The Knowledge: 16 things I’ve learned in England

There’s no English pub nearby. There is, however, this. (M. Bradley)

There's no English pub nearby. There is, however, this. (M. Bradley)

There’s no English pub nearby. There is, however, this. (M. Bradley)

London

1. Everyone has a favorite football team (and not the American kind), and some of the affiliations are nearly ancient. Owen, our bus driver to the Falcons’ complex in Watford, is a Chelsea supporter because his father saw his first Chelsea game in 1939.

2. My seatmate on the train ride from Sunningdale to Waterloo Station recalled in great detail the massive upset his team — Swindon Town, then as now a lower-division side — sprang over Arsenal in the 1969 League Cup (not to be confused with the FA Cup) final. The man is now retired, but he volunteers as a tour guide at The County Ground, Swindon Town’s home field. And did you know that the first night English football match was held under floodlights at The Country Ground on April 2, 1951?

3. Trains here move slowly. It took 50 minutes to get from Sunningdale to Waterloo, and we skipped stopping at a few stations. For a time I wondered if we were being pulled by Thomas the Tank Engine.

4. Cab drivers here are the best. You don’t have to repeat your destination so they can plug it into a GPS. They know it by heart. It takes much study to become a taxi driver in one of London’s justly famous black cabs: Aspirants must pass an extremely difficult test — it’s called “The Knowledge” — on locations, routes and whatnot. For someone who once boarded a Boston cab driven by someone wearing a Red Sox cap who didn’t know the way to Fenway Park, this is wonderful.

5. Waitrose is the place for ready-made sandwiches. You can buy such sandwiches at Tesco, which is the rough equivalent of Wal-Mart, and Marks & Spencer, which also sells clothing, but Waitrose is the choice of those in the know. “A little higher-end,” our concierge said.

6. English coins are confusing, mostly because they pretty much look alike. To the foreign eye, there’s not much difference between a 1-pound coin and a 10-pence coin, and perhaps not just to the foreign eye. Megan, our indispensable guide to Lions camp, was helping me sort out the 11 pounds, 10 pence fare to Waterloo, and she had to look twice at my newly acquired collection. “Never ask an English person to recognize English coins,” the station agent said, archly.

7. English folks are arch, which I enjoy immensely.

8. Silly Yank that I am, I expected every London street corner to have a pub on it bearing the name Rose or Crown or Lion or Arms or some combination thereof. Having traversed Edgware Road, which is just north of Hyde Park and south of St. John’s Wood, on a daily basis, I haven’t yet seen such a pub. I have, however, seen every manner of Middle Eastern restaurant, many of which feature hookah-smoking on the sidewalk. From Wikipedia: “The southern part of the road near Marble Arch, noted for its distinct Middle Eastern cuisine and many late-night bars and shisha cafes, is known to Londoners by nicknames such as Little Cairo, Little Beirut and, especially near Camden, Little Cyprus.”

9. The Marble Arch, I’m sorry to say, is nothing special.

10. The English love their music. My fellow train traveler, who’s 65, plays keyboards in a band. Owen plays harp (meaning harmonica) and is planning a trip to the States so he can travel from Chicago to Mississippi and retrace the migration of American bluesmen. As we were driving to Falcons camp, he pointed to a tall building just off the Westway — an elevated part of the A40 — and said, “I used to ride skateboards over there. Chrissie Hynde (the transplant from Akron who founded the Pretenders) and some of The Clash (the only band that mattered circa 1978-1982) lived there.” Owen saw the Sex Pistols in 1977, you should know. You should also know that his favorite show ever was Springsteen at Wembley in 1984.

11. Owen also said he’d met Kylie Minogue. A very nice lady, he reported.

12. The English have thoughts about their government, too. Shaun, our driver to Lions camp, isn’t crazy about the Cameron/Clegg Tory/Lib Dem coalition. He thought John Major was a waste. He liked Margaret Thatcher. It wouldn’t trouble Shaun if England let the rest of Europe fend for itself.

13. You probably knew this already, but the English are unbelievably polite.

14. Twice now, I’ve pushed “1” when headed to the hotel lobby. In England, the first floor is what we’d call the second floor. Just as a pushchair is what we’d call a stroller. Just as a jumper is what we’d call a sweater. Just as chips are what we’d call French fries. Just as crisps are what we’d call chips. Just as 98.6 degrees Fahrenheit is 36.8 degrees Celsius, and I know this because …

15. If you have a hurricane-strength cold (and I do), shopping at a pharmacy/chemist can be a challenge. They didn’t carry my brand of Robitussin. The packaging is, duh, different. It’s tougher to read the ingredients. (I won’t take anything with a decongestant or alcohol or codeine because it keeps me awake.) I went four places before finally finding some honey-based thing — that’s quite good, FYI — and being charged 19 pounds, 99 pence. (Roughly $32 U.S.) I asked why so much. “Because it comes from America,” I was told.

16. The reason the English drive on the left, my cab driver from Waterloo informed me, is that the Romans, who as noted previously built many of these roads, always had their armies march on the left. Yay, Knowledge!

From myajc: A touring American learns that we aren’t the world.

Also: Matthew Stafford — from wild flinger to game manager?

Also: Stafford and Megatron — living the life in Bagshot.

Also: The Falcons in England — a Must Win in a strange land.

Also: Julio Jones takes a pricey ride.

Also: London calling — I’m here for the Other Football.

Reader Comments 0

63 comments
MattSnowden
MattSnowden

No wonder you didn't find any pubs if you restricted yourself to Regent Street!


The floor space around there is so expensive that no 'traditional' pub could ever afford it. Only the big chains.


Expand your horizons and go further afield in London or *gasp* OUTSIDE London to the rest of the UK!

davidg32
davidg32

Mark, when you write that "English folks are arch"...what exactly does that mean?

HermT
HermT

I hope you learned once and for all, the falcants will never win a Super Bowl. It doesn't matter who coaches or owns, or plays for them......this franchise is cursed.....what a joke. Been rooting for them since I was 7 years old...I am 49 now.... Mr.. Blank should post an apology in the AJC to all the fans...... ............maybe by next season I will be able to have false hope again....but right now...NO, tired of buying into an inferior/defective  product.....

RichardKPE
RichardKPE

Mark,


I was in London for the Dolphins/Giants game in 2007.  Channing Crowder, a Dolphins LB at the time (and rumor is he attended college for three years at UF) was asked what he learned about England and said: "I didn't know they speak English in London."

kenstallings
kenstallings

Mark,


The British one pound coin is my favorite coin in the world.  I love the sound that thick hearty coin makes when you throw it down on the bar for a pint of ale.  By the way, I heartily recommend you get yourself a pint of Strongbow ale, what we would call hard apple cider. Great stuff!


Oh, and there should be a pub nearby after all, and see if you can get a plate of curried chicken or beef.  Take that with your pint of cider.  You'll be glad you did!

TreeRollins
TreeRollins

And Mark, don't be one of those guys that's always trying to get in the young ladies' knickers if you know what I mean. Would hate to see you get punched by one of those British blokes, ay?

TreeRollins
TreeRollins

One can only hope the Lions experience as much confusion as you have so far Mark and, if so, perhaps the Falcons may have a fighting chance on Sunday.

JAS0N
JAS0N

Great read, Mark.


Just so you know, the levels of buildings are the same throughout Europe, with the ground floor being 0, the second floor being 1, and so forth.  In France the ground floor is the "rez-de-chausee".  In Asia the ground floor is 1, though.

gobige
gobige

I thought without doubt that #1 would certainly be this awful team is much more fun to follow when dealt with in a cool international location.

BirdBeak
BirdBeak

If anyone can access the Falcons page good luck with that! The last time I saw so many ads on a something it was moving 160 miles an hour with Dale Earnheart behind the wheel. Worst web site design I've ever seen.

km30120
km30120

Glad  you  made it safe in sound. Before the  plane left Atlanta did you stand up in front of the plane tell the players and tell one of the guys in the front office that if The  Falcons lose, some of you here will not be on the flight back to Atlanta!

Londonjacket
Londonjacket

Mark - Glad you are having a good time here.  London is one of the world's great cities.  I am a native Atlantan and Georgia Tech and GSU grad but been living here for nearly 18 years.  I disagree with the comment about lack of interest in the NFL.  The games are shown on tv here and widely watched.  There are alot more closet fans here than people realise because so many Brits have lived or worked in the US.  Three games here this 

year sold out quickly while competing for attention with football and rugby.  I have my tickets and will be there tomorrow and hope the Falcons can find some sort of magic and improve on there recent decline.  But as a Tech grad I am disappointed Megatron is unlikely to play although that has to help the Falcons.


Enjoy the rest of your trip

Pat_Pending
Pat_Pending

MB, coincidentally, I have been in the UK for the last three weeks, two in London. I am actually flying home tomorrow. In my opinion, there is zero spontaneous interest in The NFL here in Britain. I did not even know the Falcons were in the game until I saw an NFL banner over Regent Street - put up of course by the league's voracious PR machine. It was just an NFL banner! I actually had to look up the teams in the game.

There is actually way more interest in the NBA in the UK.

etherdome
etherdome

You really should get out more.

jackbmatt
jackbmatt

Mark, have you never been out of the country???  You should do it more often.  You'll learn what's great about the US, as well as what's not so great...

ingerlund
ingerlund

Try Solpadeine mate. You will be right as rain.

DewieCheatem_n_Howe
DewieCheatem_n_Howe

Most surprising to me is that Cox ponied up for a columnist to go to the UK. Next thing you know they might send one to cover the World Series or the like.

bigdoggie1
bigdoggie1

Nice column! I went to the UK with my kids and my sister in 2008. Greatest trip I've ever taken! I always had to ask for an extra glass of ice b/c you get about four cubes in your drink there.

zuzu331
zuzu331

Thats Delightful. Can any of these oh so polite Brits play OG? Is there a blocking TE working in that KFC?

BusinessMan
BusinessMan

Pretty embarrassing stuff, you don't travel much I guess.

chem
chem

FYI, 98.6 degrees Fahrenheit is 37 degrees Celsius, not 38.6

Princess_Leia
Princess_Leia

Mark could be a travel writer - it's a nice article.


Pip pip, cheerio, and all that sort of rot!

Addy
Addy

Do they not brush their teeth there? Why do all have yellow as corn teeth?

PaulinNH
PaulinNH

The Clash were one of 2 bands that mattered in 1978 - 82.  The other was The Jam.

PaulinNH
PaulinNH

Mark - if you think Americans find British coins confusing, imagine how Brits (and other Europeans) feel about US notes - all the same color and the same size. 

NorwegianBlue
NorwegianBlue

Nice article MB. And even nicer that we don't have to see rude remarks from OH-IO and other trolls in the comment section.

whimzeelee
whimzeelee

"Night Nurse" was what got us through a rough cold while in London.  Boots and any chemist should carry it.

ChefTimDix
ChefTimDix

They park their cars in a carpark and think we park our lots in our parking lots.

JaneKassens
JaneKassens

Nice article for someone who has never been; but, 98.6 F is equal to 36.8 C, not 38.6 C.  I know this because at Emory Hospitals we had to record temperature in Celsius.

Delbert_D
Delbert_D

@ MB - "English coins are confusing, mostly because they pretty much look alike."


When I lived in Leicestershire in '82 - '83, it was somewhat easier due to the value of the pound vs. the dollar. They had recently switched over to the new pence (100 NP to the pound as opposed to the old 240 P to the pound), and the 10 new pence coins were the same size and value as the 2 shilling piece, both about the same size as a US quarter. The exchange rate was around $2.40 to a pound, so a quarter was roughly equivalent to to the coins of the same size. Saved some head-scratching. The pound coin was introduced while I was there, and I got several first-day circulation pieces at the credit union of the industrial estate where I worked.


I got to see Gary Lineker play as a hometown 22-year old kid for our side at the old pitch. Leicester won promotion to First Division in 83 after I returned stateside. No Premier League at that time, and Liverpool was dominant.


Interesting trivia about the pound coin. It is one of the non-circular shapes that will roll perfectly smoothly along a flat surface, and therefore down a coin chute without interference. 

mochafudge
mochafudge

London reminds me so much of Boston.  Enjoy your time Mark.  It's a beautiful city.   You gotta grab some fish and chips and tell us about it.

LauderdaleDawg
LauderdaleDawg

I went over for the Dolphins/Raiders game and too caught a "hurricane-strength cold" a la #15. I searched high and low for Mucinex at all the local "chemist" shops, nowhere to be found. Got home, bought some Mucinex and right there on the box...Made in England...I swear I am not making this up.

RobbE33
RobbE33

Thank you, sir! May we have another?

poofed
poofed

How was the boat ride?

BTC
BTC

Look harder for the pubs - worth a visit!

PaulinNH
PaulinNH

@kenstallings 

"I love the sound that thick hearty coin makes when you throw it down on the bar for a pint of ale"

If you want a pint in London you'd better be throwing down about 5 of them.

Trainer2013
Trainer2013

@BirdBeak Couldn't agree more. We're about 20 years past the start of the internet age. 4 years past the introduction of the iPad. Traditional media STILL doesn't know how to create content for these platforms.


TV, newspapers, magazines, they all are still treating this technology like it's a fad. Mainstream media websites & apps are among the WORSE out here. Horrible.


The reality is the new technology has killed old media. Old media's response seems to be, "Whatever."


Just like the banks, we need to break up the media conglomerates. Get back to having real competition in local newspapers.


We need real newspapers with real journalists. 


Mark, get over that cold. Enjoy your visit.


Go KC Royals!

Drexel-Gal
Drexel-Gal

@chem Damn straight ... 38.6-C would be a fever of 101.48-F.

Drexel-Gal
Drexel-Gal

@Addy The "better" ones have yellow-as-corn teeth.  Most have brown-as-walnut teeth.

PaulinNH
PaulinNH

@Delbert_D 

Nice to see you posting Delbert.  Your memory of the old pound, shillings and pence is excellent (you have them exactly correct) but decimalization occurred in the early 70's

You certainly had a treat seeing Lineker as a 22 year old - he was winner of the Golden Boot at the 1986 WC.  I am sure you were unhappy when he went to Everton, my home town team - but not as unhappy as my Dad for what Everton did.  To his dying day, my dear old Dad never forgave the Blues for selling him to Barcelona after one year

PaulinNH
PaulinNH

@MaybeMaybeNot 

Knew nothing about the Clash?  Saw them at Erics in Liverpool and Leeds Uni Refec in 1977 - again at The Fox in 1982.  I was one of the lucky ones - I didn't get beaten up by the APD although a few of my students did.

You obviously know nothing about Paul Weller and The Jam - but that is OK

Delbert_D
Delbert_D

@PaulinNH

I was in and out, mostly *very* out, of Scotland in '70 -'72 (tippy-top secret, burn-before-reading stuff, as we used to say), and I don't remember the new coinage circulating around in Dunoon back then. I was in the country for the last time for 2 weeks in January and 1 week in April of 1972. Maybe the Scots were late adopters? Didn't have much use for the English, as they used to say. Had their own paper money; still do, I believe.