“Have you been to Great Britain before?” asked the Immigration Official. “Yes,” I answered. “When was that?” I paused, and thought. “I don’t remember. It’s been at least six or seven years.” “That was a long time ago,” she said. Yes, I thought. It was.
Why had it been so long? I forget how much I love the UK, London in particular. I’m delighted simply to speak to people. I love hearing their accents; I love how polite and proper folks are. The city is so ultimately walkable and museums are free. And fish and chips. And black cabs where the seats fold down and you can ride backwards, seeing all that you’ve passed. And signs, reminding you to be careful: “Mind The Gap” and “Look Left” and “Stand Right.” And Big Ben. And tea served in dainty fine china cups. And beautiful, old train stations, with new trains that run on time. And theater, so much theater. And shop clerks who call you “love.” And cobblestone streets that cause you to take care so you won’t twist an ankle. And poets, sitting along the river Thames, offering to type you a poem on a manual typewriter:
Over there is a
big salty puddle called the Atlantic
in the other direction, another
even bigger puddle, that one we
call the Pacific. The difference is
Pacific folks are handsome and eat
a lot of grapef ruit and avocado
The people of the Atlantic are very
clever but ill formed. They read
the New Yorker a nd the London
review of Books but they don’t unde
stand the word ‘lifestyle’ they
invented that stuff on the Pacific
Rim. Brunch, decking in the garden
barbecues and long walks along the
This, London, is a place for drinking
drinking is not a lifestyle
it’s an occupation.
Mind The Gap
A poem in the making
Big Ben from the Thames
The dome of the Tate
Westminster is tall
People may walk
Platform 9 3/4
One of my co-workers arranged for us to view the filming of Top Gear while in London. I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. I had heard of Top Gear, but had never watched any of the episodes. I’m now a fan.
As we made our way to the large warehouse where the taping was to take place, I noticed a man with an intense tattoo on the side of his neck. Intense, as in beautiful. As in, super professional looking and incredibly intricate. I stared for a few moments then continued speaking to my colleagues.
The show consisted of live bits, as well as pre-recorded pieces. One of the pre-recorded pieces involved comparing the suspension of two cars. We watched as Jeremy Clarkson drove a Scoda Yeti through fields in the country. In the back seat of the car were two men, one giving the other a tattoo on his shoulder blade as they traversed over the land. I immediately recognized the tattoo artist – it was him! The man with the amazing tattoo on his neck. Wielding a tattoo needle. Then I thought about what they were doing. He was giving a tattoo to another man in the back seat of a car as they road over bumpy hills and fields. That’s crazy. Crazy, I say!
After the ride, the two men stepped out from the back seat. On one’s right shoulder blade was a nicely formed, slightly bleeding four-leaf clover.
The next clip showed them in a Range Rover, repeating the process on the left shoulder blade. The ride didn’t look as smooth, and a couple of shots showed the men in the back seat bumping their heads on the roof of the car. I cringed each time the needle slipped. After a few minutes, the car came to a stop and the men exited. The camera showed another tattoo, almost identical, but not as neat, on the man’s left shoulder blade, also slightly bleeding.
So many questions raced through my mind. Was this real? Who thought of this? Who were the men who agreed to get the tattoo/give the tattoo? Did they work for the show or were they random volunteers? How much did that hurt?
The producer called for a tea break. We went out into the chilly afternoon and there they were – the tattooer and the tattooee. My first question was answered: it was real. The man who received the tattoos had his shirt lifted for people to examine the tattoos up close and personal. Crazy!
On my first evening in London, the view from my window: