TRAVELOGUE #42: London, England 2016

To be in England twice in one year is about as lucky as lucky gets, especially when a rock bottom airfare puts you in your birthplace in your birth month. The last time that happened Margaret Thatcher was in office. So while England in November may sound gray and wet to you, moody skies are easily remedied with golden coloured tea and warm buttered toast. And a spoonful of sugar, if you ask Mary Poppins. But I rather think Poppins got it wrong because it’s clotted cream that cheers up the soul and provides the answer to nearly all of life’s questions:

            What should I have for breakfast?
            Answer: clotted cream.
            What will get me through marking all these papers?
            Answer: clotted cream.

If you’ve ever shopped the Food Halls of Harrods, you know that to find a vacant table is to discover the Holy Grail. So from a lucky corner, I enjoyed what I consider my first royal cream tea experience. Up until that point, I had no idea that a scone could be that flaky or cream so flavourful and smooth. I’m beginning to see why Queen Victoria was a rather curvy woman. Bless her clotted heart. 

As you know, news broadcasts always sound more interesting when you travel. The BBC reported on a two-year experiment in south west England on whether patrons visiting a park would stop, if given the opportunity, to write a poem. Christopher Jelley collected over 6000 poems. That’s roughly 8 poems a day every day for over 700 days. You’ll love this one:

Roses are red
My name is Dave
I don’t understand poetry

Gentlemen, if you’re looking for a good line in your next Valentine’s card look no further: “I breathe your air and it cleanses my soul.”

Heavenly sigh. I’m curled up on Katherine’s plum velvet sofa with cream and warm Brandy and a news anchor is reporting on a modern day study on poetry. And the fire in the room is crackling, searing these words into our hearts – Katherine’s, Barry’s, and mine.

Life is grand. All I need is Penny stretched beside me and Rene in the kitchen to complete this.

Speaking of the kitchen, there’s a fluid physicality to Katherine’s fussing that makes the simplest of moves beautiful to watch. She lifts a lid, turns this and that. It’s a performance that keeps you looking. There are stories in this room. Cups are poised to tell them, if only. We dive in, eat and talk. One bite of these sausages and I already know that one is not enough. I politely take the last one at their urging but deep down I’m glad that no one else wants it. The room is small but the love that fills it is anything but. I feel as wanted as that last sausage. 

The kitchen is also where you can pick up the cheekiest of dialogue between two people:

Barry: There’s a pot on the stove with nothing in it.
Katherine: Yes well, there will be you slave driver you.

Barry: What time is supper?
Katherine: When it’s ready that’s when.

Barry: Have either of you seen my phone?
Katherine: Yes Barry, we have it on our bras.

Katherine: There isn’t room for both of us in here.
Barry: Well, I was here first.

The coffee shop is another good place to hear a brilliant one-liner: “He’s a right scallywag, that one.” And at a different table with two men well into their eighties talking over buttered toast and poached eggs, says one to the other: “That’s not a question for a human being” and I find myself wanting to politely interrupt and ask, “Sorry, what is the question?”

I still want to know the question.

On the Sunday before the US election, we find ourselves in church where the vicar says, “We pray for the USA, that their new president will choose civility toward the world.” This is also where I sing a hymnal in Latin for the very first time and catch the odd stare from the guy standing beside me. Okay, so I don’t know what I’m singing. Pax et bonum, buddy.

On my last day I get a lovely dose of Harriet, you know one of those rather quick yet meaningful visits with a faraway friend where the conversation picks up where it left off that begins with a hug and ends with a laugh.

If you think the TV reality show The Real Housewives of Orange County is just terrible, it turns out that the Brits have their own reality show nightmare in The Real Housewives of Cheshire.

Different on this trip was doing a lot of walking in the area in which I grew up. For someone whose research includes writing, imagine my surprise in finding John Keats’ home down the street from my childhood home. And just a stone’s throw away, the home of Henry Cole – the man who originated the custom of sending a Christmas card. And closer still, Robert Louis Stevenson and Daphne du Maurier. I felt in good (writerly) company.

The Tate Modern (museum) is magnificent, especially standing in a room of Gerhard Richter paintings. He’s an abstract artist whose canvases sell in the millions. Slightly embarrassing is the subtle yet alarming bell that sounds when you get too close to steal a closer glimpse of brushstrokes and technique. “Madam, there are magnets in the gift shop.” No, this isn’t embarrassing at all.

I photographed a lot of residential doors on this trip although being in London in November of all months, I regret not photographing the variety of poppy pins that people were wearing – especially those that you could tell had been passed down through the generations. At home, there seems to be one kind of poppy that we wear to honour the memory of the fallen. I suppose it only matters that we wear them.

Love to all

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© 2017 S. Rebecca Leigh