Monday, May 15, 2017

Reflections on Return #2: Things I Loved about London

    47% of London is green space. London’s parks are flat, wide, open expanses of lawn … except when they’re little, quiet spaces tucked into corners here and there. In the middle of a busy intersection, there’d be a square with lawn, flowers, benches, and always at least one statue. Everything clean and beautifully maintained. Something in me loved the openness, the flatness, the far-as-the-eye-can-see illusion. As an antidote to the big city, it worked.

Little nooks and crannies
    Gene taught me the word flâneurie, the act of wandering into secret courtyards and tucked-away corners as you explore a city on foot. In my own neighborhood, I walked behind the church and discovered Kensington Church Walk, a little alley with shops, a school, a little garden oasis. It was like entering a storybook. I couldn’t resist an alleyway in London.

British “Schemes”
    Unlike in American English, British schemes are not just secret or dishonest ones, they’re “a plan for doing or organizing something.” My favorites:
  • the Considerate Constructors Scheme: construction sites follow the Code of Considerate Practice which governs the appearance of the site and the construction workers, respecting the community, protecting the environment, etc. Construction workers dress in full neon jumpsuits – yellows, oranges, greens.
  • the Community Toilet Scheme: Local businesses make their clean, safe, and accessible toilets available to the public. There’s a pocket map, window signs, and an interactive map online. I only discovered this after carefully creating my own restroom directory, but what a great idea.
The buses! (of course)
  • The main entrance to the bus is on a level with the street so strollers, walkers, wheelchairs board easily. Then the able-bodied walk up the stairs to the upper deck. In the U.S., why does the main entrance require going up stairs, which then requires lifts and kneeling and all sorts of workarounds?

  • The upholstery on the buses is beautiful and pristine! In the U.S., we had to give up on that because they were carved up with knives. America is reduced to hard plastic.
  • Every Tube car has a readable map and an understandable voice announcing the stops. Every bus has a digital sign and voice announcing the stops. They’re not broken, out-of-order, or garbled.
The signage
    You figure this one out:
I loved that street signs are giant-size and way up on the sides of buildings so you can see them easily. No signs on poles blocked by trees or people or missing.

  • Their signs say “Way Out” instead of “Exit.”
  • All those life-saving, easy-to-understand, ever-available “You Are Here” signs!
No goose or duck poop at the ponds!
    I don’t know how they do this, and I’ve asked everyone I can. There are swans and geese and ducks and even a heron. The ponds are encircled by paved areas, but right next to those are the wide, grassy lawns. People lie on the lawns! They have picnics and play games! I don’t see them shrieking over landing on goose poop. In all my time in the parks, I only saw maybe two goose poops. Do they wash off the pavements? Vacuum the lawns? How do they do it?!?

Museum engagement programs and tours
    Every hour, the Tate Modern holds a different tour. Every day at 4 pm, the National Gallery has a 10-minute tour of a single painting; twice a day is the regular tour of five paintings. In between is “Listen and Look,” “Talks for All,” “Talk and Draw.” While everyone is just cruising through the museums, you have the option for greater engagement and immersion.

North End Road Market, Jaffa Bake House, Aly Mir’s tours, Time Out weekly magazine
    I took three of Aly’s free tours, ones he privately researches and orchestrates. His devotees are locals who come back for the new ones he adds to the repertoire. Not only did Aly remember me from tour to tour, but this was always the place people talked with me and reached out.

My friend Lynel just told me that on her recent visit to the Jaffa Bake House, they asked if I’d gotten back to Alaska all right and when was I returning! This is the happiest news of all, casting a warm glow over my whole time there.


  1. "Not only did Aly remember me from tour to tour," Barbara, it would only be surprising if they didn't remember you.


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