I’m not a well-travelled person. In a little over three decades I’d only been on three countries other than the one that issued me my passport. With a niggardly number like that I was tempted to think like the bankers who stamped AAA on the tranches of home loans given to the impeccably credential’ed jobless population. Add the countries I spent time on travellators between terminals on stopovers, and voila, we double the number! I knew I should’ve been a banker!
The United Kingdom. My knowledge of this country was built from a combination of Enid Blyton, Frederick Forsyth, Arthur Conan Doyle novels and James Bond movies. So, in essence, I figured everyone to be dressed in Savile Row suits stepping into Aston Martins (or Jaguars), roaring around the cobblestoned streets named after circuses and squares, while keeping a few yards ahead of pursuing german-made sedans in which large men in suits alternate between taking potshots at the car ahead and exclaiming in dubious eastern-european accents. If the chase lasted a while (and if it started to rain which as I found out is inevitable), they’d politely stop off at a farm where they’d be served scones with golden pats of butter and other assorted baked goods with tea. How wonderfully quaint.
Two weeks and five cities later I might not be in a position to corroborate a lot of my impressions, though I am the authority on conference room furniture and office coffee machines. Week 1, London. Leicester Square, cabs and the tube. Once I recovered from the dizziness due to the roundabouts (wouldn’t ‘Stop’ signs have worked equally well?), turns out the city’s quite nice. Lot of activity, a centrally located hotel facilitated walks to most of the places Yashraj cameras rove; Big Ben, Buckingham Palace, London Eye. Nice bunch of pubs, dinners of fish and chips and an assortment of bitters and ales courtesy some of the local colleagues. Getting around the city means the tube or cabs. Convenient and all that but what with all sorts of monetary discouragements for people to bring their cars into ‘Zone 1’ – yes, very imaginative, I was thankful for an expense account, specifically when learning that train tickets to other cities cost nearly as much as flight tickets to do back here, yes, including the 37 different taxes and surcharges. Week 2. Birmingham, Milton Keynes, Leeds and Newcastle. It’s like the colonists forgot about their other cities when putting all of the shiny stuff in their capital. Spent not more than a night in each of the others and seems one would scratch one’s head about looking for things to do after the customary stop off at one of the local pubs.
All in all a nice l’il whistlestop tour of the country and would’ve been better if I hadn’t had to cancel on meeting friends.