20 March 2012

To Engelond They Wende

London always strikes me as a dreamlike city -- perhaps because I always land in it in what is for me the middle of the night, and with just enough time to whizz out of Heathrow for tea and fly back into the night.

What little I see of London on the way is pleasing. If it has skyscrapers, I've never seen them -- only rows of brick houses with long yards (gardens, I am corrected, whether or not they've actually been planted with anything); and there is something about those houses - which are probably quite old - that always strikes me as beautiful. Is it the proportions? The windows? They are all more or less alike, but they do not have the monotony of the homes in a US suburb; each house appears to remember the people who designed and built it.

The people reinforce the dreamlike impression of the city: the many men I've seen walking down the street singing - one singing opera at the top of his lungs - and the chap who gave my daughter a present, just like that; and all the elderly men with professorial faces, wearing tweed suits - no one can look as professorial to an American as an elderly Englishman.

Perhaps it is the language barrier (what, if you please, is a slip road?), but it seems to me that signs in England require more thought than signs in America. On a US bus, there will be a line drawn in front of the door, and beside it the floor (and probably both walls and the lintel) will say in large letters DO NOT CROSS or DO NOT BLOCK. On the Tube, there is no line, and a single small sign says, gently, "Obstructing the door can be dangerous," and it is up to you to decide what you want to do about it.

Similarly, in a US train station, there will be large signs all over, and painted on the floor, saying DO NOT LITTER, and perhaps threatening you with the long string of numbers that signifies which law you break by littering, whereas in England there are small signs hung here and there making complex and humorous references to the problems that litter can cause, should you choose to leave it.

I also love the injunction to MIND THE GAP -- Americans watch and beware of a great deal, but they don't mind much besides children. One wonders what mischief the gap will get into if it is not well minded.

Someday, perhaps, I shall be able to spend some more time in Engelond, to get to know the city a bit better, and to stop trying to get into cars from the right, and to see what a moor and  a heath look like off the page; but in the meantime, it is a nice dream to have between Seattle and Lod.

No comments:

Post a Comment