10 Things I’ve learnt about Britain after 2 days in Austin

  1. We shouldn’t feel bad about talking about the weather – clouds, sun, rain, snow. Compared to Texas there’s really quite a lot to spice a conversation up.
  2. The Britain/ United Kingdom thing can truly puzzle.
  3. OUR PUBIC TRANSPORT…. too much to love and appreciate! a bus every 30 mins??? none of that on green lanes.
  4. We’ve got the clothes shopping down. Definitely the preferred ratio of H&Ms to the overall population, and not even secluded in out of town ‘malls.’ Us British are all up for the high street browsing.
  5. Hot tea and tea are different things. Big mistakes can be made here.
  6. LONDON IS EXPENSIVE! I wasn’t being deluded by tourists – and we genuinely aren’t just being paid more and spending more. We just work like mad.
  7. We love fruit. And Pret a Manger ❤
  8. Sadly, across the Atlantic Britain is actually included in Europe 😦 Seems it’s only us who still retain the ‘continental’ distinction.
  9. But saying you’re from London is synonymous to saying you’re from Wonderland. NOTHING COULD EXCITE THE AMERICAN MORE
  10. Our general enthusiasm for life is abysmal. Should maybe think about introducing the ‘Hey, how are you, what can I get you?’ *flash a toothy smile* the moment you enter a shop. Or maybe not.

The Pledge

italian-immigrantsI worry about being a persistent admirer. At least, being solely a persistent admirer. It’s quite a scary thought. One of those who make deliberate visits to the magazine shelves in the Victoria Station WHSmith to gape at Beyoncé’s ability to be vegan. Or the toned physique of the latest celebrity unveiled in their holiday snaps from a secluded Caribbean Island; sea behind them twinkling in the sunlight and hair coiffured to perfection. Maybe even a yacht or collection of palm trees in the background. Yet this admiration comes with no intention of adopting the required diet or exercise plans. Nor going on holiday (or buying the magazine). These are the lives of the rich and famous, and we’re waiting for the train.

Or those admirers who spend hours on youtube researching tracks and ‘unknown’ mixes. Who play the favoured consistently for 4-5 days until unable to bear it again- long after those around them have undergone the same process, before making the swift U-turn from 90s deep house to Chopin as the playlist of choice.

I am also that person who delves into the posts of arty instagramers (currently on @pauloctavious @thiswildidea ) and for an afternoon I am the amateur artiste. Inspiration is found in every street lamp, shop window or park landscape. The lighting, graininess and timing…. The pure depth and meaning of the shots convey so much…. to me. I then realise that I, my second hand acer (they do make phones) and admittedly poor photo editor fail to give the desired ambience. My instagram account becomes a subject of slight embarrassment.

I’m all the above, and probably always will be. I suppose that’s ok. But at the same time, I’m also someone who wants to care. I don’t want to simply be an admirer. I don’t want to only receive. A few months ago I lost someone that I feel like I never really knew. Although I didn’t expect it to have a big effect on me, it really did. Before shock or sadness, pain or disbelief it was guilt that really struck me. Not because the death was especially my fault or I could have changed the situation, but because there was a person – a resource of thoughts, experiences, emotions and insights that I had neglected and a mind could no longer be picked, let alone understood.

I became increasingly aware of the power of individuals, both in a personal and wider sense. The power of family bonds that I had previously not realised, and the power of greater, ‘global’ individuals that have such an impression on the lives of other individuals each day. How might the world be different if it were bereft of their particular passions and observations? What if Malcom X or Rosa Parks had played a more passive role in the fight for civil rights, sitting by and watching the progress take motion from afar. Or if Aung San Suu Kyi just wasn’t so bothered about the political potential of democracy?

Or, more to the point, the largely anonymous comedians and journalists operating from the bars and street corners of Harare who risk so much to bring to light the malpractice of the Mugabe government. If not change, at least their work brings about a collective political awareness amongst their neighbours, colleagues and friends. And those documenting the daily struggles of the people of Soweto, Johannesburg. The violence, unemployment and invisibility in the eyes of the government, but also the rich communal atmosphere and relatively developed informal economies that prosper from its corrugated steel huts. In a sense, the cultural wealth of its people.

These are people who really see the world. They don’t just admire it, but synthesise it, debate it within themselves and act on it. To me, this is the true power of people – the ability to conceptualise the world and pass on that conception.

So this is my attempt to make up for the guilt. This is a pledge to myself to both receive and ‘admire’ the world, but also to analyse and act on it. Who knows how long we’ll be here, and who knows what is contained in the minds of those around us.