Friday, September 30, 2011

London - Day Three

With nervous excitement on a grey weather day, The Heiress and I packed up heaps of belongings and made our way to the street outside the Morgan Hotel.  With the lift of a finger a cabbie stopped and piling everything in we were on our way to St Pancras station by 8:30 am.  Thankfully a couple of the attendants at the gate had us in stitches with their witty repartee and by the time the cosy train left the station any sign of butterflies had disappeared.

The gorgeous countryside whizzed by while we noted the similarities and differences in the landscape.  After an hour we pulled into the Canterbury West station and joined groups of other students struggling with their own heaps of belongings.  With apologies to yet another cab driver for piling such heft into his car, we were off at last to where The Heiress would call home for the next twelve months.  Pictured above is the view from her room of the quadrangle of dorms.

Students dressed in matching t-shirts circled around us bubbling with information about registration, banking, student cards, grocery shopping and bus passes.  And lots of smiles!  While The Heiress sorted out the details I passed some time chatting and laughing with some local transit employees in a double-decker bus (if you stand still for even a minute, I will make friends with you!)  It was brought on site as a location for students signing up for the discounted bus pass and what a deal.  Regularly priced at 240 GBP it was on offer for 150 GBP.  You needed your student card to register which would have meant more waiting for me so The Heiress said that if I had had enough she would take care of it later.  "Do it now and I'll pay, do it later and you pay" I said to her.  Guess which one she chose...

With most of the paperwork taken care of we hopped on a bus that took us to the city centre to buy some utensils and see about a bank.  Quaint shops, high street shops, streams of people shopping and bewildered students filled the streets and cobbled lane ways.  We squealed with delight at the sight of bunting draped across the road!  Determined to try a pasty, even if it wasn't an authentic one, we were thrilled to find a West Cornwall Pasty Shop to have lunch in.  They were delicious and just what these weary travellers needed.  With the details seen to The Heiress desperately wanted to explore the shops and since the train station was around the corner and the day was getting on it was time to part ways.  So unceremoniously, in front of Patisserie-Valerie and throngs of people, we hugged and attempted through tears to say a few words.  And that was it...she was gone, I didn't dare look back.  Then I came upon an Oxfam bookshop and was soon all smiles again!

Crossing a bridge on my way to the train station, dragging an empty suitcase behind me, I knew The Heiress had made the perfect choice.  To be challenged by her academic peers surrounded by such a gorgeous landscape in a country we've admired from afar for many years would be a dream come true for The Heiress.  And to top it all off she has already landed a job as a student mentor! 

With my own sense of accomplishment I boarded the train back to London.  And as usual, asking at least one person on the platform and one on the train about its destination to make sure that I didn't end up in Wales.  I opened my copy of Jane Austen's Persuasion and sat back to enjoy the quiet.  Once back in London I took myself on a walking tour of Bloomsbury in the mist, it suited my melancholy mood but the next day I'd be meeting Rachel, Simon and Mary and I couldn't wait!

Thursday, September 29, 2011

London - Day Two

Fortified by a Full English breakfast, The Heiress strolled and I limped to the Boots shop on Tottenham Court Road for band-aids before making our way to Oxford Street for bedding.  We found the extra long sheets needed for her dorm bed in Debenhams but the duvets were rather pricey so we made our way to Primark.  The Heiress' eyes were wide with glee when she scanned all that is lovely and inexpensive there...and I do mean inexpensive!  It was already packed with university students stocking up on household items and browsing this autumn's fashion.  She found a duvet, a cover she adored and a polar fleece throw to match for 18 GBP.  With a huge smile on her face and thoughts of her dorm room beginning to shape up we made our way back to the B&B to shed our bags.  I was nervously calculating just how much "stuff" we had to cart to St Pancras the next morning.

We're immensely interested by the World War II era in our house and hearing about my last trip The Heiress wanted to see the Imperial War Museum for herself.  I wish that I had taken down the details of the painting above but my attention kept being pulled by a group of seniors visiting the museum.  We listened to snippets they were sharing with family about being evacuated to the countryside, wearing gas masks or their treasure of half a tin of biscuits from the family's ration book.  Oh to sit down with them for an afternoon!  Forget the balled up tissue tucked inside a cardigan sleeve and their slow shuffle, I could easily imagine these seniors in wool short pants and starched dresses playing or helping out.  After a bit I steered The Heiress to the exhibit with the bomb shelter you sit in and listen to bombs falling while it's completely dark inside...then a blast hits and the bench actually shakes!  Or was that a hunger pang?  We had a delicious soup and salad lunch in the cafe and strolled back in the sunshine to the tube station.  The half-price ticket booth in Leicester Square was our next stop.

With tickets in our hands for Betty Blue Eyes we wearily made our way back to our roost for a rest...and then it was back out to Covent Garden.  We don't sit still for very long do we?  The hustle and bustle, the crowds gathering outside the pub, the fashions and the buskers...there is so much to see!  The candy shop, pictured above, was busy with people buying up bags of sweets to see them through their theatre production of choice.  But we had something else in mind.

The Heiress had spied the delightful, and ever so popular, Primrose Bakery.  Before you could say "Yum!" we were in the shop and I was counting out pound coins.  I wanted to try the carrot cake cupcake to see if their recipe was as good as mine.  Oh my this is heaven!  The Heiress had a lemon cupcake and she did offer me a bite but that would have meant I had to reciprocate and I wasn't sharing.
Fortified by sugar we crossed the street to the Novello Theatre to have the best time at the theatre we have ever had.  This wonderful musical is based on the movie A Private Function a hilarious comedy about meat rationing just after the war, a particularly lovable pig, social climbing women and a confused mother-in-law.  We knew Sarah Lancashire was starring and were thrilled to watch her perform but someone else came as a complete surprise.  At one point three gentleman appear on stage wearing overcoats and fedoras and one in particular catches my eye...can it be?  Leaning over to The Heiress I whisper "Is that Mr Collins?" (you know...the wiener vicar/cousin from Pride and Prejudice).  Sure enough, it was David Bamber playing Dr Swaby!  And can he ever dance!

Choosing this musical was complete serendipity and it couldn't have been a more perfect choice given our day at the war museum.  The Heiress and I were thrilled with our evening at the theatre and we'll never forget it.  Especially since my daughter has the clothes peg that Sarah Lancashire had on her nose and flung into the audience!  We met a lovely couple in front of us visiting the city to participage in a road rally and a couple behind us from Los Angeles.  They laughed when they found out we had just bought our tickets that afternoon, theirs were purchased six months ago.  Unfortunately this show has had its run and is now closed but if it ever pops up near you don't hesitate to rush out to get a ticket.

Tucked up in bed it wasn't long before we were out like a light.  The Heiress was too tired to even worry about the butterflies that would come the next morning as we packed up her worldly goods for the next stage of her life in Canterbury.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

London - Day One

A more beautiful day we couldn't have asked for as The Heiress and I made our way from the Russell Square tube station through the park bearing the same name.  Mental exhaustion from the immense amounts of planning and paperwork and the physical exhaustion of dragging luggage packed to bursting was instantly wiped away as we made our way through this leafy square.  A mother and her son were on their way to a talk at the British Museum so each grabbed a bulging bag and together we made our way.  I never fail to be amazed at the hospitality of most of the residents living in a city completely overrun with tourists.

It was our first time staying at the Morgan Hotel on Bloomsbury Street.  Family run and sparkly clean it suited our needs perfectly and the offer of a Full English breakfast each morning was taken advantage of each and every day.
While I never used the garden area behind the B&B it made for a peaceful view when I leaned on my elbows on the window sill of my large sash window.  The building behind is the British Museum and I loved the idea of sleeping so close to mummies!

On the day that The Heiress and I left Burlington, there was a steady stream of calls from well wishers that melted our hearts.  Our neighbour, Suzanne (Kevin the Sparrow's caregiver) knocked on our door with a card bearing best wishes for the future and a fifty pound note!  She wanted us to enjoy a lunch that we would remember and I knew exactly where we would visit.  Tea at the Court Restaurant at the British Museum was absolutely wonderful with a feast for the eyes as well as our appetite.  Dainty sandwiches of fig, cucumber with mint and pear grape each accompanied by a soft cheese were just the thing to make us feel human again after a long flight with little sleep.  Once we had decided to make our way elsewhere a hilarious game ensued of how to get the message across to our lovely French server that we were ready for the bill.  Subtleties didn't work, not even my purse placed on my lap but funnily enough just coming right out and asking did the trick.

Due to voltage issues The Heiress had to buy a straightener and blow dryer while in London.  Thanks, Rachel, for the tip to get a whopping headstart on a Boots points card!  We still had smiles on our faces while we visited the Hunterian museum and even during the first half of our "West End Ghost Walk" tour but we were flagging fast.  Weaving our way around the dark alleys near Piccadilly Circus with our group but falling slightly behind, we passed a warmly lit eatery with tables of laughing guests.  The Heiress and I looked at each other, watched our group walk further down the street and decided that a great burger and a rest was just what we needed.  Don't hesitate to stop at Byron Proper Hamburger if you're on Haymarket and try the blue cheese on your burger, it was delicious!

At the end of every day full of wonder and lovely people to talk to, I would make my way downstairs to the kitchen area of the B&B and make a pot of tea.  Joseph would keep watch until midnight and refused to let me get away with chucking a teabag into the pot, things had to be done properly.  "What is the point?" he would say.  So he came to know my routine and would start the kettle boiling so it was ready whenever I was.  Tucked upstairs with my tea, something sweet, my book and BBC or ITV on in the background was my idea of heaven and I got to do it all over again the next day.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

The Wanderer Returns

This gorgeous bouquet was amongst others at a vendor's stall outside the Holburn tube station and the first instance I whipped out my camera in London.  We ladies had dropped off our bags and were headed for Lincoln's Inn Fields, specifically the Hunterian museum.  The budding criminologist couldn't wait to see various specimans and body parts preserved in jars.

The Heiress and I thoroughly enjoyed our time together.  The agony of dragging heavy bags from pillar to post was nothing in comparison to the wonder of being back in a city we thoroughly enjoy.  The crowds of people, the rush of the tube, people enjoying the sun in leafy squares and someone with an English accent calling you "Madam" will put a smile on your face after a long overnight flight.  And then there is the stunning architecture topped by chimney pots and gargoyles, foreign to those of us used to square, functional offices with little character.

Usually I refuse to give in to jet lag but as of this moment the white flag must be waved to and fro.  By the end of my shift at the library yesterday I just wanted to curl into a ball and fall fast asleep so apologies for the delay in writing about our adventure.  Who else in my neighbourhood has the warm glow from a computer shining through their window at such an early hour this morning though, I ask you?

There is so much to share about Canterbury, Oxford, Jane Austen's house in Chawton and a peaceful stroll through gorgeous Chelsea to Carlyle's house.  The absolute cherry on top of the whole trip was meeting five of my blog friends.  It would have been six but for Verity coming down with mumps of all things!  In so many instances, this trip was about connecting with people at every opportunity and though I was alone for much of the trip I was never lonely.  So my aim is to be get things caught up around the house, take a photo or two of the books that were purchased and given and to be awake enough to string a sentence together by mid-afternoon.  Be back soon! 

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Bound for Bloomsbury

This time tomorrow night, The Heiress and I will be winging our way to Heathrow.  She is beyond excited to immerse herself if her studies, meet some new friends and make the leap to self-sufficiency with her parents far, far away.  R has never let an opportunity pass at the dinner table to joke that as soon as The Heiress packs up we're redecorating her room, having a pool put in, buying a really fun car and who knows, perhaps even buy that ice-cream maker we've been talking about.  Her response is always the same..."Uh, hello, I'm right here!"  Joking about her not being around is how we keep things light and let her know we will be just fine when she strikes out on her own.

We've never been clingy parents.  You know, the sort who soaks a box of tissues when their child attends their first day of kindergarten or goes on a bus to overnight camp.  Even tonight, R asked me if I would be stopping in to see The Heiress after my week in London and before heading back to Canada.  A glance at my bulging itinerary said it all.  "Uh, hello, I'm right here!" shouted The Heiress before bursting out laughing.  I can't quite remember where I read about young women, some still in their late teens, joining the Red Cross to go overseas as nurses during World War II.  Now that would take some intestinal fortitude on the part of the young women and faith from their parents.  What we will go through as a family during this venture is a walk in the park by comparison.

There are bookshops to visit, shows to see, train rides to take, London Walks to go on, cakes to try and blog friends to meet.  I'm even excited about the gray skies and chance of rain on the day I'm to tour Highgate Cemetery!  How atmospheric can you get?  And Rachel emailed me with the exciting news that the second series of Downton Abbey will begin while I'm in London.  Talk about all your Christmases and birthdays coming at once.

I can't wait to indulge in a Full English breakfast every day, buy just about everything that comes in black current just because I love it, eat roast chicken and stuffing sandwiches from Marks & Spencer Food Hall and try a different flavoured yogurt every single day.  Pet dogs out for their morning walk in Russell Square and try to spot magpies hopping around in the bushes.  And there is a cafe in Bloomsbury that once served me coffee with cream so sweet I didn't have to add sugar, I wonder if it's still there?

Absence makes the heart grow fonder, for chicken sandwiches and children, and the next twelve months will go by in no time.  I can hear The Heiress now..."Uh, hello, I'm right here!"

Monday, September 5, 2011

An Episode of Sparrows by Rumer Godden

'Fancy a big girl fighting such a little boy!' said a woman, but Lovejoy was not fighting, she was, simply, taking.  Before Father Lambert or Sparkey's mother could reach them, Lovejoy gave Sparkey a blow in his small stomach that doubled him up, ripped the packet out of his hand, and ran.'

There is no two ways about it, Lovejoy is an eleven year-old tyrant but oh, did I ever fall for her.  Fobbed off on Mrs Crombie and Vincent by her useless mother, Lovejoy lives amongst the soot and debris of post-war London.  Her clothes are too small and her feet are busting out of her shoes but her observant eye recognizes good quality and one day she vows things will be different.  Vincent also loves teaching his very keen protege how to make a little go a long way in his restaurant.  A simple flower in a small glass and a crisp, clean tablecloth will bring a smile to a customer's face and barely costs anything.  But much to Mrs Crombie's despair his passions occasionally run to more expensive accoutrements.

Lovejoy desperately wants to create an Italian garden, tucked away somewhere safe from marauding boys.  She resorts to all sorts of wheeling, dealing and stealing to acquire whatever she needs to make her dream garden a reality.  Tip Malone is the leader of the neighbourhood street gang but he bends to Lovejoy's commands in such a way your heart melts for him as well.  They're like an old married couple come to think of it.  And when Lovejoy thinks the eyes on the statue of The Virgin Mary at church follow her, burning into her very soul to expose her indiscretions, Tip helps her to find absolution.  Honestly, you will laugh and cry for these two and I mustn't forget little Sparkey with his bad chest, too fragile to be of much use to anyone.  Sitting on the stoup with only newspaper wrapped around his skinny legs for warmth I wanted to knit him a sweater so badly!

This story of love, hard work, determination and even disappointment is so beautifully told by Rumer Godden.  Her sublime writing and the way she wraps characters around your heart just might explain why I haven't come across her books in second-hand shops.  My book is a library copy but I will be searching high and low amongst the shops on Charing Cross Road for one to call my own.

Thank you, Harriet, for writing about this very inspirational story.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Maiden Sighs and Screaming

It is truly a wonderful thing to have a peaceful mind, a couple of hours of spare time and a good book.  The good book part is easy but the other two haven't been attainable for weeks now and my reading has suffered.  Life gets like that every now and then, that's just the way it is. 

Now it may be total madness to join a group to read Persuasion when I'll be flitting about London but I'm going to give it a try.  After all, one has to have a book to whip out of one's bag while waiting for the tube to arrive at the station platform.  Or better still, while enjoying something sweet with a cup of tea on a park bench while pretending I'm a local.

Rachel's offer to anyone interested in joining her read this wonderful book was also the inspiration I needed to finally make the pilgrimage to the Jane Austen museum in Chawton (I will not spend a fortune in the gift shop, I will not spend a fortune in the gift shop).  How did Jane manage to write exquisite novels in that house with everyone bustling about?  I've been interrupted at least ten times from everyone in my family, including the dog, during the past hour!

Another place of interest on my itinerary has me really excited about this year's R.I.P. challenge hosted by Carl.  Ever since reading Her Fearful Symmetry in 2009, I've been desperate to visit Highgate Cemetery.  The book did a pretty good job of navigating my imagination through the pathways and tombstones but I want to know what it feels like to be there.  And not that I'm a scaredy cat or anything but the fact I'll be surrounded by others in a tour group does hold some appeal.

Earlier this year I picked up a copy of Turn of the Screw with this challenge in mind but perhaps a reread of Niffenegger's book will win out.  Another option is The Woman in Black which I may end up taking The Heiress to see if we need something to do on a rainy evening.

Sometimes a trip can be the inspiration needed to pull a certain book from a shelf but in this case it's the other way around.  No doubt there will be at least one night spent having a nightmare about ghosts and Captain Wentworth.  I can't wait!