Travel Journal March 12, 1999
Another day trip, to Leeds, Canterbury, and Dover. Also, a rant on British cuisine.

London, Victoria Station

I was running short of time, so I decided to have breakfast at a little cafe at Victoria Station. They had an "English Breakfast" special, which included a fried egg, of course. I decided to try a small experiment: The lady who was taking orders was also the cook (but not the cashier). There were no other customers in line behind me. I said to the cook, "I don't suppose it would be too much to ask to get that egg scrambled?" and she replied "we don't do scrambled, sorry."

This is just a small example of something I've noticed in my short time, which is a very different attitude towards the customer. In America, it seems, the customer is often treated as "always right", whereas in England, it seems that the customer is often expected to conform to the protocols of the establishment.

Another example of this occured a few days earlier, when I was getting a hair trim at SuperCuts. While I was waiting, a British lady came into the shop, and asked how long the wait would be. She was told about 30 minutes. She seemed in a hurry; she said "Alright, I'll come back in about 20 minutes - I have to do a bit of shopping first." The sales person said "I'm sorry, but you'll have to wait here or you'll lose your turn." The lady was quite dissapointed by this. I should note that there was no obvious queue; The sales person had a list of who was waiting, so there was really no need for people to be actually present. And in fact, in salons in America I've never had to be physically present to maintain my place in line. It seems terribly inefficient to waste a half-hour of a person's time simply out of a misguided sense of fair play.

Leeds Castle

Here's a whole bunch of pictures of Leeds castle. Once again, no inside photos.

I'm a bit tired at the moment, so my commentary will be short.


The Black Swan! This is particularly meaningful if you've read Karl Popper's essays on falsifiability; He uses the phrase "All swans are white" as an example of a refutable theorem.

The bridge to the castle.





The next 5 shots are of the Barbican, which is connected to the castle via the bridge seen in the photos above.


The way in to the main courtyard.









We had lunch at a little pub in Canterbury. The food was mediocre; I'm no cook, but I believe that the potatos were cooked over too hot a flame; The outsides were a little bit tough.

Here's some shots of the outside of the Cathedral. As per the usual arrangement, photos aren't allowed of the inside.


Canterbury's a great shopping town. I bought a number of items, including a wool coat.



"There'll be bluebirds flying over, the white cliffs of Dover".

Dover castle and the famous white cliffs. I wasn't able to get close to the cliffs, although you can. This was just a photo stop for the tour.


A picture of yours truly. You can see a bit of Dover castle in the background.


I tried to eat at the same pub I ate at last night, but it was absolutely packed. All of the other pubs were crowded as well. I finally had to settle for eating at the little fish and chips place where I've been getting most of my breakfasts. Unfortunately, while the breakfasts have been good, the scampi and chips wasn't all that great.

It's strange - Of the meals I've eaten this week, I would say that four of them have been what I would consider "bad cooking." People like to make fun of British cuisine, and there's a certain amount of truth behind that, or so I've discovered. My theory is that the British have put all of their cooking effort into the desserts - it certainly seems that the British have developed an incredible array of puddings, pastries, cakes, pies, candies, and other sweets.

In a way bad cooking is a lot like bad software development. In both cases, the creator becomes a mere menial laborer, applying neither judgement nor creativity, but merely rote mechanical obedience to a specification that they don't truly understand. A master chef will occasionally sample their own wares as a feedback mechanism; What they bring to the party is not just their hands, or even their book learning, but their sense of taste as well. In order to produce output of high quality, a chef or software developer must be like a performer in an orchestra - willing to take direction, but at the same time an interpretive creator in their own right, what Tolkien called a "sub-creator".