Tag Archives: Romans

There’s no place like home

For somebody who isn’t remotely patriotic, has no celebratory mugs bearing images of the Queen or Prince Edward, and wouldn’t be able to tell you which way up a Union Jack flag is meant to be even if you paid him, I have to say that ‘being British’ is something I enjoy and am proud of. OK, so I’m not willing to defend our violent colonial past, our role in the Iraq conflict or our responsibility for the meteoric rise of the Cheeky Girls, but on the whole I have to agree with Grand Lake Ink and her assertion that “I think I won the lottery of life being born British.”

Britain has many faults, regardless of who has political power at any given moment. And any country which has more votes cast for a pop talent show than for a general election should always consider a long hard look in the mirror. But it’s also an incredibly beautiful place, with (as one American friend once put it) “Roman shit and old stuff everywhere”. And there’s at least an attempt at a duty of care towards its people, which you can’t say about many countries.

Of course, being away from your homeland only heightens those feelings of affection. It’s not out of any lack of love for New York either – if any city can put you in a Christmas mood, it’s this one. But emigration kits come equipped with rose-tinted spectacles. If I was in the UK right now, I’d be moaning about the weather and bleating about the failures of the economic system. Instead, I sit on the subway dreaming wistfully of low-lying moisture laden clouds and fog, and an interest rate that’s at least above zero (for the moment, admittedly).

The strangest thing about not being in Britain is that it makes you pine for things you never bothered much with when you were there in the first place.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I love a biscuit as much as the next man. And the man next to me right now is called Mr McVitie. But back home I’d probably go six months without eating one, and certainly wouldn’t buy them in a supermarketgrocery store. Now I have vivid dreams involving custard creams and bourbon biscuits, and I’d kill for a Garibaldi.

Similarly, the Christmas spirit has me longing to go to a pantomime. I haven’t been to a pantomime since about 1987, when Angie from Eastenders played a thigh-slapping Aladdin alongside Derek Griffiths from Play School and Play Away at the Pavillion Theatre in Bournemouth. But right now, I’d be more than happy with a slapstick cry of “he’s behind you” and the last five minutes of fame for a Big Brother star from three years ago.

Earlier this week, the pangs reached a new low when I found myself in the kitchen making Cornish pasties from scratch. Without a recipe. I have never made Cornish pasties in my life. Love them though I do, they’re a convenience food that you pick up when you’re hungry. Making them yourself is much less convenient, let me tell you. Back home, there would be more chance of me eating pencil sharpeners than there would be of making my own Cornish pasties, but here it just seems like a perfectly natural thing to do.

Anyway, enough of this. I’m going to see Oasis tonight, and I’ve got no idea where I’ve put the tickets.

The war on New York’s streets

Back in the days when The Special One and I were dating, and I was still a Brit Very Much In Water, the two of us made a pilgrimage up to my home city Chester so that she could meet my mum for the first time. The day beforehand, The Special One had experienced one of the UK’s finest summer traditions at a lunch at The Best Man’s house, although it has to be said that ‘eating a barbecued sausage that is incinerated on the outside and practically raw inside’ won’t generally feature in Vanity Fair’s catch-all feature on the Things That You Simply Must Do In London. Still, it does mean that The Special One will always be able to say that the first gift her future mother-in-law gave her upon meeting was a package of pharmaceutical cures to address the, erm, ‘issues’ associated with food poisoning.

Thankfully, the symptoms quickly subsided, and the three of us were able to take a walk around the city to see some of the sights. For those of you who are not acquainted with Chester, it’s an entirely walled Roman city that was founded in the first century AD. Originally known as Deva, the city has been intensely developed over the years, but there are still Roman remains throughout the centre including an amphitheatre, ornamental gardens, and a shrine to Minerva. Hell, there’s even a shopping centre called The Forum, although that admittedly owes more to the great god of Greggs The Bakers than to the Romans.

Strolling around, The Special One was struck by just how much Roman ‘stuff’ (I think that’s the collective noun for a lot of Roman artifacts, but please do correct me if I’m wrong) there is scattered around. There are bits of pipe outside the library, an old strongroom near the Dublin Packet pub, and various columns all over the place. It’s pretty much impossible to walk for more than ten minutes without seeing a remain or two.

Of course, Americans are fascinated by old stuff. Not to say that the British aren’t, but I guess it’s always a bit more impressive to see Roman remains when in your own country a McDonalds wrapper from 1973 counts as ancient history. Sure, there are native Indian remains in various places, and the current Republican presidential candidate must surely have been around when the Liberty Bell was cast, but American cities aren’t exactly blessed with a wealth of history. That doesn’t make them bad places, I hasten to add – it just means that there’s a profound contrast for Americans when they see Roman remains in Europe.

None of this fascination, however, explains New York women’s current obsession with wearing sandals that make them look like gladiators going into war. The first time I saw somebody wearing a pair of these, I had to look around to see if I had missed a battle reconstruction that was going on down the block. Sadly the lack of 800 centurions in full costume led me to the reluctant conclusion that the woman was doing it of her own free will. Clearly however, I assumed that she was a one-off – a Russell Crowe fetishist with a talent for leatherwork and a high tolerance of people pointing and staring, maybe? But now I seem them every time I leave the office, in all manner of shapes and sizes. New York has quite literally gone gladiator sandal mad.

I reckon somebody in a shop somewhere in Manhattan is convincing gullible consumers that these things are genuine centurion’s footwear, excavated from just outside Salisbury, and polished up for the modern-day consumer market.

Thankfully, as with all fashions, it’s just another passing trend. Sadly, next week is probably due to witness the olde worlde doublets and breeches revival. There’s no accounting for taste.