A FEW WORDS ABOUT ENGLISH TRADITIONS
1. When we arrived in London the day was fine and warm, there was a bright sun and a cloudless sky, but the general opinion abroad is that London has fog or rain, or both, every day of year. After a short rest we went for a drive about the city. We saw many places of interest, such as Trafalgar Square with Nelson's Column in its centre, the British
-Museum and the House of Parliament. When we drove into the Strand, which is one of the busiest London streets, we could see a long stream of cars, buses and taxis. The newest and most comfortable cars ran side by side with old ones made more than twenty years ago.
2. The traffic regulations in Great Britain differ from ours; we are to keep to the right but in the streets of London you are to keep to the left. The street traffic is very heavy; it is much heavier than in Moscow. There are notice-boards at every crossing which show you the place where to cross the road: "Please, cross here", "Please, drive slowly". The streets of London were always of great interest to us. In some parts of London they look very much alike, as the houses are the same in style.
And sometimes the same street may have different names. For example — Grosvenor Street at Hyde Park is no longer Grosvenor Street a littler farther, but Grosvenor Place, and when it comes nearer the Thames it is Grosvenor Road.
In the oldest part of London many streets are quite narrow and have strange names, as White Horse Street, Milk Street, Honey Lane and Cheapside.
3. The houses are not very big, they are mostly two-storeyed buildings with as many front doors and as many little gardens as there are lodgers in the house.
Imagine how surprised we were to see the windows of one and the same house painted in different colours. And not only the windows. Whole parts of houses were in different colour, that is, doors, steps and walls.
"What is the idea of painting houses in this way?" I asked.
"We don't notice such things. We are used to them. Everybody paints his own part of the house in the colour he likes best," was the answer.
In many English houses windows are different from ours. To open such windows, you have to raise or to lower them. One may ask why they have such kinds of windows. The thing is that the winds in England often become very strong, and may easily break windows of the kind we have.
Though central and electrical heating is found in many houses of London you may often see a fireplace in English houses. I asked my English friend, "Why must you haveopen fires in the houses?" He laughed and said, "What shall we do without them in the evenings?"
This was, of course, a joke but it helped me to understand the whole thing. The fireplace is a symbol of a happy family life in England, Englishmen are fond of spending their evenings round the fire. This is an old tradition. They won't go to bed before the fire goes out and the room grows cold.
4. The next day was Sunday. Sunday is a very quiet day in London. Most shops are closed and so are the theatres and most of cinemas. Londoners like to get out of town on Sundays. There are thousands of cars on the roads into the country. The south coast is only fifty or sixty miles away and people like to go down to the sea for'the day.
Our English friends took us to Brighton. We enjoyed the journey but not the swimming because the water was very cold.
5. When we drove out of town, we noticed here and there, young men and women riding on bicycles. We were told that those were members of sports clubs. Our attention was also attracted by cars standing along both sides of the road. Whole families were sitting nearby with baskets before them. It was half past one and they were having lunch.
"But what is that, over there?" one of us asked. "It looks very much like a house on wheels."
"We call it a caravan," our English friend explained, "a whole family can sleep in a caravan and prepare their meals when they go on a trip. But I must say that a caravan costs a lot of money and few people can buy one."
"Well, there are many ways to have a good rest," he continues, "one may go to the country by train or even on a bicycle. Many people in England spend their holidays in the country. It is a tradition with us."
6. Then we began talking about cars. As I had noticed many old cars on the road, I said, "Aren't they ashamed of such cars?"
"Ashamed? Why, they are proud of theml You see, there is a tradition even about old cars. Every year they hold a rally from London to the town of Brighton. Only the oldest cars are allowed to take part in it. A rally like that is very funny, indeed."
7. The English certainly have many traditions, manners and customs of which they can be proud and English humour is one of them. It is ironical, often directed against oneself in a self-critical way.
Obraztsov, the Russian actor, observed the English type of humour very carefully, telling the following little story as an illustration:
"While I was in England, I always took my camera with me and I tried to take shots of everything I saw, particularly everyday life. One day, I set off for Petticoat Lane. One of the passengers in the bus in which we were travelling was gaily telling us that this market had, for a long time, been notorious for its thieves; when a woman came out of the market she had been offered her own petticoat at a reduced price, the very same petticoat which she had been wearing when she came into the market. Hence the name. The conductor appeared to be paying no attention to our conversation and was whistling some tune. The bus came to a stop at the market. The jolly passenger shouted: 'Good luck! You'll find something to photograph in the market alright.' And the conductor added, 'If you've still got your camera ...*."
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