Ah, England, my England. It was the time of punks and skinheads, Margaret Thatcher was about to be elected prime minister, Disco ruled the airwaves, and a young singer named Billy Joel had just had a hit with “Just the way you are.” Those were good years (1978-1980) with warm and relatively dry summers. It was fun and exciting to take in the sights when I had time. Buckingham Palace, The British Museum, Soho, the West End, Harrods, Hyde Park, London Bridge, the list goes on and on. My cousin gave me a London A-Z map book (she said it was one of the first important things somebody new to London should have) and pretty soon I was able to find my way round this huge metropolis. I walked a lot, but so do a lot of the local population, even OAPs (old age pensioners) Contrary to popular belief, the British are quite a friendly lot. It always made me chuckle whenever ladies called me “luv” or “dear,” something that I got used to pretty fast. And the Brits always hold the doors for anyone behind them. Queuing (lining) up was the order of the day.
I liked the fact that many people would be reading something wherever they were. My favorite newsagent would be the local WH Smith (they’ve got branches all over Britain) and I’d be reading the newspapers like The Times, The Guardian, and The Sun (by golly, to see a topless girl every day on page 3—whew!) The first movie I ever saw there was Saturday Night Fever with John Travolta in the lead role. It was a big deal for me because the movie was uncensored; oh I pitied the poor folks back home watching it with huge cuts made by the censors. There was a local Chinese restaurant in nearby Richmond which offered a cheap set lunch for £1, so I frequented that establishment a lot. Most of my weekday lunches were taken at the college cafeteria, I loved stuff like ham omelets, pork pies, cucumber sandwiches, and not forgetting the traditional cup of tea.
My bedsit was just a stone’s throw away from the famous Kew Gardens, so I used to walk over to visit. In those days, it cost only 1 pence to enter the Gardens (now it costs a staggering £13 for an adult!) and there was this one old attendant who got so used to seeing me every day that sometimes he would just wave me to go in, free of charge. When I had the homesick blues I’d go inside the Greenhouse—five or ten minutes inside that sweltering and humid environment and I was ready to come out into the cold air! Oh yes, I got a kick seeing “smoke” coming out of my nostrils every time I breathed out.
No such thing as the Internet in those days, so I had to use snail mail to correspond with my parents and friends. It was nice to receive mail at 7 AM in the mornings, just before I left for school. I’m so spoilt nowadays, I can’t even remember the last time when I wrote a proper letter with pen and paper.
I loved listening to the BBC radio stations, especially Radio 2 (easy listening) and Radio 3 (the Classical channel). Plus Capital Radio, which was my fave for popular music. And the concerts and great programs they had on the tube provided me with some entertainment when I had finished studying. Fortunately, I can listen to all these stations on the Net.
I’ll end this post by saying that I made some great friends in England and again, I was pleasantly surprised that they took me as I was. They never coerced me to drink, or smoke, or whatever. I remember having a Coke or glass of milk at the pub and my friends never laughed or ridiculed me for it. For them, it wasn’t a big deal, and for that I’m grateful. Cheers, mate!