Tag Archives: Why I love London

100 things I love about the UK

Theresa May is competing with Marine Le Pen and Donald Trump for the West’s most evil politician (her latest pile of hot garbage is working to curb non EEA/EU family members from moving to the UK with their EEA/EU loved members), and it’s easy for a lot of EU/EEA folks to feel disenchanted about the UK. I have to admit, when I read complaints about EU expats or the EU, and how we’re to blame for the UK’s ills (never mind that the UK government has been steadily chipping away at its infrastructure for years with austerity, going back to Thatcher), it’s easy to join in on the “let’s crap on the UK” parade. And at times, I do indulge in some anti-British sniping in a comment thread on Facebook or Twitter.

But this post is about what I love about the UK. These are the hundred things – these aren’t in any order – that I love about the UK. And yes, this is very London-centric because I know London well, but I haven’t been to other parts of the UK (outside of Edinburgh), so this is very much what’s important about the UK to me – it’s not a list of what is the “greatest” thing about the UK – after all, none of my 100 things include sports and science (reflecting my lack of interest in both subjects).

  1. London – easily, the greatest city in the world. I’m looking to make the plunge and move to London (am applying for jobs as we speak), because I’ve fallen in love with London the first time I was there back in 2003.
  2. The literature – I’m an English literature scholar and a voracious reader, and British literature is some of the best I’ve ever read.
  3. Agatha Christie – the first Agatha Christie novel I read was one of her later ones, A Caribbean Mystery, with Miss Marple. I read it in camp when I was twelve. I didn’t like camp because there were lots of mosquitoes and my bunk mate left food in his drawer that attracted a colony of ants, but, I picked up Christie’s A Caribbean Mystery and fell in love with her ability to create these vibrant, lived-in worlds. After that book, I zipped through her other works, and have been a lifelong Agatha Christie fan.
  4. The food – yes, the food is very good in the UK. Contemporary British cuisine isn’t just steak and kidney pie or fish and chips (though those items are heavenly). Because of globalization, freedom of movement, and immigration, there are lots of different cuisines that have influenced modern UK cooking.
  5. Delia Smith. I’m a foodie and I love food writing, and I think that Delia Smith ranks alongside Elizabeth David, M.F.K. Fisher, and Julia Child as a titan of food writing.
  6. Speaking of Elizabeth David, I read French Provincial Cooking and Italian food annually.
  7. Speaking of reading writers annually, Jane Austen. Easily the greatest writer in the world. Pride and PrejudiceEmma, and Sense and Sensibility are my three favorite books ever. I’ve read Pride and Prejudice – easily – at least 20 times, and each time I read it, I discover something new about the book.
  8. Tony Benn – the Bernie Sanders before Bernie Sanders was a thing. I discovered Benn by picking up one of his diaries. He was a prolific diarist and an incredible advocate for progressive left-wing causes (and I loved how obsessed he seemed to be with Pizza Express)
  9. Soul II Soul – with much respect to Chic, I think Soul II Soul is the greatest soul/dance band ever.
  10. Shirley Valentine – it’s a great movie. Not a classic or a genre-busting film, but one that gives me all of the feels whenever I watch it. I fell in love with the travel narrative because of that film.
  11. The London Trocadero – yes, yes, I know this is the Times Square of London, and the hippest of the hip hate the Trocadero (you know what, I love Times Square), but the London Trocadero is where I had my epiphanous moment and I realized, “I have to live here.”
  12. King’s College London – it was the first college that accepted me into its PhD program. Unfortunately, I couldn’t accept the invitation, but I still love it for that reason.
  13. Emma Thompson. Funny, beautiful, smart. What else could one ask for in a woman.
  14. Once while walking down the street in Bayswater, a jogger was running behind me, and I stepped out of his way, and he called out over his shoulder, “Thanks, mate!”
  15. Truly, Madly, Deeply – Anthony Minghella’s first film that introduced me to the charms of both Alan Rickman and Juliet Stevenson. It was a great movie, mismarketed as the “thinking man’s Ghost” when it was so much more. A gentle, lovely comedy about love, loss, friendship, and grief.
  16. French & Saunders, together and apart. It seems like everything these ladies touch, turn to gold. Whether it’s Absolutely FabulousThe Vicar of Dibley, or Jam and Jerusalem, I know that if I catch either one of them, I’ll be entertained for hours.
  17. Love Actually – Woody Allen wrote valentines to Manhattan, and Love Actually is the perfect valentine to London.
  18. The Lonely Londoners by Sam Selvon. One of the greatest post-WWII, post colonial novels about living in London. It was a major work that focused on the lives of working-class Black people in London. It’s what prompted me to do research in Black British literature, and why I’m so interested in the topic.
  19. Stephen Fry – because he’s really smart.
  20. Simon Amstell – because he’s really smart.
  21. Jane Goodall – because she’s really smart.
  22. Helen Fielding, easily one of the funniest writers I’ve ever read, and the closest heir to Jane Austen’s crown as the Queen of Literary Comedy
  23. Salman Rushdie – The Satanic Verses was a huge influence on the way I looked at literature and its power to spur conversations – many uncomfortable – about identity.
  24. The Beatles – because, duh.
  25. The Rolling Stones – because, bigger duh.
  26. Dusty Springfield – because, biggest duh.
  27. J.K. Rowling – she restored my faith in the kindness of billionaires and despite the overwhelming shadow of Harry Potter, she was able to create a neat side career as a brilliant mystery novelist under the pseudonym, Robert Galbraith.
  28. Patricia Routledge – she is more than just Hyacinth Bouquet
  29. Prunella Scales – she is more than just Sybil Fawlty.
  30. Angela Lansbury – she is more than just Jessica Fletcher.
  31. Virginia Woolf – After reading Mrs. Dalloway, I spent my time envying her because I wanted to write just like her
  32. Boy George – great singer, wonderful songwriter, and caustic wit.
  33. Richard Curtis – his movies are middle-of-the-road sap, but I can’t help getting sucked in whenever I watch one of his big-hearted, sentimental stories.
  34. Zadie Smith – White Teeth and On Beauty are two books that have influenced the way I write and read, and her nonfiction prose is some of the smartest I’ve ever read.
  35. E.F. Benson for introducing the world to those glorious monsters of pretension, Mapp & Lucia.
  36. Sally Phillips – the only comedienne I’ve ever seen who can steal a scene from comic Einstein, Julia Louis-Dreyfus.
  37. Willy Russell – a great comedic writer who finds the inherent dignity in working-class people who want to do better with their lives and are striving something more.
  38. The Foreign & Commonwealth Office – one of the most fulfilling and challenging periods in my career, and one that I treasure and hold close to my hear. I am honored that I was once a staff member.
  39. Jane Eyre – my favorite Brontë novel about a young woman who faces obstacles in her life and faces them with dignity. It’s also a great novel about the importance of working hard and for not succumbing to life’s travails. Jane Eyre is also one of the wittiest characters in Victorian literature.
  40. Ricky Gervais – because of Extras and The Office.
  41. Catherine Tate – because of The Catherine Tate Show and Doctor Who (and I’m willing to overlook her so-so work on the US-version of The Office)
  42. Princess Diana – a lady who could’ve easily had teas and shopped (and I’m sure she did all that), but that wasn’t enough, she also advocated for the homeless, was an AIDS/HIV activist, and an anti-landmine warrior.
  43. David Hume – one of the most intimidating writers I’ve ever read, and not sure if I understood all of An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding, but was an important introduction to philosophy and empiricism.
  44. Armando Iannucci for bringing the world Veep.
  45. Yo! Sushi – whoever thought of putting sushi on a conveyor belt is a genius. Now, if I can just rig it, so that the convey belt simply glides the food right into my mouth would be the best.
  46. British Alternative Comedy – a movement in comedy from the 1980s, that spawned such icons like Jennifer Saunders, Ben Elton, Rik Mayall, Dawn French, Helen Lederer, Ade Edmondson, Ruby Wax, Jo Brand.
  47. Alan Bennett – his Talking Heads monologues are incredible. He’s a master of tragicomedy.
  48. Pet Shop Boys – ironic, detached, smart, and stylish. They have created some of the most literate and intellectual dance music for the last 40 years. Their first two LPs, Please (1986) and Actually (1987) are great Thatcher-era reflections on the gilded glamour of the 1980s. “West End Girls” is a song that takes me back to London each time I hear it.
  49. Tate Modern. When I visted the Tate Modern a couple years ago, it had a great exhibition on pop art, and I was able to see original Andy Warhols and Keith Harings.
  50. The Graham Norton Show – whenever I get sad, I just watch the red chair segments on The Graham Norton Show and all is right with the world.
  51. Meera Syal – Anita and Me is a great novel and Meera Syal is a very, very funny lady.
  52. Stonehenge – I’m not much of a history buff, and I don’t “do” ancient ruins, but Stonehenge is pretty fantastic and mysterious. Built around 2000 BC (!), folks are still figuring out what Stonehenge was about, but many think it was for ceremonies.
  53. Newham – my favorite part of London, it’s where I lived when I was in London. It’s not fashionable or tony like the Mayfair or Belgravia, but it’s a great area. The Queen’s Market is a wonderful draw, and I loved the brick row houses. It’s a very diverse area, too, with lots of ethnic restaurants. I lived on Green Street, next to the Upton Park train stop.
  54. Hanif Kureishi – his films My Beautiful Laundrette, Sammy and Rosie Get Laid, and London Kills Me is a great, stylish pop look at British national identity in 1980s Thatcherite London. His books like The Buddha of Suburbia and The Black Album are also wonderful looks at race and ethnicity in the UK. He asks difficult questions about extremism, nationalism, xenophobia, and multiculturalism.
  55. Tracey Ullman, who made “hearing voices in your head” into an Emmy-winning career.
  56. Annie Lennox – one of the few singers who has been able to leave a legendary band – the Eurythmics – and make an even greater impact as a solo artist. Diva and Medusa are her two best albums, and though the follow ups didn’t measure up to those albums, Diva and Medusa have enough classic performances that they have become legendary. She has a huge loud voice, second only to Dusty Springfield when it comes to blue-eyed soul.
  57. Stock Aitken Waterman – yes, yes, yes, I know they were peddlers of mushy, plastic pop during the 1980s, but underneath the prefab gloss and deadening drum machines were some of the hookiest pop songs ever. The trio introduced us to Kylie Minogue and Jason Donovan, worked with legends like Debbie Harry and Donna Summer and became Internet legends when their Rick Astley tune “Never Gonna Give You Up” became a meme in 2007.
  58. Merchant Ivory Productions – nothing says classy, elegant English movie like “Merchant Ivory Productions.” I can practically see myself, lolling about in a rowboat in the Lake District, dozing underneath the hot sun of an English summer.
  59. Naomi Campbell – her picture should be in the dictionary under the words beauty and fabulous. Imperious, difficult, and demanding, it’s too bad Naomi Campbell can’t sing (she tried, bless her) because if she could, she would be the perfect descendant of Maria Callas.
  60. Kazuo Ishiguro – a literary chameleon, he can shift and change his author voice depending on the project he’s working on. His best work The Remains of the Day works as a wonderful midcentury novel of class and politics. His other classic novel Never Let Me Go is a credible work of dystopic science fiction.
  61. Judi Dench – a national treasure. And yes, Tracey Ullman, she probably would get away with shoplifting.
  62. Kristy MacColl is a funny, sad, witty singer-songwriter whose range is dizzying and breathtaking. Whether it’s country, girl group, new wave, punk, or alternative pop, she was able to write and perform in these different styles, telling sad and funny stories of wistful dreaming.
  63. Mr. Bean – Rowan Atkinson’s most mainstream creation, Mr. Bean is a Chaplinesque creation of a man child who stumbles through his life – grimacing and grumbling along the way – and finding creative solutions to the obstacles he faces. Atkinson is a genius physical comic who imbues Mr. Bean with a poignant absurdity.
  64. Caitlin Moran – she’s my hero. I want to be Caitlin Moran. When Donald Trump won the presidential election, I turned to her for sustenance and succor.
  65. Emma Chambers – she is the definition of scene stealer. If you can overshadow Dawn French, Hugh Grant, and Julia Roberts, you know you’re a genius.
  66. Nick Hornby – I’ve always been jealous of Nick Hornby because no one person should be able to write funny, relatable, and touching stories like he does. And he’s easily one of the best essayists around, and I feel like he’s my literary spirit animal. Whenever I try to write music or pop culture essays, I ask myself “What Would Nick Hornby Do?”
  67. Christopher Hitchens – he was an asshole a lot of the times and his essays sometimes made my head explode in anger. But he was probably the smartest writer that I ever disagreed with.
  68. Mark Kermode – one of the greatest film critics alive.
  69. Alexander McQueen – a genius fashion designer who took an avant garde, punk aesthetic and wrapped it in haute couture fashion.
  70. Tracey Emin for sharing with her audience the names of everyone that she has ever slept with from 1963 to 1995.
  71. “Smalltown Boy” – the greatest coming out song ever. Jimmy Somerville’s angelic falsetto croons over the the thick synthpop/house production, and his lyrics tell the story of a queer kid who deals with homophobia.
  72. Different for Girls – I wish more people knew about Richard Spence’s 1996 film about a man who falls in love with a trans woman. It’s a gentle, tiny drama that is ahead of its time in its depiction of trans issues in the mid 1990s. It dates a bit, and there have been stronger more accurate depictions of trans relationships (and yeah, a cis man is playing a trans woman – not great) But it still deserves celebration and a higher profile.
  73. William Shakespeare – Well, obviously…
  74. The Britcom – As Time Goes By, Are You Being Served?, Keeping Up Appearances, Absolutely Fabulous, Good Neighbours, Steptoe and Son, The Vicar of Dibley, French & Saunders, Gimme Gimme Gimme, To the Manor Born, The Young Ones, Girls on Top, Father Ted, Cold Feet, Coupled
  75. The British Museum – where I got to see my first Da Vinci.
  76. Jennifer Paterson and Clarissa Dickson Wright  – they taught me how to eat.
  77. Bleak House, Little Dorrit, The Pickwick Papers, Nicholas Nickleby, A Christmas Carol, A Tale of Two Cities, Great Expectations, and everything else that the great Charles Dickens had ever written. Social critique was rarely ever so beautifully and devastatingly captured on paper.
  78. Vivien Leigh for Scarlett O’Hara and Blanche DuBois.
  79. Paul Gilroy – Ain’t No Black in the Union Jack should be required reading for everyone.
  80. Kingsley Amis – I think Lucky Jim made me laugh harder than any other novel.
  81. Stella Gibbons – I think Cold Comfort Farm made me laugh harder than any other novel.
  82. Douglas Adams – I think The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy made me laugh harder than any other novel.
  83. Of Human Bondage – the first “great” novel I’ve ever read and the one that made me want to be a literature scholar.
  84. Kobena Mercer – one of the most astute and brilliant essayists and critics out there. I still teach his article on the politics of black hair.
  85. Gilbert & George – challenging, strange, unsettling, uncompromising, and creative.
  86. Mike Leigh, who shows his audience a different kind of London – the complex and complicated world of working-class London that is rarely portrayed on film. This isn’t Richard Curtis’ scrubbed London of gleaming skyscrapers, red phone boxes, and elegant sidewalk cafes; instead, Mike Leigh’s films show an uncompromising London, a London that is struggling from the indifferent Tony Blair Administration. If one wants to know just how Brexit became a reality, one should simply look at Leigh’s films, that show just the kind of landscape of poverty and disenfranchisement that made the environment hospitable for Brexit.
  87. Kathy Burke – an underrated genius. A woman who could make blinking hilarious.
  88. BBC Television
  89. Adele – the woman who will bring back Cool Britannia
  90. 30 St Mary Axe – known as the Gherkin or the lipstick building, it’s the building that means London to me. With the St. Andrew Undershaft church in front of it, shows why I love London so much: a mixture of the old and the new -a medieval church standing in front of the gleaming glass skyscraper.
  91. P.G. Wodehouse – he makes me laugh every time, never fail with his effete and classy wit (I always wanted to be the uber-efficient Jeeves)
  92. The Edinburgh Festival Fringe – an art festival that exposed to me all kinds of visual and performance artists, including some great stand-up comedy (it’s where I got to see the great Joan Rivers)
  93. Joan and Jackie Collins – not great artists by any means, but they lived like no one else.
  94.  Beautiful Thing – Jonathan Harvey’s a sensitive artist who wrote the lovely film Beautiful Thing, a tiny little coming of age film about a young queer student who falls in love with a student athlete. It’s a great movie about a working-class home and one of the few queer films in which the hero doesn’t die, isn’t killed, or presented as a villain or image of pity.
  95. The YBAs – the moment during the 1980s when British visual artists were as successful as pop stars and made the UK lead the world when it comes to contemporary art. To me, the gleaming, glossy success of the YBAs was the epitome of Cool Britannia, and how global, dynamic, and forward thinking British culture can be.
  96. Amy Winehouse – the brilliant love child of Nina Simone and Dusty Springfield, who had a stark, cracked voice soured by a tragic life that ended far too soon.
  97. Kadija Sesay – a brilliant scholar and writer whose talk I attended when in London that made me fall in love with Black British culture and Black British literature.
  98. The Photographers’ Gallery – My partner and I found this gallery by accident. In London, we were looking for a Border’s, but didn’t know that it was closed at that point, so we were just walking through the dark side streets. When stumbled upon the gallery, we popped in and saw a fantastic exhibition about Eastern European immigrants who were victims of trafficking in Western Europe. When we move to London, we’ll make the Photographers’ Gallery one of our haunts.
  99. That for the present, the UK is part of the EU.
  100. Mother Mash – one of my favorite places to eat, in one of my favorite places in London, Carnaby Street. It’s touristy and gimmicky, I know, but bangers and mash is easily the best food ever, and being able to choose your own kind of mash, bangers, and gravy is just pure genius.

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