August 19: is it February?
You'd have to really hate summer--which, I realize, some of you do--to find today lovely. Roughly 40 degrees chillier than the day I left Dallas, 15 or 20 degrees cooler than Wednesday *here*. Cloudy, wet, repulsive. I'm back at the hotel earlier because it's too icky to be outside.
On my way to Westminster Abbey this morning I walked along the Serpentine and got a few photos of birds--ducks, swans, a heron. Behind an iron railing fence next to one of the buildings, a white swan and a gray--I'm assuming it was a mother and a juvenile--were resting and I was hankering to get a decent photo when an off-leash dog came scampering up and made the mother raise up and start hissing and the juvenile flee for the water. After the owner got the dog away, I squatted down to try and get a decent photo, and the juvenile, back ashore, even hissed at me. I'm sure he was still rattled by the dog. I got one photo of the mother preening and the juvenile in the water, and it's posted at Facebook along with a duck photo or two.
After leaving Hyde Park, I took a photo of the Canada Memorial (to those who served in the world wars) at the Green Park. Believe me, no one was playing on its slippery wet surface today!
I worked my way on down past Buckingham (yes, the Queen is still in residence) and onto Buckingham Gate Road where I had morning tea and a scone at the Royal Quartier Cafe--higher-toned and -priced than my normal fare! I think they were embarrassed by my casual old man appearance. They sat me at the counter by the window, not at the tables.
The line wasn't too bad at the Abbey, though it was still quite crowded inside. I suppose it was a balance of people not wanting to be out early on a wet chilly morning with people wanting to be inside somewhere on a wet chilly morning. This was my fourth (I think) visit as a paying tourist, and I've also been to Sunday services there on a couple of occasions. On one of them the Archbishop of Canterbury (now retired) preached and I got to shake his hand on the way out after service. He is Rowan Williams, not to be confused with Rowan Atkinson, "Mr Bean". His eyebrows alone would have qualified him to portray a wizard in a Harry Potter movie.
When I was in the Abbey last year, some of the floor was covered because of work being done, and I couldn't see some of the markers I wanted to, in the so-called Poet's Corner. Not all the writers honored or buried there are poets, and a few actors are there as well--including David Garrick, Olivier and Gielgud. Among the writers who, I think, are buried there (in whole or, at least in Hardy's case, in part) are John Dryden and Abraham Cowley (17th century), CS Lewis, Robert Browning, John Masefield, Tennyson, Eliot, Lewis Carroll, Samuel Johnson, Henry James, Dickens, Kipling, Hardy (either his body without his heart or his heart alone, I can't remember which) and Ted Hughes.
Of course a zillion kings and queens are there, including both Elizabeth I and her sister "bloody" Mary, as well as Mary Queen of Scots; also Edward I, Henry VII, Edward the Confessor, Richard II, etc., etc. Lots of politicians--Churchill, Gladstone, lord George, Attlee, even Harold Wilson (who got twitted by George Harrison in the Beatles song Taxman). The English equivalent to the Unknown Soldier is there, just past Churchill inside the main entrance to the nave. Scientists like Lord Kelvin, Isaac Newton, Faraday, Lyell, Darwin, and Herschel. Composers like Elgar ("Pomp and Circumstance"!), Vaughan Williams, Britten, Purcell. I got a kick out of a marker more than 300 years old, but it was so small I don't know if it marked a burial or was simply a memorial: just a couple of yards past Darwin, a diamond-shaped stone matching the rest of the paving read "Mrs. M. Stradling, 1681". But of course the roots of the Abbey go back more than a thousand years and the current building is, I believe, 13th century. One of the most fragile things inside is the shrine of Edward the Confessor, who ruled 1042-1066, and who was sanctified after his death. The succession was contested after his death between Harold, a Saxon, and William (the Conqueror), a Norman, that is, a descendent of Vikings who'd settled in France. Both Harold and William had links to the Royal family, but William won the battle. His conquest introduced the employment of French to the English court, since that's what the Normans spoke, and hence the huge impact of French on the English language. Something like three hundred years passed before royalty began using English habitually.
The audio tour device they give you to explain things to you--some of which I listened to--is narrated by Jeremy Irons, and I found it sort of interesting to have Mr Irons suggest that visitors might want to pause a few minutes to pray.
After I left the Abbey I worked my way up to Oxford Street to have lunch at M&S. I also topped off my sister-birthday-gift-buying with a tea towel (her request). Then I made my way to HMV (His Master's Voice, the music store). The first few times I visited London, there were two HMV locations on Oxford street, one of them enormous and wonderful. But by last year, they had both closed and been replaced by this smaller store, still large by American standards but not nearly wonderful enough. I browsed for a quite a while, partially simply to stay out of the weather, and finally decided to buy three CDs for a whopping total of 15.97 pounds, or a bit less than $22. Robert Wyatt: The End of an Ear. Tyrannosaurus Rex: My People were fair and had sky in their hair, but now they're content to wear stars on their brows. Ten Years After (the first album in an expanded two-disc version). Only this last one is available, in another version, I think, as an MP3 file. I like to buy MP3 albums because I do so much of my listening on the iPod nowadays. I mostly listen to CDs in the truck and I don't drive very far most days. The Wyatt and Tyrannosaurus Rex records I owned on vinyl many many years ago, and I've owned an earlier CD release of the Ten Years After debut, but have had a hankering to hear it again, and could hardly do better on the price!
So that was pretty much my day. I stopped in at Pret near the hotel for an afternoon cup of tea and continued reading yesterday's paper, then went on to Simply Food to get some take away food for a little supper in the hotel. I stopped at the desk to ask about tomorrow's forecast. The clerk told me it will rain again starting in mid-afternoon, but should be cloudy and dry earlier, as well as not so cold--20 degrees centigrade, which is a whopping 68! Better than today by a good bit, though. And Sunday morning I get up early to head to Heathrow. I hope it's not raining then!