London Calling

In a match between Memphis and Merry Olde England, we'd give it a tie.

photograph by Thomas Dutour | Dreamstime

London — I couldn’t resist the trip. Or the dateline.

Sounds like CBS legendary broadcaster Edward R. Murrow during the Blitz: “This . . . is London.”

Except the only blitz for this London newbie and his wife was putting together an itinerary on short notice when my brother-in-law backed out of a trip and left my sister looking for traveling companions. The call went like this.

Her: “Got an extra plane ticket and a flat. You guys wanna go?”

Me: “Uh, lemme think a minute and ask.”

Wife: “I thought about it. Let’s go.”

So “Fine Print” comes from London this month, with some cool things that made me think (for a minute, anyway) about Memphis.

I met a London journalist, Alan Thatcher, who lays out the sports pages for one of the big tabloids. Circulation is down from over 2 million to about 500,000. We traded war stories. I asked him what he puts on the back page for the big picture and lead story when there aren’t any soccer games that day.

“Soccer,” he said.

The saturation coverage in the papers and on television gave me a new perspective. Yes, soccer games are low scoring and there are no intermediate goals. But the ball is always in play and the action is continuous. American college and professional football, live or on television, is an ordeal of play stoppages and commercials. Advantage, the rest of the world.

British journalists work ten-hour days four days a week and get eight weeks of vacation a year. Advantage, United Kingdom.

American music, and Memphis music in particular, has an honored place in the London music scene. Elvis, of course, has his devotees, but so do rockabilly artist Carl Perkins and the roots music of Jim and Cody Dickinson. Their records — yes, the vinyl 45s and 33s — sell well at No Hit Records in Camden Town.

Unlike American jaywalkers and drivers, Londoners learn at a young age that “stop” means stop now, “go” means go now, “mind the gap” means or else die, and “look both right and left” and “stay in your lane” are commandments not to be violated.

One of the best ways to see a new city is by city bus. A tour bus with an open-air top is unnecessary and inconvenient in the frequent rain. But a double-decker standard city bus is a thrill ride and unguided tour rolled into one if you grab seats in the front row of the second deck and watch the cars, buses, bikes, and pedestrians navigate the streets and crosswalks, usually flawlessly. Buy ticket, ride to end of line, get off, transfer to new bus, ride some more, repeat. Cost: about $6 a day.

Unlike American jaywalkers and drivers, Londoners learn at a young age that “stop” means stop now, “go” means go now, “mind the gap” means or else die, and “look both right and left” and “stay in your lane” are commandments not to be violated.

The London Eye, the giant Ferris wheel on the Thames, is to an ordinary Ferris wheel as a tiger is to a house cat. But it has one lesson for Memphis. There is a strong impulse among tourists to go to the top of tall structures near famous rivers. It would be a big mistake for Bass Pro Shops to not make accessible the observation deck in the Pyramid.

We paid nearly $30 for a limited tour of Wimbledon, and as a lifelong tennis player I would say it was worth it. But this did not include access to Center Court or any club facilities other than the museum. I asked a guard how one joined the private club. “Live to be about 86,” he suggested. The pro tournament at the Racquet Club each year is an incredible coup for Memphis tennis fans.  

Finally, I was warned by veteran London travelers that it is one of the most expensive cities in the world. I wouldn’t really know, but our pounds stretched pretty far when spent at restaurants within walking distance, a tiny flat, two-for-one attractions, free museums including the British Museum, and buses and the underground tube.

This is London, indeed. 

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