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Genuine antiquitee, yes sir-ee: 08/12/15
Series three of Danger Mouse ends with an episode called "Trip to America." In it, Danger Mouse and Penfold travel to the United States after a bunch of the world's monuments disappear. The last one to go missing is the Empire State Building so they figure the others are probably some where in the States too.
Sure enough, they are. They find the Tower of London in the middle of the desert in some undisclosed area that's an amalgam of Texas, New Mexico and Arizona. As they're taking in the oddity of the Tower being in the middle of nowhere, a pint-sized cowboy rides up and proudly shows of his "little ol' birdie bath." He goes on to explain how he had to have it for his million acre backyard because it was "genuine antiquitee, yes sir-ee!" Nonplused, Danger Mouse retorts that why yes, it is, because it's the TOWER OF LONDON!
And there in a nutshell is the fundamental difference we noticed on our trip to the UK. The nation has hundreds of years of history, including hundreds of years of architectural history. Centuries of living with the same roads and buildings has given much of the two countries we visited the feel of a "if it ain't broke, don't fix it" place.
When something needs to be expanded, the new architecture is grafted onto the old. In some places, there ends up being an architectural strata as buildings were expanded multiple times.
Sometimes, though, the new solution is built in parallel to the old, giving people an old and a new option. Take for instance the train ride from Heathrow to London. There are two lines: the express train, a direct, modern system that goes nonstop into Paddington Station, and the charmingly anachronistic Piccadilly Line.
The Piccadilly Line has roots that goes back to the earliest days of the London Underground, predating the New York Subway by about 30 years. Sure the wooden benches and steam engines are gone but there's enough of the original to make the line stand out. The platforms are smaller. The train carriages are smaller and more obviously tube shaped; bringing to mind the abandoned pneumatic system in New York.
Though the line is old it heads in the direction of Heathrow. Now rather than just make a new line that feeds travelers from the airport, a place that though it was in use as an airfield as early as 1930, didn't become a commercial airport until after WWII, the airport was extended underground to include a way to ride the Piccadilly Line.
It was actually the Piccadilly train's charm that first made me realize I had left my camera on the plane. Had I had it with me, I would have taken a dozen or so photos of the car we were riding in, it being stuffed to the brim with travelers and their luggage and locals just trying to get home.
I could just say that post WWII economics didn't allow for the building of a modern train line but there are too many other examples we spotted on our trip to hint that the choice to extend rather than rebuild was one of national pride.
It's not just London where we say this melding of old and new. We saw the same thing in Cambridge and Cardiff. More on those cities later.