A Great British June – 4

Editor’s note: I am spending most of June 2024 in Great Britain and when possible, I’ll journal by hand and some of that journaling will be transferred here, with minimal edits.


For this trip, I’ve journaled on an airplane flying over Germany, on a bus headed for Sheffield and now on a train en route to Dundee, Scotland. I’ve got Bon Iver’s 2009 Glastonbury performance playing through my headphones right now.1I have a part of the website dedicated to his live performances, so I can easily refer to his live performances. Check it out here. And I’m periodically writing this without looking at the journal because the views outside the train windows are calling for my attention — the train was traveling right by the coastline. Bright blue skies at 7:34PM and calm blue water separating rolling green hills. In case this sounds too idyllic, I am seated right beside the train toilet which has a loose door, so it’s currently open and slams occasionally based on the movement of the train. So far, no odors though. If this isn’t nice, I don’t know what is.

Today is right at the midpoint of my Great British June and it’s today that I enter Scotland for the first time. I look forward to my time here.

Looking backwards, I was at a rather random university town called Leamington Spa, where a lot of students at the University of Warwick live at. I had the privilege of staying with my friend Manas whom I had met from National Service. I got to experience a sliver of his university life (or more accurately, post-university life). Like Nicholas, I had also caught him at an opportune time. The day I arrived seemed to be the last day that exams could be held at University of Warwick. And only the day before did two of his six housemates move out, granting me a princely upgrade from the living room couch to an empty bedroom.

I went to predrinks that night with his group of friends. I didn’t follow them to the club, but I still got to see things I otherwise would not see in Singapore. And as part of my British cultural learning journey, I’ve learned that predrinks or more commonly referred to as “pres” can exist for almost anything. Going to catch a horse race? Sure, but where’s pres? Headed out for an event with a DJ? Let’s pres. And in case pres and the main event wasn’t enough, there’s also “afters”, which I’ve never even heard of before.

The next day,2Thursday, 13 June 2024 I got to visit Stratford-upon-Avon with my friend John from Singapore who came from a big win in his moot. It was his first time in the UK and he hadn’t even explored London since he arrived late the night before — kudos to him on agreeing to travel out to explore Stratford. There I evangelized upon him the Tesco meal deal and Oxfam charity shops. We explored Shakespeare’s birthplace home. He probably didn’t produce any of his works there. Or at least there’s no way of conclusively knowing that he did. In that town, there were plenty of other old homes. Shakespeare’s home had existed from the 1500s.

Singapore seems to have the problem where things are torn down and rebuilt far before it needs to happen.3Mind the abrupt transition from Stratford-upon-Avon to Singapore. I understand the reasons for doing so. As a land-scarce island-state, the use of land ought to be fully optimized. But doing so too eagerly comes at the expense of placemaking4I recommend this explanatory video about placemaking in Singapore and the rest of his amazing YouTube channel. or even national identity (perhaps there’s less of a concern now because of the National Heritage Board and their gazetting of buildings).

When our grandparents and parents can no longer recognize their neighborhood, what does that do to their sense of belonging and past? Or even for younger Singaporeans, to see their previous schools be demolished, and other hangout places be replaced and renovated and unrecognizable. Maybe I’m serving up a big plate of nothingburgers, but this could tie back to our sense of national identity. I had recently read an article about how Singapore’s shophouses were becoming an attractive asset class because foreigners can buy them without incurring the incendiary 60% tax on the purchase price (known as Additional Buyer Stamp Duty).5This is the article I’m talking about, from the Financial Times. And some shophouses are also freehold property. However, it’s been less attractive for their tenants and probably Singaporeans at large. One tenant described how she’s on her third landlord only two years into her lease. Those who shelled out millions for the limited-in-number shophouses must feel tempted to increase rents to at least preserve their rental yield.

Who loses from this? The tenants. They raise prices to cope or move out entirely because their line of work is not profitable enough — they simply cannot exist there. Who replaces them? Larger businesses that can reap benefits from economies of scale to make it work and businesses in high profit industries.6I’m sure England faces this problem too. I can imagine that family run fish-and-chip shop that has served up the same plate of fried goodness for over 30 years being replaced by the much easier to run and higher margin vape shop. That means chain restaurants and chain businesses that already exist everywhere else. The area then devolves into a soulless copy-and-pasted neighborhood. By then, Singapore would become a society that knows the price of everything, but the value of nothing.7I hope the smarter ones in government service can avoid this and I will help support them in my small ways.

Other bits of Leamington Spa, England:

  • I walked to Warwick from Leamington Spa with Manas. That experience included a (what I presume to be the) owner of an antique shop asking him and I what “breed” we were and whether we were “Malayans” after we told him we were both from Singapore.
  • I got to live in what felt like the British equivalent of a frat house — including the stereotypes.8I’ve been corrected by Manas. They do not live like that during term-time. It was only because I had caught them post-exams and they were graduating soon.
  • Visited a kebab shop late on a Friday night. I got a kebab.
  • Watched the opening game of Euro 2024 between Scotland and Germany at a local pub.
  • More meal deals, more raspberries, and a visit to Lidl.

I’m now approaching Dundee and the Bon Iver performance in my earphones is about to end. I’m going to end it off here too. I look forward to exploring this nation within the United Kingdom. I read up a little on the 2014 Scottish Referendum, the West Lothian question,9From Wikipedia: The West Lothian question also known as the English question is a political issue in the United Kingdom. It concerns the question of whether members of Parliament (MPs) from Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales who sit in the House of Commons should be able to vote on matters that affect only England, while neither they nor MPs from England are able to vote on matters that have been devolved to the Northern Ireland Assembly, the Scottish Parliament and the Senedd (Welsh Parliament). and the UK’s Trident nuclear defense system on the train here. All’s well that ends well.10A Shakespearean phrase.

Written at 8:25PM on June 15, 2024.

Photos

Click on the photos to enlarge them. Chronologically ordered.


Comments? Text or email me.

First published: June 18, 2024
Last updated:

Footnotes
  • 1
    I have a part of the website dedicated to his live performances, so I can easily refer to his live performances. Check it out here.
  • 2
    Thursday, 13 June 2024
  • 3
    Mind the abrupt transition from Stratford-upon-Avon to Singapore.
  • 4
    I recommend this explanatory video about placemaking in Singapore and the rest of his amazing YouTube channel.
  • 5
    This is the article I’m talking about, from the Financial Times.
  • 6
    I’m sure England faces this problem too. I can imagine that family run fish-and-chip shop that has served up the same plate of fried goodness for over 30 years being replaced by the much easier to run and higher margin vape shop.
  • 7
    I hope the smarter ones in government service can avoid this and I will help support them in my small ways.
  • 8
    I’ve been corrected by Manas. They do not live like that during term-time. It was only because I had caught them post-exams and they were graduating soon.
  • 9
    From Wikipedia: The West Lothian question also known as the English question is a political issue in the United Kingdom. It concerns the question of whether members of Parliament (MPs) from Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales who sit in the House of Commons should be able to vote on matters that affect only England, while neither they nor MPs from England are able to vote on matters that have been devolved to the Northern Ireland Assembly, the Scottish Parliament and the Senedd (Welsh Parliament).
  • 10
    A Shakespearean phrase.