Posts Tagged ‘London’

This summer we are planning our trip to England. In some ways we have been planning it since our daughters were old enough to read and fell in love with all the books that take place there. First it was the Harry Potter books. Then they moved on to Jane Austen. Lately we have been steeped in the time travel novels of Connie Willis about the Blitz, the German air raids on London in World War Two.

I’ve read and enjoyed those authors as well, but my favorite novel about England is The Good Companions, the story of a troupe of traveling entertainers between the world wars, as they crisscross the English countryside having romance and adventures. It is a tremendously entertaining picaresque, middle-brow novel by J.B. Priestley, a popular London playwright and novelist of the mid-twentieth century who is not often read anymore.

Then we’ve also been listening in the car to a series of lectures on CD called “London: A Short History of the Greatest City in the Western World,” which at 24 lectures is not exactly short, but it is fascinating. We may not be able to navigate the underground, but we should be pretty up on the Great Plague of 1665.

We have booked seats on the Irish airlines Aer Lingus and will be touching down for a few hours at Shannon airport going and coming, so I will be able to step outside and breathe the air where James Joyce and William Butler Yeats forged the uncreated conscience of their race. When we first booked the flight it looked like we would have a day to wander around Dublin, like Joyce’s hero in Ulysses, but the agent called back to say that flight was full. Now we will probably spend the time buying souvenirs in the airport gift shop.
We’re going to pick up a rental car at Heathrow and drive across England to the Lake District, where Wordsworth and Coleridge wandered the fields and hills, composing Lyrical Ballads (1798) in their heads, or so I imagine. Before we do that, I will have to practice driving around the car park with the steering wheel on the wrong side and a gear shifter in my left hand. Extra car insurance might be in order.

We have rented a little cottage in the Lake District for a week –”where peace comes dropping slow” as Yeats once wrote about another quiet place in another country. We haven’t given a lot of planning to this part of the trip, mostly hiking and sightseeing and maybe a day trip by train to Scotland. It has been a busy year, and I wouldn’t mind a little peace before the next part.
Then we take our time driving back across England to what is advertised as a quiet flat in North London. We will be there for a week, mostly going to things that are free, like the museums and the street markets. We will definitely take the river cruise on the Thames, which comes highly recommended, and visit the Charles Dickens Museum, which was once the author’s home. I’ve lived in three or four biographies of Dickens. In fact, all of my family has lived in England for most of our lives, in a literary way. We are just going home for a visit.

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At the moment it is 6 below zero, and the wind chill is minus 26 degrees. The schools are closed today, and maybe tomorrow, but the university is open and my older daughter and I will be going in to work in an hour or so.

If I could stay home today I would probably scramble some eggs for breakfast instead of having cold cereal. The Christmas tree is still up, so I would turn on the lights and make the room a little more festive. I would drink my third cup of coffee and look out the window at the pieces of snow blowing on the cold wind and be glad I was inside, safe and warm. I might recall those novels by Willa Cather that take place on the prairies of Nebraska when the wind is blowing and it’s 20 below and the snow has piled up above the door. Cold weather novels.

Later, I might settle in with a book my wife ordered me for Christmas about London, a kind of history and guide book written in the early fifties, just after the war. So far it is full of fascinating details – London is a burned out wreck in many places, like it was after one of the great fires of earlier centuries. But many of the historical landmarks still stand, and I’m hoping we can visit some of them next summer when we make our long-anticipated trip to England.

When everyone was awake, we would probably put on some music on the turntable, one of those records salvaged from the attic. I have been listening to old Chris Williamson albums lately. She was well known in the Bay Area in the late seventies and eighties when she was a rising feminist singer/songwriter that my women friends listened to. I heard her songs at the Owl and Monkey café and bought her albums. They remind me of San Francisco and the N-Judah streetcar that turned on 9th avenue and clattered past the café as I watched through the front window. A sweet voice with powerful emotional lyrics.

The rest of the day would be equally unambitious, and I would read my book and drink coffee and be thankful to be warm and safe from the cold, if I could stay home today.

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