In which Jill takes a sentimental journey.
Early in my career I traveled to England to help Teradata land some early deals. The customers included Reuters, Royal Assurance, and Littlewoods, the latter two with their headquarters in Liverpool. Still a wide-eyed ingénue—yes, times have definitely changed—I adored the carbonated accents and fierce wit of the northerners. On Fridays British Rail would carry me back down to London, depositing me at Euston station wearing Liverpool red and sounding ridiculous in my attempts at Cockney rhyming slang.
A decade later I returned to London as my base, renting a flat in Surrey and traveling to far-flung places like Morocco and Dubai. I selected a neighborhood pub in Richmond, The Victoria, as my “local.” Americans compare British pubs to Starbucks, consistent hangouts where over time boundaries recede and friendships flourish. The Victoria was more like a communal living room where friends and neighbors—and even their children—could enjoy a refreshment, relax and discuss the events of the day. In turn, The Victoria selected me. When I’d leave for an extended business trip my pub friends would collect my mail and call to see when I’d be back. They were like my international family.
I’ve always believed that the beauty of global travel, and maybe of life itself, is just as much in the small slices of human color we experience as it is with our intimate relationships. We’re immersed in a lifestyle that’s not our own for a finite time, and we can either observe or participate.
One of the great successes of my life is that I’ve chosen to participate. Living in Paris in the early 1990s, I worked with a team of Americans who insisted on staying at a Marriott (yes, for the points) and eating out at The Hard Rock Café most nights. “You really can’t find a decent burger otherwise,” one of them explained, thus rebuffing the entire history of French cuisine. When my contract was extended I rented a flat on the river and bought some cute walking shoes. I took a subscription to Paris Match, and I took my French from adequate to excellent.
On my recent trip to the UK to keynote IRMUK, I took a little detour back to Richmond. The high street still overflowed with commuters rushing to and from the tube station. Sure, some of the local shops had been replaced by chain stores. But a soft rain fell as I scaled Richmond Hill and looked down on the Thames as it curled up toward London. At the steps of The Victoria I peered through the lead-glass windows. There were the mismatched wooden chairs and the banquettes upholstered in heavy brocade, the ancient wooden bar rising up like a pulpit with the barman presiding. Just like always.
I swear that gin and tonics taste better in England. Maybe it’s slice of lemon, or the tonic itself. But that day I think there was an extra shot of goodwill in my drink, mixed with the gratitude that comes from making good choices when those choices came along. It beats a burger any day.