So sorry I haven’t blogged for so long! I have been busy hanging out and drinking pints (and Pimm’s cup) with several visitors over the last month, exploring Paris (twice – a subject for my next blog post), and funneling my creative juices into writing class assignments. Here’s an update.
A Trip Back in Time to WWII London
“We are all worms. But I do believe I am a glow-worm.” This is one of my favorite Churchill quotes. A couple days ago, I visited the Cabinet War Rooms and Churchill Museum with two friends, Michele and Rigo. From these underground rooms the British coordinated their forces during World War II. In 1945, the rooms were left just as they were on the last day of the war, so now one can view the Map Room (with the original maps and pins used to track movements on the various fronts), the phone rooms, the typing rooms, the Cabinet Room, Churchill’s bedroom, and the Transatlantic Telephone Room from which Churchill phoned President Roosevelt (disguised as a water closet). Nowadays, it is hard to imagine they could manage without computers.
I am fascinated by both WWI and WWII. Almost every day there is some article in the newspaper about one or the other because both are still so fresh in the British psyche. For example, see this interesting article about how General De Gaulle’s intelligence unit in London treated some French men who escaped occupied France and offered their services.
Here are a few other favorite Churchill quotes:
“From now on, ending a sentence with a preposition is something up with which I will not put.”
“Men occasionally stumble over the truth, but most of them pick themselves up and hurry off as if nothing ever happened.”
“The best argument against democracy is a five-minute conversation with the average voter.”
“Trying to maintain good relations with a Communist is like wooing a crocodile. You do not know whether to tickle it under the chin or beat it over the head.” (In reference to Stalin, of course.)
On our daily walk to Old Paddington Cemetery, Stella now ritually stops at a water spout and waits for me to turn it on. Here is what inevitably follows:
We also hang out for awhile in the empty part of the cemetery, playing with other dogs including our new friend Blue, chewing on sticks, sniffing all the flowers and trees, and watching a family of feral parrots who nested in one of the trees. A few weeks ago, we saw 8 of them frolicking, but I think the babies have grown up and flown the roost. I’ve only seen one parrot in the last two weeks.
A Trip to Burrough Market
I go on Thursdays because the market, open 3-days a week, is insanity on Fridays and Saturdays. Today, as soon as I arrived, I ate a juicy, melt-in-your mouth chicken burger with rocket, salsa, german mustard, and mayo. I know the toppings sounds strange, but the sandwich is quite tasty. Then I tracked down salmon ceviche ingredients: sushi-grade salmon from Applebee’s; a ripe avocado (adequate avocados are difficult to find, the supermarkets refrigerate them so they never ripen – do Brits actually eat hard avocados?); corriander (aka cilantro); a lime; sea salt (there is actually a sea salt vender, so one may choose from different varieties); and a fresh baguette. I also found some other treats: Portuguese salami with fennel; Grand Jura cheese from Payes d’Auge Fromage; pistou olives (marinated in olive oil with fresh basil and garlic); and German pickles from the German deli. Plus a couple of savory pies – one with mushrooms and asparagus for the vegetarian, and the other with chicken, thyme and bacon for moi. I also bought some Welsh Hafod (cheddar cheese) from Neal’s Yard, a cheese shop that specializes in cheese from the British Isles – yes, the Brits produce cheese far tastier than that stinky Stilton cheese. Luckily, they had plenty to choose from, unlike Monty Python’s cheese shop (“Red Leicester? No. Norwegian Jarlberger? No. Gruyere, Emmental? Sorry.”) Click here to see the video on YouTube.
Sometimes I also get a warm mug of mulled wine, but today I opted for a glass of white wine at Bedales, a little wine shop at the Market, surrounded by French speakers. Great spot to people watch!
A 42 hectare bird refuge, this is the place to get away from noisy London, soak in some sun, and hang out with herons, black-necked swans, nene geese, and all kinds of ducks (goldeneye, smew, plumed whistling, freckled, maned goode, hardhead (so named by hunters because they were difficult to kill), Argentine red shoveler, and South Georgia pintail, just to name a few. “Hides” – sedum-covered huts with thin, rectangular windows that open up to the fresh air – are scattered throughout. It is hard to believe that the Centre – tons of little ponds and two or three large lakes set amid grasses, reeds, trees, shrubs, and flowers – was all cement reservoir just 14 years ago. I wandered and watched for hours, among the nerdy binoculared birdwatchers, the fishing herons, and the rafts of baby ducklings. Until now, I never quite understood the allure of birdwatching. Now I am a fan.
Poets, Novelists, Propagandists and Jane Austen’s Dead Aunt
I recently took a literary walking tour of Bloomsbury, the old haunt of Virginia Woolf’s circle and many writers and poets. The highlights included the houses of Virginia Woolf and John Maynard Keynes, the church in which Ted Hughes and Sylvia Plath were married, and the former offices of Faber & Faber, where T.S. Eliot worked. We marveled at the drain pipe Eliot shimmied down whenever his first wife dropped by. She often marched back and forth on the sidewalk in front of the building, wearing a sandwich board stating on one side, “My husband is T.S. Eliot,” and on the other side, “My husband has abandoned me.” Virginia Woolf described her as being like a bag of ferrets. I wish I had her gift for description!
Another highlight – the imposing edifice of the University of London’s Senate House, where the likes of George Orwell, Dylan Thomas, and Graham Greene drafted propaganda for the government during WWII. This building (click here for a photo) could easily have served as Orwell’s model for Big Brother headquarters in 1984. The University of London was founded in 1828 as an alternative to Cambridge and Oxford, where one had to be white, male, and a member of the Church of England to enroll. It was the first university in England to grant a degree to a woman and to employ a woman as a professor.
Of course, London is a mecca for literary sightseers like me. On Juli’s first night here, I dragged her up to Hampstead to find the graves of Jane Austen’s aunt and cousin (I had just read Jane Austen: A Life by Claire Tomalin, a must-read for any Jane Austen fan). I think Juli enjoyed herself, especially when we grabbed a pint at an old Hampstead pub, the Holly Bush.
Here are some other London pictures:
Now it’s time to explore my Scottish roots. Tomorrow, we are driving up to the West Coast of Scotland, where we have rented a cottage (click here to see the cottage) on Kilninver Estate, 8 miles south of Oban. I will not be able to check e-mail while there – so don’t worry if you e-mail and I don’t respond. We’ll also stop for a couple nights in the Lake District, immortalized by William Wordsworth:
From the vast city, where I long had pined
A discontented sojourner: now free,
Free as a bird to settle where I will. . . .
The earth is all before me. With a heart
Joyous, nor scared at its own liberty,
I look about; and should the chosen guide
Be nothing better than a wandering cloud,
I cannot miss my way. I breathe again!
(From The Prelude, Book First)