Travel to the UK: observations from a tourist swing through London

We’ve been very fortunate to have visited the United Kingdom, and particularly London, a couple dozen times. Enough times that we’ve left the major tourist places far behind and just enjoy the atmosphere and people.

We people watch. Following are observations I jotted down from a visit several years ago.

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Best overheard restaurant conversation:

Young man to young woman: “So, of course you know, if we attend the wedding together, we’ll have to have sex.”

Later, Adam heard him say, “If I had that ass and them tits, I wouldn’t keep them hidden.”

Fashion craze? Vintage, vintage, vintage. One sign proclaimed, “Why try to stay in fashion? Buy something you already know is out of style.”

The vintage shops appear to be on every block, are huge, cramped and have a unique smell usually only found when opening a long-forgotten bag full of old sweaters and shoes. They’re full of bad ‘80’s sweaters and funky plaid coats. They’re also a Mecca for ‘60’s and ‘70’s men’s black leather biker jackets, which Adam went wild over. The road-rashed quilted shoulders and trim waists made him look like a god. Unfortunately, the sleeves were never quite long enough. An awesome one could be had for about 80 pounds, or about $120.

Markets and vintage shops also had an unexpectedly large number of fur coats. I was surprised at this trend, which wasn’t at all present last year. Furs of every shape, color and animal, as well as some faux, were in long racks. Fur hats and scarves, (look for the ones with the lining loop to hold them in a nice tie), were in huge piles. I wouldn’t buy new fur, but vintage doesn’t hold the same stigma for me. I bought a gorgeous mink stole for about $30. Younger women were going wild for the hats, especially. They looked like images from Dr. Zhivago.

The giant racks of traditional pashminas are still prevalent, but women are wearing more artsy-looking creations. They’re typically some combination of cotton, lace, mohair, feathers or tufts of fur. Feathers also appeared on wristlets to stick out of your coat sleeve, or to tie around your forehead like a bohemian princess. You could add a ‘20’s twist to the whole do by looping your hair around the band in the back. It was a great look for a 19-year-old.

Leggings, opaque hose and boots are still the main fashion statement across all ages. Patterned hose are everywhere. I thought one woman had a disease on her legs until I realized they were tan-colored, blotchy-patterned hose.

I love that when you bump into them, the British say “sorry” to you. I also love that the homeless men we’ve passed, thank us anyway and tell us to “have a lovely night” with no sarcasm whatsoever.

I honestly think I walked through a real time warp when I entered Top Shop. I warped right back to 1984. Honest to God, it was 1984.

I love the antique markets at Jubilee and Spitalfields. They’re on weekdays, which is far less crowded, and filled with interesting characters and sometimes quite unexpected gay porn.

My favorite this time was an elderly man sitting behind a table filled with hundreds of cigarette lighters, dating from the turn of the last century. They were your typical pocket-made variety and dozens of much larger table-top lighters. They came in every material, shape and color. He could tell me the date based on whether they used flint, petrol or gasoline. There was a grenade-shaped metal lighter from the ‘60s, an enameled red rose from the ‘80s, and clear plastic cubes with snow-globe-style ocean scenes from the ‘70s. Some were up to 60 pounds or about $90.

The dear man mumbled that he’d collected them all his life, don’t you know. Such and such company put out new ones every year, some quite expensive. Some day, they’ll be obsolete, he murmured. But there he was, now an old man, selling off the collection he was so very proud of. Of course, I had to buy one. He told me I made a very excellent choice and should be very happy with myself and shook my hand.

There are cameras on you everywhere. We had walked maybe a block and Adam had counted six. The papers have awesome shots of wanted criminals from these cameras. At another pub one night, we talked to a couple about the heightened security alert. He referenced the cameras and said we’re safer here than most places. But it sure does make you think twice before you do something in public you wouldn’t want to see on camera. God forbid you get a wedgie.

There is nothing cuter than a small English child saying anything. “Mummy? Can I ‘av a cundy bah?” And you can count on an excited little boy to be seated in the front seat of every rail car pretending he’s steering the train.

Speaking of trains, a queer sign advised passengers that spitting on rail attendants would involve a DNA test and stiff penalties. I asked the closest attendant if this is a common thing. Not so much, he said, but it does happen quite a lot to the same people.

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