Monday, March 25, 2019

Eight Days of Wandering

London has the best street names.

24 (and 25) March 2019

I’m writing this to take up time on the return flight from London to Philadelphia. In one window is Word; in the other is the collection of pictures I took over the past 8 days. I haven’t had any coffee today, the lights are out in the cabin, and my memory of what day we did what is fairly fuzzy. Except the fuzzy part; that I remember clearly. (I'm home now, with both caffeine and internet.)



Jack says I slept through the two-hour delay as we waited on the runway, in line after thunderstorms. I remember taking off for London and not much else.  We landed late enough that our hotel room was ready when we got there. Well-enough rested, with a bowl of coffee to take up the slack, I didn’t have to look twice at the TV and remote set into the wall of the bathtub.  

(We choose our hotels by algorithm: Pick an online booking site that gives steep discounts if we agree to stay at a hotel without knowing its identity. Choose the number of stars and the neighborhood. Pick another site. Do the same thing. Figure out which hotel each of them is choosing. That's where we're staying. We wound up at The Arch, a "boutique luxury hotel," if the placard by the front door  means much of anything. This is a mints-on-the-pillow sort of place.)

We had some fun with that on Facebook – our way of telling the world we landed safely – and set off to find lunch, reactivate our UK phones, and take in some art. (A side mission was coffee. Once a caffeine wasteland, London is now peppered with chain and independent coffee shops. It's enough of a thing that Jack found me a guide book two years ago.)

I’ve never been good at museums. I have about an hour of patience that can run out much more quickly the more naked angels and Jesus penises I’m exposed to. The National Gallery had quite a lot of the latter. We were in the midst of much Jesus death when we came upon an unfinished painting by Michelangelo. As an atheist I’m not above irreverent snark, and I’m not above posting said snark to Facebook.

Here, upon the death of Jesus, Mary Magdalen swipes right on Tinder.

Then there was more walking around.  We happened upon a candy shop, a chain, but a small and good one. I stepped inside and asked for anything blackcurrant. (Despite almost never eating candy anymore, I have fun buying it. I promised myself that, this time, I wouldn't fill my suitcase with English sweets.)


We headed west to see a house turned museum that Jack was interested in. The chap apparently had some sort of impressive eastern art collection. I like that stuff so I didn’t complain.
We were in the Holland Park section of London. Overhead a thunderstorm was moving in.

The museum was the Leighton House, and had we not arrived minutes before a guided tour was about to begin, we would have been in and out of there in 20 minutes. The guide kept things interesting. In an hour and a half my mind only wandered off to glassblowing once. The house was hung with Leighton’s own paintings and drawings; the Turkish tiles were in only one room of the place.

The Design Museum, which used to be on the South Bank, had relocated near here, so we walked through Holland Park to get there.

(I think this is a grey heron. It's like our great blue heron but without so much neck.)

We walked back towards our hotel, which was near Marble Arch. The route kept us in posh territory.

Later we walked through Covent Garden, where my favorite bead store used to be, where the chap in the bowler hat who held forth in his candy stall was notably absent, as was the coffee shop he worked in front of. (We've been visiting London together since 1989. Back then I was already aging out of the target demographic for most of the shops there. Now that even Beadworks and the candy chap are gone, there's almost no reason to go back. Almost, because Fopp, where one can load up on dirt cheap CDs, something Jack is fond of doing, is there. And in the old market one can still wander the stalls of high-end handmade clothing and jewelry. Hotel Chocolat has a store there. Pylones, which is also in NYC, is always fun to walk through.)


We caught a train to Cambridge, where Jack had to spend half a day with some manuscripts at one of the college libraries. I lugged my laptop with me, hoping that I’d be permitted to sit in the library while he worked.

Nothing doing. This is Cambridge University and I am one of the great unwashed. So I sat on a cold stone bench in the courtyard, my back against a cold stone wall, using eduroam wifi because, while I might not be worthy of Cambridge, I somehow managed to be worthy of serfdom at Princeton, which gets me an eduroam account.

I blogged about glassblowing until my fingers began to freeze, which was roughly the same time that Jack popped out and wanted lunch.

After lunch I found a coffee shop that was close enough to one of the walled-off university buildings to have a strong eduroam signal. I bought a hot chocolate that I mostly didn’t drink, found a table, and blogged some more, until I got glassblogging out of my system and Jack popped in.

We met a friend of his for a drink at a wine bar, had dinner on our own, and took the train back to London.


Same thing, different university, but without the research and blogging. We took a bus to Oxford in the early afternoon. We met another friend of Jack’s for coffee in the Queens Lane Coffee House, which purports to be Europe's oldest coffee house. Why there was a Turkish lamp at the counter is a mystery.

We then walked two miles north to meet other friends for dinner. These friends were people I knew, and we had a grand old time. It was after midnight when the bus dropped us off back at Marble Arch.


More walking around the next day landed us back in Covent Garden. I don’t remember what our plan was, if we even had one.

(By now I'd used my share of public restrooms, which were, for the most part, up or down a flight of stairs, around several bends, and through several doors. I was convinced that this was some sort of sobriety test which, despite not drinking, I managed to fail over and over again.)

In Neal's Yard, while looking for lunch, we found an historic plaque, of which there are many. This one paid tribute to a fictitious character.

Shaftesbury Road, as with many of the busier London streets, is littered with souvenir shops. Of all we passed, only this one was selling a Trump-Hitler t-shirt.

In the evening a friend from college met us at the hotel. He is a fan of cats, and someone who had tried his hand at glassblowing. He deserved one of my practice cats from my first day back in the studio. He sent me a picture when he got home.

(I'll leave you to figure out which one is mine.)


This was the best day of the trip.

I’d been trying to visit independent coffee shops as much as possible. Jack liked having breakfast at a small chain café near the hotel. The coffee there was okay, but I always wanted a second cup somewhere else. At the indy shop closest to the hotel was a magazine called “Caffeine,” clearly geared towards London coffee snobs and baristas.

The blue concoction on the cover is not coffee but an herbal infusion masquerading as medicine or profit, depending on which end of the money exchange you’re on.

And now, the fuzzy part: Lady Dinah’s Cat Emporium, for an hour and a half of rescue cats.

Wookie Bear, a 19-pound, 8-year-old, half-Persian who would be going to his forever home in two days, was the star of the show. He didn't do much. He didn't need to.

Peter, the sibling of Wendy and Tink, was one of three cats temporarily staying at Lady Dinah's until his owners moved back into a place that would allow cats.

This critter never moved from the mat. One mustn't pet a sleeping cat.


Someone else (with ten black-and-whites running around, learning names was a difficult task):

Wendy again, I think:

Peter, attempting to climb a pole and chase a toy at the same time:

Del Boy on the top hat:

Maybe Salome?

Victor, who never stirred from his spot (although he was awake enough for Jack to coax a purr):

Del Boy:

Salome, who enjoyed chin rubs and a little tummy-tickling:

Wendy on the hat:

Someone else in the front window:

Salome again:

Del Boy again:


Wookie Bear, after rising, pawing some food out of a puzzle feeder, strolling over to another bed, and strolling back to his divan:

Someone else:

Towards the end of our stay, Wendy commandeered Jack's chair and then helped herself to the table.

On our way out we spotted this fella sleeping in the front window:

As we walked towards a bus stop that would get us back to central London, we came upon Temple Bikes. Manufactured in Bristol, England, Temple frames are all steel. They’re city and touring bikes. While they’re not built to be light, they’re not the heaviest things I’ve ever picked up either. The clerk admitted she’d never even ridden a carbon bike.

At least half of the bikes were outfitted with leather Brooks saddles, brass rivets and all.

I bought a bell, a copper-colored one. Plain Jim has one like this, in silver. (So does Ricky. The bells, made by Crane in Japan, might be a de facto Hill Slug marker.)

The ring is loud and the sustain long. The decidedly retro look will go well on Beaker.

After lunch we visited Hedonism Wines, where Jack dumped a preposterous amount of money to sample preposterously old and preposterously pungent wines. I had a sip of sake, which I added to my list of alcoholic beverages never to try again.

We met friends for dinner, a pair we’ve known for decades now. I handed off a glass bowl I made early in the semester when I was experimenting with molds and color. As with the glass cat, I got pictures of the piece in its new home.


I wanted to see Brighton, so off we went on a morning train that left from Blackfriars station. Blackfriars is in the City (the oldest section of London). The station is on a bridge over the Thames.

We got to Brighton in the early afternoon and had lunch in a hole-in-the-wall café. As we headed to the pier, we found Evans Cycles. There was an enlarged topographical map on the wall. Hunterdon County road names don’t hold a candle to the towns around Brighton and Hove.

Here, we have Bush Bottom, a short distance from Perching Hill:

From there one can go to Scare Hill:

Or perhaps Brook Ho, which is north of Fulking:

(I'd been searching for a replacement for a pair of terminally-scratched, retired Oakley cycling glasses that I'd been using for driving. They'd become so bad that they were hindering my vision. I wanted to find a pair that I could use for cycling as well as driving. Evans had some that were cheap enough to fit the bill.)

Before reaching the water, we found ourselves at the Royal Brighton Pavilion and spent half an hour in the Brighton Museum, looking at random acts of furniture and random Egyptian artifacts. What their connection to Brighton is I never did bother to find out. (And, being that I’m over the Gulf of Maine at the moment, the connection will remain a mystery.) (a href="" target="_blank" title="Wikipedia, of course">Here.

The Royal Palace Pier must have been something in its day. Now it’s in fine enough shape, with clean paint and just a hint of rust everywhere. Down the center of the pier are two large buildings, both of them arcades crammed with the sort of mall games that Jack used to waste his quarters on back in the day.

We stuck to the outside. Most of the food stalls were closed, this being March, and most of the stalls appeared to sell doughnuts or cotton candy. I’d been instructed to buy a few sticks of Brighton Rock, which is stick candy with the words “Brighton Rock” running around the center, millefiori style.
At the end of the pier were amusement rides, mostly closed for the season. The roller coasters looked to be far rustier than would seem safe, but what do I know.

From the pier, looking west, one can see a stone jetty and the remains of another pier:

The disc on this tower moved up and down:

Oh, hell no.

The eastern shore:

That the tarot card reader’s place of fleecing looked like a septic tank clean-out truck was a delicious bit of irony.

While Jack consulted his phone in order to get us over to where we had dinner reservations, I climbed down to the stone jetty to get more pictures.

I kept thinking of Bar Harbor.

Here's a good example of the rust ethos:

There were several chocolate shops between us and dinner. We stopped in one to look at owls and another to actually buy things.


We had tickets for a matinee Pinter play in the west end. To get there we needed to walk east then south. At the same time as the play was an anti-Brexit protest that would start near Marble Arch and end at Parliament. We found ourselves walking against the crowds on their way to Hyde Park. I felt weird walking the other way. Had we not had tickets I’d have suggested we stay and take in the protest.

We passed hand-made signs, European Union flags, and hundreds of people with “Bollocks to Brexit” stickers. I wanted one. We were in a hurry, so I didn’t stop for any pictures. I figured any news site would have a good collection of signs and crowds.

We had a quick lunch in Chinatown before the play.

The play was good. And short. By 4:30 we were out and the protest was over. To avoid the crowds, we walked north, stopped for a snack, and ended up farther north than we’d planned, which worked out well because we were on the Marylebone High Street where one of Jack’s favorite book stores is. From there it was another ten-minute walk back to the hotel.

(I hadn't had a break from weightlifting, biking, or spinning since some time last summer, and it was starting to take a toll. I made the deliberate choice not to use the gym in the hotel basement, and stuck to it save for once, when I did a quick lifting session to get the kinks out of my back. Meanwhile we walked for miles and miles each day. I killed a pair of sneakers, which were killing my right knee, in the process. Fortunately I'd packed two pairs, figuring rain would soak at least one, which never happened. By the time I get on my bike again to ride to work tomorrow I'll have had nearly two weeks away from high-intensity cardio. I hope the Hill Slugs will be willing to wait for me.)


Somehow, with half of my suitcase now filled with Tesco fig rolls for one friend, chocolates from another, more chocolates for I’m not sure who yet, and everything blackcurrant, I managed to get all of my clothes back in. So much for the plan not to bring any candy home.

We’re beginning our descent into Philadelphia.