Thursday, January 28, 2010

The Great British Pub, R.I.P? - England 2010 Part 2

As many of my friends know, one of the things I miss most about living in England is the traditional local pub. One I remember fondly is The Britannia, located just opposite the flat (apartment) I lived in for a while before moving to the US. Just as in any good "local," I knew that whenever I visited I'd find friends, and the bar-staff would be pouring my beer without needing to be asked.

After I moved here, my visits back to England would always include a trip or two to "The Brit," seeing who was still around, and catching up with the local gossip. Sadly, on my last visit, about eighteen months ago, I found none of my friends in residence. It was being run by a West Indian family and had a large West Indian clientele. Even so, they made me feel very welcome, and we spent a lot of time chatting about life in the States.

Some time ago, I started hearing that pubs around the country were closing at an alarming rate. I saw evidence of this for myself, including one pub near my parents' house that was being demolished to make way for flats. Just before my most recent visit, my Father told me that he had heard that The Britannia had closed. Determined to find out for myself, I discovered that it hadn't actually closed, but when I looked in, there was one patron and no sign of the bar-staff. I decided to check another nearby pub, The Biscot Mill, to see if any of my friends had started drinking there. After some good beer and conversation with some regulars, some old friends did walk in, and we spent some time catching up over a few pints. Unfortunately, I found out that The Britannia was indeed about to close, and was going to be turned into flats.

Later during our visit, we took a side-trip to Swansea, in South Wales. On a bitterly cold Sunday morning, we went along the coast a little to a village called Mumbles, a popular tourist attraction. Sheltering from the weather, we went into a pub to get some hot drinks. Looking around the place, which had some antique wood-paneling, stained glass, and some interesting looking beers, something seemed a little "off." The menus on the tables looked very generic. We started to suspect that the place was a cleverly-disguised "chain-pub," and a barman confirmed this.

Why are traditional British Pubs disappearing so rapidly? Many blame the ban on smoking in public places. I've never been a smoker myself, but I still find it strange being in a smoke-free pub. Recently, I've noticed much of the media criticizing the wide availability of cheap alcohol in the supermarkets; some are calling for a law setting a minimum price. Another aspect may be the perceived rise in crime and so-called "antisocial behavior" making people feel less safe outside their homes. Then there's the poor economy. Brits are not going to the pub like they used to; instead, they are sitting in the safety of their homes, in front of their big-screen TVs, where they can smoke while drinking their cheap supermarket booze. Britain is losing both a piece of its cultural history and a valuable avenue for social interaction.

Do you have any thoughts about British pubs or pub culture? How do you feel about these establishments disappearing so rapidly? I'd love to hear your feedback.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

A Big Fuss Over Nothing: England 2010 Part 1

We generally get to visit England about once every eighteen months, and about once every three years we get to visit over Christmas. A slight logistical problem where my Wife works meant that we had to visit over New Year instead of Christmas itself.

There were two main concerns we had before and during our trip this time: Flight security and the weather. The failed attempt to bring down an airliner on Christmas day resulted in changes to security procedures. It looked like flights coming into the US were where most changes were taking place, so before we left, we were keeping an eye on the latest news. Flights were being delayed, and the carry-on baggage allowance for planes into the US was reduced, both in maximum size and in number of items. Since the Christmas Day incident involved someone spending a long time in the bathroom, then attempting to explode chemicals in their lap, there were also stories about passengers being forced to stay in their seats with nothing in their laps for the final hour of flights. That particularly concerned us, since we were flying with a five-year-old. We also heard that the in-flight entertainment might be disabled, so no-one would know when we were actually over US airspace.

We hoped that these measures would be relaxed during the two weeks we were in England, and that was, thankfully, the case. My Father got worried, however, when he saw a news story about a student at Newark airport who went past the security point to kiss his girlfriend, which led to a huge incident. I think my Father thought that I might be arrested for kissing my Wife! In fact, the security seemed to be pretty much the same as we had experienced in the past, and neither of our flights were delayed.

Generally speaking, the weather in New Jersey is more extreme than in England. We have colder winters, with more snow, and the summers are hotter and more humid. We left New Jersey with snow on the ground, and by the time we returned, the snow had gone. England, however, was experiencing record cold weather, and lots of snow! While by New Jersey standards it wasn't that bad, England is not used to much in the way of snow and ice, and therefore does not invest in the equipment and measures that other places do. Therefore, the entire country grinds to a halt if there are more than a few flakes of snow on the ground. During our trip, the news was full of weather-related stories, such as the sharing and rationing of the grit used to keep the roads free of ice, and worries that important exams might have to be canceled because of school closures.

The poor weather did mean that the bulk of our vacation was spent at my parents' house, and not getting out and about doing the fun things we usually get up to. That wasn't necessarily a bad thing. We were forced to take a much-needed break doing pretty much nothing. The weather improved towards the end of our visit, which allowed us to take a planned side-trip to Wales (more about that in a future entry), and meant that our journey home was problem-free.

It's great to be back writing for my blog again. I'd love to hear from you, so please do make a comment. Did you travel over the holidays? How did things go for you?

Friday, January 15, 2010

An Apology

Just before Christmas 2008, I felt inspired to create a blog describing my experiences as an Englishman living in the US. I expanded upon that idea to include all kinds of topics I felt might be of interest to Brits in the US, Americans in the UK, Anglophiles, Americophiles and anyone interested in the crossing of cultures. I committed myself to trying to spend a little time every day writing, editing, researching for, or promoting my little blog. I believe I did quite well, receiving some wonderful comments of support and quite a few readers along the way. To those people, I apologize for my extended absence.

In September 2009, my daughter started school. One would think this might result in me having extra free time to devote to An Englishman in New Jersey, and I did think that myself. However, it resulted in me taking on more commitments, which in turn meant I actually had less free time available. My blogging therefore came to a grinding halt.

That brings me to today, a little over a year after I launched my blog. Energized by a recent trip back to England, and with plenty of experiences to share, I want to start things off again. I believe I can devote the time necessary to do that, if you're willing to sit next to me at the bar and listen to me ramble on once more...