Wednesday, August 14, 2013

I'm home and catching up

St. George's Pimlico, London

Well, I'm home - which seems totally wrong - and now I can catch up on the blog. I have an entire month to report on - England, Scotland, Wales, and Ireland. I imagine I'll do a post every other day until it's done.  Though I had internet most of the time, it was so slow that a usual 2-hour blog would, most likely, have taken 4 to 6 hours. I was moving around too much to spare the time. So far removed from some of these placse, I'll probably forget a lot.

Scene along the "modern" Thames

I only spent a day and half in London. I was only there to take a trip down Memory Lane to visit the part of London where I spent the 6th grade - Highgate - with my cousins, the Kurths. My hotel was a couple of blocks from the Thames - much of it a modern eyesore. I'm not good about allowing old cities to modernize!

The Thames

I came in through the Chunnel under the Channel, which was very easy and fast. I stood in the taxi line at the train station with a woman my age who had started her retirement with a Peace Corps stint in Cambodia (she's obviously more selfless than I). She was from Boulder, Colorado and we were on the same page politically (as was practically everyone with whom I had an extended conversation on this trip) and we talked about how low the U.S. has sunk.

Parliament and Big Ben

I spent the afternoon - which was hot - strolling along the river to Parliament and Westminster Abbey, the only real touristy thing I did. Luckily, nearby are some of the important monuments that don't get as much attention.

Monument to the Slavery Abolition Act

Great Britain ended slavery in 1833 - and though they did have some violence around it - no Civil War was necessary and they were ahead of us in time - as they were with votes for women.

Monument to Emmeline Pankhurst -
a founder of the Women's Suffrage Movement

Lots of people stopped to take pictures of Emmeline and there were fresh flowers honoring her and her daughter, Christabel.

Fresh flowers for the Suffragettes

So it seemed appropriate that I arrived in front of Parliament as they were celebrating the third reading of the bill (I'm not sure if that's the appropriate term) in the House of Lords that would allow same sex marriage in Great Britain. I don't think they can actually get married until next year.

Arriving to celebrate

The celebrants were having a grand time with lots of singing and dancing. It was fun to be there - just as it had been in Paris when they were celebrating their first Pride Day since legalizing same sex marriage.

Ooh, too much food coloring!

I wanted to visit Westminster Abbey, but it closes to tourists at 3:30, so no go.

Westminster Abbey

There were a handful of protesters hanging out here protesting the celebrants.

Went to dinner near my hotel at a trendy tapas bar - I get much better tapas with Julia off Valencia in San Francisco. But the heat - and being in London - did make me crave a gin and tonic. They got that one right. On the way back, I passed this sign:

Speaks for itself

The next day I took the Underground to Highgate - considered one of London's most desirable areas and most expensive, where I lived in 1959-60. Climbing up the hill from the Tube I passed the monument to Dick Whittington and his cat (you can look up the story yourself, if you don't know it). It looks just as it did decades ago.

Dick Whittington's cat

I only remember passing it a few times heading down the hill to the movies - North by Northwest and that Disney one about the Matterhorn - can't remember the name.

"Downtown" Highgate

The center of Highgate was looking a little shabby for what is supposed to be an upscale place. The shopping has most likely moved somewhere else with chain stores. Things didn't feel particularly familiar until I started walking down the hill in the other direction from the Underground towards where we lived. No need to detour to the school, because it doesn't exist anymore (school of many famous people including Elizabeth Taylor, Roger Banister, Stephen Hawking, me, and my cousins). Did pass Samuel Coleridge's house - which was on the way to school.

92 Hillway - home

All the houses had their front yards redone to accommodate cars - rare to own more than one back when we lived there. Tastefully done with the lawns removed and replaced with pavers surrounded by plantings.

92 Hillway in 1960 with cousin Peter in front

Once upon a time, if the smog wasn't too bad (which it often was - when we washed our hair the water would turn gray from the coal soot in our hair), we could see St. Paul's Cathedral from the street in front of the house. Now the trees are blocking much of the view and so are modern buildings.

The view from 92 Hillway

The best thing about living on Hillway was backing up to Highgate Cemetery. There was a hole in the wall at the back of the garden and we could slip through and use the cemetery as our playground. The cemetery was a Victorian era creation and the original section was falling into disrepair and was very spooky (the west side). It was eventually closed to the public as unsafe.

Highgate Cemetery - West

The east side was quite neat and tidy and didn't offer any real thrills except that Karl Marx is buried there.

Karl Marx

My mother in front of Karl Marx in 1960

Now the east side is much more overgrown and there are a whole bunch of Socialist/Communist activists buried near Marx's grave. They now charge admission for the east side and you can only get into the west side with an expensive guided tour - which, of course, I took (you have to sign up a month in advance).

More West cemetery

The tour guide asked is anyone had ever been there before. There were only two of us and I told them that I used to climb through a hole in the wall and play there as a child. This brought no reaction from the guide. The other woman said she had taken the tour about ten years ago. The guide said, "Oh, that's great. After the tour we'll have to have you tell us how much it has changed!" I guess she wasn't even able to process my story. Good thing I didn't tell her that Chuck and I had squeezed through the locked gate in 1973 when the place was in such disrepair that it was officially closed.

Mausoleum for a rich man's young daughter

We got to see inside this mausoleum and I told the group that when we were kids, we always looked through the door at the dead and dying pigeons that had flown through the broken windows. Because I told my story, the guide told us the story about fixing the mausoleum up not too long ago. Apparently, by the time they started work on it, the pigeon poop reached to the bottom of the high window. Men in hazmat suits had to be lowered through the top and bring poop up in buckets before they could restore the thing.

Grave of a circus owner

Through the tour, I got to hear lots of interesting stories about those interred (including one about the circus owner) and about the symbolism of the monuments. As kids, we made up stories about what was behind the doors of the long alleys lined with crypts. Some of them were ajar and particularly spooky. On the tour, we got to go inside behind the crypts. I was really glad I took the tour, though I would love to have been able to wander more freely.

Waterlow Park

Not the most exciting picture of Waterlow Park - right next to the cemetery - but it's the part I remember hanging out in and singing Poisoning Pigeons in the Park. We all loved Uncle Fred's Tom Lehrer album.

Karl Marx Tea Room

When someone famous is buried in your town, you have to take advantage (actually lots of other famous people buried there, but he's the one who gets mentioned most).

Celebrating same sex marriage

Only a couple of comments about London - it really wasn't my focus except for the trip down Memory Lane. I think I heard more languages in London than I've ever heard. At times it felt as though I was hearing more foreign languages than the native English. Most common - Eastern European/Russian/Polish (I can't tell them apart) - I think the service jobs are filled mostly by Eastern Europeans.

And my first reaction to London was that the car is king there in a way that the United States can't match - and that was confirmed throughout the British Isles. Cars NEVER have to stop for a pedestrian and they act like it. And places to cross the street (with no protections - just indentations in the curb which can't be seen by motorists) can be few and far between. The map may take you to a corner, but it doesn't mean you can cross. And when the light is in your favor, the crossing time allowed is very short. Better move it! Paris was so much more civilized. Lots of crossing places and really long crossing times and, though French drivers acted as though they weren't going to stop for you, they did. Paris is a walking city - and the walker is supreme! 

And it's difficult to respect a people that relies so heavily on the tabloid. In my month in Great Britain, I only saw people reading a "serious" newspaper (which is a little more reliable) twice - on the train across northern Wales. Everyone is reading tabloids! But my political conversations were great!

Hotel in Ft. William, Scotland

Next stop - Scotland!

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