Sunday, August 21, 2016

August 21: On the way back to Dallas

I woke up early, even before the alarm, probably anxious about getting to the airport on time and not missing the flight. So I was out of bed a couple of hours earlier than normal for this trip, with plenty of time to have breakfast and get final packing done before walking and towing a sport bag with wheels along the clackety sidewalks to Paddington Station. Easy ride on the Heathrow Express to the airport and an easy checkin with British Airways and "fast track" security. This is the first business class flight of my life, so fast track checkin was one of the perks. I got directions to the lounge for business fliers and spent an hour and a half or two there, first with a croissant and a cup of green tea while finishing one crossword and starting another, then with a bit of porridge and breakfast tea while continuing the puzzle.

I wasn't aware of the babying one gets in business class, so I bought a package of shortbread cookies to snack on on the plane, and then made my way to the gate for my flight. This involved taking a tram to another part of the terminal and then finding the gate. They started boarding early, so that was underway already when I arrived. Then almost the first thing I heard when I got to the line in the jetway was a woman right behind me, with an infant in her arms and two older boys, talking about business class. And I thought, Oh no! Am I going to be next to a crying infant for ten hours? But she and her kids are a couple of rows back, and so far the baby has cried only during the noise of the engines revving and getting ready for takeoff. Phew!

Well, what are some summations from the trip?

1) If, like me, you struggle to endure fall, winter and spring in the hopes of surviving to be warm in summer, then don't go to London in August--go in May. It will likely be just as warm-ish and sunny as August, and you won't feel the temperature shift as such a shock since May in Texas (or wherever) can still have cool days.  But I was going from 100 degree afternoons to 65-68 degree afternoons many days, and it was just too chilly for me. We definitely hit 79 degrees one day, and we might have one other day, but mostly it was low 70s or 60s. The temperatures were perhaps more distressing than the cloud cover, which was much less tenacious  the second week. But I was in my windbreaker probably 90-95% of the time I was outside, and that was a surprise. (Even so, on several occasions I thought I would have been better off bringing my gloves than the windbreaker, because I could have worn two shirts every day, but huddling my hands in the windbreaker sleeves in the morning was no substitute for gloves.)

2) Even though this was my fifth trip to London, I still had things to do I'd never done before. I visited the Tower, outside, and the Tower Bridge, and I finally went inside St. Paul's and saw what it has to offer, as well as climbing to each of the three dome galleries for viewing from above--one inside the dome, two and three outside. I visited the Chelsea Physic Garden and the London Zoo, went to the famous Abbey Road crossing (and into the gift shop there), and even rode on of the Thames clippers for a short ride, though I didn't make it to my intended destination of Greenwich. I made it to the Dickens Museum and to Hatchard's, the oldest bookseller in London. I visited the Westminster Cathedral and went up in the tower there. And I saw the Flinders Petrie collection of mostly Egyptian artifacts at University College London. Lots of firsts, as well as many re-visits to places I enjoy--like Kew Gardens, the British Museum, and the bookstores. This was also my first time to fly directly from Dallas to London to begin a visit. On my previous occasions, I came to Europe via ship. Three of those times, when I left the ship, I flew to Malta for a visit before flying on to London later. On the fourth, I went from the ship directly to the Barcelona airport to fly to London. So no jet lag in those cases. And even this time wasn't too bad. I settled into my new sleeping hours quickly, perhaps encouraged by the amount of walking I did every day!

3) Holy cow, I bought ten books! One is actually just a pamphlet, but still-- I've already read five of them--though one of those comes with a cd of the author reading the poem, which I will listen to soon--and I've read a small part of two others, both of them books of poems. Several of the books are ones I didn't know about, so that is always cool, discovering something you had no idea existed. What's on display in a good poetry selection in several of the London stores is amazing in comparison to the USA.

4) I did a lot of digital drawing, carrying the iPad with me each day and almost always sitting and drawing at some point, often while having tea somewhere.

5) I didn't make it to Oxford. Or Greenwich.

London is an amazing place, a great place for walking if you like to walk, and there are always things to photograph or draw. Go!

Now what about flying business class? Some of you probably have done it a lot. I haven't. One of the benefits, which didn't do me much good, was a much greater selection of food. But the main appeal is of course the increased space you have--basically twice as much as in coach. The seats can recline completely and, if you lower the foot rest, you have a narrow bed to stretch out on. I didn't do that, but I did use the foot rest a good part of the time. And that extra space for your legs means that no one in front of you can lower their seat back into your lap. You can even stand up in front of your seat without blocking the aisle or having to bend around the seat in front of you. Space! The problem, to be sure, is the cost! I got a heavy discount via the travel agent, and so it was worth it, but I don't have enough expendable income to pay twice as much (or more?) for the privilege. So this first business class flight will probably be my last.

And then, the last surprise of the trip was running into one of the women in the book group I take part in. She and her husband were just returning from a river cruise in Europe and had actually flown in on the same jet I was on. We ran into each other at baggage claim. Pretty funny! And friend Debbie was right on time to pick me up--magically--because I got through customs, etc., faster than I thought I would and she arrived at the airport earlier than I had estimated I'd be ready. Ah, good friends!

Man, I am tired. Sleep will come soon.

Saturday, August 20, 2016

August 20: my last full day in London

Tomorrow morning it's early rising and heading for Heathrow and a long flight. Today, my last scamper.

Just about the time I left the hotel this morning it began to drizzle and soon I had to get the umbrella out. By the time I got to the Serpentine cafe, it was raining steadily with a strong wind which would have made staying dry impossible. So I went inside for a second cup of tea. The cafe was full, probably partly because of the weather, and I read a bit while drinking the tea. After maybe thirty minutes the rain tapered off, so I mushed on. The clouds began breaking apart, though they never fled, and we had only scattered sunshine and a very strong wind until 3:30 or so.

I walked past through the Wellington Arch and along Constitution Hill Road toward the Admiralty Arch and then Trafalgar Square. I stopped in at the Mall Galleries, toward the eastern end of the Mall. The exhibited work was all considered crafts rather than fine art, though I don't know that I make a big distinction. A woman name Sarah Core had some really beautiful pottery on display, and there was a group of very nice "paintings" by a name I can't fully remember--something like Amiramahdi. The artist applied watercolor to fabric, for a kind of hazy, washy look, then stitched the lined details in, like someone drawing with black ink on watercolor washes. Very nice work.

Just past the Admiralty Arch, a woman with two boys and a map in her hand stopped me to ask directions. At first I thought she was speaking French, but it was Spanish, so once again I was able to use some Spanish conversation. She and the boys were wanting to see the Horse Guards, but couldn't quite place themselves on the map in order to get there. It took me a minute too. Then I sent them down Whitehall Road rather than on the back side where the stable is, because I wasn't sure if they could walk there and because I remember seeing Horse Guards in their stations along Whitehall. So I hope I steered them right.

By this time I was ready for morning snack, and the nearby Pret had no seating, so I went back to Costa Coffee inside Waterstone's bookstore. While there I did a couple of drawings of other patrons along with my green tea and croissant. Then--yes, yes, don't yell at me--I went downstairs and looked at some of their poetry again. And yes, yes, I bought a tenth book for this trip--a poetry volume on display, by a poet I've never heard of: Quennets by Philip Terry. It looks very interesting, and I think I will take it on the plane with me, along with Roberto Calasso's skinny book on publishing. I also had an interesting talk about poetry with one of the sales crew who came up to put some books on the shelf. She said she had majored in poetry at the university.

After the bookstore I had a quick lunch of ham and chips while standing in the uncertain sun at the square. People were coming and going everywhere; a man with a bicycle whose front wheel turned right if you turned the handlebars left and vice versa was challenging pedestrians to ride it from one chalked line to another (no one succeeded); and there was a big stage near Nelson's column getting ready to perform for London Jesus Day.

Then I went to the National Portrait Gallery, to get out of the wind, to do some drawing maybe, and to see portraits. One of the most interesting aspects of the museum right now is their juxtaposition of paintings from the past with contemporary paintings in the same vein--for instance, recent writers alongside portraits of writers long dead or twentieth century military leaders in the same gallery with kings or other war leaders from the past. I sat and sketched my own version of the portrait of Seamus Heaney, and a couple of rooms over a "bouquet" of busts, displayed together on a couple of circular surfaces. I took a few photos too, posted at Facebook: the British humorist Jonathan Miller, the novelist AS Byatt, the author and painter Mervyn Peake, whose Gormenghast is such a fine work.

I went back to the National Gallery and browsed some more and snapped a few photos, including one of a tiny (4x6, I'd guess) painting of the wall of a house in Italy (by Thomas Jones?), and had afternoon tea at the very busy Pret-a-Manger right near St Martin in the Fields church. Zillions of classical recordings have been done there (if I have my facts straight), and they have a really cool crypt with lots of burials in the walls and a cafe. I stood outside the church for a few minutes, a little bit blocked from the wind by a pillar, and drew a sketch of the little plaza scene there.

We were still having what I call scattered sunshine, but it was very very blustery and chilly. So I worked my way back through one street or another till I reached the "western" Marks & Spencer on Oxford Street and had an early supper: yep, jacket potato and apple. My final Marks & Spencer supper for this trip. The clerk at the cafe had already seen me enough to remember me and what I ate, so I told him this was my last supper before going back home and thanked him for their taking care of me while I was there.

On the way back to the hotel I detoured and went into Piccadilly Station so I could make sure about the various Heathrow Express departure times in the morning. And then on to the hotel. Packing things up, organizing what's packed, you all know that routine!

Friday, August 19, 2016

Is it August in London or February in Dallas?

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!

Thursday, August 18, 2016

August 18: Church hopping and a bit of shopping

As is not unusual, my original plan for today altered after I set off across Kensington Gardens. When I reached the center of the park, instead of going on east toward Westminster Cathedral, I left the park so I could check out a Russian Orthodox Church the map showed not far south of Kensington Road. The road I found it on must have been pretty high dollar--I saw three Bentleys parked within the space of a block. But another vehicle, parked on the street, was cooler than the Bentleys--some kind of large-tired off-road vehicle I'd never seen before: sort of like a designer Jeep maybe. The church was tucked into a nook next to a park and I posted a picture of it on Facebook. Then I wound around a few more streets to a German Evangelical Church, and a few blocks to the Brompton Oratory. The Brompton is a big big church on Brompton Road, right near Victoria and Albert Museum. It's a Catholic Church, also known as the Oratory of St Philip Neri, but officially the Church of the Immaculate Heart of the Virgin Mary (unless I got too many names scrambled). I posted photos of this (as well as the fa├žade of the German Evangelical) on Facebook. It has a large dome, especially impressive from outside and visible from blocks away. Lots of shops along Brompton, and I passed up the chance to have an eclair at the Patisserie Valerie and settled for morning tea and croissant at Costa.

After finishing up on Brompton, I had to do some weaving amongst the perpetually angling (usually in the wrong direction) streets and re-walked along some of the streets of Belgravia which I had visited for the first time just a few days ago.

The Westminster Cathedral is a Catholic Church, one of the two most important in England. It's a relatively young church, having been substantially completed by 1903 when the archbishop who died that year was entombed there, above ground in the medieval manner, under a stone effigy of himself. The outside, as you can see from the photos on Facebook, employs a pale white or cream stone for window frames and accents while the main body of the church is a dark red (I think). The church is Gothic in overall design and that, combined with the stone, gives it a much older feel than it is. Many of the neighborhood buildings employ the same sort of striped architecture, so the church and the neighborhood match, more or less. I took the lift (elevator) up the tower, which rears up to the left of the entrance, and was able to look out from the four sides to the city all around. Panels point out the notable structures in each direction, so that's cool. I was particularly interested in seeing what remains of the Battersea power station, which was used by Pink Floyd in 1977 as the setting for the album art to their record Animals, along with a flying pig which on one occasion broke free and floated off. You can also see part of Westminster Abbey in one direction. The young woman who escorted me up told me the tower was 210 feet high.

Leaving the cathedral, I did a bit of browsing in House of Fraser on Victoria Road, thinking I might ding a gift or two there, but didn't. Then I headed north toward and through St James's Park. I've walked alongside this park many times, angling toward Westminster Abbey from Hyde Park, but I'm pretty sure I've never crossed it from south to north (or north to south!) and maybe not even west to east! There's a small lake in the middle with a bridge across. Looking west from the bridge you get a great view of Buckingham Palace and looking east, among the trees, what looks almost like a fairy tale Germanic cluster of buildings, which must be some of the government buildings north of the Abbey and the Houses of Parliament.

Making it back up toward the Piccadilly area I bought some ham, chips and Coke for an outdoor lunch and thought the churchyard at St James Church would be a good place to eat it. I lucked into a street market/fair day and part of the church square was full of small merchants selling from tented stalls. I had my lunch first, being "entertained" by a family with three small children, one of which, on her constant running the circle of part of the yard, stomped on my foot on one round. Fortunately she didn't weigh very much.

After eating, I went into the fair and almost immediately found a simple silver ring which will, I hope, be the sort of thing I've been looking for as a gift. Not a simple unadorned band, but a very simple "bamboo"-joint band which I'm hoping my sister will like! The dealer and I talked a bit about society and economy in general, but then had to stop so he could do more business! I browsed a bit more but didn't really need to buy anything else so I didn't stay long.

The remainder of my afternoon was mostly walking and book looking. I visited one of the used bookstores on Charing Cross Road which I've gone into many times. They had a few interesting poetry titles, but nothing I felt I must have, so I passed on. Then I spent more time at Foyle's, feeling that I still hadn't really done it justice. This time I bought two items, both from the library essays section: a slim paperback by Roberto Calasso about being a publisher and a tiny stapled pamphlet called The Unknown Unknown (title inspired by Donald Rumsfeld, whose ruminations also figure in the text), about the joy of finding books you never knew existed (and therefore couldn't have wanted) when you browse bookstores. The author Mark Forsyth has a few full-length books about the English language which sound worth looking into when I get back home.

I had afternoon tea at Starbucks. For the record, most of my tea drinking on this trip has been done at Marks & Spencer cafes or Pret-a-Manger. Starbucks and Costa have gotten many fewer visits, though they rank above the London Zoo for frequency. Supper at M&S, of course, the jacket potato and apple supplemented by a chocolate chip cookie this time. I read the newspaper a bit while eating and then did a bit more browsing. I think I probably have in mind the final item for my sister, but held off buying, just in case I stumble into something more nearly perfect.

Here's something you probably wish I wouldn't tell you: I've lost weight this year so, from the collarbone down, I look like Iggy Pop with body hair.

Mostly cloudy/hazy today, but after three mostly sunny days I felt all right. If it rains tomorrow, I may sink though.

Carry on!

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Zoo! Sun! Warm!

August 17

Even though this is my fifth trip to London and even though I often go back to places I've been before (British Museum, Tate Britain Museum, Westminster Abbey), there are still so many things to see and do that this trip already has a number of firsts: today's firsts were Abbey Road and the London Zoo. I was on my way to the zoo when it occurred to me that my route might take me not terribly far from the Abbey Road studios where the Beatles, Pink Floyd, and so many other musicians have recorded. Well, it was a bit farther than I would've preferred but still in the same general vicinity. One of the outside walls has all sorts of messages written on it from visitors, and there is a shop which sells Abbey Road-related materials to tourists. Remarkably for a tourist shop, they charge less for Beatles CDs than HMV does! They carry some vinyl LPs as well as CDs, and it was fun to see Cream's Disraeli Gears there. Among the various items are coasters and blank books--appropriately decorated, of course--and even a variety of art prints reflecting the studios' history and available only there. LPs cost more than CDs, as in the US, and the box set of the Beatles albums in mono instead of stereo will run you 288 pounds! And of course outside is the street crossing where the Beatles photographed the cover of their Abbey Road album 47 years ago.

Walking from Abbey Road to the zoo I passed through the part of London called St John's Wood, which looks pretty tony. The zoo itself is in Regent's Park, sort of on the northeast corner, and even after I reached the park, coming in from the northwest, I thought I was walking forever to get to the zoo entrance. Wow! It's been a long time since I've gone to a zoo, I guess: the entrance fee was 28 pounds, 10 cents--twice what it costs a "senior" to get in Kew Gardens, close to twice what it cost me to get into St. Paul's. I guess animals cost more to maintain than trees and flowers! It was cool to see some of the really big fish in the aquarium--not shark big, you understand, but big enough to feed a whole family--and the various kinds of coral in some of the tanks are cool to watch as they move their branches in the water. Perhaps the most interesting thing to me in the reptile and amphibian house was a bright blue frog from the tropics. They also had a couple of rattlesnakes and even a black mamba--so named because the inside of its mouth is black, not its body. I hadn't known that!

The squirrel monkeys are also fun to watch, and my mother and my sisters will be pleased to know that one of the gorillas is named Effie and enjoys chasing pigeons. I don't know if I saw her or not. They all look like gorillas to me.

The tiger was sitting on top of some big wooden structure underneath a concrete walkway, so it was hard to see much, but the lions were lying out in the shade, one in the sort of resting but awake pose you expect, the other two asleep on their sides, sort of cuddling, one of them with its head thrown back and it's neck exposed.

There were a number of bright blue and yellow macaws, and an interesting bird called a turaco (do I remember that right?), which had no trouble eating with spectators watching.

In the midst of all this wandering, I had a little lunch of tuna (which I brought with me), a croissant from Pret-a-Manger in St John's Wood, and water, while I sat out in the shade, and then topped it off with a cup of green tea from the nearby zoo restaurant. I did a couple of drawings while in the restaurant, and I'll post those at Facebook and Flickr.

After leaving the zoo, I went south through Regent's Park toward Marylebone Road, stopping at one point to do a little sketch inspired by an old guy I saw off to one side spraying deodorant into his armpits. I guess he'd been running?

Just south of the park is St Marylebone church, just a smidge under two hundred years old, but right next to where a church was first built in 1400 and rebuilt over three hundred years later. That church became a chapel when the "new" church was built, and then was damaged in World War Two and torn down a few years later. One of the notable people buried there was Charles Wesley, brother of John and himself a preacher and poet. And according to a plaque in the churchyard Lord Byron was baptized there. (Some of you will wonder if it did any good.)

I made my way on south down Marylebone High Street, thinking surely I'd spot a good place for tea and a snack, but the only place I spotted was a tiny Pret with inadequate seating so I marched on. The High Street looks like a pretty snooty place to shop so maybe that was the problem! I ended up with tea and cookies at Costa Coffee on Wigmore Street, followed very shortly by jacket potato and apple at M&S, even though it was only a little after three.

My later afternoon was a sequence of bookstores, though I bought nothing. Sotheran's, which I'd been told to visit, is an antiquarian/collectible store just off Piccadilly. Some cool pricy stuff in there. And just a block or so away on Piccadilly is Hatchard's, which dates back to 1797 and is, I'm told, the oldest bookstore in the city--I don't know if it's the original location. Mostly new books, but they too had some collectible used books, none of which I had to have. And not far away, at 50 Albemarle Street, is the office of John Murray, a publisher dating back more than two centuries, which issued a number of Byron's books, for example. Apparently the Murrays (a long sequence of Johns, I gather) are still around, though the company is now part of a conglomerate. Nevertheless it claims to be England's oldest publisher.

By this time I was tired and ready to go back to the hotel. I've said any number of times that, someday, all my joints are going to snap at once when I'm on a walk and I'll collapse on the sidewalk and bleed to death internally before the EMTs reach me. I think that may happen on this trip! And if it doesn't, I think my hands may finally freeze up entirely. On the other hand, today was the third lovely day of this trip, and I think the warmest. I saw a sign at 5 o'clock which read 25 degrees (i.e. 77 Fahrenheit), so it's possible that, an hour or two earlier, we actually nipped up to 80. Wow.

And now I'll close with Renner's fashion tips, which I know you've been waiting for:

For women and men both: The more time you spend trying to look cool, the less time you have for being cool.

For women: Your feet are more important than your height--don't wear heels!
   : You are lovely enough without makeup.

For men: You look silly in flipflops.
   : Keep your beard and the hair on your head no longer than your body hair, and it will look like you have a matching set of fur.

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Out and about

August 16

As I neared the southeastern corner of Hyde Park this morning, a group of horse soldiers in full uniform were doing exercises, practices, whatever they call them. Stirring up dust. At one point I heard the commander shout, "Ride! Gallop!" Mostly they were going in circles around a small group of trees. Although my main goals for the day were the Dickens Museum and another visit to the British Museum, I had come this direction, farther south than I really needed to be, to see if I could find an address for a cousin: a location where one of her aunts had once had a bookshop. I found the address, which is now a gun shop! I took a photo and then saw another bookshop just a block or so on my way. I stopped in, both to look at their poetry and to ask if anyone in that shop knew anything about the other store. Two different employees knew a bit--one woman not quite as old as I am who's been in the book business for thirty years, and a younger man who must have been an infant or young child when the store was open. They said it had been around about thirty years ago and had lasted about a decade. They thought it closed for financial reasons. The woman also recommended a couple of other stores I should visit, one of which is the oldest bookshop in London. I may not make it to them tomorrow, but maybe Thursday or Friday.

I had morning tea at Pret-a-Manger on Berkeley Square, just a few doors down from a Rolls Royce dealer, which is next door to the Bentley dealer. Next stop the Dickens Museum--not quite as far as St. Paul's maybe, but still a long way.

2012 was the bicentennial of Dickens' birth and I tried to visit the museum then, but during my brief visit to London that year, it was being renovated and was closed. It's on Doughty Street (which just a couple of blocks down is John Street) and is in Bloomsbury. One of the employees told me that when Dickens first rented it, it cost eighty pounds a year, which was a great deal of money in 1837, especially for a twenty-five-year-old who wasn't born to money. But Dickens had already made quite a splash by then and had the money. The kitchen and washing room are in the basement (imagine the work the servants did!), and there are four (or five?) other floors. The museum contains lots of portraits of members of the family, as well as typical furnishings of the time, at least a couple of which were actually Dickens's, his armchair, for example. They also had a "commode chair" with a flip-up seat: aren't you glad you weren't the servant who had to take care of that? There are early editions of Dickens writings on display, a Dickens Timeline painted on the wall in one room which gives facts about his life and life at the time, and a sort of hands-on room where, today at least, they were letting folks try their hands at using paintbrush and pen-point to write their names (or whatever), mimicking the way Dickens had to write his books.

At lunch, just some sliced turkey and a Coke at M&S Food Hall, I remember that the Petrie Museum--featuring a lot of objects recovered by the early and very famous archaeologist Flinders Petrie--was in this same neck of the city at University College London. So that was my first goal after eating. It's a small museum, down a street that looks almost like an alley, and most of the items are small items, including a lot of pottery. Everything, as well as I can remember, is Egyptian. I was interested to see a couple of broken items, whose surfaces were still sharp and clear, from the reign of Pharaoh Pepy. One was definitely labeled Pepy II, but the other just said Pepy, so maybe it was the first. The cartouches on the second had more hieroglyphic symbols than the first, so maybe that was a way of indicating the second Pepy. I can't read hieroglyphs so I don't know! There were several items from the reign of Akhenaten, some of which were immediately recognizable because of the exaggerations of the human form characteristic of the period. But what got me really excited for a minute or so was, I thought, the Narmer Palette. I could hardly believe it was right there in front of me--and of course it wasn't: it was a copy. The Narmer Palette is one of the oldest historical (that is, it has readable text) objects in Egyptian history and one of the first things you learn about if you read or study about Egyptian history and art. It felt like an old friend, like seeing Gudea at the British Museum.

And yes, I visited the British Museum again, only a short visit, a stroll through some of the artifacts from ancient Britain and Europe, ancient Persia and Mesopotamia, and even a quick visit to Egypt and Assyria. Afterward I went to Jarndyce Books across the street, where I had bought an inexpensive 19th century copy of Byron's Beppo on an earlier trip. (Byron can be inexpensive to collect because his books were printed in large editions and aren't rare.) Today I thought I might find an inexpensive copy of one of the later segments of his "epic" Don Juan, which came out a few cantos at a time as he wrote them. No luck on Don Juan, which is quite a funny book, but instead I got an orphaned volume from an incomplete set of his works, making it cheap--20 pounds, which is less than some new hardcovers cost. It was printed in 1824, the year he died, and includes four poems, The Age of Bronze, The Island, The Vision of Judgment and The Deformed Transformed. The Vision of Judgment is one of his most famous poems, a comic satire, and The Deformed Transformed is a poetic drama. I've read them, but not the first two.

Well, by this time, I was ready for a jacket potato supper at M&S and a slow walk back to the hotel, with stops along the way to enjoy the nice day and read a bit. We had a mix of sun and clouds today, so that was good. Not as sunny as Friday and yesterday--the two great days for weather on the trip so far--but possibly warmer than yesterday and much better than any of those other days which were wearing my heart away.

Monday, August 15, 2016

Sunny! Sunlight! Blue skies! Not gray! Blue! Sun!

August 15: Kew Gardens

Did I mention it was sunny today? Blue skies? Sunlight? Sunshine? Light? Blue? Still chilly--I suppose it might have hit 75 by early in the afternoon-- but I was able not to wear the windbreaker most of the day!

I left the hotel a little after nine for the longish walk through Kensington to Earls Court tube station to take the train to Kew. I sort of visited memory lane on the way, finding the hotel I had stayed in as part of a bus tour in 2007. Some of you know already how much I enjoy revisiting places I've been before. I also went into an attractive smallish church called St Mary Abbots with nice grounds and, of course, burials.

The London subway is all called the Tube, but it's not all underground. The train to Kew is surface. You can look out the windows! One of the stops on the way to Kew is Turnham Green, which is pronounced "turnem" in Engspeak, so a Texan can be forgiven for thinking "turnip green". Which would be a funnier name for a stop.

I had thought I would visit the National Archives (in Kew) before going into Kew Gardens because there's a copy of the Magna Carta there and it would be cool to see a second copy--I saw one copy in 2007 on my first trip the the UK at Salisbury Cathedral. (I don't know how many there are!) But the mounted map of sites to see in Kew told me the Archives are closed on Sunday and Monday, so no go. No problem. Kew is great. And I'm old enough to get "senior concession" which knocks the price down a pound. The benefits of being decrepit.

But first I stopped in the Kew Starbucks (I think it's only my second visit to any Starbucks while here--I've had tea at M&S, Costa, Pret-a-Manger, and my hotel room)--because breakfast had already worn off by the time I reached Kew.

My first excursion in the Gardens was to wander through the Palm House (tropical greenhouse) and the Waterlily House, where I got a few decent photos (posted at Facebook). Then I angled off along Pagoda Vista to see, and maybe draw, the pagoda. But my two attempts at drawing it just didn't please me so I deleted them. If you go over to Facebook, however, you can see my tiny video for Pagoda Vista. I ended up doing a drawing based on a picnicking group: two youngish women with so many kids you'd think they were running an orphanage. Two were infants. I don't know if they were twins or if each woman had one. Yikes.

One of the other cool places in Kew is the treetop walkway. Usually there's an elevator, but it was not running today, which may have kept the walkway less crowded. To get to it you had to use the stairs, climbing about 60 yards. The walkway is kind of a lopsided oval from which you look down toward the ground, or over into the trees, many of which are taller than the walkway, or off into the distance. Very nice indeed.

Not too far from the walkway, but at ground level, is an open area with a Henry Moore sculpture of a reclining woman. It's very stylized of course, bronze and exposed to the sky. I sat in the shade a while, resting and drawing a sketch of the sculpture and eating a little package of multigrain Rice Krispies.

There's also a bamboo garden section with a small building in the middle called the Minka House. Bamboo is really interesting, I think. I'd love to have a bit of land for a tiny house and surround it with bamboo to mute the noise and intrusion of the outside world. They warn you, to be sure, that some bamboo varieties are invasive, but to me, that's one of the appealing things. I'd love to see them grow and spread and shield me from the hullabaloo of modern towns.

There are a zillion things to do at Kew Gardens. This was my third visit, and I do different things there. Today for the first time I went inside the Kew Palace, which was, I gather, built as a retreat for King George III and his family, a place for them to go when a spell of madness was upon him. It's large, but not enormous, and the top floor has been left as it was when it fell out of use, so you see bare walls and floors there, quite unlike the rich furnishings on the lower floors. Some of you would be interested in the large doll's (or baby's!) house in one room. The palace also contains a "water closet," added after the palace was built. Yes, it has a toilet but not a sewage system, so the servants had to empty the thing and take care of the "deposits".

The Hive, which I didn't remember from last year at all, is a large metal structure which is connected electronically to the beehives elsewhere on the grounds so that you can hear the sound/humming of the bees at the Hive. Today it was closed for maintenance so we couldn't walk under it, but it was still possible to get close enough to hear the humming apart from the sound of the generator! Earlier I had visited part of an educational field-trip kind of area--The Teepees--where they had a small part of a hive between plexiglass panels and you could see the bees at work and even the queen. The woman told me there were three such small hives which they rotated through the exhibit, and that the bees were taken back to the apiary in the evening. I asked her how far afield bees tend to roam for pollen. She said generally three miles, but as far as seven if necessary. In the case of the Kew bees, they have so many plants to serve them that they don't have to go far at all.

I stayed about three hours all together, then went back into Kew (the town) for lunch--an exciting round of sliced ham, potato chips, and "sparkling" water. And then, time enough to get back on the Tube and back to Earls Court before the rush hour.

The rest of the afternoon was quiet and uninteresting--visiting M&S and looking for a couple of gifts again, browsing a nearby Waterstones and again seeing books I've never heard of but might want to read, sitting in Kensington Gardens and reading a bit and drawing a bit. (Drawings at Flickr.)

It's not sundown yet, and the skies are still blue, though the wind is chilly. Like a very nice day in Dallas in late February or March! And so much better than yesterday!