Those Days in London

La Dolce Vita (sweet life) of a student…

Recently, after a long hiatus, I picked up a PG Wodehouse “Jeeves” Omnibus. PG Wodehouse is the genius behind the much-loved character, Jeeves. Jeeves became so entrenched in the popular imagination, that there was once (before Google) even a search engine named “Ask Jeeves”. Jeeves, a gentleman’s personal gentleman, or rather, a butler, is known for his vast repository of knowledge, and his uncanny ability to craft schemes to help Bertie Wooster out of sticky situations.

As I read the book, I cannot help but become a bit nostalgic about my 3 years in London. I graduated from King’s College London in 2009. I still remember feeling overwhelmed the first time I landed at Heathrow Airport in September 2006. Thankfully, my mother accompanied me to help me transition into student life in a foreign country. We would shop at John Lewis or House of Fraser for cooking items. Marks & Spencer or Zara for clothes and Sainsbury’s for groceries. I was lucky enough to be able to stay with my brother in the heart of the city, a stone’s throw away from Victoria Street Station for my first year.

In the mornings, I would walk along Victoria Street & Westminster Abbey to reach St James’s Park. An urban oasis, St James’s Park provided a sense of calm amidst the chaos of the city. Here, one could watch ducks gliding across the surface of the pond, or simply admire Buckingham Palace from a distance. Shortly after, I would take the Tube to Waterloo Station to attend classes ( I was studying Law). Once classes would get over, I’d walk up the Strand, past the Barristers’ chambers in the Temple area of London to reach the King’s Library. These chambers housed the most dedicated and sharp legal minds in the country. A Barrister is an advocate trained in the art of litigation. The UK is one of the few countries that have bifurcated the legal profession. It is notoriously difficult to become a Barrister in the UK. One must undergo rigorous training in Chambers called a “Pupillage”, which itself is hard to come by. Many students struggle for years and years to secure a Pupillage.

As a curious student, I once attended a hearing in the UK Supreme Court (then known as the House of Lords) in 2007. What struck me most about the legal proceedings was just how steeped in tradition everything was. Before entering the courtroom, barristers, dressed in gowns and wigs, would bow several times before the Judges. Judges could only be referred to as “His” or “Her” Lordship. The British definitely are sticklers for tradition. Take for instance, Oxford or Cambridge. Oxford and Cambridge, or “Oxbrige” as they are commonly referred to, are made up of individual colleges. A student who joins Oxbridge is immediately associated with one of the Colleges, where he/she studies, eats and sleeps. Anyone who has studied or visited these universities would be aware of a rather peculiar rule: you cannot walk on the lawns outside Colleges. Tempting as it may be to walk on the carefully manicured grass – this privilege is only accorded to “Fellows”. These are persons who, according to Cambridge’s own website are “members of the College who have attained high distinction in academic or public life”. Imagine my surprise when my friend, who was studying at Cambridge at the time, berated me for accidentally walking on the lawn!

Now, living in San Francisco, it is quite the opposite of tradition. Here, tradition goes out the window. There are no rules – you make new ones. I must say however, that in some respects, tradition can also be quite charming. For instance, the English tradition of Afternoon Tea. Now that is a tradition I’m sure many of us foodies enjoy!

 

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