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Happy Chanukah, Imo

This is a letter from a foreign correspondent -- our man in London England. I'm here as a tourist with my daughter Imo, who wanted a trip abroad for Christmas. Since flights and hotels cost a lot more after Christmas than they do before, she is getting hers now -- Think of it as a Chanukah present, I told her.

So far we have seen various touristy things -- Big Ben, Buckingham, Picadilly type things. It's been great. No false affect, just a lot of pointing and going Oooh. The horse guards standing with no change of expression, the ceiling of Westminster Abbey stretching up and up, the swans and geese and pelican (or pelican type -- I'm no ornithologist. It reminded me more than anything of the Maribou bird in the Babar books) in the Green Park. Tomorrow we are doing Sherlock Holmes and Madame Tussauds. Imo wants to do Abbey Road too -- we'll see. It's not on the tube. We may take a bus, but the last time I was on a London bus it took me twenty minutes to travel one block.

Know what I am finding strange about London? The accents. In the tourist part of town no one sounds English. Most of the service staff seem to come from East Europe. Lot of Sikhs too. I'm not complaining, of course, but it is interesting how this extra hint of the exotic actually makes London sound more like ... well ... Toronto.

Know what else I found strange? The guards at Buckingham Palace. They look positively dangerous now -- like they could shoot someone. The ones we saw today wore gray uniforms with flat caps, and a couple of them carried their automatic weapons like poster boys for Soldier of Fortune magazine. This I do think is too bad. I kind of liked it that the Brits knew how to do modern nasty stuff (SOCO-type grotty police work, or SAS anti-terror) while retaining a sense of perspective about the silly Ruritanian changing of the guard. Once you start worrying about the relevance of your ornamental institutions you might as well get rid of them. I want the RCMP to be a good and effective modern police force, but I hope that the for-tourist Mounties never lose their funny hats or musical ride.

Thank heavens for the tabloids, which still plaster the Royals across the front pages. The Brits do this kind of blind-adoration-and-yet-isn't-it-shocking! better than we do, I think. Maybe because they've been bowing to nobility longer than we've been bowing to movie stars. And thank heavens for Brit TV. Imagine an entire afternoon devoted to snooker. Or steeple chasing. Or quiz shows about art. Makes me laugh.

Crikey, it's 3:00 am. I'm still on Cobourg time. Better sign off and try to get some sleep.

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