Saturday, 6 June 2009

Tired of London? - England (6)

"Why, Sir, you find no man, at all intellectual, who is willing to leave London. No, Sir, when a man is tired of London, he is tired of life; for there is in London all that life can afford."— Samuel Johnson

With Johnson’s words in mind I took myself to London for the final three days of my English holiday.

There I stayed with my good friend Joe in his nice flat in Pimlico – a “desirable” London neighbourhood.


Joe’s flat is at St. Georges Square

right on a ‘bus route which will take you all down Oxford Street, and across to Euston, King’s Cross, and St. Pancras Stations.

It is a three minute walk from the Pimlico underground, with links to all of London.

Also no more than three minutes walk away is the Embankment and the River Thames.

And you can walk for about 10 minutes to reach Victoria train, underground, and long distance ‘bus stations.

In other words – this is a cool and convenient place in which to live.

After reconnecting over a glass of wine, Joe hailed a cab and we went to his dining club, Black's on Dean Street in Soho.

There I enjoyed roasted lamb’s kidneys for a “starter”, followed by some wonderful baked cod, with (Island of) Jersey new potatoes (the best), and asparagus.

After dinner, as is the manner of life in clubs, we moved upstairs for a delicious glass of port. We were through at 11:00 p.m.

Joe and I decided to take a 45 minute walk home to his flat. What fun! Soho and Piccadilly Circus were alive with the most amiable young people and tourists. We wandered across the Mall, through St. James’s Park, down Whitehall, passing the Houses of Parliament and Westminster Abbey, back to Pimlico.

This was London at its best - a late night walk, in utter safety.

Next day I took the #45 bus to St. Pancras, and from there took a train to St. Albans. My plan was to have lunch with seminary classmate D and his wife A. That plan was nixed as A had to rush off to have a pre-biopsy consultation regarding some cancer which has erupted behind her nose.

So after a quick lunch alone I took a train back to London and enjoyed an afternoon nap at Joe’s flat.

That evening I had a fine dinner in Bloomsbury with Joe’s former wife Stephanie.

I got back to the flat at about 11:00 p.m. to find Joe packing for his 6 day motor-cycle trip to France, Italy, Switzerland and Germany – due to start the next day.

At midnight Joe suggested a motor-bike ride and that seemed to be the most sensible option.

So off we went, up the Embankment, over to the South Bank and back again. I of course rode pillion, and enjoyed every moment.

Biking around London in the wee hours is a good thing for 65 year olds!

I did not tire of London, and I do not plan to be tired of life!

Friday, 5 June 2009

I have been a lifelong Socialist - England (5)

(See the previous entry today for some photo’s of Weymouth and Dorset)

T and W have been friends of mine since 1960. I worked with T for less than a year at the Government Bookshop in Bristol, and soon got to know W his wife, and their daughter L.

(One of the major themes of my life is to stay connected with old friends).

When I saw T and W in 2004 we got teary eyed at the thought that we’d never see each other again.

Here we are in 2009, and we visited again in Bristol. Both T and W have poor eyesight, and T suffers from re-occurring and debilitating bronchial infections. We rejoiced in our visit over a cupt of tea and some biscuits.

T and I talked about the demise of the British Labour Party. This was the party which once stood for the rights of the working classes. Now it seems to stand for no more than hanging on to power.

T said something which rejoiced my heart, mostly because I would never here this in the U.S.A. He said: “I have been a lifelong socialist”.

Amen to that! British socialism arose from the Congregational and Methodist Church working people. It was inspired far more from the Gospel than from Marx or Lenin.

It was a socialism which fought for workers rights, for free public education [from pre-school through university], for old age pensions, and for decent and universal health care. It was a socialism which was dedicated to the welfare of all.

(Even as late as 1972-1976 I received a University education with no cost to myself - the Government believed in free education for all).

True British socialism did not do well with the public ownership of the steel industries.

But the public ownership of water distribution, of gas and electricity production and distribution; and of the British railway system ensured affordable gas, electricity, water and transportation to the poorest of people.

It was that dreadful ideologue, Margaret Thatcher, who began the sorry process of dismantling all that the reforming Labour Government of 1945-1951 had accomplished. She, for instance, “killed” the British Coal industry for no discernable reason than that she hated public ownership of public resources.

I am so indebted to British socialism that, whilst in Dorset, I visited Tolpuddle, an historic place for all those who believe in the rights of workers.

I’ve written previously about the Tolpuddle Martyrs, and you may read all about them here

I was happy to make this simple pilgrimage to the village of British proto-socialism.

With my friend T I am proud to say that “I have been a life-long Socialist”.

My American friends who rail against socialism are simply dumb. They do not know of what they speak.

Weymouth, and Dorset Countryside - England (4)

Weymouth Harbour

Oh I do like to be beside the seaside

Weymouth, Statue of King George III

Weymouth, Georgian Terraces

Weymouth, from the harbour

Beautiful Dorset 1

Beautiful Dorset 2

Thursday, 4 June 2009

Dorset: a lovely County - England (3)

I took a couple days off from visiting my family in Bristol to travel through rural Somerset to the lovely County of Dorset, (occasionally still called Dorsetshire).

Dorset has the loveliest of English countryside, some charming small towns and villages, as well as a spectacular coast.

I took myself off the main roads and marveled at the rolling hills and gentle valleys. Sadly my camera would not work well so I have little photographic evidence of the my trip.

I was in Dorchester, which is the County seat. This is Thomas Hardy country and his statue graces the main street. Dorchester was also the site of the infamous Bloody Assize under the dreadful Judge Jeffries, and a plaque marks his lodging house.

I also made a quick foray into Sherborn with its prep school for the privileged, and its wonderful Abbey Church.

The gorgeous town of Cerne Abbas is the site for the famous Cerne Abbas giant. This enormous man (with a huge phallus) may well not be ancient, it could well be a “poke in the nose” to Oliver Cromwell. But it is worth seeing!

My plan was to stay in Dorchester but I failed to find an inexpensive Hotel. So I took myself to the seaside town of “Weymouth and Melcome Regis” (known to one and all as Weymouth).
Weymouth was the favoured resort of King George III whose huge statue is to be seen on the sea-front. The town has decent beaches, fabulous (but faded) Georgian buildings, and a nice harbour. The place is in need of a facelift, and I suspect that will happen soon since it will be the site for some 2012 Olympic events.

From Weymouth I took a side trip to the fabled Lulworth Cove, a beauty spot which I’d never before seen. The trip was well worth while despite the very expensive parking.

Back in Weymouth I stayed overnight in a small private Hotel. It was “adequate”. The owner assured me that I would enjoy breakfast the next morning, and so I did. To my delight “Kippers” (Kippered Herrings) were on the menu – a wonderful dish with which to start any day.

The staff at this Hotel was fine and anxious to please. But the guests at breakfast-time reminded me of folks in a “Fawlty Towers” episode – abounding in quirkiness and mild eccentricity. I nibbled on my cereal, toast and kippers, all the while thinking of scripts which could include these aging breakfasters.

Whilst I was at Cerne Abbas I encountered some Dutch tourists. We marveled together at the countryside, then one of the men said this “it’s a good thing that the English climate is unpredictable, otherwise this place would be over-run with tourists”. He had a point. Do include Dorsetshire on your next holiday in England.

For further reading:,_1st_Baron_Jeffreys

Wednesday, 3 June 2009

Bristol - England (2)

Bristolians are inordinately proud of their City. It is by no means the largest in the United Kingdom, but it is lovely (in parts) and rich with history.

The name is derived from “Brig-Stowe” (the place of a bridge), and that place was settled at the confluence of the Avon and Frome Rivers.

Near the Avon, at a place called Sea Mills, are the foundations of a Roman Villa, though Bristol was never an important Roman settlement.

By 1373 the City was so prosperous, thanks to the export of wool, that it was given county status, separated from the neighbouring counties of Gloucestershire and Somerset.

A later prosperity was rooted in the Slave trade, a trade which Bristol merchants were reluctant to abandon.

The medieval heart of Bristol with its many parish Churches was still intact when my parents grew up. They would have seen St. Thomas’s, St. James’s (Horsefair), St. Stephen’s, Christ Church, All Saints, St. Nicholas, St. Johns-on-the-wall, the Temple Church and St. Peter’s – all within one square mile.

That heart was devastated by German bombing
When I was a lad the chief industries were chocolate and tobacco, reflecting Bristol’s heritage in the triangular (slave) trade. Those industries were being surpassed by the Aircraft industry in north Bristol (British home of the Anglo-French Concord(e) supersonic jet, and by insurance and banking interests.

(Bristol was also the English heart of the sherry and port blending endeavour. It gave its name to two types of sherry (Bristol Cream and Bristol Milk).

Many Americans know of “Harvey’s Bristol Cream Sherry”, formerly blended in Bristol.

Few realize that “Harvey’s” is the name of a Company, but “Bristol Cream” is a type of sherry. Other blenders also create “Bristol Cream” and “Bristol Milk”.)

The central City Docks were yet operative in my youth. But these Docks, 3 miles upstream on the tidal River Avon were becoming redundant in the face of larger container vessels.

Now that dock-land is alive as a recreational area – affording splendid boating, museums, galleries, footpaths, and restaurants in the heart of the City.

I wandered there on Sunday 17th May and was wonderfully astonished with the vitality of life and leisure.

My brother Martyn, his wife Wendy and their son Sam (with his buddy Mark) returned there on May 26th to enjoy some ferry boat rides giving us a wonderful view of our beloved City.

My visit home renewed my pride in being a Bristolian. That is not a parochial pride. For there are many Bristols in these United States – in Maine, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Pennsylvania, Indiana, Virginia/Tennessee , and indeed in Florida.
See the following for more information about Bristol.

Tuesday, 2 June 2009

65th birthday - England (1)

I've just enjoyed two weeks in the U.K., arriving there on May 15th and leaving on May 30th.

Fortunately for me, British Airways has a direct flight from Tampa, Fl (about an hour’s drive from my home) to London, Gatwick airport.

My U.K. home was with my brother Martyn, his wife Wendy, and their children Laura and Sam.

So I was in Bristol (our home city) for most of the time, but was also able to take two days in Dorset, and three in London. I’ll tell you more about these trips in the coming days.

This trip was planned so that I could celebrate my 65th birthday with family and friends. This we did in style on May 23rd.

I hosted a catered meal with wonderful food – including goat curry, vegetarian lasagna and quiche. The chefs - James and Michael- did themselves proud.

Six of my eight siblings were there, with their spouses and children. I was happy to reunite with 12 of my 19 nieces and nephews, and a fair sprinkling of my great nieces/nephews.

Sadly my twin sister Elizabeth and my brother David were unable to be present.

My only remaining (and favourite) Aunt (Irene) was there together with two of her children, my cousins Janet and Christopher.

What began as a celebration of my birthday morphed into a family reunion – the first since our mother’s funeral, eight years ago.

The older I get, the more I value these family occasions.

And it was a joy to celebrate with friends of our family who also attended – making 62 guests in all.

More later!

Monday, 1 June 2009

A sad farewell

E II R is sad to note that Michael Povey has departed her realm to return to his home in the United States.