Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Hail, Britannia!

And we are back in business! And in Britain! Lovely Britain! "Where the history comes from!" to quote our favorite authority, Eddie Izzard. Having successfully found the proper adapter (MAC of course has already thought of this; that big white block that's part of your plug thingy on a MacBook can handle wattages from 100 to 240, so all you need is the plug adapter itself, not a converter as well... )

The trim on this house looks good doesn't it? Until you realize it's faux, most of the flat white parts are painted on!

My next car: An Alpha Romeo wagon!!?? Who knew?...Some cool cars we don't get to buy in US....

The flight from Beantown was really fast, under 6 hours, the wind at our back apparently. Barely dawn over Ireland never fails to impress. I had a charming seatmate, and we had an empty seat between us, which makes for amiable travel as well. I paid the extra 80 bucks to sit by the (front of economy) escape hatch, money well invested for a long legged, somewhat claustrophobic creature such as myself. My flightmate, an engaging film lecturer from London, recently affianced to a grad student in Boston, was a bit nervous about flying, (he'd been in New York for the Nineleven event in '01) and so we spent a few hours in interesting conversation with the steward discussing his flying experiences, turbulence, etc. It may have been the valium I slipped my seatmate that calmed him down in the end. Nice guy, interested and interesting. Shall I send him my novel to read?

Arrival at Heathrow was, let's be plain, hellish, as we landed, not at the designated gate but miles away, requiring a trek through acres of labyrinthine hallways long enough to require giant conveyor belts for people to hurry along. I was however, grateful for the chance to rest my two heavy carryons on the moving railing. This adventure nearly did me in after a long flight and a half hour's sleep. I had attempted to watch Iron Man II on the flight (I was so looking forward to that!) but the cheesy Virgin Atlantic headphones let in too much plane roar (a disadvantage of sitting by the escape hatch); suffice to say that, having outgrown the easy recourse of my twenties, I knew more volume is NOT always the answer. Particularly following a previous few days of temporary hearing loss in my left ear, which was simply nothing more than my brain telling me I was sick of hearing everything. I gave up; Mr. Downey, Jr. will just have to wait.

I finally reached PASSPORT CHECKIN for Non UK passport folks and OH MY GOD. There were twenty thousand people waiting to be admitted to the UK. And it was HOT and my phone OF COURSE would not work, despite all my preparations, and people were unbelievably patient but quietly pissed. Women in black chadors everywhere, some with just a slit for their eyes. A new experience for me. Muslim men are fools if they think this getup makes women less mysterious or alluring. I think it's their (the men's) way of remaining in a constant state of being seduced... but i could be wrong. It took nearly an hour to get stamped and allowed to carry on ten more miles to the baggage claim where I picked up my bag, which is the size of a BUS, lugged it along the cattle drive of humans as best I could until... LO!! There she is!! G! Waiting for me in the mass of people lining the barricade, like a parade route! just like they do in Love, Actually. A sight for sore eyes as I hadn't seen my gorgeous friend in a few years. Of course it immediately felt like yesterday to me and we started in....

We proceeded west in her car down the insanity that is the M4 to the country and the madness that is Driving In Britain. Warning: DO NOT ATTEMPT THIS EVER if you value your life. It's quite enough to just be a passenger in a car here, with the high speeds, narrow lanes, and everyone driving on THE WRONG SIDE OF THE ROAD! You are constantly shouting "LOOK OUT!" to the driver, thinking they are about to turn head on into an oncoming car, but of course, they aren't about to do that at all. The lanes are opposite ours. Drivers are quite polite actually, at least in town where the lanes are tres narrow and the cars TINY to accommodate the tiny lanes. (Now isn't that logical?) The DO have the AWESOME cars here, small, cool, efficient, and sensibly space saving, comfortable too. AND they have BBC! How unfair is that? Our PBS can try all it wants, but it will never come up to BBC standards. How could it when BBC has so much $ support? AND it's more than one tv and radio channel. There are like TEN or something BBC choices.

Anyway, the weekend included a trip to The Vyne, a lovely old National Trust site, originally 15th century I believe, manor house. Lovely trailing willows along the waterway, gardens to die for, organic farm as well. Poetry in the courtyard with tea and G's friends. Nice walk along the waterway picking wild berries and eating every one, none saved for 'tomorrow'.

Sunday, a gorgeous, relaxing day in the garden helping with the lawn and general tidying. Lovely apples from the tree, and the last of the greengage plums, sweet and juicy. A fresh fig tree out front promises to provide a multitude of snacks this month. Lunch in the sun and more poetry reading (see below). Evening BBC telly, and my god, I just can't say enough about how much better that is. Our political talking heads are ranting babies compared to the witty and hilarious repartee that passes for debate here. May they ever spar!

Here's a poem by Philip Larkin G read me as we sat talking about our kids:

They fuck you up, your mum and dad.
They may not mean to, but they do.
They fill you with the faults they had
And add some extra, just for you.

But they were fucked up in their turn
By fools in old-style hats and coats,
Who half the time were soppy-stern
And half at one another's throats.

Man hands on misery to man
It deepens like a coastal shelf.
Get out as early as you can,
And don't have any kids yourself.

This totally cracked me up, momentarily lightening the burden we all carry that somehow, we could have done it better... even though we know we tried our best.

So... what a few days it's been! Even something as simple as the search for a proper adapter, one that wouldn't blow up my laptop, has been an opportunity to meet helpful people and explore little areas I might not otherwise have ventured into. I look for opportunities to be helpful to others as well, figuring America's image can use a little burnishing on this side of the pond; we who hoodwinked (thankfully, not all of) them all into Iraq, who are now attempting to privatize their NHS (ratcheted up under Bush's gang of thieves), and who are contributing as I write to the general corpulent slide into type 2 diabetes of the planet with our hurry up food and chemical high fructose corn syrup soda fixes. So I help old ladies into cars, offer the odd suggestion (demurely, of course) in stores. People seem to be appreciative and my kharma can always use a boost. The local paper carried on about the supposed success of US charter schools (another 'privatization' in sheep's clothing) and I was tempted to write in to the writer, but realized he'd been permanently "blinded by the light" of education for fun and profit.

I have to rave about the Waitrose stores, which Anne introduced me to years ago with an egg salad sandwich to go that was lovely, which continue to impress. It's a chain of groceries. part of the John Lewis cooperative of stores, miles beyond what the greedy, overpriced Whole Foods has to offer, and cheaper. Folks here think Waitrose is pricey, HA! A lovely five inch cake with healthy ingredients at 1.99 (one pound ninety nine) sounds good, but is in fact, what? about three bucks american. But isn't that a good deal? I paid four bucks for a pastry for ONE at Whole Foods only last week. This lovely little cake I bought here (not junk ingredients, you KNOW how choosy I am) was three bucks plus and fed five people! See what I mean? The Brits don't know how good they have it! Must have something to do with the proximity to Europe, where the eatin is good and cheap, contrary to popular myth. But there IS a fairly healthy and growing national movement to buy local, support UK food producers. Of course, as with anywhere, one has to shop the bargains to be sensible... avoid prefab food...

Here are a few pictures of my stroll to the south side of town. Today I venture further north, perhaps to the market square, although the sunny sky is quickly becoming smothered in a large grey mass that does not bode well for walking.... at least without an umbrella.

Oxford on the agenda later, and the search for Inspectors Morse and Lewis...Ciao for now...

Brick is the preferred building material here...

Downtown Newbury, note schoolkids in uniforms, left sidewalk

massive cedar tree in local cemetery below
looking north over the garden

Kitty yoga on the roof outside my window....


Have you seen that Helen Mirren has done a film of The Tempest and is playing a female Prospera, directed by Julie Taymor? Now that will be a film worth seeing!

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