The countdown towards our leaving has begun, and I’m not buying any extra large packages of groceries. We still have guests scheduled, but by November, I plan to start sorting: the guest room will become my warehouse.
The end of August marks a Bank Holiday and a Caribbean festival and parade, the Notting Hill Festival, usually attended by a million. We went once to the festival, enough to last a decade. Perhaps because of past murders and drug busts, attendance was down this year.
UT students interested in Shakespeare in Texas may study summers at rural Winedale, in a hay barn theatre between Houston and Austin. This year, Mike and I took a tube to Richmond for their sole London performance at The Orange Tree. Only one player in Love’s Labors Lost was a drama major and there was no scenery, but in the small venue in the round, students did a good job. Several players’ families watched too. It seemed odd to hear American accents rather than more familiar plummy vowels of British players: maybe I’ve been here too long! Winedale offers students from high school on 6 credit hours in English.
We arrived early to have dinner before the play, but almost no one was serving. Most British pubs serve a beef or lamb joint—roast—on Sundays, with Yorkshire pudding or mash, but often stop serving by mid afternoon. To match the continent, British pubs will soon stay open past 11 PM weeknights or 10:30 Sundays. There are over 61,000 pubs, the oldest from the eleventh century. Drinking age is 18, but children of 14 may enter alone for meals. Children are allowed until 9 PM with parents. Usually there’s no table service, so no tipping; one orders at the bar. Polite customers, I’m told, return glasses to the bar.
We found a busy outdoor café across from the theater, facing rows of red double decker busses headed for Twickenham Stadium: the Rolling Stones played for 50,000. (A previous concert was cancelled when Mick Jagger got the flu. He’s 60: did he get a flu jab? His age earns free bus and tube passes.) Between the Stones and the stoned, London had a busy weekend. One part of British life that always takes longer than expected is travel, no matter by what means! With a change at Earl’s Court, it took an hour to Richmond. Returning, we caught a train, changed to Bakerloo tube and walked from Paddington. Soon after we were off to France.
London’s weather has been seductively gorgeous: sunny, warm, and to go out every day with bare arms seems strange and wonderful. The first brown leaves are beginning to gather under trees and along the walks: the sweepers must hate this time of year. I look with regret on the hanging baskets overflowing in leggy petunias, soon to be replaced with cyclamen and Jerusalem cherries. The roof tomatoes are still ripening. Because of the hot dry summer, park lawns remain brown and dusty.
The blessing of the horses took place on schedule at nearby St. John’s Church on the second last Sunday of September, a sunny day for horseback riders and a few carriages to congregate outside the church for vicar Steven’s blessing and a parade. Some horses were braided and beribboned, and four Spanish grays sidestepped in a sort of dance. Prancing ponies pulling carts wore blinders and gleamed with fancy brasses on their leather. Participants got rosettes.
Friends arrived from the QEII, nephew Mark arrived to work for a couple of weeks, more friends arrived,so we shared London with all. Mike was in the US for two weeks before we’re off to Tuscany and Rome, but I’ll be just AT HOME while Mike travels. We have definitely fixed a trip to South Africa in January as a celebration when the job here ends. Mike will take off until April 1 to move back; it will be nice to see our Austin piano again!
My grands are playing every sport, but in Georgia, Amanda refuses to play soccer in front of people. Only at practice. She reports kindergarten is harder than nursery school because you have homework and must sound out your letters. Niece Meg sent photos from Nepal showing her work and travel. Looks like the National Geographic, with swirling golds, reds and pinks, smiling babies, and monks’ umbrellas! My brothers are dealing with serious health issues. My sister Kathy died six years ago, and our family emails marking Sept. 23 have underscored how meaningful is the connection of the love we all share. In a world where shallow celebrity and bitter rancor make headlines, love strengthens and binds us reminding us what really matters.
Daylight Savings Time ends, a week earlier than in America, and the pavement and streets are filling with leaves: cherry trees at my kitchen window still offer camouflage from flats across the way, but the Virginia Creeper on the roof is bare: it turned brilliant red before I left for Italy, then disappeared. The tomatoes are done, and I'll harvest the few green survivors.
There's not much US sports coverage here but the Yankees lost to the Marlins as the world series sort of slipped by me. The NYTimes emails do help! On TV, I watch California burning and recall our happy days atop San Diego's Point Loma with the harbor below. Plastic pumpkins fill some shops but real ones in a florist's are six pounds, about ten dollars, and so small that American kids would scorn them. They're cheaper at the supermarket, but then there's the problem of hauling them home. They're heavy!
Back in London, my cab driver told me his son studied at Harvard. Our son Mikey had just arrived from Scotland on business with Johnson & Johnson. His in-laws were painting his house in New Jersey! (A sneaky advantage to our being here is avoiding that sort of hard work!) Mikey and I headed off to the Royal Academy after a walk past Selfridge’s and posh shops of New Bond Street, and saw Andrew Lloyd Weber’s collection of paintings, a vast number of mostly Victoriana. Dante Gabriel Rossetti and Holman Hunt filled most rooms, but there was one blue period Picasso and several other figurative modernists. We had lunch across the street in Fortnum and Mason, where clerks wear tails, and looked at the Christmas decorations before Mikey left to meet an old Naval Academy swim team friend. The next day my two Mikes had a lad and dad excursion to Windsor Castle while I got a haircut and attempted to get organized.
On his last sunny Sunday morn, we walked across the park with dad Mike to meet his friend, then visited the Museum of Natural History, one of the most visited sites in London. There are dinosaurs, earthquakes, stuffed animals, some quite old but in great condition, skeletons of many species, and a big cafeteria in the basement permits, even encourages, picnics. It’s very family friendly, and was filled with enthusiastic children. Looking at the birds’ legs and feet, we heard, “Blimey! If you think THAT’S disgusting, look at THIS!” and the like. Admission is free except for special exhibits.
We paid to see a wonderful Wildlife Photographer of the Year show. There were several entries by kids, some as young as 8. Over 20,000 entries from 60 countries produced final stunning results. A bird’s wing a split second before touching the water or the blood on a cheetah’s lip may have come after days lying in a blind, or be shot by happenstance. I noted, as a Rochester girl with Kodak loyalties, that most winning photos used Fuji film. We walked home through the park amid mostly yellow and rust leaves beginning to fall, with touches of red, and stopped at the Serpentine Gallery.
A semi-representational American artist, John Currin, was featured, whose skilled brushwork and technical skill uses fashion-model heads on bodies that mimic art history. Lipstick and coy glances smirk over slender fashionista bodies with extara-large swelliing abdomens that could grace a northern renaissance altarpiece. Women sometimes have hugely inflated bosoms or are shown in takeoffs on classical poses such as Mantegna’s foreshortened Dead Christ. Exquisite painting abuts palette knife rough dabs, all in beautiful color. Currin, about 40, has just started using models after years of painting from fashion magazines, but he did have a nude bust of Bea Arthur that I assume is done from life. Bea was recently in a one woman show here.
Britain’s Tories have had no permanent leaders since Thatcher, and have just given the sack to the latest, Iain Duncan Smith. Royal mail drivers are on wildcat strike. One in 5 jail inmates here is mentally ill, probably similar to US figures; many are illiterate. Yet Labor, Blair’s party, which promised “Education, Education, Education!” has recruited teachers from outside Britain to fill huge gaps, teachers still are badly paid, and schools underfunded.
I may have made my last trip abroad for awhile, so perhaps the next report will be shorter! Cheers, and Happy Autumn!