Foreign languages are fascinating, none more so than the one we supposedly have in common with England. We are all familiar with that English (UK) spelling rule; you know, the one that goes “e before r except after t,” requiring the tongue to say something other than what the eye sees, as in centre. But there is so much more than this little quirkiness that makes the US and UK known as “two countries separated by a common language.”
Names here are lively and beg to be researched for the story that gave rise to them. Take Elephant and Castle, a train station and tube stop south of the Thames. Really, you have to make a trip there, just to say you've been and to report, as have countless thousands who have made the trip before you, there are neither elephants nor castles there.
There is a Great Portland Street tube stop. I like that name. Do you suppose there is a Mediocre Portland Street somewhere? Marylebone Road runs through a neighborhood of the same name. Originally known as St. Mary at the Bourne (bourne being a stream or rivulet), it morphed over the years into its current form.
Other tube stops making the famous London Underground map even more colorful are: Tooting Bec, Barking, Swiss Cottage - notable for it’s startling non-Britishness, in rather sharp contrast to stops on either side: St. John’s Wood and Finchley Road. Then there are Headstone Lane (NOT at the end of the line, by the way), Chalk Farm, Upminster (if there’s a Downminster, I haven’t come across it yet), Hounslow (West and Central) and a couple of Circuses: Oxford and, of course, Piccadilly. Anyway, you get the picture.
“I’ll take Names of British Business Establishments for $1,000, Alex.” OK, how about pubs? On this trip I visited Masque Haunt and the George and Vulture. Admiral Nelson is honored by having a number of pubs bear his name. One near my hotel was called The Nelson’s Retreat, as if there might be some question as to which Nelson they were referring.
One rather disturbing development is that British pub food seems to have fallen out of favor at British pubs. Thai and Italian menus have pretty much taken over. As a result, I had a Margherita pizza at George and Vulture. And it was no contest when it came to my choice of beverage – they had Scrumpy Jack cider on tap. It’s the cider, not Jack, that’s scrumpy – a term meaning small or withered apples. Later, I tried Old Rosie Cloudy Scrumpy Premium Cider and decided that a Scrumpy Jack easily trumps an Old Rosie. But you knew that already, didn’t you?
On my last night, I ended up at Zigfrid von Underbelly (I am NOT making that up), a bar and restaurant in Hoxton Square, near my hotel. It was an interesting looking place, but I went mainly because they offered Fish and Chips with Mushy Peas. Mushy peas, I’ve been told by people who should know (i.e. those born and raised in the U.K.), make it a REAL fish and chips meal. Well, the fish was very good as were the chips. But the mushy peas? I found myself looking at a small bowl filled with a brilliant green puree that would have made Mr. and Mrs. Gerber proud. THAT was disappointing.
There are a multitude of fast food shops, many selling Kebab. City Best Kebab was right around the corner. Further on down Old Street, I came across the parenthetically parenthetical (The) Best Kebab). Displaying a slightly errant understanding of both U.S. geography and fast food franchises, the owners of one establishment came up with the name Tennessee Fried Chicken. Soooo close.
A number of small grocery stores can be found on any short walk and just down from (The) Best Kebab) I found Good Luck Supermarket. For my money, I’d like to have a little more than a wish for “good luck” in my food shopping experience.
Finally, there was the startling revelation that exotic wild animals were loose on the streets of central London. Seriously, right there on the road alongside Paddington Station is a sign calling attention to a Humped Zebra Crossing. And I thought the humped zebra had been hunted to extinction decades ago. I wonder if they have to pay the congestion charge?