Memoirs

A Visit to London: Some Impressions

About four decades ago I was deputed to London for training in Clinical Pharmacology and Medical Statistics as a Colombo Plan scholar. The training spanned over two years, and that was the only time in my life I maintained a diary. Herewith I have some interesting experiences to share.

I landed at Heathrow Airport, London on September 23, 1970. At the airport I was received by my nephew who carried me to his residence in Hounslow. Next day I was expected to meet my Programme Officer at The British Council, 65 Davies Street, London W1 (this fixture was intimated to me before I left Jodhpur). I phoned my Programme Officer to enquire as to how do I reach the office from Hounslow?

She replied, "Oh! its easy. Get to Bond Street, turn right, first cross, turn right again, walk 200 feet, the office is on your right, reception on the left, ask for me - a pause - Is that fine?".
I said, "Yes, that's fine, but how do I reach Bond Street?"
She said, "That's no problem".
I interrupted, "Excuse me, let me get a pen and paper".
She then continued, "Board Piccadilly Underground line eastbound at Hounslow East - change at Piccadilly Circus to Bakerloo line northbound - change at Oxford Circus to Central line westbound - first stop is Bond Street - a pause - Is that fine?".
I replied, "Yes, I think so".

Seeing my plight my nephew offered to accompany me, then that was fine. However, within a fortnight I realised that moving in London was really no problem as the Underground system (tube train) is fast, efficient and easy to follow. I reached the British Council office and met my Programme Officer who handed over a number of forms and cards to me, with instructions to fill them up spoken like a tape recorded message. I took to fill them up laboriously, while she was busy filling the Council counter-parts to complete the official procedure. Seeing me quite engrossed in the big list of alternatives in the forms she said, "That long list is just for completeness for the computer". Somehow I managed to emerge out of the situation. While I was leaving I was handed over a neatly packed large envelope containing  pamphlets, and was told that they are about Great Britain - go through them at leisure.

Great Britain is a welfare state. An American author has remarked and I quote, "The welfare state that is today's Britain is observed intently by most of the world for it is tempered socialism that has grown up in harmony with capitalism. No Briton need go hungry or when ill, untreated. Literally the citizen is under the Government's protection from womb to tomb. Virtually free medical care begins even before he is born. As an adult he may live in subsidised housing, collect a comfortable allowance when jobless, receive adequate pension when old, and when he dies he may be buried free of charge".

British character is fascinatingly described by a dailogue between a retired Colonel of the British Army and an American visitor. The Britons are not very communicative by habit, however, alcohol takes care of this limitation, and it was available in the lounge of the hotel where both were guests. The American introduced himself and started the ball rolling. Among other things he said that he was studying British character. At this the Colonel became instantly alert. "Just how do you describe our character?" the Col. enquired. The American said the adjectives I would use are, "durable, decent, aloof, modest, proud, shy and stubborn", and for mild provocation he added the classical French judgement that the British are inherently "perfidious". The Colonel completely ignored the reference to the famous epithet, "perfidious Albion" (Albion being the old literary name for England).. "Stubborn did you say" the Colonel growled, I wouldn't say that we are stubborn. We do change you know". Desiring to pacify the agitated Colonel, the American suggested that "steady" might be acceptable. The Colonel picked up his glass, and downed a generous portion of whisky and with great satisfaction said, "Steady - that's it. Yes, I'd agree with you if you said that we are steady".

No account of Britain can exclude a remark on British weather. A British historian in a very British footnote of his book records: "The rapid changes in weather and temperature in Britain are a source of bitter merriment to its inhabitants in every age and stimulate the physical and mental energies, and make us Englishmen". A visitor must at all times be prepared to discuss the shocking weather, and agree to what the Briton has to say.

17-Aug-2011

More by :  Dr. Frank S. K. Barar

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