I am leaving for Moscow tomorrow (today?).
There is a surfeit of excellent people in London, and I have met some of the very best during my time here, including the Russia analyst Alexander Mercouris, the psychometrist James Thompson (who recently moved to this website), the futurist Anders Sandberg, and a few others who would likely prefer to avoid the public spotlight.
That said, London is not the place I’d want to spend much more than two months in. The weather is too damp and cold, and there is a bit too much vibrant diversity. I prefer it the other way round.
Anyhow, here are some of my quick impressions:
(1) Boomtown – Buildings are going up over the place. There is an economic confidence that Brexit has left unperturbed. This is reflected in housing prices – even though there are now fewer oil-fueled Arab and Russian oligarchs to buoy them up, the modest one bedroom apartment near London Bridge that I stayed at costs around $700,000. This confidence appears to be reflected in the demographics – many young families around.
(2) Vibrant Diversity – Fewer than half of Londoners are British Whites. And it shows, especially when you travel outside the city center. I encountered less than half a dozen women in niqabs during my American decade.
In London, you see that many practically whenever you walk out the door.
(3) British Food is Underrated – Although it doesn’t exactly enjoy the best reputation, it isn’t half as bad as it said to be. I enjoyed fish and chips a lot more than when I last had it back in the Triassic. I can see why The Golden Chippy – its signature fare showcased above – deserves its TripAdvisor ranking as the best London restaurant.
I also finally got the chance to try real Scotch eggs at the Borough Market. Though immeasurably better than the supermarket version, I am not a huge fan of them. Although it was once my favorite dessert, I was left underwhelmed by Black Forest gateau, though that’s probably more a function of my tastes having shifted away from cream and sugar and towards spice and vinegar in general.
(4) British Indian Food – Speaking of spice, the best Indian restaurant I tried out was Simply Indian – it is cheap, the lamb biriyani there is very good and can be made excruciatingly spicy, and you can either bring your own booze or order their masala chai. I only got the chance to visit it once, with my new friend AZ, but I will be certain to pay it another visit next time I go.
Roti Chai and Dishoom were both pretty good. I especially liked the atmosphere of the Dishoom, with its open kitchens and India-themed book collections in the dining area (see above). I also liked the Thali vegetable curry sold by Gujarati Rasoi at Borough Market. Despite coming with a recommendation from a friend, not to mention its venerable age, The India Club near Temple was a huge disappointment: Overpriced, uninspired fare, and the waiter actually presses you for a tip (this is of course a no-no in the UK).
Any other recommendations for good Indian places in London?
(5) The English Pub – My favorites were the oldest pub in London, The Mayflower (Pan Fried Seabass) and the historic Eagle and Child in Oxford (esp. the Scotch Venison and Malbec Wine Pie), where Tolkien and C.S. Lewis used to meet at the end of work.
(6) Warm Beer – Yes it’s a thing and I’m not a fan. Though that might just be my American philistinism.
(7) British Barbarism – I was once again reminded of the British habit of leashing their toddlers like dogs. Seriously, what is up with that?
Never saw it in Russia. Never saw it in the US. Never saw it anywhere in Europe. Just Britain.
(8) Bureacracy – [Warning: n=1 sample]. It does work efficiently, with the very marked exception of the NHS.
That said, paper remains much more prevalent than in California.
The Russian Consulate was a disappointment – suffice to say that sovok habits die hard. That said, another acquaintance has had good experiences with them.
(9) Technology – At first, I was impressed – this was my first encounter with contactless cards. They work throughout the whole city, including the entirety of the transport system, and as a result London is fast becoming one of the world’s first “cashless societies.”
But there are things which are more banal but of far greater relevance to everyday comforts: Namely, Internet and cell phone services.
And in this respect, London considerably underperforms the Bay Area (which hardly has anything to write home about either).
Internet speeds are mediocre, though still better value for money than Concast. Upload speeds however are atrocious. Forget about cloud storage in any substantial capacity unless you are willing to shell out big on a plan. It is inexplicable that in this day and age the Underground still doesn’t have WiFi.
In regards to cell phone data plans, I have found EE to be both unreliable and actually inoperable in some parts of what is after all one of the world’s great metropolises. In contrast, Cricket Wireless gave me good service even in many rural parts of California.
(10) Tourism – Though this was by no means my first time in London, it was by far my longest stay, so I took the opportunity to put lots of ticks on the tourist checklist.
The British Museum, the Victoria and Albert Museum, Saint Paul’s Cathedral, The Tower of London, etc, etc.
I drank a cup of coffee where Litvinenko was supposedly poisoned.
I also hung around for a few seconds at Station 9¾, King’s Cross where all the middle-aged Harry Potter fans with receding hairlines gather.
(11) Degenerate Art – The Tate Gallery was… well, the viewing platform at the top of the Switch House has an awesome view, if looking at sodomized anthropic-like objects created by a crazed kreakl isn’t your cup of tea.
Additionally, its completely free, surprisingly uncrowded, and has a cafe.
Well, okay, I enjoyed some of the things at the Tate. The room with the dog people. The photomontages of John Heartfield. And the couple of paintings by Salvador Dali.
(12) Portsmouth – I was especially impressed by HMS Warrior. It was the definition of a transitional ship – midway between sail and steam; between wood and metal; between cutlasses and Enfield rifles; between cannonballs and shells. But this same ambition created quite a few problems and it didn’t stay commissioned very long by naval standards. I suspect this is the fate that awaits the Zumwalt class.
It was also very eye-opening to learn about British submarine traditions (pictured above is me on the HMS Alliance).
(13) Oxford – This trip was especially pleasant thanks to my longtime friend AS, who not only offered me a personal tour of the city, but engaged me with some very thought-provoking discussions about Spanish culture (his specialization) and the Alt Right (his sympathies).
The Ashmolean was one of the very first museums in the world, and its original exhibition is still preserved “as was.” Not surprisingly, about a third of it was devoted to the Americas, which reflects the popular interests of the time.
Although the big object in its collection is the Alfred Jewel, my attention was primarily drawn to two other historical aspects:
(a) Not only could you buy Chinese ceramics in the 18th century, but you could even send a design to China to get them to make you a set of plates and cups, and have it delivered back to you. Not as quick and most certainly not as cheap, but some version of Ali Baba has been around for a surprisingly long time!
(b) European silverware was remarkably advanced by the 17th century, and you can see progress decade by decade, and even attempt national comparisons. For instance, Russian production in the 1680s was only as good as Germany in the 1650s.
(14) Futurism – This is better left for another post, but in short, if Bay Area futurism is about psychedelics and the Singularity, London futurism is more about the next iPhone model.
I am of course horribly exaggerating, but I don’t think its an illegimate comparison.
Oxford of course hosts The Future of Humanity Institute, best known as home to Nick Bostrom, but it seems to be only very tangentially involved with the wider community. This might be legitimate in most academic spheres, but perhaps not so much in one that is of such potentially great import to the entirety of humanity, and which suffers from a certain tinge of charlatanism.
Nonetheless, I was happy to go to a talk with Anders Sandberg on the ethics of human life extension, organized by the just-created Oxford Longevity Society, and to join him for a group dinner afterwards.
The talk itself was as good as the questions from the audience were depressing.
(15) SJWism – My aforementioned friend AS complained repeatedly about the importation of American SJW culture to the UK. Arguably, SJWism has festooned to greater proportions in Blighty than in the Trumpenreich itself.
You could definitely see many signs of it in Oxford: LGBT flags strewn about in the graduate common rooms, feminist slogans prominently glued onto MacBooks (kek) at the library, multiple instances of “I ♥ feminism” graffiti scrawled on the historic walls of Oxford.
There is plenty of this in London as well. Animal rights activists chalk “Stop Eating Animals You Psychopaths” a couple of blocks from Downing Street. The LSE common room where I celebrated Trump’s win with my friend AZ – we were the only Trump supporters there out of 30-40 people – saw students “literally shaking” as the results came in, so I can personally confirm that this is not just a meme. And above is a poster from some group that blames Uber for apparent record numbers of rapes and sexual assaults.
Meanwhile, on a Stratford street a couple of miles away, bearded men animatedly call on Londoners to convert to Islam.