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Settling in to Blighty

April 5, 2005

OK, I am beginning to get my head around being in the UK. I’ve been to foreign countries before – I lived and worked in Egypt for a while – but what makes England so strange is that it is both foreign and familiar. The language, of course, is entirely familiar, though not spoken properly. And, well, there’s a sense of deja vu about everything I see. It’s like being in a very English neighbourhood in Cape Town – say Newlands – only more so. So I forget I’m in a foreign country and then something happens and reminds me that things are sometimes very different. Weird, though, to have a very English upbringing (in SA), and get find England so alien.

It’s cold. This is supposed to be spring, and people say ‘what a nice day’, just because they can see the sun. But the worst Kalk Bay winter doesn’t get this bad.

London has some amazing places, but the overall impression is of featureless grey, and that endless rattling ride on the tube.

So I’ve been a few places now: Greenwich, which was pretty, though a bit twee (the Englishness of this place keeps getting to me – it seems pretensious, but of course it’s not, here it belongs). I did like the chocolate beer at the brewery there.

And I have spent some time in Soho, which I really like, and not just the sex shops. There is a wonderful Chinese vegan restaurant that specialises in monks’ food, which I love, and there’s an alternative pub called the Intrepid Fox, which reminds me of the old days on the scene in Cape Town. I had a few drinks at the worst pub in Europe, the strangely named Garlic and Shot, which seems to be some kind of underground (literally) death metal bar for expat Norwegians. I was taken there because once you’ve been there you are apparently ‘hard’.

Also went out for some pints in Camden, which was quite cool, though of course the bloody pubs close at 11, which is just when festivities are beginning.

I have been staying in Wimbledon, which is pleasant enough, kind of like London’s version of Cape Town’s Kenilworth. It is so South African it is actually quite embarassing. I like South Africans fine, but the ones I know and love from Kalk Bay are not the same as the ones you see here, who seem to be from Potchefstroom and similar places.

The pubs here sell Windhoek and Savanna, which I was suprised to find I actually felt like ordering after a day of unfamiliar ales.

I am currently in Portsmouth, down on the south coast. It’s a very working class city and is more authentically English than London, which is cosmopolitan. I had lunch in an Engllish cafe today – tea, beans, toast, hash browns, mushrooms, tomato and veg sausage, all for £3. Very satisfying cultural experience. In the next few days I am off to explore the Isle of Wight, Winchester (King Alfred’s old capital) and the New Forest.

What fun!

Best of all has been connecting with people: my sister Bronwen, whom I haven’t seen in 5 years, and my other sister Janet, who came over here a year ago. And of course Talitha! It is amazing how seemlessly we reconnected after so long apart. We have both changed, but in ways that we like, and it is amazing to be together again. I feel like I am home.

And by the way, I do have an English mobile number, if anyone wants to text me: +44 77 8798 1870.

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