Escaping the UAE heat for the UK heat

The weather was not as rainy as I'd liked, but Britain brought back lots of childhood memories of picnics, blackberry picking, museums - and shopping.

I was ready for a real British holiday this summer. After no rain for almost a year in the UAE, I was looking for something more unpredictable than "hot today, hotter tomorrow and quite hot on Friday". I wanted gloomy, overcast days, lots of rain interrupting countryside picnics, standing in the street without an umbrella, savouring rivulets of rainwater running down my face.

Sadly, London weather has been outrageously sun-drenched for the two weeks I've been here. The sky is a forget-me-not blue, the birds are singing and all is right with the world. Only it's not. Where's the "terrible weather" for which this country is renowned?

Still, I suppose, that's the charm of England: its knack for serving up exactly the opposite of what you want. It feels good to be back in a world of stonily staring-ahead commuters on the Tube. It feels good to meander among quaintly named streets and houses with chimneys. It even feels good to be sniffed at in the supermarket because you asked for a plastic bag for your packets of McCoy's crisps instead of bringing along your own bag and thus committing environmental blasphemy.

With such a brilliantly crisp summer, you can't stay in moping about the lack of rain. Strolling in lush green parks and woodlands ablaze with colour puts something akin to a spring in your step. Transported back to the days of devouring Winnie the Pooh books, I have done something teenagers wouldn't be seen dead doing. Only where I was, not only children, but adults and teenagers, too, were indulging in the delightful pleasures of blackberry picking, all no doubt looking forward to some homemade blackberry jam later.

In the Wandle Meadow Nature Reserve, a couple of minutes walk from our hotel, lie oodles and oodles of blackberry bushes, all groaning with deliciously ripe fruit bursting with flavour. They're not just in parks, but along pavements and roadsides, outside houses and on the banks of the river Wandle.

For many teenagers, blackberries signify nothing but smartphones, but this obviously wasn't the case here. Never one to let other people get at all the good stuff, I joined in, and soon enough, as the poet Seamus Heaney so succinctly put it, my hands were peppered with thorn pricks, palms sticky as Bluebeard's. I didn't quite get to the "rat-grey fungus glutting our cache" bit, though, because I ate all the ones I picked immediately. Also, I only managed to pick a paltry handful compared to someone else's full-to-the-brim basket, because I squealed and danced about whenever a bee or an insect came within buzzing distance.

This peaceful rural scene, however, was only a few yards away from a thrumming, lively festival at the Merton Abbey Mills, the local market. And this felt more like it: proprietors of idyllic shops and pub owners wincing in agony when faced by a barrage of squealing guitars, throbbing bass and a young man with blond dreadlocks pounding away at a drum kit. A stage had been erected inside the historic marketplace for the music fest to keep its heavily eyelined adolescent patrons amused, and they stood milling around in their droves.

The juxtaposition of old and new here is obvious: many of the Underground stations have been around for hundreds of years, for example. However, the number of people I spotted sporting Amy Winehouse-style beehives in the trains very clearly states that London is a fast-moving city. I even encountered someone taking a photo of their teenage son pushing a trolley into a wall at Platform 5 (not 9) in King's Cross Station. It's pretty clear that one of the city's greatest offerings to the world, Harry Potter, won't be forgotten in a hurry.

What I had pleasantly forgotten was all our visits to museums, favourite haunts of our family in my younger years. For old times' sake, I meandered into the Science Museum as I walked about aimlessly. A performance about Yuri Gagarin - otherwise known as the first man in space- was fun to watch because the actor was wearing an orange spacesuit and had a cool Russian accent and I learnt a lot ... OK, because he was good-looking.

You can only look at steam engine exhibits for so long, though, and soon I had scurried out to the safer realms of New Look, H&M and Forever 21 on the better-appreciated Oxford Street. London's all very well for pretty gardens and nice architecture or museums, but there's nothing quite like some well-deserved retail therapy at the end of the day. Oh, and if the weather doesn't play foul: it's forecast to be grey and rainy tomorrow. What more could you ask for, really.

The writer is a 16-year-old student in Dubai.

Published: August 9, 2011 04:00 AM

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