, your comment about Virgin Atlantic sounds ominous, we've just bought tickets with themto NYC at 1/2 term. Do I want to know?! Is it forewarned is forearmed or should I look away now?

MsCaroline said...

Welcome back - you have been missed, but I'm happy you had such a lovely time!I just bet London's looking fabulous - Son#2 (age 15) is heading there with his school group in just under a month and I'm terribly jealous.
So nice that the boys were able to see so many relatives on their visit, and must have been a relief to realize that there won't be any problem when they repatriate!

Muddling Along said...

Guilty as charged of being a bit meh about the Olympics but am sure it will all come together and be fun (that said I'm trying to avoid thinking about the impact on my commute... shudder)

Perhaps people will get more supportive as it gets closer - seems to have been a long time in the coming

Expat mum said...

You should have heard the moaning (me included) when Chicago was in the running for the 2016 Olympics. It wasn't so much about the crowds, - after all Chicago has a massive exhibition centre and hosts tens of thousands of attendees on a regular basis, together with all sorts of things all summer. No, it was the guarantee of political shenanigans the likes of which you only see in New Jersey and New Orleans. For that alone, I'm glad we didn't get the games.

'Cross the Pond said...

Great post. London has certainly changed in the 2 years we've been here. When I go back to New York I'm amazed how different is is - new shops, buildings, restaurants. It just reminds me that life will go on without me. But London will be a better place once you come back next year, and you'll appreciate the things you've had to do without. I'm sure you'll miss things about Long Island but you, and your family, will be all the better for the experience. London is fabulous. I'll miss it when we go.

farfromhomemama said...

I've not been back to London for two years now but have caught glimpses on the Shard on various programmes. It looks amazing. I can't wait for the Olympics either - I'm sure it will make me feel homesick much like watching the London marathon does.

Iota said...

Don't get me started on chocolate breakfast cereal. If ever there was a soap box I'd hop up on, that is it.

Interesting to hear your thoughts on London.

Well done on the painless visa renewal. You'll have to share your secret.

nappy valley girl said...

PM - so when are you coming back then?

Jen - I was going to do a separate post at some point, but my main gripe is that the entertainment system never seems to work and they spend half the flight trying to reboot it. Not great when you are relying on it to entertain two small boys. Also, they always mislay at least one child meal. Take snacks, and an alternative form of entertainment!

MsCaroline - yes, it's a relief to know they'll slot back in. Your son will have a great time.

Muddling Along - I have a feeling people will actually get really exicted when it comes to it. A bit like the Royal Wedding.

Expat Mum - that's interesting. But haven't you got political shenanigans anyway? Heard some long thing on NPR this morning about Rahm Emanuel and the school system.....

Cross the Pond - that gives me encouragement!

Farfromhome - I know, watching the wedding last year made me very nostalgic.

Iota - I would share the secret if I knew what it was. I really have no idea why we got fast tracked. Maybe because it was just a renewal visa? Whatever, it was far better than last time.

mTFF said...

I can't believe you're going to go back in a year and I won't have met you at all! That just seems plain wrong..
London does change so swiftly, doesn't it? Every time I go home it seems like a new place and I can hardly believe I used to call myself a Londoner after living here for 8 years now (gulp).
Glad you had a good time. Chocolate Weetabix is just plain wrong, though.

PantsWithNames said...

London really does change fast. I grew up there, lived there after university for decades and now the tube is all different, I almost don't recognise it and I'm still trying to get the hang of the oyster card system!

Coming back is fun, promise. We really like being back. x

Anonymous said...

I returned to Canberra after 3 years living in London which was difficult as Canberra is like a provincial town compared to London. I miss London and have returned twice, however I did see my hometown with fresh eyes and that was great. You will do the same, I'm sure. Julia, Act

Nota Bene said...

It was so lovely to see you all again...the boys have changed immeasurably. You packed a lot hopefully you'll get some R'n'R now!

Circles in the Sand said...

Great write-up of what sounded like a wonderful holiday! Xx

nappy valley girl said...

Mtff - we will meet! At some point - but possibly in London.

Pants - I love oyster cards! And you can use them on the overground now, which was really useful travelling in from Greenwich. Yes, London has changed massively over the past 15 years or so.

NB _ Great to see you too, although wish the weather had been nicer!. Being back at home is quite relaxing, really.

Circles - thanks! it was a lovely holiday. But also glad to be home.