After 19 hours of air travel and two hours of transit we arrived at our friend’s house in London, England. The jet lag was horrific. I had thought I had experienced jet lag before, but oh how naïve I was. I thought jet lag consisted of being tired and waking up in the middle of the night. It turns out its reach stretches far beyond, to severe stomach upsets, headaches, sore eyes, and a foggy feeling that doesn’t go away for days.
This was Ben’s first time to London, but not mine. I had lived south of London for five years until I was 9 years old. I have few memories of London itself, but the brick houses all in a line filled me with a strange sense of coming home. I was not expecting this. What few memories I have of England consist mostly of toys that I once played with.
In London we achieved very little. The evening we arrived we went out for dinner with three of our friends from my old work in Wellington. We sat in a Mexican restaurant catching up on the past five years and learning the ins-and-outs of life in London. With so much terrorist activity in the past few years I was expecting a story of cautious living, but that didn’t seem to be the case at all. My friends were thriving and living a vibrant expat life.
We were in London for less than 24 hours before we boarded a train to Nottingham, which is two hours north (by train) of London. We were staying with a friend of Ben’s, Raphael, for the next few days. Unfortunately, despite our best efforts, just getting out of bed was all we could initially manage. We sat on his couch staring at the wall, making little conversation other than nodding that we would indeed like another espresso.
I had four goals for England. Three of which I achieved on our first day in Nottingham. The first and second goals consisted of getting in an iconic old red phone booth and pretending to post a letter in an iconic red post box. The third goal was to have lunch in a British pub, which we did the next day. My final goal was to have tea with The Queen, but I suspect this one might be a little harder to achieve.
One cloudy morning we drove out to the Peak District National Park to Stanage. The windy typical British road was lined with old stone fences and the countryside towns were adorable. The little brick houses were all in a row, with their little chimneys poking out the top. We had arrived in Ye Olde England. I felt like I was in a Postman Pat cartoon. This didn’t seem real.
We walked along the top of a large series of cliffs in the middle of a field. There were fields in every direction. England is so flat. It then proceeded to rain on us and the wind whipped up too. It was freezing for our beach bodies. Fortunately, the rain in England is very polite, in contrast to the South East Asian tropical typhoons that we were used to. This was supposed to be the middle of summer. It amazes me the English invented a word for “summer” at all, as they certainly have no use for it.
After spending a few days in England I was struck with how different it was from South East Asia. We could flush toilet paper again and we didn’t have to use squat toilets. But it didn’t stop there, the differences extended far past the WC (I just start there because this brought me the most joy). It was refreshing being able to speak the local language and being able to ask for help when we needed it. Just being in the western world with familiar words and brands we recognized was a relief; and with that we took a deep breath of cold English air.