Live from London

We arrived here in London on Wednesday from Barcelona. Woah momma, what a difference a day makes. Hard to summarize the differences, but the British and the Spanish could inhabit two different planets. My initial reaction to London was that everyone reminded me of my tightly wound and tightly buttoned Grade 12 English teacher, Miss Jullion. Who, in turn, always reminded me of Mrs. Havisham from Great Expectations. This effect has lessened as we’ve been exposed to more of the populace. One initial impression: the British owe a great debt of gratitude to those on the Indian sub-continent they colonized, for without them they would have little food or kindness to strangers in the societal DNA.

Today we switched hotels from the impossibly swanky Renaissance Chancery Court, which felt like staying in a boarding house for investment bankers, and moved to the Marriott Regent’s Park, which is an incredibly kind hotel and perfectly suited to our style. We toured the Science Museum, which Oliver loved. Admission to public museums in London is free. Which is good, because everything else, if you are spending Canadian dollars under the hood, costs an arm and a leg. I think I paid $5 for a Diet Coke today. Which is sad, because I don’t even like Diet Coke.

As I type this, I am sitting under Picadilly Circus, which is making children memories of a trip with family 31 years ago flood back. I strongly recall wondering why there were no lions, togers or bears in this Circus.

Questions for my UK-literate readers: (a) what is a “quid”, (b) why are the aforementioned Circuses call so, (c) why is the husband of a reigning Queen called “Prince,” while the wife of a reigning King called “Queen?”.

One more day on this Island, and then back to our own.


Alan's picture
Alan on May 15, 2003 - 21:11 Permalink

1.My guess. Quid pro quo = this for that. Quid is what you pay for that?

2. Does circus as in streets predate that for entertainment? Maybe both relate to circuit, round about, etc.

3. Prince Fruit Nut Cake was a Prince before he married the Quoon.

Rob Paterson's picture
Rob Paterson on May 15, 2003 - 21:30 Permalink

Hi Peter — am I a good travel guide or not?

1. Quid = one pound sterling

2. A Circus is a cross roads (hey we Brits like to confuse the foerigner. It was worse with the old currency. 240 pennies to the pound. Twelve pence to the shilling or “bob”. A “tanner” was a sixpence. A Florin was a two shilling cpoin. A Half crown was a coin worth 2 and six (shillings that is). A Guinea did not exist as a coin but was worth one pound and one shilling. All professionl fees such as your doctor were paid in guineas — it’s all to easy now. By the way the Brits also like to confuse with place names. Beauchamp Place is pronounced beacham Place. I have found many a bemused tourist trying to find Beacham place as he walked down Beauchamp place

3. One of the saddest sites in England is a pub on the way from London to Brighton. It is called the “Dead Queen” the picture is of the late and great Freddy Mercury. If you are the real Queen, you are the Queen in your own right. Your husband cannot therefore be a king but only a “consort”. Hence Prince Philip. But if you are the real King your wife can be Queen — can’t you see how simple this idea is now? Talking about Prince Philip, the Queen was sitting next to the director and star of My big fat Greek wedding the other day. She patted her on the hand and said — “Philip is Greek you know”

Alan's picture
Alan on May 15, 2003 - 22:02 Permalink

A guinea is a coin. My mammy wears one aka a golden sovereign which her mammy had worn.

Rob Paterson's picture
Rob Paterson on May 16, 2003 - 00:48 Permalink…

Alan I think that a sovereign is a gold pound piece — not sure but the mint website tells me that it is — in that it describes a double sovereign as a two pound piece. But I am not sure — more evidence maybe of the cruel way Brits use money to confuse the foreigner

Justin's picture
Justin on May 16, 2003 - 03:44 Permalink

I used to think a quid was a “fiver” until I discovered a fiver is a “fiver”. I still think trying to understand the currency before it was decimated was a circus. Nyone remember the “trep’ney-bit”? I think it was the smallest physically — like the dime, not the smallest currency.

Justin's picture
Justin on May 16, 2003 - 03:46 Permalink

er, also called “thruppence” even

Christopher's picture
Christopher on May 16, 2003 - 11:57 Permalink

…and then more like a nickel. To the list we should add farthing (quarter penny) and ha’penny (what you’d figure). The sov has a long and interesting history. As it was gold its worth came to exceed its face value and it was of great use as a means of encouraging local rulers to stay loyal to the imperial line. You still come across the sovereign and the silver equivalent, the Marie Theresa thaler, in Middle Eastern suqs.

Alan's picture
Alan on May 16, 2003 - 11:58 Permalink

My favorite was the farthing a 1/4 penny coin you would still get in change for some reason when I spent the summer at Grannies in 1970. If the pre-decimalization pound was then about 4.50 CND and there were 20 shillings (2 crowns, 4 half-crowns) in a pound and 10 pennies in a shilling, a farthing was…not worth that much. Rob I am all a twitter over the soveriegn now. 21 or 20 shillings?

Alan's picture
Alan on May 16, 2003 - 12:00 Permalink

Check the posting times, M. Ogg. Great minds. Question: what was the little birdie on the farthing? We have also not paid due attention to the tuppence piece but I can’t recall if that pre-dates decimalization.

Wayne's picture
Wayne on May 16, 2003 - 13:45 Permalink

The word “Diet” is taboo in most of Europe…studies showed products using that word there flopped, so they changed it to “Coke Lite” which was more culturally sensitive, and sales soared. Brits have no such qualms, apparently.

Rob Paterson's picture
Rob Paterson on May 16, 2003 - 16:46 Permalink

To show you how old I am — or how slow things were to change in England — when I was a boy, a farthing would buy you a black jack (liquorice chew) or one toffee. So my pocket money in 1954 of “two bob” (two shillings) would buy me up to 96 toffees. Enough to be sick on.

English “sweets” — candy here — Also have some great names. “Gob stopper” being my favourite. A Gob stopper was a large hard ball about an inch by diameter that you could omly suck. It took hours or it seemed that way. Much confusion when crossing the Atlantic. I recall on a hot summer’s day in St Andrews NB asking for an “Ice Lolly”. The girl behind the counter looked at as if I was a martian as she handed them out to everyone else. An Ice Lolly is a popsicle.

Inflation — in 1965 if you took a girl out for dinner and spent a “Fiver” you could expect that she would be impressed.

A Sovreign is I think 20 shillings. Help us out folks — Alan and I cannot rest until this is settled.

Rob Paterson's picture
Rob Paterson on May 16, 2003 - 16:48 Permalink

The birdy Alan is a wren

Alan's picture
Alan on May 16, 2003 - 16:55 Permalink

I recall the sweetie shop in Largs, mom’s home village in Scotland when I was there in 1970 when I was 7. Rows of glass jars from which a weigh of one or another were spooned into wax paper bags. Like going to the butchers or the bakers. A candy deli. There was a similar one on Spring Garden in Halifax in the late 1908’s where you could get “Blue Whales” a jellied chewy thing.

Christopher's picture
Christopher on May 17, 2003 - 16:39 Permalink

You had a priveleged childhood, Rob. I was still on a shilling in ‘56 and it was prolly several weeks’ pocket money to get a Davey Crockett hat — the essential accesssory of the day — even in Darkest Scotland. The tu’penny bit was a dreaded and heavy consequence of decimilisation, as was the new small ha’penny. Somehow an old 12d (why that abbreviation?) shilling became a new “five pee”. The old 10 bob (remember the Beatles stuffed one up someone’s nose? — presumably before snorting was fashionable) became the new “fifty pee”.

Alan's picture
Alan on May 17, 2003 - 19:40 Permalink

That’s right — there were 12 pennies in a shilling and 20 shillings in a pound for 240 pennies to the pound…or 960 farthings.

Rob Paterson's picture
Rob Paterson on May 18, 2003 - 12:50 Permalink

OK — You have driven me to it — the ultimate British coinage story.

Recall 240 pennies to the pound. As I recall the old penny when compared to the new “pee” was a sizable coin about equivalent to the loony.

It is 1958 and locate yourself in a dormitory at my prep school in England. We, about 20 of us, had over the term accumulated a pound’s worth of pennies. Truly a fortune in those days. Our purpose — a bet. One brave lad Jonathan Horne, who is still a hero to me, had bet us that he could insert all 240 in a place where the sun never shines. It was an all or nothing bet.

It was a summer’s eve and still light. Lights out was 7pm and of course it was light until maybe 10. The coins were in piles by his bed. I won’t go into the precise details but Jonathan made great progress. We were impressed as only 8 year olds can be by this type of thing. But well into the hundreds, the pace began to slow. Then he stopped.

Green in the face he announced, “I don’t feel very well”

We had not planned for how the pennies were to come out.

There were no offers of help.

He staggered off to the toilet (known as the “Bogs”) where after much groaning he emerged still stuffed as it were. There was only one recourse. Matron.

God knows what she thought of us all. I can’t recall her remedy either but it must have worked. A modern day retelling of the myth of Mithras?

Davy Crockett hats — Yes Chris — the ultimate. Great song too which I remember singing ad nauseam. What ever happend to Fess Parker?

Rob Paterson's picture
Rob Paterson on May 18, 2003 - 12:57 Permalink

Sorry it was Midas whose touch turned all to Gold

sue rood's picture
sue rood on January 8, 2004 - 04:37 Permalink

looking for any one to give information on the Beacham family history Philip Beacham born about 1800 Wife Maria Ashman born 1805 please write sue the name

Andy Peters Friend's picture
Andy Peters Friend on June 27, 2004 - 01:30 Permalink

Who the hell is this Davy Crocket character American’s keep raving about? He’s even on an America Science Fiction website, now that