GREAT, GREAT BRITAIN: TUESDAY
International House of Pancakes, Where Are You?: One thing you can’t get in England is a good American breakfast. Trust me, we looked everywhere. Our hotel came with a “full English breakfast”, and Tuesday was the first and only day we actually tried it. The full English breakfast consists of sausages, dry cereal, toast, oatmeal, poached eggs and several foods you’d never associate with breakfast at all, like boiled mushrooms. The closest thing I found to something I liked was one day when I ordered a platter of “eggs, chips and beans”, but the waiter seemed confused when I asked for my eggs scrambled. “If that’s how you want them!” he said. You’d think a country that’s so close to France would at least have French toast, but no. We saw pancakes advertised somewhere, but when we investigated further, they turned out to be actual cakes. I decided that if I ever move to London, it’s going to be to open an IHOP franchise. The American tourists would be grateful, and we can offer a side of boiled mushrooms for those who want it.
British Bullies: It just so happened that our trip coincided with national Anti-Bullying week, an awareness campaign organized by several different groups in order to condemn schoolyard bullying. Kids and celebrities were encouraged to show their support by wearing signature blue wristbands and sharing their tearful confessions of their experiences with bullying. Despite a diligent search, I could not find a wristband available for purchase anywhere. (“Think like a British schoolkid, Jerry. Where do they shop?”) One of the spokespeople for the event was the ubiquitous Sharon Osbourne. A fawning tabloid profile calling Sharon “the only obvious successor to the Queen” quoted her as saying, “My eldest daughter was severely bullied at school. It just has to stop because everybody should have the freedom to be themselves, to learn and to not be afraid. Also, please watch my show, ‘The X-Factor’ on ITV.” If there’s anyone to solve the bully crisis, it’s Sharon Osbourne, though I’m not sure there are enough rotting hams in the world to throw over all those fences. If my scanner wasn’t broken, this is where the amusing newspaper photo of Sharon Osbourne showing off her blue wristband would go. Instead, enjoy this picture of Girls Aloud:
Now, Time To Encourage Bullying: A couple of years ago, when I went to Paris, I was stunned to see a class of seven-year-olds on a field trip to the museum. The teacher had them sitting in front of some French impressionist painting, and the kids were animated, inquisitive and enthused. They kept raising their hands, asking questions and making comments, and the teacher would respond with encouraging but challenging retorts that helped the kids develop their skills of art criticism. Okay, so I don’t speak French, and maybe they were all asking what time lunch was, but still, I was simultaneously impressed by the French education system and humbled by our American one. Thankfully, when Drew and I visited the Tate Modern, we encountered plenty of schoolkids who were behaving more like rowdy, classless American kids than budding art critics. My favorite was one group of boys who were engaging in a textbook example of field trip harassment, sticking a note to a little girl’s back. I thought at first that the note said “Punish Me”, but Drew pointed out that it actually said “Push Me”. I preferred my way, which seemed to have more of a charming British twist on the standard prank. I really wanted a memento of the event, but I was too scared to snap a picture. Thankfully, my boyfriend is far braver than I am, so you can thank him for this shot:
I was so nervous when Drew took the shot that I left the room, but apparently the bullies saw Drew with the camera and were thrilled that someone was documenting their work on film. They’re probably still holding it over that girl’s head. “I bet that picture of you shows up on the internet! Ha, ha!” Oh, well. Hopefully, she at least got a wristband out of it.
British Art Lesson: Shortly after the post-it bullies, we ran into another group of schoolkids studying a famous Andy Warhol painting of a multi-paned, brightly-colored Marilyn Monroe. The teacher gathered her students around a bench, passed out photocopies of a man’s face and distributed magic markers so the kids could do their own recreation. I was sure the guy had to be some iconic British celebrity, but I didn’t quite recognize him.
Me: “Who’s that in the picture?”
Drew: “I think it’s Beckham.”
Ah, yes, of course. It was Beckham, the 21st Century British Marilyn Monroe.
Again, I had Drew take the picture, and this time he got yelled at for it. How was I supposed to know you’re not supposed to take pictures in a museum? Nobody ever taught me that.
The Touristtrap: One of my regrets from my last trip to London was not seeing “The Mousetrap”, the legendary Agatha Christie play that’s been running in the West End since before your mama was born. It’s a whodunit that takes place at a remote, snowed-in location full of mystery guests, one of whom is a killer. Sound familiar? Does it sound, in fact, like every whodunit? Well, I guess it was groundbreaking back in 1841 when it premiered. At the end of the show, one of the characters implores the audience to keep the mystery alive, to take the secret of the show and “lock it in your hearts”. (He makes a little “locking” motion with his hands when he says this. Nice touch.) Well, I could get in a lot of trouble for this, but I’m going to reveal the secret of “The Mousetrap” for you right here. Ready? Here it is…
It’s a little outdated.
These days, we’ve come to expect earth-shaking twists of the “… is really a man”/”… is really dead”/”… is really in the present day off a highway in Pennsylvania” variety. The big revelation in “The Mousetrap” is more along the lines of “Oh, it was that character who did it? I see.” Plus, let’s just say its views on homosexuality are definitely stuck in another time. I think when it first premiered, one character’s not-so-delicately-couched homosexuality was supposed to cast doubt on his mental stability. (Memo to Agatha Christie: no gay guy, in your day or mine, would be caught dead in that sweater.) Two days after we saw the show, it celebrated its 53rd anniversary. I always wondered why such a popular show didn’t spawn revivals and regional productions all the time. Now, I think I get it. Actually, I think the secret’s out. On the night we saw the show, the theater was about half full. Still, you have to admire the British sense of tradition. Maybe it’s subsidized by the Queen or something.