I’m writing from Linhope Street, where Simon and his two flatmates have been good enough to put me up and put up with me on my trip to London. I met Simon briefly in London before I left on my backpacking trip eighteen months ago. He joined me in Peru for two weeks in June, and we walked the Inca Trail. Now he’s inducting me into a far more exotic culture: the London Lad Flat.
Nick Hornby is the tutelary spirit of Linhope. The DVDs and CDs are stacked high. There’s an X-box, big speakers, and a bigger telly. I can’t tell which of the five remote controls I’m to use to change the channel. Since they are all consultants, there are three irons and stacks of clean but rumpled shirts all over the living room, and the fridge is full of Marks & Spencer’s meals of impressively recent vintage. It took me a while to find a dusty tethered phone behind the sofa–in London, the mobile rules. PG Tips tea fuels dressing-gown arguments about classic comedies. “Squeeze the teabag,” instructs Barry as I stir some suspiciously weak-looking stuff for him. His given name is Ian, but when your last name is Whyte, England can’t let the nicknaming opportunity pass.
Simon is a lovely host, good enough to haul himself out to Heathrow to surprise me. Jetlag is a headache-free hangover, and after a quick turn around Regent’s Park and down swanky Marylebone High Street, he allowed me to spend the whole evening lying on the sofa, eating Hob-Nobs and watching two full seasons of the British version of _Coupling_. It’s funny in a loveless way, a farcical _Sex and the City_ predicated on embarrassment, which is still an abundant natural resource here. One episode is based on a woman flipping out when she finds a porn movie in her boyfriend’s video player: chuck her, mate. I’m tired of sit-com shrews.
Like an Oliver Sacks character, my face works for a while before I produce the right words for everyday things. Registration number, not license plate. Cash point, not ATM. A-meen-ity, not a-mehn-ity. On _The Simpsons_, Homer refers to a baseball made out of Secretariat and I have to explain to Linhope what a Secretariat is. As usual, I’m shocked and charmed by the amount and variety of chocolate bars pushed at every turn–stacked high over the cash registers, sold in vending machines on every Tube platform. No wonder the television presenters have fascinatingly wide hips. Simon may yet ban me from muttering, “God, she’d never be hired in the States”, even about Anna Ford, who becomes more extraordinarily beautiful as she ages without the Saran-wrap facelifts that are mandatory on the other side.
On _Newsnight_, Jeremy Paxman, who masters the art of looking bored and outraged at the same time, shreds a Labour Party spokesman over proposed “top-up fees”–discretionary tuition fees of up to three thousand pounds to be levied by individual universities, which are otherwise completely free to students. These pinko debates are a joy after two weeks in Mr. Bush’s America.
The weather is lovely–cold and bright–though wasted on me since I can’t drag myself out of bed before afternoon.
Happy Thanksgiving, New York. Wish you were here.