I've always been told that Hart was an Irish name, but apparently it can be Scottish, French, or German as well. I haven't come across any ancestors, on my father's side, who were Irish, but I did come across some on my mother's side who were English. So English, in fact, that they got married in the church that a prince of composers, Handel, attended. We'll get to him and to them in a while.
We decided that we wanted to see Dublin and Edinburgh and that there was still a lot that we hadn't seen in London. We planned for 4 days in Dublin, 2 days in Edinburgh, and a bit over a week in London. We've been watching a number of British mysteries, two of which, Inspector Morse and Lewis are set in Oxford, and Midsomer Murders, while set in a fictional area, is shot in Oxfordshire. We also wanted to see more of Bath, so our journey included day trips to Oxford and Bath.
Departure, September 3, 2014—When we traveled to London before we took a flight that left about 9 or 10 in the morning, and arrived at about 10:00 pm London time. We didn't like that, and decided that we'd try a night flight from Dulles to Dublin. In theory you should be able to crawl into your seat, go to sleep, and awake refreshed in the morning. Like many theories it doesn't work. The stewies, none of whom were beautiful, or even attractive, and were more like ogresses in training than comely wenches. The first thing the stewies do is start pushing food and drink carts up and down the aisle. Now if you've got any sense you've already eaten several hours before. Plus who really wants to eat airline food? They push either chicken, because it's cheap, and which I don't like, or pasta, which is always foul smelling and nauseating. When they finally get quieted down, you may catch a few minutes of sleep, but after a while they start offering snacks. The aisles are narrow, and seats are crammed together, so inevitably one of the stews would bump into me. It was an uncomfortable, miserable experience.
Hotel—We arrived in Dublin about 10:00 am. We stayed at the Radisson Blu Royal on Golden Lane. It's a fairly nice, modern hotel. The room was large and comfortable with a king size bed, and a modern bathroom. We had dinner and lunch at the hotel's Sure Bar and dinner at their V 'n' V restaurant. The Sure Bar has an extensive whiskey list, as well as some nice cocktails. I tried a Connemara and a Tyrconnell Port Finish at the hotel bar. On our final night in Dublin we ate at the Sure Bar, and I had a Sabish cocktail, which is described thusly on their menu,
A combination of Wyborowa Single Estate Vodka, Baileys, Amaretto and Malibu. A cocktail to the sweet teeth with a kick in your head. The barmaid was a cute immigrant from Hungary. I'll have more thoughts on immigration later on.
Smoking is forbidden in the hotel, and smoking Cuban cigars has been illegal in the US for over 50 years. When I discovered that JFK on the day that he put the embargo in place sent Pierre Salinger out to buy 1,200 of his favorite cigars (H. Upmann), I decided that such hypocrisy did not deserve to be honored, so after we arrived in Dublin I went to James Fox and bought a Romeo y Julietta Churchill and a Montecristo, as well as a bottle of Connemara. The picture to the left shows me in the smoking area outside the hotel enjoying a Cuban cigar, the Romeo y Julietta.
September 4, 2014—This was spent for the most in resting up from the trip. This may have been the day I went to James Fox.
September 5, 2014—We did a hop-on hop-off tour of Dublin. The bus starts at 9:00 am, but our pick-up point was number 12 on the stop list, St. Patrick's Cathedral, (shown at left), so we had to wait about a half hour for the bus to arrive. There are two cathedrals, and one pro-cathedral in Dublin. St. Patrick's and Christ Church are both Church of Ireland, and St. Mary's is a Roman Catholic pro-cathedral. The Roman Catholic Church contends that Christ Church is the proper seat of the Archbishop of Dublin, and St. Mary's is a temporary church.
The first notable stop was the Guiness Storehouse. This is a brewery that has been converted into a museum/exhibition devoted to Guiness. One of the highlights of the place is that at the end of your tour you can go to the Gravity Bar, and get a free Guiness. The Gravity Bar overlooks the city of Dublin, and you can walk around for a view of most of the city. The picture to the left, as well as the one immediately above, show views of St. Patrick's Cathedral taken from the Gravity Bar.
I should note that Guiness really does taste different in Dublin. It's smoother and creamier than it is in the states, or even in London. This may be due to being poured at the proper temperature (42° F), and allowed to stand for a bit before the pour is finished, or it may simply be a matter of imagination.
When we were in London in 2012 I bought a commemorative coin, and I wanted to do something similar in Ireland. Now I connect emotionally to England, and Winston Churchill, Cromwell, Shakespeare, etc., all have a deep meaning for me, and when I first saw England and the English countryside my first thought was of Blake's lines about
England's green and pleasant land. Outside of Joyce and Shaw, however, I have no emotional connection to Ireland, and the new commemorative coin that they had struck, James Holland, the developer of the modern submarine, did not resonate with me, so I didn't buy any coins.
What I did buy, as a talisman of our time in Dublin, was a copy of Dubliners from the Writers Museum. The building is small, and has some exhibits of books by writers associated with Ireland, including Spenser, who is English, and whose association with Ireland is not the happiest. There are two floors, but we choose not to go upstairs because Cynthia's knees were acting up, and I was feeling tired as well.
September 6, 2014—I'd intended for the trip to Dublin to be a bit of a Joyce/Shaw pilgrimage, but it didn't turn out quite that way. Cynthia wanted to see Dublin Castle, which is a mammoth structure that housed the Viceroy who governed Ireland while it was under English rule. There's an archeological dig that took place a while back, and you can see some of the photos from the dig on my Flickr page. The guide did a good job of laying out the tragedy of Ireland, and the failure of the Brits to integrate the Irish into the Empire.
Part of the Shaw portion of my pilgrimage to Ireland involved seeing a production of Heartbreak House at the Abbey Theatre. The Abbey is notorious for the
Playboy Riots that occurred at the initial production of Synge's Playboy of the Western World when Irish nationalists rioted over the use of the word
shift. The original theatre burned down in 1951, and it is now housed in a building on Lower Abbey Street.
The production was faithful to Shaw's original, and was set in the years of WW I. One notable feature, and I don't recall if it is present in Shaw's original stage directions or not, is the presence of an ominous motor sound throughout the second act. That is the sound of a dirigible. (For those not overly familiar with WW I let me point out that there were no heavy bomber planes during the war. The role of the heavy bomber, which was taken by Lancasters, Wellingtons, B-17s, B-29s, and other planes in WW II was undertaken by dirigibles. A notable movie featuring dirigibles as bombers is Howard Hughes' Hell's Angels.) The sound of the dirigible comes closer and closer throughout the act until the final climactic moment when Heartbreak House is bombed.
After the play we walked around a bit, and found ourselves on Eden Quay (pronounced
key. Eden Quay is mentioned in Ulysses, and if my recollection is correct is also mentioned in either the Shem the Penman or the Anna Livia Plurabelle chapters of Finnegans Wake. I had looked up an address on Eden Quay that was mentioned in Ulysses, which had formerly been a pub when Joyce wrote, and is now apparently a casino/gentleman's club. There's a picture of it up above.
September 7, 2014—We went to Mass at a church about a block from our hotel. The church is a fairly ornate building belonging to the O. Carms, (the unreformed branch of the Carmelite family), with a number of side chapels, including one to Our Lady of Dublin, and another that houses the relics of St. Valentine.
After Mass we rested for a while, and then went to Trinity College. This was started under Elizabeth I as a Protestant institution to bring the Irish to the glories of the Anglican church. Joyce may have gone there briefly, a couple of people that I talked to said he did, but he graduated from University College, Dublin. Samuel Beckett did go there. The library of the college houses the Book of Kells. The library is not well lit, and the crowds are not well controlled, by which I mean that too many are let in, and they tend to crowd around the exhibits. The library exhibits only two pages of the Book of Kells at any one time. The book, or at least the pages we saw, is fairly plain. There was some decoration, but not every page is a masterpiece of design. The kindest thing that can be said is that seeing it in person was a disappointment. You can see the entire thing online, and that is far cheaper than a trip to Ireland.
At one point in Ulysses Stephen is thinking about
the virgin at Hodges-Figgis. That's a bookstore that used to be on Grafton Street, the big shopping area in Dublin, though it has since moved a block or two. The bookstore is big, though it's nowhere as big as the Blackwells in Oxford. Still there is ample browsing there.
Overall impressions—Cynthia describes Dublin as
gritty. Outside of Phoenix Park, which is very nice, there is nothing particularly beautiful about Dublin. It is hard to get around in. There are no street signs, and you look in vain for some numbers on the buildings. A good bit is made of the river Liffey, but practically every street has a bridge over the river, and even when crossing bridges, I never got a good look at the river until we left the city. The people are pleasant for the most part, though we did encounter an incident of road rage when our cabbie accidentally cut off a bicyclist, who retaliated by thumping the roof of the cab as hard as he could.
Much as I like Joyce, and as much as I wanted to see the martello tower, and have a gorgonzola sandwich at Davy Byrne's pub, where Bloom ate lunch in Ulysses, I have no desire to go back to Dublin.
September 8, 2014—We flew Aer Lingus from Dublin to Edinburgh. The plane, shown in two shots above, was a prop job, and we went out on the tarmac to climb the steps into the plane. The whole operation was reminiscent of movies from 1930 to the mid 1960s, and I kept on thinking of Rick and Ilsa in Casablanca. The flight takes about an hour, and is just as uncomfortable as any cattle car flight. I got into a bit of a panic after we landed because I'd expected that we'd go through immigration and customs again. Apparently you don't have to do that when you're going within the European Union.
The hotel, the Scotsman, had large rooms, and a very soft, too soft bed. The bathroom was a decent size. Unfortunately, the shower was problematic. It was a tub/shower, and required you to step into the tub. That was a bit too high for me to get into comfortably, so bathing was restricted to a sponge bath.
We walked around a bit, and had dinner at Arcade Haggis and Whisky House. Most restaurants start serving dinner at 6:00 pm, but we'd come in at about 4:30, so Cynthia had some tea, and I had some Scotch. While we were waiting the pub had a movie playing, with the sound turned down. I had my back to the TV, but Cynthia wound up watching the movie. There were one or two regulars there, and they sat at the bar nursing their drinks. A second waitress, a cute girl with a Polish accent, came in after a while and showed off some new shoes that she'd bought, a pair of brown half boots. One of the regulars asked how many pairs of shoes she had. Twenty, was her answer. I asked if she was saving up for a pair of Jimmy Choos, and she laughed. When I had finished my first Scotch, a Fettercairn Fior, I had a second, a Cardhu 12 year old. Dinner was okay, but not particularly memorable. The best part was the flirtatious Polish waitress and the Scotch.
September 9, 2014—We'd only allotted one full day to Edinburgh, so we finally decided to do a hop-on hop-off tour. This was more difficult than it should have been because the pick-up point had been moved, and we had to search for it a good bit. The tour was relatively pleasant though, and we first stopped at Edinburgh Castle. Rick Steves did a show about Edinburgh, and he said there was a four hundred foot climb to the castle. It is fairly steep, and somewhat difficult if you're not in the best of shape. Cynthia had a knee replacement done right after the 4ᵗʰ of July, but was able to do the climb with minor difficulty. The castle, as you can see from the shots above, is a fairly strong building, and it is immense. You get an impressive view of Edinburgh from the castle, and Edinburgh is a far prettier city than Dublin.
The Scotch Whiskey Experience, which combines a tour showing the production of Scotch, a ride, a restaurant, and a store, was downhill from the castle, so we stopped there for lunch. The restaurant, The Amber Restaurant offers an extensive, over 300 varieties, selection of whisky and a variety of Scottish food. I had an Auchentoshan 12 year old and some Scottish tapas.
After lunch we caught the bus and went to Holyrood Palace. The palace is beautiful, but photography is not allowed inside, so I didn't get too many pictures. We sat down in one room and looked at pictures from the time of Charles II. I asked one of the guards to refresh my memory on some of the women portrayed there, which he was good enough to do. We chatted with him a bit about Scottish independence. Would it be more like Canada, a part of the Empire, or more like Ireland, completely separate. He thought it would be more like Canada, but might become more like Ireland, assuming the measure passed.
Holyrood Palace has an abbey attached to it. The abbey has decayed and fallen into ruins for a variety of reasons, which you can find on its Wikipedia page.
Overall impression—The picture to the left is one of the final pictures that I took before we left Edinburgh. A
close is a small street, much like what we would call a cul-de-sac. It's
Fleshmarket because it was the route that cattle were driven on their way to the slaughterhouse. It has a somewhat different connotation today, which is why I had to photograph it. Edinburgh is a pretty city, at least the portions that we saw. It's divided into the old city and the new city, the latter dating from the 1760s. There are a lot of shops catering to the tourist trade, and it's hard to know if any Scot actually buys his kilts and tartans in any of these places. There's a fair amount of dirt on the streets, but I think that there's a vibrancy that's missing from Dublin. The city has a modern tram (streetcar) system, that looks like it might be comfortable and convenient. It has a much more sleek look than DC's Metro subway system, and because it's above ground might be cheaper to build and maintain. Both Cynthia and I loved our time in Edinburgh.
September 10, 2014—We took a train from Edinburgh to London. We can't afford business class, much less first class, when we fly, but on a train first class is affordable. You get decent leg room, and on the Edinburgh-London route you get frequent feedings, and much liquid refreshment. I sampled a Magners cider (alcoholic), some beer, and some other booze. We arrived at King's Crossing about 4.5 hours later, and caught a taxi to our hotel, Flemings. This is on Half Moon Street, across the street from the London Green Park Hilton where we'd stayed two years before. The room was extremely small. There's an expression that some, primarily cat lovers, which includes myself, might dislike,
not big enough to swing a cat. Well, that was our room. We could not unpack our suitcases, and had to maneuver around to find things. The bathroom was nice, though I like a shower that has a head that I can move around to get rid of excess soap.
September 11, 2014—When we were in London in 2012 we didn't read a newspaper or watch the TV news the whole time we were there. We missed the Benghazi story until we came back. This time there wasn't a terrorist attack, though we did get newspapers during our trip.
When we were in London the last time we were both under the weather a good deal of the time. I wanted to see Westminster Abbey, and I went by myself. This time Cynthia went as well, and we made sure it was the first thing we did our first full day in London. Back in 2012 it was £13 for seniors; it is now £15. Note:Special admission prices for seniors, students, and such are frequently grouped together, and are termed
The guides at the abbey are helpful, and will explain unfamiliar things to you, and they have a handy book that they can use to look up the grave sites of your favorite writers, musicians, and so on. My primary interest, as far as graves, was in revisiting some of my old favorites. Handel has an interesting memorial, as does Samuel Johnson. In fact they face each other across the walls of the corner of the abbey that they occupy. We did the entire abbey, and Cynthia was quite impressed by it.
After the abbey we decided to see if we were up to going to Parliament, which is about a quarter of a mile, more or less, from the abbey. So we went through security, which is a hassle everywhere, and found our way into the public entrance of Parliament. This is a long room that is currently undergoing renovation. It has a number of stained glass windows, that are fairly nice. Seeing Parliament in session ordinarily involves going up some stairs, but we were able to get a lift (elevator) to the House of Commons gallery. The debate was not terribly interesting, climate change, and the session was poorly attended, about 15–20, if that many, out of the 600 MPs were present. The debate was between Angela Smith, Labour MP for Penistone and Stockbridge, (presumably it's Pen-is-tone, not another pronunciation), and David Davies, Tory MP for Monmouth. To my, admittedly conservative, pro-energy, mind Davies was the more coherent speaker, and he was funnier than the dogmatic Smith.
While we were waiting for the elevator down another couple joined us, and told us how they had ridden up the elevator with the parliamentary falconer. Evidently the building attracts pigeons, and while pigeons may make good eating, if you're living in Paris and a bit on the poor side, like Hemingway, they are otherwise a nuisance. Hawks and falcons, however, love pigeons, and particularly like having them for dinner. Parliament has the falconer, and her falcon, go up to the roof from time to time, and the falcon chases the pigeons away. When the elevator arrived the falconer and her falcon were on it. The falcon resided on her gloved hand, and was unhooded. I'm not sure what kind of falcon the bird was, possibly a peregrine, but it was very intelligent and looked at us inferior life forms in the haughty way that raptors have. I restrained my
gotta pet that adorable creature impulses, but meeting the falcon was one of the highlights of the trip.
We had lunch at L'Autre, a Polish-Mexican restaurant that we'd eaten at in 2012. While we were eating inside one of the customers, apparently a regular, came in and started talking to the bartender. He then turned to us and started talking. He was a Christian from Lebanon, and his friend outside was a Christian from Syria. He said something about the number of foreigners in London, and I said that it was the spice that made the cake. That may not be the best metaphor from a culinary viewpoint, but I think it accurately reflects my attitude towards immigration, about which I expect to say more later.
For the most part we had dinner around Shepherd Market, and I've included a picture of part of the pub scene in the gallery above.
September 12, 2014—Oxford is about 60 miles from London, and is reachable by either car or train. Driving in London, if you're a foreigner, is only for the legally insane, and the train is fast and relatively cheap, even in first class. We had a bit of difficulty in finding the first class cars, but once we were safely ensconced in our seats the trip was comfortable.
We caught a cab from the station and went straight to the Ashmolean Museum. Our cab driver said he was a friend of Colin Dexter, the author of the Inspector Morse mysteries that had been adapted into a long running series for British television. He told us a couple of stories about Dexter, including one about his problems with his teeth.
The Ashmolean is not as large as the British Museum, but it has quite a nice collection of artifacts including Egyptian art and monuments. They were having an exhibit about King Tut, but from the description it sounded similar to things we'd seen in DC, so we passed it by.
After the Ashmolean we visited the hotel across the street. In one episode of Inspector Morse he stops off for a quick one at the hotel bar, and they've capitalized on this by naming one of their bars the Morse Bar. This is drinks only. Cynthia had a Bellini, and I had a Heating Morse. Both were well made and satisfying.
Broad Street is the main street for much of Oxford. There are numerous pubs and shops along it, and colleges, such as Balliol, abut the street. We wanted to go to the Bodleian Library, which is a bit of a walk from the Ashmolean. We stopped at Blackwell's Bookstore, which is an enormous shop that covers four floors and one room, the Norrington Room, that at 10,000 sq. ft and 3 miles of shelving is the largest room selling books. I browsed their philosophy and classics section but didn't buy anything. We also stopped at the White Horse for lunch. The menu is typical English food, but they have a number of
real, or cask beers and ales, including two that are locally produced. I had one of the local ales, The Scholar, which was good, and smooth.
Balliol College is one of the many that operate under the umbrella under the umbrella of the university of Oxford, and it was the first one that we stumbled across. There's an admission charge, £2 as I recall, to view the campus. The grounds are neat, and there is a private garden that is reserved for the fellows of the college. The steps are old and worn, and Cynthia fell on one of them, but injured mostly her pride.
The Bodleian Library is the repository of a number of important works, and is one of six deposit libraries in the UK. It has holdings of over 11 million items. For the most part the library is closed to visitors, though it does have small exhibits from time to time. We saw one devoted to WW I. You can also walk around the quadrangle, and visit the Divinity School which was built in 1488. I don't believe that the school is in current use, except for university ceremonies, but it is quite beautiful, and the bosses (the knobs protruding from the intersections of the vault's ribs) are lovely. I'm not quite sure what the words spelled out on the bosses are, but I've included pictures of them in the gallery at the top of this section.
The Sheldonian theater is part of the complex that surrounds the Bodleian. Not far from the Bodleian is an arch that is seen in several episodes of Morse and Lewis. It is the arch between two parts of Hertford College. It is popularly known as
the bridge of sighs.
The train trip back was smooth, and this time there was no confusion over the placement of the first class car.
September 13, 2014—This was a free day so we went to Selfridges to do some shopping. If you've seen the TV show on Masterpiece, Mr. Selfridge, then you know that it is an English department store that was started by an American. The store is smaller than Harrod's, but still quite large, and the foodhall has a selection that makes our local supermarket look small. We started on the first floor, and checked out the food and some perfume/cologne. I'd wanted to try haggis, and missed my chance in Scotland. Selfridge had some, but I still chickened out. The meat is expensive, but looks delicious. When we went over to the perfume counter I wound up buying some Tom Ford cologne, which went over well with Cynthia. Tom Ford has come up with some interesting scents, Tobacco & Vanilla, which really does smell like cigarette or cigar smoke, and Tuscan Leather that reminds you of a library full of leather bound books. I'm not sure why anybody, particularly someone who has a spouse who objects to the smell of tobacco, would want to buy the first of these scents, but they're both available, and very expensive.
An internet acquaintance, whom I went to high school with, asked me to find her a model of a double decker bus, and we looked in several departments of Selfridges, but couldn't find one. We did find it the next day in a tourist shop though. In the course of our travels through the store we stopped at the liquor store in the basement, which is extensive; the Christmas shop, where we bought some tree ornaments, and a variety of other places.
Selfridges has a number of restaurants and tea shops. We had tea at the one in the basement, and an hour or so later lunch on the roof. You can see a good bit of London from there, but the layout of the roof doesn't really allow you to walk around as you can in the Guiness Storehouse in Dublin. The restaurant is open to the elements, but in the event of bad weather can be enclosed.
After we returned to our hotel we rested for a bit, and because we were going to Pizza Express in Soho at noon the next day decided to go to Mass in the evening. We met up with a lady from Lancashire who was also on her way, and we had a bit of confusion over the location of the church. There is a lot of construction going on in London, and some familiar landmarks, such as the Starbucks that we breakfasted at numerous times in 2012, had gone, or been altered. We finally got put straight, and our new acquaintance and us got to church on time. I've already commented on the church in my post about our 2012 trip, so I won't repeat it. On the way back another couple joined us, and they were looking for L'Autre, the Polish-Mexican restaurant, and I told them they'd enjoy it.
September 14, 2014—One of my map apps on the iPhone said that Pizza Express was about a mile from our hotel, so we decided to walk, and see a bit of London on foot. We're not the kind of people that normally go out to night clubs or casinos, but I'd wanted to go to this particular spot since our previous trip, and we made reservations for an afternoon show. The doors opened at noon, and the show started at 1:30. We're slow walkers at best, and decided to leave at 11:00 to give us ample time to get there on foot.
There's a store down the street from our hotel that sells Oriental rugs and other furnishings. Cynthia both admired the white rug shown above, which is gorgeous, and presumably has a gorgeous price. In the interior of the store is the wood sculpture that you see in the second picture. To get from Half Moon Street to Dean Street, where the club is, you walk along Piccadilly for a good distance, and the turn up Shaftesbury Avenue to Dean St. That takes you through Chinatown. London's Chinatown appears to be small, though larger than the one in DC, which is about a square block in size, and somewhat seedy. It's not as elegant as Mayfair at any rate. We found a double decker bus for my acquaintance in one of the tourist shops along there. Chinatown gives way to Soho. That area of London has long had a somewhat seedy reputation as a place for strip clubs and prostitutes. We may have seen one working girl, at least she was wearing an extremely short, top of the thigh length, skirt, and had a tarty appearance, as we were walking. I took a picture of a
licensed sex shop. I'm not quite sure what that involves, as far as the licensing goes, but we didn't go in.*
* See this article, if you're interested in the licensing of UK sex shops.
We got to the club about noon, or a few minutes before. There's a restaurant sans entertainment on the ground floor, the club itself, which provides food and drink, is on a lower level. The club is small, and dimly lit. I kept on thinking of all the movies that I'd seen with singers in night clubs, and kept on thinking that it lacked three things to make it perfect. Cagney, Bogart, and cigarette smoke. A better movie for comparison, considering that Gill Cook sings more recent material than was featured in The Roaring 20s and other films of the Bogart-Cagney era might be the Paul Newman, Sidney Poitier flick Paris Blues. Though it still needed the cigarette smoke to have the proper atmosphere. The club allows photography, which isn't true of most concerts and performances that I've been too, and I took one picture before the performance started, and one during. I think my iPhone does a better job of capturing the mood in available light conditions, so I used it for both shots. (It was also the only camera I had with me, because I didn't want to carry the Nikon for a mile, and hang it around my neck for several hours.)
Gill Cook is attractive, and sings well. Her group, pianist, drummer, and trumpeter were good as well. We sat next to the stage, directly across from the trumpet and drums, and from that position it was sometimes hard to hear, or understand the lyrics. Presumably that problem isn't present on her recordings. during the break between the first and second sets we bought her CD, which she was kind enough to autograph for me and Cynthia.
For the past year, possibly two, I've been going through a bit of a Handelian phase. After Gill's performance we caught a cab to Handel's house, which is now a museum. Admission is £5. There is a lift between floors, and what you see is a bit of the first floor, and a bit of the second, including the bedroom. The bedroom contains the bed that Handel slept in, and the chamber pot that he....
The museum, in terms of what you get to see in relation to the time spent and the admission price is a bit overpriced.
September 15, 2014—We visited the British Museum in 2012, but hadn't seen all of it, so we decided to see some more. Previously we'd taken the tube to Russel Square, and it was a pleasant walk across the park. This time around we got off at Holborn, which the Transport for London site insisted was a shorter walk. As usual we screwed up, and had trouble finding the museum. We did go by The White Hart, a pub that dates from 1263, though I suspect the building is a good deal more recent. One of Arthur Clarke's books, a collection of short stories, was called Tales From the White Hart, though I gather the actual pub that the book was named after was in a different location. We got thoroughly muddled, and sat down in chairs in an outdoor cafe and had some coffee while we puzzled out the map. There were some delicious looking croissant doughnuts, or cro-nuts, but alas did not partake. We finally got straightened out, and walked to the museum.
Notable highlights this time around were the Sutton Hoo, a treasure that dates from Anglo-Saxon times.
Handel's church is near his house, but they close at 4:00, so after lunch we caught a cab to St. George's on Hanover Square. I've been doing a bit of genealogy from time to time using Ancestry.com, and I came across the information that two of my ancestors on my mother's side, my 7ᵗʰ great-grandparents, William Newland and Sarah Masters, had been married there on September 9, 1800. We arrived in London a bit late to celebrate their 214th anniversary, but I don't think they minded.
The church is small, and the organ is relatively new, so Handel neither played it nor heard it played. There was no one around to talk to, except God, if you're a believer. After looking around a bit we left.
September 16, 2014—In 2012 we did a tour that included Bath, or as it's called in the railway timetables, Bath Spa, and we liked it, but didn't get as much time as we'd have liked. We went again, and were looking forward to some hot chocolate at the spot we'd stopped at before.
The train for Bath, as for Oxford, leaves from Paddington Station, which is easily accessible from Mayfair, (Jubilee Line to Baker St, Bakerloo line to Paddington). It takes about 90 minutes to get to Bath Spa, and the countryside is fairly scenic. The railway station is small, but it's convenient to the hop-on hop-off tour which is across the street.
When we were there in 2012 we came in from Stonehenge, and saw a different part of the city initially than coming in from the railway station. The Bath that we saw this year was a bit grittier, as Cynthia would say, than the city we thought we saw two years earlier. The area around the abbey is still pretty though.
We spent a good deal of time wandering around looking for Minerva's chocolate shop, and I accidentally made an 18 minute video of us wandering around looking for it. We recognized the steps eventually, but the store was no longer there. The owner had fallen sick and closed up. So that was a major disappointment.
When we went into the abbey I was wearing a sweatshirt that said:
affairs of dragons
for you are crunchy
and good with ketchup
We walked around a bit, and had lunch. After that we did some shopping. Cynthia thought about buying a clan tartan or scarf (Campbell clan), but objected to wearing wool. We did buy a bag to use as an airline carryall.
We left after a few hours, and had dinner at Da Corrida, an Italian restaurant with pictures of famous people, including Lenin, on its walls.
September 17, 2014—Half Moon Street is perpendicular to Green Park. but despite being so close we never went to the park during our 2012 visit. Green Park, Buckingham Palace, and St. James's Park adjoin each other, and it is possible to walk from Green Park to the palace, and on to St. James's Park. (Two quick points: It's
St. James's Park, not
St. James Park, the possessive is part of the name. Second, Hyde Park also adjoins Green Park and the palace, but we didn't get to Hyde Park, which is why I don't mention it in the bit preceding this.) Green Park was the site of the premiere of Handel's Music for the Royal Fireworks in 1749.
Green Park is a rather pleasant place. There are numerous benches to sit on. At the part nearest the palace is a memorial to Canadian soldiers killed during the world wars. The maple leaves in the monument are supposed to display a range of colors, but the day was overcast, so we didn't see that happen.
There is a fairly ornate gate that you pass through when you go from the Canadian memorial section towards the palace. A monument to Queen Victoria is in front of the palace, and is fairly ornate, with recumbent nudes beneath the queen, who does not seem amused by their presence. I assume that the part we saw was actually the rear entrance of the palace. My recollection is that tour buses discharge people on the other side of the building near the gardens. After viewing the palace, if you keep going you'll come to Birdcage Walk. Cross the street, and go into the park, and you can walk along the lake in the middle of the park. There are numerous birds, primarily ducks, geese, and swans, though you'll see pelicans, and some birds that I can't identify. One spot, and one which I regard as holy ground, is across from the park: Churchill's War Rooms. Admission is steep £17.50 for adults and £14 for seniors. This is mitigated by the fact that there is a lot to see here, including a Churchill museum, and like I said, it is holy ground because here is where humanity was saved from the horrors of Hitler.
Many of the animals in St. James's Park are tame. Apparently tourists and regular park visitors feed them, and possibly pet them, on a regular basis so that they've lost all fear of man. We observed a number of Asian visitors paying particular attention to the squirrels. They became quite excited every time they saw one, and there was excited chatter over the squirrels. We sat down in a park bench to rest when one of the little critters, affectionately known to some as
a rat in puffy pajamas, came up and gave one of those,
aren't I cute poses. He stared at me for a second, and I attempted to send him the message
don't pull that act on me. Never try mental communication with a creature who has a brain the size of a pea. He jumped up onto my leg, and pushed his tiny but sharp little claws into my thigh. I jumped up and screamed, and the squirrel took off for parts unknown. Three men on a bench a few feet from us saw the incident, and were laughing. I thought they had caught it on camera, and joked with them about wanting royalties if it showed up on Youtube. After a bit I got up and talked to them. They were setting up some show, and were visiting. We had a nice little chat. We got back to the hotel without any further incidents.
This was our last full day in London, and I wanted to celebrate the end of our stay, so I went over to Shepherd Market, and went to Alfie Turmeaus to buy my last Cuban, a small Punch. They were nice enough to cut it for me. I walked up to Da Corrada's snack bar, and bought a soda to drink, and some pound cake to take back to the room. I asked the waitress if I could smoke outside, she muttered something about it not being good for me, but handed me an ashtray anyhow. I sat down, and lit up. Another customer came out, and asked if he could join me. Dave, the customer, and I chatted about a number of things. Scottish independence. We both agreed that it didn't make too much sense. Scotland is small in terms of population, about 5 million, and doesn't have much in the way of trade. There's North Sea oil, but that's running out, then there's woolens and whisky, neither of which can support a modern nation state. Sean Connery is the best James Bond. He asked what I thought of Obama. I hemmed and hawed a bit, because I didn't think it appropriate it to reveal the depth of my loathing, but I said how I'd written a piece called The Obama Disaster, and had predicted, a week after his first election, that his disengagement from Poland and Czechoslovakia would lead to Russian adventurism in Europe, which is what happened earlier this year with the invasion of the Ukraine. We agreed that Obama is weak. After I finished the drink and the cigar we shook hands and parted.
September 18, 2014We had a cab meet us for the trip to the airport. Our driver, Joshua, a black man from one of the former colonies to judge by his accent, took us to Heathrow. We left around 8:00, and saw the queen's horses being taken out for a ride. Joshua was very British in his views. In talking about the prospect of Scottish independence, which was being voted on that day, he said that one of the things he liked about America was that there wasn't any of the regionalism that there was in the UK, we were all Americans. He questioned why the people in Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland, couldn't all be Britons, rather than stirring up separatist movements.
Joshua, it turns out, had been in the army for a while, and apparently had also gone to one of the universities.
After Joshua dropped us off at Heathrow, we passed through security with no problem, and then had breakfast at a restaurant that overlooked the ground floor. We then wondered around a bit, and I went to the duty free store, which has a Whiskies of the World branch in it. I sampled an Auchentoshan, which was too expensive for me, and a Glenmorangie. I bought a bottle of Arran to take home. On our way out a guy tried to get me to sample some Stolichnaya. Now this is my kind of store, free booze.
The flight home was painful, but not terribly noteworthy.
ObservationsImmigration—We encountered Hungarian and Polish immigrants, and long term residents, such as Joshua, and our Lebanese acquaintance. One thing that I noticed was that there was an implicit acceptance of Western values, such as democracy, freedom, and hard work as a means of getting ahead. Many of the problems of Europe with immigration, from the little bit I've read, stem not from the movements of people such as Joshua and Martena, but from the immigration, and lack of integration of peoples who are largely Muslim, and who do not accept Western values. The mess in Rotterham, for example, is largely Muslim, primarily Pakistani, people who do not accept Western values concerning women.
Long term residence, immigration, property rights, should adhere to those who accept Western values. To let in masses of people who regard violence to women, religious intolerance, and violence in the name of religion as acceptable is to undermine the foundations of Western culture. Europe should insist that immigrants from outside of the EU must adhere to Western values, and attempt to integrate into society.
Ireland and Scotland—Ireland achieved its independence in 1922, but spent most of the 20ᵗʰ century avoiding any of the tough encounters with history. It sat out the Second World War, and has made minimal, if any contribution, to world affairs since achieving its independence. Ireland gained what stature it had through its rebellion against Britain, but without the Brits to give it identity, as a rebellious province, what does it have to define itself? My acquaintance Dave said that Ireland has been in recession for seven years. Rather like the US under Obama.
Scottish independence failed. Had it succeeded, how would the Scots have defined themselves? Is simply being not English enough?
Joshua commented on the American identity. I don't think anyone defines himself, in terms of national identity, as being first a Virginian, or a New Yorker, or whatever, though there may be some regional pride. Why is that so, and why is Scottish, Welsh identity different. Part of that may be in our different histories. As people emigrated here they joined in a common purpose, whether consciously or not, that of building the country. The country was sparsely settled by the aboriginal peoples, and they were pushed aside by the European settlers of all stripes. The Civil War also played a major part in destroying regionalism and substituting nationalism. The North subjugated the South, and to a large extent the Southerner had to incorporate Northern values into his life.
England subjugated Scotland and Wales, but it never truly integrated them. The Scots and the Welsh were conquered, and subjugated, but the original inhabitants were never truly integrated into English society. That may be why there is a separatist movement in those places. The rupture of the UK makes no sense from a political standpoint, and it would deprive the separated regions of any influence on the world stage, which the UK still has. It only satisfies the urge to establish an identity separate from the rest of the kingdom, and that's not enough for a modern state to endure.
The Cuban Embargo—There's no doubt the Castro brothers are murdering creeps, and that the world would be better off without them, or their system of tyranny. JFK probably expected the embargo to be temporary and that the regime in Cuba would quickly be replaced by a friendlier regime. He also probably expected to be around to see the demise of the Castro regime. Neither expectation was fulfilled. 50 years later though it seems appropriate to ask whether the embargo still makes sense. Politically neither party can afford to advocate dumping the embargo because doing so will cost votes in the Cuban community in Florida, a state which recently proved crucial in determining the presidency, consequently the embargo remains inviolable. Does it really help the Cuban people though? It hasn't encouraged them to rise up and overthrow the Castro regime. What seems to have helped, and I haven't read much on the subject, so my opinion is, as always, worth exactly what you've paid for it, is trade with other nations. I understand that there is an emerging tourist trades, and that hotels and nightclubs are reappearing. Now whether or not the appearance of nightclubs is a good thing is a matter for the reader to decide, but it is better than the enforced puritanism of the Communist state.
I think it was in my discussion of either Utopia, or Plutarch's life of Lycurgus that I pointed out that enforcing a ban on travel for the citizens of Utopia and Sparta limited contact with outside ideas, and enforced conformity. Enforcing an embargo, particularly for 50 years, and a ban on travel may limit the exposure of US citizens to the ideas of communism, but it also limits the exposure of Cuban citizens to American ideas. Permitting travel to Cuba would serve as a means of propaganda to Cuba that could be even more effective than Radio Marti in spreading the American message.
Overall I think the embargo should be lifted, though I don't expect it to happen until both the Castro brothers are dead and buried.
NextI've been reading Boswell's journal of his stay in London. When I resume posting on books, I expect that will be it.