The Bryttans in Britain

Issue 0 - 16 June, 1997


...and welcome to the introduction of The Bryttans in Britain. This is issue 0, not because I'm some sort of computer nerd and prefer to start my numbering from zero, but because this is an "introduction" or "preface", to use a literary analogy. Here, I hope to explain my purpose, and in the next issue I'll get on with the chronicles. I envision this to be a magazine, relating my (and sometimes Jane's) impressions of a country that can be, at times, puzzling and charming, welcoming and strange. There are so many aspects to life here, that one could write on forever; in each issue, I hope to have serveral longer essays, and a group of shorter observations. I hope to "publish" (post on the website) a new issue once every month or so; more often if the muses inspire me, and less if we're really busy or our life takes a particularly boring turn (the latter isn't likely!). Oh, by the way, I'm still learning HTML and Web authoring, so the format will change, hopefully for the better, as time goes on.

It's tempting to begin each of these essays with, "The (fill in the blank) is a peculiarly British institution." And it wouldn't be far from the truth, because practically everything that one comes across here is, "peculiarly British". In some ways, it's very refreshing, because it makes one reconsider just how many of the things that we consider sacrosanct are really totally arbitrary, and we are just blindly following tradition.

For example, take the whole side-of-the-road issue. It's really an arbitrary decision, and Britain, being an island, developed a convention of passing carriages on the left. Works okay when you're isolated, as long as everyone agrees to it. When the automobile came along, the tradition continued, and the "driver's side" was the right side. But, there are many subtle consequences of this one convention: Pedestrians pass each other on the left. (If you forget, in a non-tourist area, you often find yourself doing a quick two-step with an oncoming walker, leading to a smiling apology, and your instantly being identified as a non-Brit.) You look the wrong way when crossing the street. (They must have lost a lot of tourists that way, because busier crosswalks all have "LOOK RIGHT" in big white letters painted on the street.) Even boarding a bus is different - there's an entry lane and an exit lane, and if you don't stay left, you have to reach across a barrier on the bus to pay your fare. (I did just that the other day, and got a "bloody tourist" smirk from the driver.) And that's just one very small, very arbitrary decision.

I love the differences. They're exhilrating, wonderful, and intoxicating. Just when you start to get complacent about life here, something hits you right between the eyes and reminds you that, yes, this really IS a foreign country, and, yes, things really ARE different here. And at the same time, the language is the same (well, most of the time, anyway), and you can see where we got a lot of our customs, traditions and philosophies. Kind of like being on another planet and yet, having a sense of deja vu about it...

The sense of history here is fantastic. They have toilets here that are older than our entire country! I was in the Underground recently and, to get away from the knot of people at the stairs, I walked down the platform, and noticed a small recess in the tilework across the tracks. Inside the recess was some bare stone, illuminated by a single light bulb, and a small sign announced that this was part of the original Roman wall from an early fortification in London, from 200 AD. Wow - no museum, no fanfare, no glass case, just a nondescript placard in a subway station.

I hope to tell you about these sort of things, and more. Check back periodically - the index webpage will give the date and issue numbers, and I'll have an archive of older issues. See ya soon!