Notes from Leeds

I landed in Leeds a bit before noon today, where I’ll be part of the Thought Bubble comics festival 2012. I’m sharing a table with Oliver East, with whom I did a remix book that will premiere this Saturday — we decided to call it East-Haverholm, more about it when I’m home and have some kind of idea how many I can put up for sale.

I’m very excited to be here, so excited in fact that I got up at 3am this morning, after 5hrs of sleep, to catch my flight. I spent the afternoon walking around the city in a daze of insomnia, trying to keep myself awake long enough that I could beat my sleep pattern back in place.

That may have worked, but in my mind I started taking notes about the British Experience that stood out for me. Kind of like, I don’t know, Xmas ornaments to a heroin addict. I would like to state again, for the record, that I was only influenced by sleep deprivation and caffeine. Ahem.

So here it is, my seven-points list of Notes About Britain so far, filtered through a lack of sleep:
Southpaw traffic
Not sure exactly how many buses I walked out in front of today, because I checked my left-hand side and then HONNK! A bus or taxi driver is shaking his fist at me from the right, mouthing the word “tourist”.
This is a generic one, I suppose, but let’s look at British traffic regulations in the grand scheme of things: it may have started as a matter of opinion, but at this point the Brits are just being stubborn. Pretty much everybody else drive on the right side of the road. Only in Britain have they got it wrong, perhaps as some post-empirical show of defiance.

Storefronts saying “to let” aren’t toilets
Minor thing, I agree. Since early morning, my tired mind has been disconnecting the dots. I heard Amsterdam airport, Schiphol, as “scribble” (though I blame that on the Dutch language), and an intercom call out for a flight to Hanover turned into “Hangover”. That was probably a Freudian Slip on my part.
Anyway, I was walking around some smaller Leeds streets, where the façades were littered with realtor signs announcing available office space, and I just kept misreading them as “TOiLET”, and I had to jot it down. Wouldn’t want to actually make the mistake at some point.
Interestingly, one sign, in the forest of identical ones added, “a unique opportunity!”. Made me think of the dialogue from Life of Brian: “You’re all different!” “Uh, I’m not.”

Clas Ohlson, wtf?
Okay, so perhaps Sweden had some pretty good franchises that spread out across the globe. IKEA. H&M. Volvo, too, I guess. But Clas Ohlson, a Swedish chain of discount hardware stores was probably the last I’d expected to see abroad. What is next, a Stippes grill at Tiananmen Square?!

Not having to go to department stores
This is particular to me: for the past years, all of my travels have been with my girlfriend (now ex), and somehow I would spend inordinate amounts of time in fancy-ass malls while she cooed over shiny things. At one point today I looked up and saw the Marks & Spencer logo on a building and thought, “Yippie ki-yay, I’m never setting my foot in that fucking place of death!”
Okay, that had nothing specifically to do with Britain, just thought I’d share, and bond a bit with you all.

The Royal Armouries had so many spears&shit they just decorated the walls with them
In my “Keep walking, die on your feet, don’t sleep” project, I zigzagged across the centre of Leeds to the area where the Thought Bubble comics fair is held, the Royal Armouries. AFAIK at this point, it’s not in the actual armouries, but they have given name to the overall surroundings, I think.
I was struck by the dominating building itself, especially the glass tower jutting out from the main building, and the ornaments lining the spiral staircase:

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But hang on, are those…?!

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Yep, all the patterns and arrangements are really made of medieval military equipment. Because screw you, we had a warehouse filled with that stuff. Which I respect a great deal more than their original purpose, mind.

Vinegar chips
I learned, even before I first went here ages ago, to add “Hold the vinegar!” when ordering chips (or “fries” for the Yanks reading along). Then one time I forgot, and I realised how good the acidic taste goes with the salt to outweigh the deep-fry fats. It is literally the best, no: The only way to eat chips. Fries. Whatever.
Actually, tell you what, Britons, keep driving ass-backwards, as long as you spread your vinegary web of influence across the globe. All is forgiven.

Children wearing school uniforms & they’re not even cosplaying
From a Scandinavian middle-class background, that’s just utterly alien. I mean, when I was a kid we only knew that culture from TV and movies, but watching pre-teens going home from school in grey knitted sweaters that look like 1940s throwbacks… I think, if this is a deliberate move from school boards to prevent the youth from ever seeing manga schoolgirl cosplay as something attractive, they’re doing a good job. Except the boys may dress up in skirts instead, that’s not unheard of.