From Penny Farthings to Cadillacs – More Notes From the UK


Continuing my reflections on our recent return to the UK for a 2-week vacation.  To recap, my wife and I were born in the UK, moving to the US 30 years ago (originally for a 1-year tour of duty!) and my mother-in-law moving to the US about 20 years ago.  I’ve got back to the UK frequently over the years, but through business travel.  This was the first time in quite a while to see the country up close and stay with “real Brits” (friends and relatives) all over England, as well as in some fine old country inns and one West End London hotel. (For earlier posts on this, see here and here .)

So, what else did we find?

  • People still ride Penny-Farthing bicycles out in the countryside!  Just kidding – but I did have a delightful cream tea in a cafe in Knutsford, Cheshire, that had a magnificent collection of these strange machines!
  • People are generally much more environmentally aware than in the US.  For example, they mostly use cloth bags for groceries – taking them with on trips to the stores just the way I recall my mother doing all those years ago!  My very good university friend Bob Bailey (a partner in environmental consulting firm Quantum Strategy & Technology) told me about several innovative government programs that are helping with climate and sustainability, and are driving some worthy small-business innovations.  Behaviors such as trash disposal in landfills are heavily taxed, incenting people to me more creative in how they design, use and dispose of stuff.  Similarly, local incentives are increasing bicycle ridership (no, not the penny-farthing style) and helping both the environment and health care!
  • Britain has inevitably become even more Americanized than when I was living in the US.  Like in the US, television programming appears to be mostly puerile rubbish – a similar “all about me” TV syndrome.
  • Ubiquity of Fast Food and ‘all you can eat’ restaurants has led to a burgeoning obesity problem – something that was not seen until the last 15 or 20 years.  The good news is that the food across the UK is mostly really good, and often excellent.  The bad news is the gargantuan portions and the toll those are taking on waistlines!
  • Apparently, there’s a lot of crime, but knives seem to be the weapon of choice given the lack of availability of handguns.  We saw a large metal container in a suburban high street, labeled “Bin-a-knife” – a repository with amnesty for people to dump their knives.
  • Just about everyone we spoke to in the UK is ecstatic about the upcoming exit of George Bush! However, they would like Gordon Brown to accompany him into obscurity (The two GBs!)
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