It was easy to pick out the Americans waiting at the baggage claim. The red, white and blue that covered them in one way or another were subtle indications that they were, in fact, leftover celebrators of the Fourth of July, myself included. Having watched our hometown parade and then made futile attempts to catch a glimpse of fireworks from the plane window, I strutted through Heathrow boasting my “I *Heart* Alameda” T-shirt that I had bought from Walgreens the day before.
On the drive away from the airport, the radio immediately encouraged us to visit a healthful-sounding website called beefeater.com. As enticing as that sounded, we never ventured to see what it was all about, although I became curious as to why I had never heard of a website like that in the States due to Americans’ notorious love for burgers. As it turns out, Beefeater is a brand of gin, and not at all associated with the popular meaty edible.
As we walked through the grocery store, on the way to my grandma’s house, I suddenly became aware of how out of place and particularly patriotic I was looking as I wandered past the sausage rolls, crumpets and rock cakes. As I held my jacket closed around my bright red shirt, my brother placed a jar of Nutella in the shopping basket next to the Colman’s and PG Tips. At the 3 store where we topped up my phone card, a woman in bright pink, glittering eye shadow and plastic nails made no attempt to assist in activating the phone in any way. Her unhelpfulness only increased when she couldn’t figure out how to swipe our credit card.
That night, we walked across the field and over the golf course to the pub, avoiding badger holes and stinging nettles as we went. For a Thursday night, the pub was quite busy, and we sat down at the corner table next to the unlit fireplace. Antique photographs, guns, and cooking utensils covered the walls and everything looked just as it did 700 years ago when it was first established, which is why we laughed as we turned to see a Michael Jackson photo hanging near the door.
Our meals of chicken supreme, scampi and chips, tarragon creamed mushrooms and arugula came in good time. When our plates were cleared, I peeked down at my phone that we had somehow managed to activate after not following the pink lady’s incorrect instructions.
“I had more service in that field than I do in this pub,” I decided to share with my family. They laughed, and said they thought the waitress was doing a decent job, which was not the context I had meant it to be taken in. However, 45 minutes later we had made our dessert selections and still the waitress had not returned. Now, I found it only fitting to repeat, “I got more service in the field, than I do in this pub.” Regardless, the Eton Mess we finally received when our jet lag had nearly conked us out at the table was delicious.
The next day, we ventured into London to give my brother a taste of the city and play tourists for a day. At Borough Market an endless assortment of enticing international delicacies, giant piles of cheese and freshly baked pastries were laid out in the ancient winding streets and allies of Southwark. When we came across a more eccentric vendor selling Kangaroo as well as Ostrich burgers, I looked around for Bizarre Food’s Andrew Zimmern, but he was nowhere to be found. In all honesty, I was a bit put off by the idea of Kangaroo Burgers. Unlike cows, who have their whole lives to accept that they will someday become an item on the dollar menu, kangaroos just don’t see it coming.
After mushroom and beef pie, duck sandwiches, and fresh-pressed juice we wandered, on a whim, into the Globe Theatre where we stood, the old-fashioned way, and watched a production of Henry V for three and half hours. Among the crowd, at the foot of the stage, and under the open and drizzling sky, the over four hundred-year-old atmosphere would have been complete had us commoners been chucking tomatoes at the villains.
The rest of the day was spent wandering around the Tate Modern Art Museum. Trying to remain optimistic, we respectfully pondered the magnificent works of art on display, including a mirror, a large pile of solid goop, and a very complex and meaningful white circle that had been painted on the wall. Stopping at a neatly painted and blinking fire alarm, we wondered if that too was considered modern art.
Our day came to an end after a pastry from a quiet café and a wander past the lights of the glowing blue Eye and golden Houses of Parliament reflected in the Thames River. Big Ben struck midnight as we joined the crowds into the Underground and headed back to my grandmother’s cottage far from the flashing lights and social buzz of the city.