Monday, July 16, 2007

Another Two-Fer from Hay-on-Wye and points southeast

Make Hay While the Sun Shines

July 14, 2007

Yep, sunshine. Actual sunshine. Sun rays one could see and feel upon the skin. Amazing. Not all day, mind you; not entirely sunny, mind you; but it was quite possibly partly sunny for a longer time today than any day I have been in the British Isles. Certainly for a longer time than any point in the past two weeks. Sunshine is lovely.

When I left Aldemiro (the very nice B&B I've been staying at) this morning about 9:15 or so for the short walk into town, it was a bit nippier than yesterday; the sky was probably 99% cloud cover; and it was windy. But it was not raining. What a marvel not raining is.

I spent at least an hour and a half in the Hay Cinema Bookshop, browsing and searching first one thing and then another, and--from time to time--finding a window to look out to see if there was sunshine. Sometimes there was. Finally I bought Plays (1922 edition) by W.B. Yeats and headed out for some food. It was about 11:20, and it was partly sunny. Now most of you live in parts of the world where it is mostly to completely sunny on many occasions throughout the year. But you don't live in Britain, where mostly sunny is as rare as the return of the monarch butterflies and completely sunny is a phrase that occurs only in novels of other worlds. Partly sunny is marvelous, and--to tell the truth--even though gray clouds blew across from time to time and the temperature dropped 5 degrees every time they covered the sun, it is quite possibly mostly sunny right now, at 7:20 p.m., if you don't count high haze as cloud. What if it were to be mostly sunny tomorrow? Oh my, oh my. I hope it is mostly sunny in London. London has been the warmest place I have been while in the British Isles, but this afternoon I was actually able to take the windbreaker off and actually wander about wearing only two short-sleeve shirts. At about 5 p.m., back at Aldemiro, I sat out in the garden with a cup of tea and read. Yes, outside; yes, in short-sleeves. For a while. Marvelous.

And earlier in the day I had my lunch outside, in the sunlight, not far from the banks of the Wye River. I stumbled across a little park-ish kind of place where one leaves the road and walks down to the walking path next to the river. So I sat there in the sunlight, with my ham, apple, chips and Coca-Cola, and enjoyed myself. This, by the way, is a photo of the Wye River.

Now granted that I don't know what the Wye River normally looks like, but this looks like a mighty full river. The water runs right up to the grass and--though you probably can't see it in this photo--on the other side of the bridge from which I shot this, the water was going up under the trees on the bank in a way that looked like a river out of its normal banks to me.

Later in the day I walked out to the north (I think) of town, trying to find a bookstore that is a little way out of town. (I didn't find it--I quit walking when I reached the end of the sidewalk: I'm not about to trust these drivers enough to walk on the road itself when there's a hedge and no shoulder.) The road crossed a small creek, and just a bit downstream was another bridge (apparently a footbridge) with a huge amount of ivy hanging down toward the water. Rather lovely, no?

This creek runs on into the Wye, I presume.

Well, anyway, on the book front, Plays was the only book I bought today. At 5 pounds, it's the most expensive book I've bought in Hay-on-Wye. It's a nice edition, with nice flexible, non-browning paper, and should be fun to read. Hmmm, not much return for two and a half days in the "book town", you're thinking. I have to tell you that I'm kind of disappointed in the book-searching here. I didn't find anything that absolutely knocked me off my feet, within the range I could afford, anyway. It was grand to see the 90-year-old first Irish printing of Yeats's Responsibilities, but I couldn't buy it. It was fun to see some early Byron editions, but those are findable even in the U.S. (and in London), meaning that I didn't have to snatch any one of them up for fear of never seeing it again.

But other than the Poetry Bookshop, which has a great many books--though perhaps not many more than Larry McMurtry's Booked Up in Archer City, Texas--many of the stores were disappointing, not obviously better than many used bookstores in the U.S. To be sure, their stock has a lot more British authors--so that, for example, a fan of W.H. Auden can find a lot of his books in early editions--but I wasn't as wowed as I hoped to be. Maybe living in a down-sized mode has gotten too much to me!

As I headed back toward the Aldemiro for my evening, I snapped this shot looking up toward the hills just south (?) of the parking lot near the visitor center.

The photo doesn't really give a sense for the feeling one gets in person, of looking toward a fairly rounded curve as the hill goes up. The parking lot is also on the side of a hill, so that if one stands at the top of it, and looks toward this hill, there is definitely a feeling of looking at a sort of natural bowl. But it doesn't show up in photos, unfortunately. Still you can see how green and lovely the fields are. Yours truly, of course, can't even think about paying for a view like this by living in almost continual cloud cover, humidity and rain; or by learning to call 70 degrees a warm summer day. Yikes.

The music festival continues, by the way, and for a while this afternoon the band was so loud that even ear-plugs and a distance of half a mile or more couldn't shut it out. Right now I'm not hearing any such thunder, so maybe a folk singer is performing.


Insult to Injury

July 15, 2007

What a peculiar day! It was already raining when I woke and pretty much continued all morning though there was a lull into very light drizzle for a while. Ken from Aldemiro B&B took me to the bus station at 11:30; several more people came to join my wait; and we waited. The bus was 15 or so minutes late, just about cutting in half the time we expected to have between arriving at the train station and leaving on the train for London. Whether the driver was trying to make up for lost time, or whether he always drive like a lunatic, I do not know--one way or another he drove like a lunatic. The roads are always narrow and winding; today they were also wet, with standing water in some places. In the worst of those places, we entered the standing water about the same time as a car from the other direction, and the entire front of the bus was splashed with water. The driver kept going. It was, to put it calmly, an interesting drive.

But we weren't in a terrible collision, and we made it to the train station in time to get on our train, and except for the continuing icky weather, things seemed okay. Sure, it was a slow train ride, with a lot of stops, but we were headed toward our goal. Until we got to Oxford. Then the announcer came over the train's PA system and told us we would all have to get off. He said he didn't know exactly why--that he was just being told the train was being pulled out of service. As we stood on the platform, we heard an announcement that there would be a train going to Reading and no further, but that if we didn't have to get to London, we shouldn't try. Fortunately, some of the rail employees were more helpful than the official announcements--which were no help at all and which made no attempt to be helpful. Put a big black X in your tour book next to First Great Western (or was it Northern?) train lines of Britain.

One of the people who had gotten on the bus with me at Hay, a recent college graduate from San Francisco, and I were hanging out together to try to find out what to do, because he was heading to the same section of London I was. First we were told by a train employee that we would have to wait an hour to catch a train back-tracking to Banbury, from which we could change trains again and get into London on another train line. Then the SF guy noticed the announcement screen showing that the very next train coming in made a stop at Banbury. Then a local who was hearing our discussions said that yes, indeed, that train would take us to Banbury, that he was himself getting on that train, though he was heading on north. We were joined by a Japanese couple with very little English. The train man was trying to tell them how to get to Paddington station in London, but they weren't really understanding it. So I said they should just follow me and the other guy.

So they did.

Of course a lot of other people on our train were trying to get to London the same circuitous way. Once we got to Banbury, there were quite a few of us waiting on the platform for the London train. The SF guy said he thought he would just wait for the second London train, coming in 12 minutes after the first, and let the crowd go in the first one. I said I wanted to check the first one and see if there were seats, and if there were, then get on. I didn't want any more delays. So there I parted company with him and the Japanese couple: they decided to wait with him for a less crowded train. The first train, which I found a seat on, was crowded as we got nearer London, but I think the three of them could have gotten seats too if they had looked.

(We heard two explanations, by the way, of the train problem: 1] that someone had cut the lines near a town/stop called Slough and the rail lines' "traffic lights" were all on red; or 2] there was a power outage. Who knows?)

It was 6 p.m., instead of 4:45 when I arrived in London, and I was at Marylebone Station and not Paddington, but I just walked to the hotel anyway. It was farther, but not hugely farther. Now get this: even though we had ridden through more rain on the way to London, London was not having rain at the moment. Now get this: walking from the train station to the hotel, I actually sweated! Of course you shouldn't get too excited by this tidbit and think that London has gone tropical or anything. Keep in mind I was carrying about 35 pounds worth of luggage and I was wearing two shirts and a windbreaker (which I needed in Hay).

I checked into the Springfield where I spent 9 days in June. I'm in a tiny one-person room on the top floor with a window looking out into treetops, and somewhere down below is Sussex Gardens Road. It's actually a bit warm in the room. I wasn't sure it was possible any more to be a bit warm in the British Isles. I changed out of my Malta pants and into my shorts, and I shucked the windbreaker, and I headed off to look for supper at Sainsbury's grocery. And it was perfectly pleasant outside. Yes, indeed. I got some chicken, chips and a soda; I went down past the Italian Gardens just a little way and sat on a bench to eat and watch what was going on. In addition to the usual birds and squirrels, there were a couple of perky field mice--at least I assume they were field mice. They looked to be four or five inches long.

Then I strolled the Gardens some more, looking at the obelisk "In Memory of Speke" (a reference I don't get at all, though it has something to do with the Nile and 1864, according to the short inscription) and the bronze statue of "Physical Energy," and sitting again to read a bit more of Rites of Passage, and then getting asked by two American tourists if I knew where the Diana fountain was. A nice ordinary sort of evening in which one could actually be outside.

London had apparently had a good bit of rain earlier in the day--there was standing water on Bayswater Road--but it wasn't raining now. And apparently London is a good bit drier than Chester and Wales anyway, so I'm glad to be out of that part of the Isles. Tomorrow, I think, I will--given dry weather--take a long walk to the Tate Modern Gallery and maybe the Tower of London. If it's wet, I might ride the Tube or the bus. We'll see.


DrTee said...

This is rich. I googled "In memory of Speke" and your blog came up. But Speke was an African explorer. That's all I could find out about Speke.

Sheila Ryan said...

Speke is the dude credited with 'discovery' of the headwaters of the Nile. He and Sir Richard Burton had a horrific falling-out over Speke's claim.