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A Mad Dog in London
by Mad Dog
The secret to telling a good pub from a bad pub
is easy the name. Beware of pubs named McPint, Ales-R-Us, and the International
House of Suds.
Londons a funny place. Its a city where the babies and the old men look
exactly alikeruddy complexion, only a couple of teeth, and a blank stare. Its
a city where banks routinely lose money in your account, though being the civil bunch they
are they always apologise, as they spell it. And its a city with few public trash
cans, not so much as a precaution against IRA bombs as they claim, but more as an excuse
for the incredible amount of litter and trash on the streets. Though come to think of it,
it might just be a tradition.
you see, is steeped in tradition. Westminster Abbey has been the site of every royal
coronation since 1066. The Royal Opera House has been in use since 1732. And Londons
greatest Kodak Moment, the Changing of the Guard has been happening like clockwork since
the first bear cub sat on a guards head and they called it a hat.
But thats not to say things
dont change there. During the Changing of the Guard they carry assault rifles
instead of single shot muskets. And during the ceremony the band plays a rather striking
version of Hey Jude. Really. Forget saving the Queen, lets make sure Sir Paul
gets his royalties.
Pubs are another great London tradition. At
first glance they all appear to be pretty much the same, but this isnt true. The
secret to telling a good pub from a bad pub is easythe name. The best pubs are named
after two totally unrelated things. The more oxymoronic the non-sequiter, the better. The
Slug and Lettuce is a good pub. The Star and Garter is better. The Kings Head and
Eight Bells is even better yet. Beware of pubs named McPint, Ales-R-Us, and the
International House of Suds. Do stop into a pub if its named The Thick Green Snot
and Hacking Cough, Thrice Testy Twits, or Free Sex For the Asking and Whats It To
They not only fry their chips in the same oil theyve been using to fry the fish, but
being the great traditionalists they are they havent changed the oil since the 15th
|| To give you
an idea of how seriously the English take their drinking, walk up to any pub at lunch time
and youll see a crowd standing out front with pints in their hands and not a lick of
food to be found within 30 metres, which is an English measurement that equates to
"in the next county". This is even true in Tower Hill, Londons financial
district, where the well-dressed bankers and brokers can still be found clustered outside
the pub at 2pm, drinking and chatting and asking each other "Wot say we go back to
the branch n sell off a bit more of the Empire, mate?" This may go a long
way to answering how it is the banks manage to lose your money.
Speaking of food, English cooking lives up to its
reputation and less. While the Indian food was excellent, the turkey sandwich with
cranberry sauce at Waterloo Station was the first Ive found that resembled my
favorite post-Thanksgiving treat, and the crispy pork belly was actually much better than
it sounds (so quit scrunching up your face), the more traditional fare like chicken and
mushroom pie, sausage rolls, and fish and chips are, well, rather unexciting.
Some of thats due once again to the
English sense of tradition. Take fish and chips. They not only fry their chips in the same
oil theyve been using to fry the fish, but being the great traditionalists they are
they havent changed the oil since the 15th century when Henry V dumped it on the
heads of the French at the Battle of Agincourt.
A little food history lesson: the
Coronation Chair in Westminster Abbey was made for King Edward I and all but two English
monarchs since 1308 have been crowned while sitting in it. Until they gave it back in
1996, the chair rested on a large rock called the Stone of Scone, which the English
hijacked from the Scots in 1296. To remind themselves of this stone, the English regularly
eat dry hard-as-a-rock biscuits for breakfast called scones. As I said, its all
In England anything newer than the 15th
century has the prefix nouveau attached to it. This is, incidentally, the only
thing theyve borrowed from the French other than French fries, which they call
chips. In the U.S., on the other hand, we consider anything from before 1982 to be old,
which helps explain why there are so many movies being made from bad 1970s TV shows.
Apparently it takes an American to interpret between the Irish and the English. Actually
it was a lucky guess on my part; it happens to be the first thing Id understood all
Communication is a problem in London. Signs are in English, the people speak English, yet
communicating is almost as difficult as it is in France. The first time I walked through
the tubealso known as the underground, or subway to youI was approached by a
man asking for directions. His English accent was heavy, but he managed to explain that
hes lost and cant read, so can we please tell him which train to take. My
friend tells him how to get to his destination. "No, thats not right," the
man mutters as he wanders off to ask someone else. "Thats not right at
all." Maybe he just didnt understand us.
This wouldnt be surprising, since even the English cant understand each other.
Thats because every person in London has a unique accent. The only thing they have
in common is that they all drop every 5th letter, but thats only because its a
law and they dont want to mess with the bobbies, Royal Guard, Beefeaters, traffic
wardens, or anyone else in a uniform, and everyone in London, it seems, wears a uniform.
Chiswick becomes Chisick. Worchester becomes Wooster. And help is shortened to hell, as
in, "Oh hell, I give up."
Im sitting in a tea room in Leicester
Square (pronounced: Lester Square) sharing a small table with a young Irish woman
whos reading a book of limericks. The Irish have a way of wanting to make sure
everyone knows theyre not English. She asks the waiter for another cappuccino, which
he promptly forgets. Or possibly ignores since she is, after all, flaunting her Irishness.
When she reminds him, he asks if she still wants it.
"Excuse me?" she says, not
"Dya still wan ye
After several rounds of this I jump in and
explain what the waiters asking. Apparently it takes an American to interpret
between the Irish and the English. Actually it was a lucky guess on my part; it happens to
be the first thing Id understood all day.
But the English have a simple, direct way
with signs. Way Out is an exit. Give Way means yield. A flyover is an overpass. And the
space between the train and the platform is a gap, which is why you hear announcements and
see signs painted on the platform that say Mind The Gap. Either that or The Gap is paying
them big bucks, which is how they can afford to pay royalties to Sir Paul every time they
have the Changing of the Guard. If it was Paris it would have been "mind the
crap", but well save a discussion of the French mode of carefree dog walking
for another time.
©1998 Mad Dog Productions, Inc. All
These columns appear in better newspapers across the country. They're great
for wrapping your fish and chips.