First the False impressions
I had thought the UK would be built-up like America – full of skyscrapers. Not at all (Not that I’ve been in America before but with T.V we are citizens of the world aren’t we?)
I had thought the weather to be freezing cold as my ‘people’ had warned me. But not as bad as they made it to be
I had thought I would find people on the streets.
But being driven through almost gave a feeling of being in resident evil part IV. There simply was not anybody around. Even when I arrived at my destination, I would look out of my bedroom window at intervals all day. The houses all the same – dormers, with casement windows and low or no fences. Windows without burglary proofing and slate roofs, streets empty.
I had thought the British to be snubs who always minded their own business. “Don’t talk to anybody my friend had warned me. They can arrest you for harassment. But here I am, not knowing the directions. Should I just sit still and wait for the Holy Spirit? I had to ask someone and the warmth and manner in which people responded reminded me to always test hearsay (not all the times though). The British were people afterall, not higher animals.
“They smell because they don’t bath and they use water in trickles” so I heard and I am yet to find that out though I have not had any bad odor experience.
Quite a lot of my assumptions out of the window, and a many number of them confirmed (most you already know), I am enthralled by the British society and the word ‘control’ is the most apt word I can find to explain my observations. There are verdant belts everywhere and for the first time in my life I see the possibility of ‘controlling’ the environment. There weren’t any wild forest anywhere. You had hectares of lawns, perfectly mowed and little belts of trees and shrubs, with horses wearing capes to prevent them from catching cold (or so I think) and sheep quietly grazing. You had lights, signs, directions, options, maps and as many things as would order you in the right direction. And you also had the police too, walking around, just in case you decide to do otherwise. The state control here both on flora and fauna (men inclusive) is unlike anywhere else I have been (not that I’ve been around much though).
There is graffiti in the subways and all over the train stations and it gives me a feeling there seems to be a graffiti renaissance with this generation of Englanders. It also gives me an uneasy feeling anytime I am the only one walking through the subways and the graffiti stares me in the face. Wasn’t graffiti a symbol of gang proliferation and Bronx attitudes? Thanks to television again. After a while I stopped using the subways altogether. That way I might reduce my chances of getting mugged by a hooded figure with a spray can in one hand and a gun in the other. Call me racist, I agree.
Another or my observation was that people exercised a lot and walked a lot – there are gyms everywhere and it is not unusual to see people jogging or walking briskly in the morning. It also was not a big deal to hear someone tell you, “Hy myte, its no’ far, its just one hour walk from here”. One hour? That must be like from CMS to Ikoyi. Na wa o! After one week of “Hy myte, its no’ far….” I got me self a bus pass. I’d rather take a bus than walk abeg. I think I am already fit with the Naija hustle of the past 5 years. I did not come to JD to exercise to death.
What I also observed was that people smoked a lot. Old, young, men, women, boys and girls. Not that I say underage children smoke as there is no way of telling the white boy’s age when you see him. But smoking as a culture is a feeling you’ll get immediately once you’re here– When I consider the Britons to be a very fit people because of their lifestyle, I feel a negative balancing effect in the amount of cigarettes they consume. Would it be any different keeping fit all your life to die of cancer? I don’t know. Since I don’t smoke, I might not have a clue as to whether smoking really has an impact on warming the body or not. All smokers say Aye! and please help me out.
The British people as far as I am concerned do not eat. How can you ‘eat’ coffee in the morning, a burger in the afternoon and salad at night, with cripsies and all sorts of interjections in between throughout the day. Culture shock is an understatement for me here when it comes to the food issue. It is more like Shell shocked. For the first few days I got so hungry I almost cursed myself. I CAN NOT EAT BURGER. Even if I do, it is not like eating it as a meal? Call me bush boy but I am sorry I can’t apologise. I will need to find a way around the food issue. This notwithstanding, the burger costs as much as it will cost me back home to eat 3 pounded yam wraps with gizzard and snail and Ofe Nsala and one bottle of Smirnoff ice. Na die o!
The British people read a lot. Newspapers, novels, fliers, it is a crazy hi-speed information driven society. Everywhere on the bus, trains, the underground, somebody is reading something and making the most of what would be considered idle time. This for me was a huge difference in the people I was getting to know and the culture I was leaving behind. Reading is not a task here, it is a way of life. In addition to that, the society is so organized, it is comical. Everyone, everywhere seemed to be following an inner cue directed by something somewhere. People waiting at the side of the road, cars stopping for them, lights controlling, automated voice prompts everywhere, the traffic – light, the transportation routes – easy to understand. This place is clock work. Everything worked by the clock and it felt more like a termite mound than a city as we poured in and out of underground trains following the sign “Way out” and ignoring hobos as they blew solo trumpets or played guitars for a dime or more. Most tasks that involved routine had been relegated to machines and it is exciting going into a store not to find anything but catalogues and enquiry machines with signs everywhere telling you what to do next and where to go. Or staying indoors all weekend and being able to do so much without as much as leaving your bed for your reading table. Miles away in organisation, is a huge understatement comparing Britain and Naija but I am one of the hopefuls anyway, we will get there if we want to. Emphasis on ‘want’ not ‘if’ as I believe we have all it takes to.
TV, my aged friend and eye to the world. Pardon my random ranting on an ode to the black box but TV is one of the biggest inventions of man as far as I am concerned and that is why it earns itself space on my list of observations. The TV experience here is light years away from back home, where the only thing on TV is Naija musicals, preaching and the News. Back home my TV remote controls are rusted but I do watch a lot of TV here. Partly to get to know the people and the places but more importantly to see the difference in perception and values of what we watched. Though I had seen most of the shows on TV in the UK (God bless Multichoice), here are some interesting observations I made. UK ads are quite more scientific in approach and appeals more to reasoning than logic. In an ad it was not unusual to find closing comments like, “167 women of 216 agree that Molinol* makes the skin more vibrant” (Molinol is a Phantom product so don’t Google it ‘cos I don’t do free ads). It is also not unusual to find a 10 second ad showing two butterflies, one white, one blue and as the blue one touches the white, it starts to turn blue too and then you have a caption like – Moorgate interiors we colour you. Ads in Nigeria appeal to logic; and statistics are almost totally absent. An interior decor firm would probably show their head office in the opening shot and proceed to cover the curtains, chairs and items they have over a 5 minute period of Kenny G supplying background music. Vast differences, different people, different mindsets.
Another observation, was how many get-rich-quick and winner-takes-all shows there are here. Lotto signs flashing, audience applauding, someone trying to outdo others talentwise or answering questions to win the £50,000 or £100,000 question. It was amazing. For me it felt like going back in time – Maximus at the Coliseum and all of the Romans praising. It is a huge virtual amphitheater here, bigger than anything I’ve seen.