Journal Excerpt 1

3 January 2011 § 1 Comment

Obstacle II

real Guildford wall, imaginary night

He overhears a group of men discuss
how best to lure him into custody.
And so he climbs up to the roof, between
the thatch and outer bailey wall. He tries
to grip the wall, but fails. Instead, he falls…

from my YA work in progress entitled Godwyn, a novel in verse set in 1399

© 2011 J.S. Graustein

Guildford & Home

17 April 2007 § Leave a comment

OK, so I went through 2 days of jet lag and 8 days of denial that I’m in America. I still have to finish the story – don’t I?

Easter Sunday we meant to go Greyfriars Church… but I misplaced the service details and we were uncertain about Ian’s ability to meld into a strange Sunday School. So we read the Easter story in Ian’s comic book Bible in our pajamas before going down to breakfast at the hotel.

After spending our last hour in Quark’s Internet Cafe, we hopped on the train to Guildford. None of us, Megan included, were up to London after our experience at the Tower the day before. All we wanted was a quiet place to walk and look a High Street and some castle ruins. We were not disappointed.

The Guildford train platform was a bit of a puzzle. Unlike every other platform we’ve ever been on, there was no “Way Out” sign. There were signs to other platforms and the university, but in our confusion we tried going down a tunnel only to turn around and go up some stairs – eventually finding the way out. The streets of Guildford were much less confusing. Just outside the station, a giant map of the city let us know where the castle and High Street were. There were plenty of brown directional signs to help us at each intersection as well.

We ate our Easter meal at Yates’s (also spelled Y8’s)…after waiting a half hour for the “chef” to return from his break. We had the entire place to ourselves. Kurt and Megan split a burger, I had the “Sunday Roast” special complete with mini-Yorkshire puddings (they were out of steak & ale pie), and Ian had his cheesy garlic bread. The whole thing was a bit surreal: it’s Easter, we’re sitting in a bar with our kids, smelling stale cigarette smoke, hearing our favorite Brit bands on the muzak, and watching a muted version of “Keeping Up Appearances” on the big screen TV. (We later saw much more appetizing options on our explorations through town, but hunger overrode patience.)

We found the castle ruins smack in the middle of the prettiest garden we’d seen this trip. The tulips and daffodils were HUGE, the grass was GREEN, the sky was BLUE, and the stone paths were so TIDY. Best of all there were NO LINES. The castle was inexpensive and newly restored. They had some interesting displays on the ground floor with plenty of signage on the other floors. Best of all, I could enjoy being on top of the keep (don’t laugh, Sid). There’s always such an anxious mystery to what awaits you at the top of spiral castle stairs. But this time, the whole viewing platform was enclosed in an iron cage that not even my wiggly son could squirm out of. I actually enjoyed the view, took more pictures than usual, and allowed my children and husband more than 5 milimeters away from me!

We walked through a closed shopping district. All the great British and American shops were represented – must be quite an experience during business hours. Ian needed a loo, so we followed the signs and found a clean and serviceable one not connected with any shop. We saw the Guildhall with it’s ancient clock, a statue of George Abbott (one of the Archbishops of Canterbury), and another Quark’s Internet Cafe tucked into a side alley. The historic “hospital” had it’s gate and door open with a sign that read “If the door is open, come in.” We did. Just inside the courtyard was a sign that told us to stop there and just look. Apparently it is now a retirement community. We obeyed the sign, and were then rewarded by one of the staff who took us beyond the sign into another garden at the back. We got to see a huge copper pot that the historical occupants used to wash their clothes and cook festival meals in – now a planter since the bottom rusted through. We also saw the Hershey’s-kiss-shaped niches in the garden wall which used to house bee bowls. As he led us back out with a “please use the path through the center” (not the one that traces the courtyard near the buildings), our gregarious host quickly changed moods. New visitors had not respected the boundaries and were greeted with an icy-yet-formal “Actually visitors are not allowed past this sign unless you are invited to a tour, and I must go. I don’t have time.” Ooooo, glad we obeyed the sign.

We got ice cream from the van parked outside the train station and waited for a non-Virgin train to take us back to Reading. The kids used their own pence to buy sweets at the station shop. (Megan discovered Cadbury Cream Eggs for the first time.) The kids had their last swim and I watched my last proper BBC while packing.

Our trip home was unremarkable, except for a Bank Holiday snag. We arrived at Paddington Station expecting to take the Heathrow Express to the airport. Unfortunately, it was Easter Monday – a holiday that the US does not observe. The Heathrow Express does not run on Sundays or Bank Holidays. A very kind attendant wearing a black jacket over his Heathrow Express purple suit told us our options were: 1. the Tube (been there, done that, no way with kids), 2. the Heathrow Connect which is a train to Hayes and then a bus (20 minutes before the train would arrive & when would we see the bus?), and 3. a cab (which he said would be hard to find since everyone will want them). We walked to the Connect platform and quickly decided we didn’t want to wait. We walked to the taxi stand which was deserted of passangers and chock full of black-cabs (it’s the shape, not the color). The head cab’s driver estimated ₤55 to Heathrow. A quick talley of the pockets and purse yeilded ₤65 – so in we went.

The ride went smoothly, except for Ian’s obsessive reading of the meter. I’ve never been on the M4 before, though I’ve heard it on traffic reports from BBC radio streamed over the internet. There was NO traffic, so we got to Heathrow for a mere ₤49.80 plus tip. We breezed through check-in, thanks to our online boarding passes printed at Quark’s. Security was a piece of cake as well. The kids enjoyed shopping in the international terminal while we waited to board. Our flight was smoother than the trip over – only turbulence over Greenland. We saw an agriculture-sniffing hound catch a woman with an apple in her handbag at the baggage claim (quite exciting, actually). My mom was there to take us home in our car with home-baked pretzels as a bonus.

All in all, I know Kurt is glad to be home. Ian wants to go back to England so he can swim. Megan wants to live in England. And I think I’m STILL in denial that I’m even home.

Cheers,
Jessi


Quote of the Day:

Ian, to the driver of the ice cream van as we threw our rubbish in his bin, “That was the best 50 pence I’ve ever spent. That ice cream cone was the best one in the universe!”

Megan, after resisting pictures the whole trip, “Ooh, take my picture next to these flowers. No wait, take my picture while I smell the flowers.”

London x 2

8 April 2007 § Leave a comment


We are officially done with London now – except for the flight home on Monday. Ian is definitely glad. He’s tired of hearing the announcers at some of the Tube stations saying “Mind the gap.” At one point, the kids turned it into a joke using the GAP sweatshirt Megan was wearing. We stopped at stations and the kids would say “Mind the…” and point to Megan’s sweatshirt. I guess you had to be there.

Lot’s of rail repairs were taking place this weekend, but we lucked out and got the express into & out of London instead of a local that had to be redirected on the bus. We also needed the Tube lines that were NOT being worked on. Ian has a special fondness for the sound of the Picadilly line. Every time we stopped at a station that connected to it, he would say it over and over for at least a minute.

We made it through the ticket line for the Tower of London. Ian was a real trooper, and the line only got bigger behind us so it put our short wait into perspective. Many portions were under construction, unlike when Kurt and I had gone two years ago. They also “enhanced” the Medieval Palace display, but Kurt and I liked it better the old way. They took out a beautiful metal chandelier in the room with Henry III’s chapel and replaced it with a video projector showing not-quite-relevant historical information. It completely took away from the intimate, sanctuary-like feel that used to be in the room. Some of the other walls have had their ancient stone white washed (except for the tiles that bear 500 year old inscriptions from prisoners). It completely messes with the awesome feeling of antiquity that should be felt in a place that’s nearly 1000 years old.

Kurt and Megan braved the “queue” for the crown jewels while Ian and I did the wall walk. We thought the wait was bad…that is until we looked at the wait after a Richard III re-enactment on the green. The line went from the door of the tower, all along the side, turned 90 degrees, went all the way down by the armory/cafe, turned 180 degrees around a central cannon display, and up the length of the green to the sidewalk that enters the White Tower. Unreal!

Navigating the White Tower was an experience as well. They have rerouted the traffic to see the armor & prisoner inscriptions first, then the Norman chapel and the rest of the tower. You couldn’t move on the “ground floor”, there were so many people. Upstairs it smoothed out a bit until the Guy Fawkes display. Megan wanted to watch the videos, but Ian had had it and it would have taken more than 30 minutes.

We all talked to an employee dressed like Robin Hood (though that wasn’t who he was portraying). Ian told him all about Henry VIII while Kurt and I made some history-related-dry-humor jokes. The man asked where Ian lived, then turned to us and said, “But you’re not from America, are you?” When we said yes we were, he gave me the biggest compliment in the world: “Oh, I just – you’re more well-spoken than most of the Americans that I meet.” Quite funny and well appreciated:-)

After the Tower, we walked across Tower Bridge. We followed the Queen’s Silver Jubilee walk markers along Southwark, saw the Globe Theatre recreation & London Bridge, and then crossed the Millenium Bridge (Ian nearly went through the wires trying to see when I stopped to take a picture – serves me right!) We took a look at St. Paul’s then found the neares Tube station. Megan liked retracing “Daphne’s” steps from the movie “What a Girl Wants.”

We arrived back to Reading just when all the disappointed fans were returning home from the home match against Liverpool. I had to sniffle because we tried for a very long time to get tickets to that match. They lost, so I guess it’s just as well. This was, however, Kurt’s first trip to the UK without a soccer/football match. We finished the evening with Pizza Express, a swim in the pool, and Victoria Sponge Cake from Sainsbury’s. A great way to wind down from all the urban stress:-)

As we have to leave early tomorrow and the internet cafe closes early for Easter, this will be our last post from this side of the pond. I’ll try to fill in the last of the blanks on Tuesday from the comfort of my own chair. Thanks for sticking with us and sending us your well wishes. We miss you all and hope to be seeing you (even our far away friends) very soon.

Cheers,
Jessi

Quote of the Day:

Ian, after noticing some stations were handicapped accessible and some weren’t: “Is there such a thing as a cat wheelchair? How about a disabled litter box?”

Megan, once the Tower of London came into view & responding to my “Look, there it is!”: “Mmmmm, the ice cream?”
(There was an ice cream van parked next to us on the sidewalk.)

Portchester Picnic

6 April 2007 § 3 Comments


We had no idea (none of Kurt’s friends told us/knew) that Reading was such a party town. Since today – Good Friday – is a national holiday, everyone was treating last night as a Friday night. We tried to eat a late dinner at a pub restaurant we dined at on Sunday, but were turned away by a walkie-talkie loaded security guard who told us kids are only allowed in before 6:00 (18:00). So we walked past clubs, pubs, and fast-food joints from 20:00 to 20:20 until we ran across Chili’s. URGH. But we ate and went to bed and Ian got his pizza (he was getting really angry that we weren’t taking him to the nearby Pizza Hut).

Today another of Kurt’s work mates picked us up at the train station roundabout and whisked us off to meet his family. We split between two vehicles and drove through motorways of all descriptions to Portchester Castle. It’s right on the water near Portsmouth and one of the naval fleets. It’s distinguished history includes Roman occupation, Richard II, and even service as a prison camp during the Napoleonic wars. It also has the distinction of being off the beaten track and very relaxing (except for the locked loos).

We loaded up on audio guides and toured. Ian and Megan had 3 playmates – all girls ranging from 6.99 years to 1.75 years. Yes, the precision is important;-) These ruins were very nice because they still had a bit of the original carved arches & window frames. Upstairs in the keep you could even see a bit of wall mural that survived from the Middle Ages. We all braved the spiral stone steps – more precarious than Warwick Castle – and walked the edge of the entire square keep. I took a few pictures, then squatted down trying to quiet the tornado in my chest before walking back down. Megan, on the other hand, kept leaning up against the wall and hanging her arms over – probably the source of most of my fright.

We ate a lovely picnic lunch in the green surrounded by the outer walls. We heard a neighboring dad shout something to his ball-playing son that you would probably never hear in the States: “Mind that you don’t fall in the moat!” We ate lovely mini meat pies, picnic eggs (breaded meat shells that contain a bit of egg salad in the center), and carmelized-onion-balsamic-vinegar crisps. The English are SO adventurous with their crisp flavors (and they’re really good).

We tried to get Ian to walk around the path outside the castle walls, but he was only interested in GameBoy since he’d eaten a cheddar cheese sandwich against his will. So Ian and I walked through the walls one more time and sat by the car while Kurt, our friends, and all the girls skipped stones in the ocean off the path. Once reunited, we all got ice creams from the van parked in the parking lot. And then we noticed the best sight of the day: the loos had been unlocked!

After that relief we headed to our hosts’ home. The kids enjoyed sliding, building sand castles, and chattering away. We had a lovely tortilla supper out on the patio on newly-varnished IKEA furniture, topped off with our choice of strawberry-rhubarb (mmmmm) or blueberry pie.

All the children enjoyed each others’ company so much they didn’t want it to end. But end it had to – baths were needed all around. We adults hated to say goodbye as well, but we will cherish this memory always since it was a PERFECT day.

Cheers,
Jessi

Quote of the Day:

Ian, handing one of his new friends a daisy he picked from the grass – “I’ve gone from like to love. Here’s a flower for you.”

Megan, while walking between the two older sisters & holding their hands – “I’m going to separate you two!”

Windsor & LEGO II

5 April 2007 § 2 Comments


Woke up to a late start this morning after a late supper at The Jekyll & Hyde. Three of us didn’t feel like taking a long train with connections in London, so we traded one Hampton Court for a Windsor Castle + LEGOland (again). Megan, by the way, seems tireless and up for anything.

We got to Windsor just in time for the changing of the guard. The red coats were marching in and playing their instruments. After they passed into the castle walls, we went to the efficiently run ticket counter, passed our bags through x-ray and our bodies through metal detector, and got our ever-trusty audio guides. Windsor’s guides were cool because there’s a kid’s version and an adult version. We could still hear the band, so we followed the path inside the wall and got to watch for a further 15 minutes as they played “Glad Time Rag” and “Reaching for the Stars” while the gold-clad guards with swords switched places. A man from the UK standing near us remarked on the music being played during the solemn change of the guards, “That’s a bit mad, isn’t it?”

We skipped Queen Mary’s dollhouse because the line was just too long. We instead breezed right into the state apartments. The kids really enjoyed seeing a castle with intact walls and ornate furniture. Megan prided herself on finding the hidden servant doors while Ian stared for a long time at the Tudor period portraits. We watched a guard near the rear (where the toilets were) march up and down on patrol then reposition himself near his booth. The pavement was worn smooth in his path.

We then went into the chapel where we saw a Who’s Who of grave markers, including Henry VIII’s. They actually allowed us to sit in the benches that line the ornately carved choir gallery. Looking up at the ceilings were almost the best part. We also found out that the queen isn’t at Buckingham Palace or Windsor Castle right now – she’s in Manchester (???) for the Maundy Thursday services. Oh well – all that waving yesterday for nothing.

We ate a quick lunch at Burger King (I know, I said I wouldn’t) before hopping on the bus to LEGOland. We managed to get in and out of there without any more offending incidents. Lots more international visitors today. We hit the discontinued bins today and got some random LEGO pieces. Great fun.

Once again, Kurt is swimming with the kids and I am here. No time for tea, though, since we’re having dinner shortly.

Cheers,
Jessi

Quote of the Day:

Sorry, my brain is fried. I can’t remember at the moment what the kids said apart from “OOOh, a gift shop. Can we go in and buy something?”

Pevensey & Brighton

3 April 2007 § Leave a comment

Well we did the educational thing and then the mindless thing. Actually, at the end of the day the kids preferred the educational thing.

Pevensey Castle used to be right on the Southern coast of England, but due to time and tide it is now a mile inland. The castle has been in ruins for ages, but was used as a WWII outpost with the crumbling towers camouflaging soldier barracks and gun towers. The outer wall has Roman & Medieval components, while the inner wall has two dungeons (only one with stairs – the other you got lowered in by rope). It actually had a manned (womanned) information booth and gift shop, so we were able to get Ian his audio guide enabling us all to concentrate and browse. Our favorite part was the pyramidal stack of stone catapult balls that had been fished out of the moat.

After a chilly, windy wait at the train platform for 40 minutes (nearly getting sucked onto the express trains that whizzed past without stopping) we finally headed for Brighton. On the train we met an inquisitive 2-year-old George who wore a friend’s baseball cap. George could not accept that it was baseball when I commented on it – he was quite insistent that it was a cricket hat. His big brother Alfie did a lot of translating between George and Ian.

Brighton was HUGE – more like a seaside London. We made our way down a LONG hill toward the sea, stopping off for baguette pizzas and jacket potatoes and popping into a collectibles shop before making it to the beach. The kids rode a carousel on land, then on the pier Megan rode a whizzer and Ian jumped on a huge trampoline. You could see the ocean through the slats of the pier, and when the boom ride was on you could feel the whole thing sway. Needless to say, the kids enjoyed the pier much more than Kurt and I did. And the wind! I think it actually beat Chicago.

We all collapsed back at the guest flat and ate leftovers from the night before. After the kids went to bed, Kurt and I watched Match of the Day since we’d gone a whole Saturday with no football (we usually watch 3 matches on Fox Soccer Channel at home). Poor Newcastle.

Jessi

Quote of the Day:

Ian, at the guest flat: “I washed my hands in the little sink.” (It was a bidet…)

Megan, while drawing in her journal: “I liked the rides in Brighton, but I liked Pevensey the best. I can see it in my mind, and my drawing actually looks like it.” (She really is getting better at perspective.)

Battles & Cliff Tops

30 March 2007 § 2 Comments

Well, we made it! We breezed through luggage check-in, security, a couple pages of homework at the gate, our transatlantic flight, & customs before hitting our first snag. We had found an internet special for commission-free money exchange at AMEX. Only problem was it was in Heathrow’s terminal 2 and we were in terminal 4. We walked all the way, exchanged our money (it was a good thing we had the promotion printed…) and then realized we had to walk back where we came from to get to the Heathrow Express to start our train journeys. OOOPS! As we tried to wind our way back 2 terminals, we found ourselves stuck going in a circle. We asked directions and finally got on our way.

The train connections were flawless. The attendant in the Paddington station restroom even let Megan in for free (saving 20 pence). We made an earlier train to Hastings than we planned, the only hitch being that the train stopped briefly to clear sheep off the line…

Pat and Chris, the owners of the Hastings guest house, picked us up at the station and showed us around our home for the next three days. Lovely blue and white rooms with a kitchen, living area, and private bath. Ian loves the Mr. Bean videos that were included in the room rental. I think Kurt and I may check out the Black Adder videos tonight.

We toured Battle Abbey and the Battle of Hastings battleground today. Fascinating. Ian loved scrambling up every staircase available. Megan thought the garderobes were sick (confused? wikipedia). We almost made it out of the gift shop without incident, until Ian found a toy crossbow complete with suction cup arrows. He wouldn’t go for a working mini-catapult/pencil sharpener so we had to compromise on a wooden dagger. Megan got a pewter ring with green stone.

In trying to find the railway up to the Hastings Castle ruins, we managed to climb the entire hill and ended up right at the gate…which was locked shut. We missed it by 50 minutes. The silver lining was finding a hidden staircase which led up to an open grassy cliff top from which we took in the misty landscape of coastal Hastings Old Town & Docks. We went down a paved way which wound around narrow back alleys and dumped us onto George Street – where Ian found an arcade (his highlight of the day for sure).

We finished the day at The Italian Way Pizzeria, run by Italians that were much more relaxed than the Italian restaurant in London that Kurt and I previously visited. And now we are at Web Frenzy, and Ian says I must finish soon so he can play computer games with the 43 minutes left on my £2 internet hour.

More with pictures on Sunday,
Jessi

Quotes of the Day:

Megan, after hearing the train announcement “Next stop – London Bridge”:
“But it isn’t falling down!”

Ian, after finishing off a fine piece of garlic bread with mozzarella:
“A small town = a great vacation spot!”

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