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Englandaganza, Stop 1: London
Hwæt! Ic eam in Engelonde gecuman!
Landed in Manchester Or Something Airport (Heathrow Terminal 5), 8-ish. Caught up on email (eek, this is going to be difficult — deluge of stuff, little time to digest or respond). Discovered the Bible Translation into LolCat project; something I identify much too much with for reasons of Klingon. Got the Heathrow Express into Paddington station: much too petrified of luggage logistics to attempt navigating away from Paddington to discover a different left luggage locale. Got the cab out to London School of Economics, again for reasons of fear of logistics. Got held up by the Changing of the Guard (11 am); I certainly wasn’t going to encourage that kind of mass market tourism activity by photographing it!
Workshop went from 1:30 to 4:30; I got there at 12 (mpf), and hanged out with the organisers and the Way Too Fun Phil Nicholls till 7. It was comforting to know that I could have a succesful geek out with complete strangers about my day job now, and not just linguistics. Checked into the disconcertingly luxurious Ashburn Hotel, popped out to eat, came back. Am tired (have been catching up on TV instead of blogging), so some quick summaries:
- London is more verdant than I remember it. Then again, I was driven past Green Park on the way down.
- I was checked in to the Ashburn by a bubbly temp from Noosa, doing the standard British working holiday for Australians under 25; unfortunately I’ve been too soon out of Australia to react to a kindred accent with the joyful recognition with which she reacted to mine…
“Yeah, she sounds Australian. Uh, doesn’t everyone? Oh, I’m not in Australia any more? Better stop saying ‘hooroo’ then. Not that anyone under 60 in Australia knows what ‘hooroo’ means anyway.”
She was so helpful, I felt bad for skipping out of the hotel for dinner, instead of eating in and giving them more of my custom. But I figured I’d be doing enough fearful eating in and not looking around my surroundings, once I was out of London.
- After dinner, I got ice cream from the local milkbar equivalent. Run by jovial Arabs yet again. (I think this is an Arab neighbourhood, there’s a few signs up in Arabic, and several women walked past in various states of veiling.) Because this time the joviality was in English, I was almost able to engage in banter. (But I confess, still a bit thrown off to do it properly.)
- They really do live in a panopticon in this country: cameras everywhere.
- If you drink outdoors, you get your booze in a PLASTIC CUP?! Never mind the risk to public health and safety if a drunken Englishman smashes you over the head with a glass mug outside; my HUMAN DIGNITY is far, far more offended by drinking cider out of a PLASTIC CUP!!!1! (Well, maybe not. But hyperbole is a useful thing.)
- It took me a couple of minutes looking for a bin in Paddington Station until I remembered why I wouldn’t find one: the IRA used them twenty years ago to put bombs in, so they got banned from metro stations. Much like the ongoing security theatre at airports, this is fighting the last battle instead of the current one, but these things take on a life of their own eventually.
- The LSE library needed you to swipe a card to get in to the books. Phil says Sheffield Uni’s the same. I find this offensive (and incomprehensible): uni libraries have a knowledge-keeping responsibility to the public, it baffles me that the public should be blocked from accessing them.
- London is vaguely familiar culturally — though with many more cool buildings; the Natural History Museum is just down the road from here, and is exactly what 19th century Romanesque should look like. But it’s just different enough from Australia to be slightly askew. The Tube felt very familiar though.
Lovely al dente pasta tonight, punctuated by a waitress being quite animated into her phone in what sounded nasal enough to be Portuguese, but must have been Northern Italian dialect — I’m guessing Piedmontese:
- lots of final consonants;
- no central vowels or diphthongs with e in them that I could discern;
- duminica has too many vowels left in it to be Portuguese;
- she said ciao at the end; and
- she was working in a small Italian restaurant.
Inductive reasoning at its finest. (I had heard recordings of Piedmontese from my former boss the Italian dialectologist; this was certainly strange enough to be Piedmontese.)
When I got the bill, I interrogated the waiter accordingly:
ME: So what dialect of Italian does your colleague speak?
WAITER: … dialect?
ME: Yeah, is it Piedmontese?
ME: Yeah, you know. Northern Italy.
WAITER: … She is Romanian.
Yup, see? I was right. Definitely not Portuguese.