Sandra Tsing Loh heads across "The Pond."
I don't know if you've noticed, but the month of August is put down a lot. It's the misfit child of the year. Dismissive things are said about August. "Nothing happens in August." "Everyone leaves town." "It's a desert." "So muggy!" August is the unfunny punchline for any city. Just this month, I've heard: "God - L.A. in August!" Or, "New York in August!" "DC in August!" "Florida in August!" All right, that's not a city, but still. I've even heard "Paris in August!" Man, who knew there was a month that could destroy even Paris!
Which brings us to "London in August." I had a book coming out in the UK, which is great, but in August, which everyone said would be horrible. In August, apparently, the entire continent of Europe becomes SeaWorld. The reasons not to go included: high season, expensive, muggy, mobs of tourists, everyone leaves town.
What I learned was that not only was London fabulous, a friend recently told me that Washington, D.C. is, too. "The weather is perfect!" she exclaimed without irony. So there! Maybe we should all go about reclaiming August even though, weirdly, it's always cold at the beach right now. Nevermind.
What I discovered about London in August was... well? Here is a place where people like to stand right out there on the street and smoke and drink. They set their bottles of beer or glasses of chardonnay right there on the steps of a 1000-year-old church, and have themselves a summer. The whole city - from white-haired gentlemen to twentysomething career girls in ponytails - are quaffing a pint, or two, or three, at noon.
It's so different from America it takes a while to process it. For instance, my partner Charlie and I are walking one bright day across a small crowded square, where we're hailed by a friendly construction worker. He informs us not about safety regulations, but as to the fact that it is now exactly "Pimm's O'Clock." What time is that? Well, if we take out our "mobiles" and Tweet a message with hashtag Pimm's, he will offer us free cucumber sandwiches and a cold refreshing can of Pimm's to enjoy - Like several dozen passerby are festively doing, on benches and wagons behind him.
Great! But what exactly IS Pimm's?
"It's gin, basically," he replies, with blue-eyed cheer.
"So in London," I said to Charlie, moments later, obediently raising my Pimm's, "it's legal for a corporation to hand out free liquor on the streets."
To which he replies, quoting a historical tour we had just been on:
"If we had only paid our taxes in 1776, all this could be ours."
Next week: Queen for a Day.