Travel Diary: England
Laughter, existential dread, bitter ale, in that order
THIS IS A FREE POST FROM THE REAL SARAH MILLER. If you read this newsletter a lot and want to/can pay for it, please subscribe.
A few days ago I flew to England in order to write things about watches. I didn’t sleep on the plane, the only way I sleep on planes is with pills and I made the grave mistake of not having any. So I watched For Your Consideration and laughed a lot, suddenly and loudly. Several times I commanded myself to get a grip, to behave, and for a few minutes I would, but then I’d just get blindsided by how funny it was and explode, against my will, waking up the guy a few rows ahead of me. There were maybe six people on the entire plane so there was no mistaking who I was, the awake terrible laughing person.
When the movie ended we were still seven hours away from landing. I had a drink I hoped would make me tired but it made me restless instead. None of the programs looked fun, reading seemed too lonely. I watched a documentary about people who swim in Hampstead Heath which was sweet but also made me embarrassed about being a certain kind of college-trained white person, the particular manner in which we can find ourselves singular and fascinating with no awareness of how we got the space to believe such a thing. Next I tried that movie with Benedict Cumberbatch as a spy but found, unfortunately, that this particular project of his was one I was quite unable to sign on to.
I finally wrapped myself up in four tiny red blankets and tried to sleep. When will I metabolize the profound emptiness that emerged while lying awake for five hours on a dark, silent plane? I do not know!
I arrived in London at 10 a.m. but couldn’t get into my hotel room until three. I realized this was standard and not a conspiracy against me. However, just because I was not at all surprised I’d have to wander around Clerkenwell for five hours looking and feeling like utter dogshit doesn’t mean I was pleased about it.
Then I remembered that I had a plan, that I’d had it for months. In his excellent book The Optimist writer David Coggins talks about trying to like bitter, that every time he comes to England he drinks bitter hoping this is the time it will click, but it never does. This disappoints him, makes him suspect that he has failed at visiting England, at appearing sufficiently English, and, in that moment (and perhaps I’ve read too hard) at masculinity altogether. I interviewed him when his book came out, about this very thing, and I decided if I ever got to England again I’d get a half pint of bitter and see if I liked it.
I didn't have to walk long before finding a pub. It was called the Crown Tavern; later on, a friend told me it was supposedly where Lenin and Stalin first met. Inside the pub there was nothing to suggest that Lenin or Stalin had ever been there but nothing to suggest they hadn’t. It was just an English pub, with lots of wood, mirrors, red upholstery and hanging lamps with colored glass shades. I ordered a half pint of bitter, sat in the window and drank it as I watched Londoners pass by, a sparse late morning parade of wary self-containment.
The beer’s room temperature-ness soothed me and the bitterness was curative. It wasn’t as good as a cold Pilsner but it was still not bad. If it hadn’t have been so early I’d have had another. So I guess I like bitter more than David Coggins but probably not as much as your average bitter drinker? I wish I could pass my taste for it onto David. I was curious, but now that I have found out, it means nothing to me.