I haven’t travelled to many places in my life, but of all the places I’ve been to London is my favorite.
Sometimes I ask myself why. It’s big and dirty. Walking through the tunnel of South Kensingonton underground, longing for fresh air after being assaulted by an amateur saxophone version of “Careless Memories” in a pitch so high that even a deaf dog would start to howl, I ask myself why I find this city so interesting.
The people: London is an eclectic mix of people who could give a crap about the person standing next to them. That might sound wrong, but sometimes it is good. I live in Germany.The favorite past time of most people is staring. Blatant staring. If you ask a non-staring Geman why 90% stare, you get a baffled shrug of the shoulders. They’ve never noticed. I should mention that it’s a tad difficult to miss me in the German population. I am a 5’10” dark skinned African American. So yes, I stick out. But do you have to stare? I could have a blond Tina Turner wig on in London and no one would even take notice. Hooray for anonymity!
The weather: I’ve heard that it rains all the time in London. Ha! I called mother nature on that bluff. Of all the times I’ve been to Lonon, only twice did it rain … for about an hour. I was just in London last week. No, I extra went to London last week because the weather forecast predicted 80% chance of rain and I wanted to experience the London that everyone complained about. Upon arrival, I thought I had achieved my Goal. I drudged for 7 minutes through the London rain from the underground to my Hotel. It was horrible. Rain was coming sideways underneath my pathetically Ill-functioning umbrella. After settling in, I asked at the desk if they had a proper umbrella I could borrow to beat the rain. They handed over a wooden handled, green canvassed beauty of an umbrella that I considered taking home with me. I thanked the butler and stood back as he opened the door for me. My finger on the release, I stepped out the door. But was I greeted by gale winds? Were Mary Poppins nannies flying down the street trying not to expose their knickers in a sudden draught? No. I was greeted by…sunshine. There was not a rain cloud in sight. It was like I had just gone through a time warp. I swear, even the sidewalks had dried up in the 30 minutes I was in the hotel. Just call me the sunshine magnet!
The Food: Everything I write is my truth. You can take it or leave it. I have never, never, ever had a bad meal in London or elsewhere in England. And yes, I know good food from bad. I read cookbooks like other people read novels. I love to cook good food and I love to eat it even more.
HOWEVER, I now have a category to complain in.
The London restaurants I ate in were not single friendly. As a new single person, I don’t have much experience in the lone adventures of life. The first time alone at the movies was easy. Everyone is alone at the movies. Shh! No talking! But dining alone is an experience that can send you to therapy. I thought London would be the perfect hip place to dine alone without being stigmatized. Boy was I wrong!
I attempted to have afternoon tea at some posh brasserie on Brompton. It started with the menu only having cream tea for two people. I kindly asked the server if he thought I could have tea for one. He said he would have to check with the kitchen. So he checked and I waited. Alone. Standing. He returned with a positive knick of his head and escorted me two steps to a table right next to the draughty front door – far, far away from the other customers as though I had single person leprosy. I ordered only to have the server return to say they were suddenly out of everything for cream tea except, well, tea. No scones. No cakes. No nothing. I needed to retank after a heavy shopping day, so I took the tea and managed to get the server to admit that they must at least have a sticky bun tucked away somewhere. Voila! I even got a cinnamon sticky bun. (I hate to admit it was really good.) I finally got the waiters attention again and paid. I left the brasserie to looks and stares of pity. The proverbial violins were playing loudly in the background.
Later the same day, I thought I would try it with dinner. I’ll make this story short. I asked for a table at a sushi restaurant on Draycott Avenue. They offer me a seat at the conveyor belt bar. I am for a table. They refuse. I ask why. They say they have a two person minimum at tables. I point out that ALL of the 2 people and most of the 4 people tables are empty. It’s 19:00 in London and nobody eats that early. They tell me no. I tell them I think they’re being rude. The waitress then sizes me up and says and I do quote: “How long do you need to eat? If you promise to eat quickly and then vacate the table, I’ll allow you to sit at a table.” Now what do you say to such a kind offer?
I still love London and look forward to my next visit, but being anonymous also has it’s price!