A Life Lesson Learned in London

I have been an Anglophile as far back as I can remember . . .which lately seems to be about the day before yesterday.  Even before I got into the travel business, my brother and I used to own a book store and had a yen to visit the mother country.  I realize now that no amount of yen would have done us any good in Great Britain, since they use pounds, but, to my credit, my grasp of world currencies has expanded greatly since then.

Our bookstore was located next to the campus of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary whose students had a rapacious (unfortunate choice of words, perhaps) appetite for classic 19th century biblical commentaries.   This seemed liked the perfect excuse, as if we needed one, to hop over the pond and scour used book shops for as many of said tomes as we could unearth.

London Tower Bridge

Picture from Health Insurance Solutions of London

Having, if possible, less sense in those days than I do now, my first introduction to London was landing at Gatwick Airport, renting a stick-shift car and driving blithely into the heart of central London as if I were taking a Sunday stroll in Hyde Park.  After grinding the transmission into first gear with an unfamiliar use of the left hand and finding the clutch in a ridiculously unlikely spot on the floorboard, we were almost flattened by a lorry the size of a Cotswold Tudor cottage pulling out of the car rental agency because I instinctively glanced in the wrong direction.  Had the guardian angel in charge of dim-witted book sellers not been working overtime, you hapless readers would have never had a chance to read all these stimulating blog posts you find so entertaining.  I know, a very chilling thought indeed.

The point I am trying to make in my insufferable, laborious way is that from that first visit I fell in love with England.  My role as a travel entrepreneur . . . goodness, that term makes me sound almost successful . .  has enabled me to make many return trips.  On one such trip I was delivered a mortifying tutorial as only the Brits can dispense.

I was wandering one day off Fleet Street when I stopped by Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese pub.  The sign outside reads “Rebuilt 1667” which, of course, was the year following the great London fire making it practically a new build in English historical terms.   The pub has been the haunt of literary geniuses for centuries making it all the more apropos that I should stop by.  Speaking of other literary lights, I had just read the famous biography  Boswell’s Life of Johnson.

Portrait of Samuel Johnson commissioned for He...

Portrait of Samuel Johnson commissioned for Henry Thrale’s Streatham Park gallery (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Samuel Johnson, who compiled one of the earliest English dictionaries, was a frequent visitor to said pub and, in point of fact, you can to this day sit in his favorite chair.  He won’t mind.

The house where Johnson lived and did all his lexicographical labor is now a museum and just a short walk away from the pub.  I decided to take a tour since I had enjoyed the biography so immensely.  Upon entering the very narrow, four-story edifice, I turned to the right and began examining various objects on display.   Sitting quietly on a bench was an unassuming, bespectacled  lady.  As our eyes met, she asked me “Are you a fan of Dr. Johnson?”  “Oh yes,” I assured her.  As if to offer proof, though none was requested, I blurted out, “I loved the clever remark he once made about an attorney,” at which point I offered what can only be called a badly mangled version of the quote.

Without a pause the woman replied, “I believe the remark you have in mind is where Johnson said ” . .  he did not care to speak ill of any man behind his back, but he believed the gentleman was an attorney.”   Thus having inserted the stiletto into the deepest recesses of my bloated ego, she slowly turned it further by saying, “I have always thought Dr. Johnson is best remembered when he is quoted accurately, don’t you?”

I learned two important things that day.   The woman in question was the curator of the museum and more importantly, “Never attempt to carelessly quote any famous personage in their own home!”

Have you had any similar “teachable moments” in your travels?