Journal Snippet: England 2018

While Sitting in the Remnants of Reading Abbey on the UK’s National Poetry Day
4 October 2018, England

Above the flint-filled ruins and
The Blade, a Red Kite
glides ‘round on thermals, never lands
or feasts within this site
of dissolution. Two Magpies, though,
pick at the only flesh on abbey’s bones:
a wall-top meadow that centuries have sown.

©2018 by JS Graustein

Poem patterned after the second stanza of Tudor-poet Henry Howard’sComplaint of the Absence of Her Love Being Upon the Sea.”

An Evening of NH Landscape Readings with Three Authors

Very excited to be reading in New Hampshire with my mentor and friend, William O’Daly. The Griffin Free Public Library is a cozy, historic venue with a lovely group of patrons. Hope to see you there!

Reading Proper

We took an easy day today. Kurt took the kids to the pool after breakfast and I did a bit of laundry in the sink. Afterwards, Ian played with his LEGO’s and I took Megan to Quarks Internet Cafe in Smelly Alley – otherwise known as Union Street. Last night we walked through the alley and couldn’t figure out the source of the name. It was clean and no graffitti. But this morning with the butcher’s, fish monger’s, and grocer’s open it really did smell. Megan enjoyed seeing all the color and the “old fashioned way” to buy food.

We also met up with Kurt’s UK work mates. They took us to Sweeney & Todd’s Pie Shop, a brisk walk from the hotel. The kids were good sports. Ian wanted a fruit pie, but the best I could do was Pigeon & Peach. He ate the chips and drank his OJ. Megan made a valiant attempt at a Ham & Turkey which looked filled with some kind of cheese. She got a third down and polished off her chips as well. I had a lovely Steak & Stilton (cheese) pie on it’s own and Kurt had a Steak & Mushroom with a side of carrots. The crust was heavenly and all the pies had different crust-cut-out shapes on them to tell them apart.

We then went to Reading Abbey Ruins, apparently a popular hang-out spot for teens on school holiday. The kids have now decided that Henry VIII is the meanest person every because (according to their talley) he broke two churches and killed his wives just for having girls. Funny that the way this trip started was that Ian was crazy about Henry VIII and wanted to see his armour.

One short block brought us to the Reading Museum and an amazing display: a life-size replica of the Bayeux Tapestry stitched 100 years ago. Having been to Battle, the kids enjoyed reading the captions and finding the pictures that matched. They both enjoyed finding the chain mail and looking at the shield shapes. Ian (someone please explain to me) was fascinated with the panel of the dying Edward the Confessor, his funeral, and the double death of King Harold.

Shooed out 10 minutes before closing, we decided to take in an early showing of the film (probably not to come to the US) “Mr. Bean’s Holiday.” It was a great laugh and especially fun for us as we are on holiday in a foreign country, though not hitting near the snags.

And thus I am now officially caught up with our journey so far. Kurt took the kids to McDonald’s for dinner (yes, we finally gave in – but they’ve been good sports) and I had a cup of tea in Smelly Alley.

You’ve gotta love England!

Quote of the Day:

Ian, after studying the Bayeux Tapestry replica, “Where is King Harold’s funeral?” (Ah, war-politics boiled down to a 3rd grade level…)

Megan, at lunch to Kurt’s co-workers, “My favorite food so far is – Mom what do you call that sausage thing?” (Bangers n’ Mash)

Trains & LEGO’s

Our journey to lodging #2 took nearly all of Sunday. First a two hour train from Hastings to London Charing Cross followed by the Bakerloo Line on the Tube to Paddington Station, finishing on the NON-express train to Reading. Fortunately we had room for our luggage and to sit on the two proper trains. On the Tube, however, Kurt and I stood tending the luggage while the kids acted very grown up on seats 1/8 of a car away (trust me, I had my eye on them the entire time).

A one block walk had us to our hotel – a swanky new place called the Novotel which just opened in October. You have to love European culture. All the employees at the hotel wear name badges with flags on them – with each flag representing the languages they speak. I surprised myself with my flag knowledge. So far I haven’t not-known which languages an employee can speak. I’m a little afraid though that they might think I’m odd, not looking at their faces but their lapels…

Choices are very hard for Ian. He also tends to narrate everything he does or thinks when he’s in a room alone. In the loo, there are two stainless steel ovals on the wall – flush buttons. The large oval is for a large flush, the small oval for a small flush. Kurt and I were in hysterics listening to him narrating his daily duty and then the quandry which followed on whether or not it merited a large flush. I’m thinking of sketching up a flow chart before the week is through!

Monday opened warm and semi-sunny so we chose that as our first LEGOland day. It’s the first large amusement park we have brought the kids to (yes, even though we live in the state that houses Disneyland). What an affair! We stood packed like sardines in the space that connected one train car to the next from Reading to Slough, then sat on the branch line to Windsor. After turning circles a few times, the information agent told us how to catch the dedicated £11.75-for-family-round-trip bus to the park (thats $23.50 by the way). But it was loads of fun hearing the kids as they discussed all the LEGO figures we passed in the driveway – as well as hearing OTHER parents saying to their offspring “Do you want a smack? Keep it up and you’ll get a smack.” Our kids were rather well behaved, if I say so myself.

We got our exit passes with no problem. This enabled Ian to actually get on rides instead of melting down halfway through a line. We hit 5 rides in 2 hours then stopped for lunch. We finished the day in the Discovery Center where Ian and Megan made mechanical LEGO animals, and in the 4D movie with no words. The gift shop blew the kids’ minds – the size of a large Blockbuster filled with only LEGO items.

We drove by, but didn’t stop at, Windsor Castle. I think the kids were relieved to see a castle that was actually intact. We’ll have to get them to Hampton Court… The train journey home was uneventful, that is until the announcement came through that the trains brakes were faulty and it would be stopping in Reading to be serviced instead of going on to Oxford. We wondered if we would have to leap out, but we managed to stop without crashing.

Neither Kurt nor I are amusement park people, so we were exhausted when we got back to the hotel. The kids, on the other hand, are drooling to get back. Oh well, that’s why we bought the annual pass – isn’t it?


Quote of the Day:

Ian, racing a car against a UK native in Miniland and creating the other child’s first impression of Nasty Americans: “Woohoo, I won!” to which the crestfallen opponent said, “Well you don’t have to tease about it.”

Megan, hungry for once, “Can we get some more of those Worcester and Sun-Dried Tomato crisps?”

Another Day, Another Adventure

We had another brilliant day yesterday. We caught upwith Kurt’s work mates in Reading. They have a really nice open plan work space and Kurt got to meet some people he’s only emailed or been on phone conferences with.

We also got final confirmation that we have tickets to the Charleton/Tottenham English Premier League Football Match, so Kurt is thrilled. We were going to do a walking club walk, but instead I got to experience my first English rain. It only lasted 30 minutes.

In the meantime, one of Kurt’s mates drove us to Henley on Thames and insisted we check out the River & Boating Museum. It was really interesting, though the archaeological portions were better than the boat portions for me. They also had a cute interactive exhibit with a condensed version of”The Wind in the Willows.”

Narrowboat on the Thames

We walked along the Thames for a bit and I got to take my first pictures. (Yes, I’ve only taken 20 MB of my 4 GB so far!) We found a nice window table and had cream tea overlooking the river.

We caught the train with all the commuters and made our way back to Oxford. We found the local movie theatre – but wouldn’t youknow – they were all American films. No wonder they think we’re all crazy over here. The movie we saw must have been re-cut for a British audience with extra language, etc. We walked back from the theatre through crowds of drunk Oxford students, past Bobbies with lime-green reflector jackets, and in front of a paddy-wagon with a riot shield perched above the windscreen.

It’s a gorgeous, crisp blue day today. So we’re going to attempt the train to Stratford on Avon. Not sure about the limited service on weekends so we may only make it to Banbury. Wish us luck!