Monday, 19 August 2013

Changes

I made an expedition to London the other day and revisited some of my old stomping grounds: as well as the Clapham North area where we still own a house, I walked around bits of Soho, particularly the Carnaby Street area where I once worked, just to see how times had changed, before lunching at Liberty's in an upstairs cafe that certainly did not used to exist.

Here are some observations.

1. Pubs that serve Thai food appear to be a fad that has died a death. At one point there were at least four in Clapham alone. But now, our neighbourhood pub advertises "Bloody Marys and Roasts" outside - presumably trad-British food is now the thing, and it also made me wonder whether the popularity of brunch (a real New York institution ) has followed us over the Atlantic.

2. Restaurants, cafes and gyms come and go, but the old pubs remain. In Kingly Street, round the corner from my old work, the plush, once brand-new Cannons gym I belonged to has been knocked down. Almost all the restaurants are different. But the dark, traditional pubs - the Red Lion, Blue Posts and Clachan - are still going strong. The Shakespeare's Head in Carnaby St, where I remember hanging out as a teenager drinking snakebite and black, looks unchanged. And the newsagent opposite Liberty's  where I always used to look at the trade mag headlines still sells Campaign.

3. Austerity Britain does not appear to have made any impact whatsoever on the Carnaby Street area. If anything, it all looks a lot posher than ten years ago, with newly constructed courtyards, even more boutiquey shops than before (where had Boots gone?) and a plethora of fancy places to have coffee. In fact, nowhere I have visited so far looks remotely recession-struck. But what's it like outside of the south of England? Guess we'll find out on the trip to Anglesey...

4. First Great Western trains are now ridiculously expensive. I paid an eye-popping 55 quid for a day return from Didcot to Paddington - a 45 minute journey that I know very well. It's the same length of time as our journey from Long Island to Manhattan, but about five times the price. For this, you get a carriage with safety announcements and a TV screen in the back of your seat, a bit like going on a plane, so that you can browse the news headlines. I can't believe anyone actually wants all this - surely most people would rather pay less for rail fares and read their own book or look at the news headlines on their own smartphone? Seems to me that the privatised rail companies have gone seriously wrong somewhere along the (leaf-strewn) line.

But there's nothing like going away for a few years to make you see your home country in a new light. I came away with the impression that London is a lively, exciting city, with just as much going for it as New York. (There's nowhere in NYC quite like Liberty's, for example - an eccentric Tudor mansion stuffed with scarves and hats and stationery. Americans just don't do that kind of thing.)  I'm looking forward to rediscovering the capital again.

9 comments:

Nota Bene said...

I wondered how you would find the 'old country' on your return...now I know. London is, I think different to the rest of the country...it's probably been out of recession since 2010...I've been told there are more cranes working in London that the whole of the rest of the country put together...
...many pubs have closed, so you may just be lucky that your favourites are still going...and I do think there is a greater pride in things British than there was before - food as well!

Iota said...

I agree with Nota Bene. I think London is different to the rest of the country. It always was a bit, but I think the difference is much greater now. When I've visited London in the past few years, I've almost felt like it was a day trip to a different country.

I love the fact that your old fave pubs are still going.

Rail travel is ridiculously expensive, unless you book 2.5 months in advance (not 3, not 2, but 2.5 - I've researched this).

Iota said...

And you probably can't ever get a cheap ticket on a commuter journey.

Kit said...

Liberty's was once one of my favourite places to wander through. So glad it's still the same!
Trains have been ridiculously expensive for years, but that is, as you say, eye-popping!

Paradise Lost In Translation said...

It's so true you look at your old country/home with 'new eyes'. It's great to get a fresh perspective and also great to appreciate things you used to take for granted. We found when we 1st moved back that we took adv of lots of opportunities and went to see plays, concerts, went up to London a lot. We lived here ('intentionally', I think is the sexy word for it) like many of our ex pat friends do who live in the UK, i.e making the most of our free time, of events & opportunities before we just get stuck in a rut & it's all stale & familiar again! of course we also have had to rein it in cos it's all so eye wateringly (tear inducingly) expensive to do ANYTHING here. The single worst aspect of moving back I reckon.

Mud said...

Hello - I'm back too! Let me know if you want to meet for a coffee, or even a glass of plonk. I'm on notenoughmud@live.co.uk

Good luck settling back in!
x

About Last Weekend said...

Makes me want to fly over the pond - $55 quid for that journey though - how do commuters do it, that's more than $300 a week just to get to work...i am very sad about the demise of Thai in pubs, we had a great place in Notting Hill with vines everywhere falling into your Tom Yum Goong.

Harriet said...

Carnaby street's wierd isn't it? It all feels a bit like all the rest of shoppingy London now.

I used to get books for university at a foreign language bookshop on Great Marlborough Street (can't remember the name but it'll come back to me, it's still there, I think) and I always used to feel a bit seedy and edgy walking there.

I sort of miss that.

Knackered Mother said...

That's hilarious. Hadn't noticed the Thai food/pub thing 'til you mentioned it. So true. And Liberty is one of my very favourite shops to, er, browse.