Diane & Paul Return to the UK Day 10 - Thorpe Abbotts & Tavistock Square

Days 10  Another Kendig Home at Thorpe Abbotts

 For our last day, we chose to go the opposite direction than we toured to the whole trip, east to East Anglia, where my dad, Russ Kendig, was stationed during WWII outside Diss. That entailed going to the East Liverpool Train Station for the first time (thank you "Journey Planner"- see day 9) and taking the train to Diss, then a taxi out to The 100th Bomb Group Memorial Museum. My one regret about this trip is that we didn't take any photos of the many volunteers who keep this place alive for the many visitors, including the vets who first lived here. I am pictured here with Ron, who with his wife Carole, are just the heart of the place today. He showed us this stone mosaic that a departing G.I. gave to an English family, who had it out in their garden till the family was leaving a few years ago and contacted the museum. Ron is from the region and has the local dialect which I love and couldn't reproduce if I tried. Instead, we took a lot of the photos to take back to my dad. He and my mom toured the museum in the 1990s when my sister Daun was teaching in her college's study abroad program in Northumberland, but the museum has grown a lot in its displays since then, such as acquiring the mosaic which Dad probably passed most days of his year here. 
Allan, another of the volunteers (and a retired engineer) took us on a tour of the control tower, pointing out what the layout would have been. He told us that the tarmac had been broken down years ago to be reused for road elsewhere, but if one goes on the google aerial view, some long-gone base areas have seeped into the earth and can be seen till. From the tower, one can see the location of the Battle Headquarters, where the Commander would go in the event of an attack.
It was good to make this physical connection to my dad's past. Unlike many WWII vets, my dad did not avoid talking about his war adventures, both the fun and the horrendous, and he did not sentimentalize them either. No rah rah what a great idea war is-- he did write letters for some of our friends who applied for CO during Vietnam-- but also, he has a clear sense of pride in the very difficult task he accomplished as an 18-20 year old tail gunner in this terrific group, the 100th and within it, The Brass Hat. He remained lifelong friends with his crew, especially Bob Ellis, the pilot and Best Man at his wedding, whose son, Drake and his wife Jennifer are my friends today. A shoutout too, to the other last remaining crewman of the Brass Hat, Wilt Kreamer and Donna!

We toured the "Sad Sack Shack" which had some displays, including the story of Sad Sack, both the character and the cartoonist, a character I recall from my childhood in the memorabilia my dad kept in the house, along with the hundreds of photos he had taken and developed during the war. And there were many displays in all the buildings, including a photo of my dad's group, The Brass Hat, which went on display in 2006, so we took a photo of the photo to show my dad, who knows it well. He still has a clear memory of his flight outfit, including the oxygen mask that rubbed his nose while he chewed gum, the only food he had for the day except for a Hershey bar, but we took a photo of it anyway:

Meanwhile, Carole and Ron had arrived. I had met them a year and a half ago at Dad's 100th Bomb Group Reunion in Cleveland. As well, I met Margaret, working in the cafe, who made us a great cup of tea, what Mom had remembered about the place. (My mom and her tea!). We met Derrick and his wife (Kathleen?) and Sian and Gordon and Tony. And Margaret's husbandk who  was working hard on the yard. All of these people volunteer at the museum, and all of them clearly have many  

talents that go into their volunteerism. Most of them have been to many reunions in the U.S. and plan to go to the Savannah Reunion in October this year. However, it wasn't all volunteers at the Museum. We ran into many English people touring the site, a couple with their Westie who especially appreciate the grass plat outside the cafe, a couple who photographs WWII bases and showed us their huge scrapbook, a young couple looking to volunteer. And there are many more visitors there, right now this moment as I type as it is 10 a.m. in England (6 a.m. in the U.S.) and Opening Day at the museum, commemorating the 70th anniversary of missions flying out of Thorpe Abbotts.

Before we left, Ron gave me piece of the original tarmac for Dad. Wow, talk about having a piece of the rock, huh? It is black tar, loaded with heavy, local stones. I bought Dad some other souvenirs, but this is the only one he will get right off.

And then we said good-bye to our many new friends, as Allan drove us back to the Diss train station.

Arriving back in London two hours later, we grabbed dinner and took one more walk through Tavistock Square to get a photo of the bust of Virginia Woolf, who lived on the block before Leonard's and her home was bombed flat during WWII. And there, in the center of the park, was a stone to Conscientious Objectors and a statue to Ghandi, which all seemed a fair way to round out the day, as I am right now reading a book by Kim Stafford, himself a CO and the son of the famous WWII CO, William Stafford, who worked in camps all during the war and was nearly killed for his beliefs. So in our journeys this day, we paused to pay tribute to all those who have stuck to their beliefs in the most difficult days of the 1940s and beyond, even as Nelson Mandela, another hero of our era, lies in critical condition in South Africa. As the 100th Bomb Group Museum pledges, "We Will Remember Them.


Diane & Paul Return to the UK Day 9 - Stoke Poges

Day 9 - Poem in a Country Churchyard, far from the madding crowd

Paul had two items on his itinerary for this trip, Coleridge's Cottage and Stoke Poges Cemetery, the scene of Thomas Gray's 18th century poem, "Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard," a poem I first read in Mrs. Church's 12th grade English class and then at Otterbein. Much maligned by the Romantics, unfairly, we think. Many lines of this poem are embedded in our culture, "the paths of glory lead but to the grave" and  "far from the madding crowd," the latter of which Thomas Hardy used as the title of his novel. This cemetery claims to be the place the poem was written, and Thomas Gray is buried here. Seemed as much worth a visit as all the guys in Westminster...and some day, maybe there will be a woman poet buried in one of these places, and meanwhile, Plath is alone, up there in West Yorkshire.

Stoke Poges is also mentioned in Brave New World, and I gather it is in two James Bond films.

I had done the travel research using that great British took, the Journey Planner: http://journeyplanner.tfl.gov.uk/user/XSLT_TRIP_REQUEST2?language=en
This online tool tells you how to take a train, bus, bike, feet, or car to anywhere in Great Britain, and we were testing its mettle these last two days. It told us to go back to Paddington, take the train to Slough, and then blah blah blah. With the ankle sprain, we planned a cab once we got to Slough.

We took the train to Slough, where we had learned via Wikipedia, there was an interesting drug bust in 2009 and there is still a stuffed dog "Station Jim" who in life collected money in the station for the fund for orphans. We missed him at gate 5 but thanks to the wonders of the internet, you can see him here:

In Slough, which looked like a small city of young people and new immigrants, we got an Indian cab driver who seemed amazed that we wanted to go to the cemetery, and he had to call for clarification on which one it was before dropping us off at the gate to Gray's field. There we walked for half an hour through curious fences and around cow patties before spotting the seven cows and this sign:

We saw two women walking dogs who were sometimes on the lead. We soon came around to the huge monument to Gray, which bears much of the poem, and then we went to St. Giles church, a very old church indeed, to the tomb of Gray. 

I had noticed that the church and Gray's field were on the edge of "Memorial Gardens" and we planned to walk those, too, but had no idea what we were getting into...in a good way. The Memorial Gardens is a burial ground for cremains, designed  to look not like a cemetery. No one is to have grave stones but instead small stone or metal plaques give names and dates for the deceased, and the idea is GARDENS, which were beautiful. Bowers of wisteria, that had finished blooming, small little plots with tiny stone markers filled with tiny flowers I have never seen, huge roses in the rose garden.  Heading into the place, we bumped
into the director, Yvonne, who invited us into the office to see the framed posters outlining the history of the place, which includes William Penn (who seemed to have gotten everywhere), Gray, and many many other people. We walked and walked the gardens, which include a 300 year old and a 600 year old tree, fountains, bushes and more flowers.

Then we asked Yvonne about a place to do lunch, thinking some little pub in Stoke Poges, but she had a great idea, the Red Lion. She warned us the walk would be "dodgy" in spots-- no sidewalk, no path--and she wasn't kidding about that. We were nearly run over twice (drivers!) and I fell into a ditch, but arriving at the Red Lion was worth it. I had lamb rump with sausages and asparagus and pearl onions, and Paul had mushrooms in a white wine sauce and one of the top ten beers of his life, a Sharp's Doombar. (I made him name the other nine to make sure he wasn't making it up.) We were able to sit outside and just sit. And then we got a cab back to Slough and a train back to London and the Tube to Euston Square--

--no we didn't because I got to talking to a young English woman about how badly she was treated by Miami Customs, and so I told her how badly I was treated by Miami Customs and then how badly everyone is treated at the Miami Airport, which is a viper pit--

and there we were, at King's Cross, and so walked our way back to the hotel through a rather residential city neighborhood by looking at the map and asking people, one a man who gave us two tourist tips for "his London." I forget the first, but the second was that St. Paul's Cathedral costs to tour, but there is a wonderful short free 5 p.m. music service which gets you in and good music too. I leave that one to you...or for us the next time we get back to London.

Diane & Paul Return to the U.K. - Day 8 London Theater


Back to the Brits and Their Theahtah,

by Dickens


As we packed up, the morning TV show was doing an interview with two of the stars in the play we were seeing that night, Hothouse: Simon Rusell Beale and his son Harry Melling. The interviewers called Beale the greatest living stage actor today, and noted his son was all grown up from his Harry Potter acting days. Beale said he was glad to be playing a bad guy and loved how he got to throw a glass of whisky in another character’s face since he so often played a good guy.

We left Wales mid-morning for the two-hour train ride to Paddington, then back to the Tavistock Hotel. After dropping off our suitcases, we left posthaste for the nearby Charles Dickens Museum. Dickens didn’t live there long, but it’s the only place still standing where he did live, and they’ve managed to gather enough Dickens-abilia to make the tour worthwhile, especially since, like the Freud house we saw in Hampstead Heath years ago, it’s my favorite type of tour: they let you roam the rooms yourself, read the information on the wall (all very low-tech, but then so was that part of Dr. Who) without some docent giving long corny lectures as you stand there not getting too close to anything. (The Emily Dickinson House comes to mind.) They even let us take photos, as nearly everywhere else did, but the Dickens house photos have disappeared from the camera. What the dickens???

*****My Dickens’ chat begins here. Skip to the next*****if you don’t want it.

I have a relatively new, deep, and conflicted relationship with Dickens. We read him in junior high school, of course—still recall the thrill of all the eighth graders being filed into the gym at Edison Junior High to see the ancient black and white version of Great Expectation, our reward for most of us actually reading it. (I recall Marsha Brown saying, “Pip” over and over, making both “p’s” as unvoiced plosives, as a linguist would describe it, and I can’t figure out how else to convey it.) I remember one of the quiz questions that Mrs. Kate asked about the novel was what color gloves some character wore. I missed that one on the quiz and would miss it today. Pretty much missed the details in my novel reading in those days. Do now.

And then in college, no one read Dickens. Not a lot of ambiguity in Dickens, never mind not seven kinds. A lot of class issues, and man, we didn’t talk about those in literature classes during the New Critics. Somewhere along the way, I read A Tale of Two Cities on my own. It was a far, far better thing than many other things I read.

And then decades went by until this last decade, when I was trying to uh, incentivize my walks along the Atlantic Ocean. (And these days, through Sippo woods.) You’d think the ocean and woods would be enough to get me out, but I needed more, and “walking with my ears, reading with my feet” has been my habit for about 8 years now. I have never been all that keen on plot, but for this exercise, plot propels me forward, so I looked for plot-heavy works I can follow by ear. Dickens proved just the thing, and Bleak House, Little Dorritt, and currently, Our Mutual Friend, have kept me going for weeks. Still, the man’s life is not real nice. Jane Smiley’s recent biography, concise, clear, and complete, filled in all the gaps on that which Drood colorfully re-created.

******end of chat

I really dislike Dickens’ treatment of his wife. Like some movie stars of our times, he announced his separation from her in the papers without telling her. He was all around not very nice to her, and his children were divided on how to be supportive of her and not be cut off from their father’s wealth. Her sister, Georgina, moved in with him and then, there was his 16-year affair with the actress Ellen Terry. In the Dickens house is a very large, jewel-encrusted snake as a ring his wife gave to Georgina to tell her just what she thought of her sister’s betrayal.

The museum places a fair amount of emphasis on Dickens’ parents’ poverty; the family, including little Charles, actually lived in the debtors’ prison, The Marshalsea, which is the setting of Little Dorritt.  Little was known about that in Dickens’ lifetime except for one very close friend he told, but it greatly affected him all his life, and a section of the museum addresses that epoch of his life, including his being hired out as a child to work. The house also has quotes from the novels inscribed on the walls, including Mister Gradgrind’s famous horrid, pedantic scolding of a little girl who likes flowers, and a really funny (and satiric) one I didn’t know about what a waste poetry is. One of the family portraits that hangs in the house was painted by Millais. 

We walked the house, from basement kitchen, out to the wine cellar, up to the top floor, with its time line of what was going on in the rest of the country while his life went on. Mrs. Gaskell died a few years before him, for example. As always, we wrapped up with a visit to the gift shop, where I bought Victorian cards, and the café, where we shared an Earl Grey cake with lavender icing and Earl Grey tea.

Next activity on the agenda was a play in the West End at Trafalgar Studios, and after freshening up, we set off early to master the Tube. We walked to Euston Square and took the Picadilly Line to pick up our tickets, walking through Trafalgar Square which was just beginning to get crowded and out to find a park with cranes posing and squirrels performing for the crowd. The gardens were beautiful, and there was a historic cottage that had once belonged to the gardener.
A tour book mentions that the National Museum (next to the National Portrait Gallery) had a good café, so we stopped in for dinner. It was good. I had a good plate of hake and Paul had an artichoke  risotto. Good wine. Good bread. Good. And then with time yet till the theater opened, we sat on the steps of Trafalgar Square and watched the children pose for their parents and play on the lions, watched them warily then gleefully approach a new child and together chase the pigeons. Families of four and five with teenagers speaking Italian and Arabic, women with hajib and three with the veil. No skateboards, and I didn’t see a single cell phone. The sun was shining at 6:00 p.m., and it was really a golden hour at the Square.

At 7:00 the doors opened to the theater, and we got our seats. The Trafalgar Studios is relatively new as London theaters go, small (in a good way) with great sightlines. Part of the audience was seated on the stage facing the audience. The play was Pinter’s Hothouse, written in the 1950s, after accounts had surfaced of the Russians using electric shock therapy on political prisoners (and the play has strong undercurrents of abuses with EST by people in power.) Then Pinter put the play aside, unperformed, and never got it out until 1989 when he directed it himself. A satire, it is shockingly funny, a black comedy with some terrific dialogue and characters. But the plot is a bit iffy to say the least, and the ending seems absolutely half-baked. Still, the star, Simon Russell Beale, was amazing, and the whole cast did a terrific job of the lines, which were like Mamet on steroids. I don’t think it is giving a thing away to say that Mr. Beale got to throw more than one glass of whisky, and his character, while being very bad indeed, was very duplicitous, clueless, and very very funny He does bug-eyed incredulity quite well.

The audience was not nearly as rude as the ones we experienced 20 years ago in London, though I was surprised that a couple (in our row, naturally) were seated late, between the second and third scene. Pleez. And it seems odd to me that the ushers are forced to stand round on the stage at intermission waving programs (5 pounds!) and hocking ice cream and beverages. People ate a LOT of ice cream between act one and two, let me tell ya.

After the curtain and before a Q and A, we walked back through Trafalgar, back past the two museums, back to the Tube, back to the hotel and to bed before day nine in STOKE POGES!!

Diane and Paul Return to the UK - Day 7, Cardiff



So today, we had planned (multiple methods of travel: info on train and car rental) to go outside Bridgwater to Nether Stowey, where Coleridge wrote and took long walks and received visitors, including the man from Porlock, along whose path to Porlock we hoped to walk. But it was a 2-hour train ride, then a cab ride, with rain predicted so that our planned hike seemed a dubious bet, and we decided to stick around the Environs. We were too late for the Big Pit Welsh Mine tour, and tried to get the bus to St. Fagan’s, a historic outdoor Welsh village (the Plymoth Plantation of Wales, with about 400 years on Plymoth). But the bus didn’t seem to go on Sundays, so with tears in our eyes, we set off on plan “D” from the Cardiff Bus Station: the Welsh Museum and The Dr. Who Experience.

The Welsh Museum reminded me of Kelvingrove Museum

in  Glasgow, a mix of art and natural history. A museum guard greeted us and answered our questions, mostly about the Pre-Raphaelite. It said it was a very small collection, but we went there first and were excited by how much we found there, about eight all told, but two we were very struck by, a Rosamund by Rosetti and a large Burne-Jones painted with a llot of gold and silver paint that was to be one of a series, which he quit when this first was ignored. They also had a big gathering of Impressionists, collected and donated by two wealthy Cardiff sisters. Their most famous was the Renoir that the guards call, “The Blue Lady,” but I loved most a Van Gogh landscape with crows and rain, accompanied by a little cartoon narrative for children, imagining Van Gogh walking along, besieged by crows, then by rain, then it all melting to become the painting. Not sure how I feel about that. There was a room of “Welsh Faces,” including a full-figure portrait of a famous 18th century harp player. We also stumbled onto a wonderful exhibit of art books by woman poet-artist celebrating 30 years of her press, Red Hen. By now, our eyes had shut down, so we had to leave off seeing the rest of the modern, contemporary, and historic European works—not to mention the world’s largest leatherback turtle—and head out…

…to the DR. WHO EXPERIENCE!!! Please, keep calm and don’t blink. We had no idea about who Dr. Who was other than a BBC TV show. We each could recall 1-2 friends who were fans and hope if nothing else, we could gain cred for our first foray into Who-dom.

The “Experience” amounts to a group of people being led through a sort of Funhouse set of rooms which are real sets from the show: they all tend to be dark and windy with fog or smoke with screens beaming a face-shot of Dr, Who, enjoining us t “Keep Cool and don’t blink.” He was chained to a chair but sure getting us out would be no problem, as robots appeared, saying, “Exterminate Exterminate Exterminate!” We were led to a room of transport controls, and Paul steered mightily, along with 20 other people, no doubt all steering the same, and we got out into more danger. An eight-year old girl cried and needed to be carried. Dr. Who called us “Shoppers,” and we shoppers were then given 3-D goggles for things on the screen to come careening at us. This all went on for half an hour, ending with 3-D goggles being collected and our being released for as long as we wanted into exhibit after exhibit of Dr. Who information and displays: costumes (loved the celery boutenierre), makeup, monsters, robots, and uh, women who seem a very minor subset here. Nearly every fanatic was paired with an eye-rolling
partner, including a couple we met who had just been married in Alberta and a German woman living in Scotland whose husband waited in the parking lot. (She knew everything!!) Paul took trillions of photos, which we were allowed to do. More to come! Then we hit the gift shop, buying some form of a Tardis for anyone we could think of.

And went back to the Norwegian church where we shared a wonderful Welsh rarebit, very puffy and mustardy. And our cab driver back was a Somali, born and raised in Cardiff. We walked the city a bit for our last afternoon there and then went to a Rum bar names “La Revolucion,” where we actually had a Cuba Libre—with three year real Cuban rum (& not Barccardi, the pretender.) Then tapas and burritos—all out of paella. Our waiter,  Dinos, was a business major (undergrad and grad) from Greece, new at the job & bemused that we had asked for the bill, when he had been instructed never to use the word, but to use “check.” We laughed, too, and told him maybe he needs to work in the U.S. His wife has a degree in art, and it is very hard cranking out a living in Greece in anything these days, let alone art.

And that was pretty much our time in Wales, mostly Cardiffian, which we loved.

Diane and Paul Return to the UK - Day 6 Cardiff Again

Day 6 :

Wooden Spoons, Castles and

My Welsh Great Grandmother 

Welsh Folk dancers

Castle Emcee & Me

Myra & Paul Whitcome of Aukland, NZ
We decided ahead of time that Saturday would be what we used to call a “hang out day” when my niece was little (back when I was actually permitted to hang out with her.) And then we’d end the day with dinner in the Cardiff Castle.


I ran out to the market and bought scones, Welshcakes, and oranges for breakfast which we had with awful Starbucks coffee. Really, we should stop drinking coffee here. Actually, we have except we keep buying & drinking something they call coffee. On the way, I discovered that we hadn’t discovered 1/10th of the downtown area, nor, smack dab in the middle of the city center, the 12th century Roman fort which over the next 700 years was transformed into “Cardiff Castle.” Surprising to see a castle rise up in the middle of the city like that.


After breakfast, Paul, who is the shopper of the two of us, went out shopping while I wrote all morning, and then I went out to shop. I really don’t need stuff, but I couldn’t help but go to the Wooden Spoon shop. Welsh wooden spoons have a long romantic tradition of being given to the beloved by the lover. The shop engraver was originally English but is clearly a Welsh convert and as he waited on me and a Cardiff native buying a spoon as a 1-year birthday present for her granddaughter, the two of them regaled me with what a wonderful place Wales is. I told them I didn’t need to be converted, that I loved it more than I had imagined.


When I had originally planned to come to Wales, I hoped I could go to the birthplace of my great-grandmother, Gretta Swaller neé Thomas, my mother’s grandmother, who died in childbirth when her daughter (my grandmother) was five years old. When I was a little girl, my grandmother told me that she remembered her mother singing in Welsh, “and the Welsh really can sing,” but then, other than the pain of being raised by a mean 12-year-old sister, Grandma remembered nothing much about her childhood and nothing of her mother. But my mother is buried next to that great-grandmother now, and I’d like to learn more about her. With the help of a Massillon librarian, I found my great-grandmother’s marriage and death certificates and most helpful, the 1900 census (one year before she died) saying she had come to the U.S. from Wales 14 years previously. But there we’re stumped. She does not appear on any ship’s logs of the period, and we have no names of parents. So I had originally planned to come to her hometown, but instead I have come to her homeland.


Meanwhile, out on the streets a folk dance festival was happening all day, mostly Welsh dancers, but dancers from other regions, too, including Normandy.


At 6:15, we left for dinner at Cardiff Castle, an experience about which I will say overall, was a fun time, but the only thing on our trip we would not do again. (Ne me regrette, but never no more.) It was fairly expensive, and the administrative details were a horror. (Just briefly, arriving early, we were told to wait on a freezing balcony, in the rain for a pre-dinner tour of some castle rooms, and we were forgotten there, stood there for 20 minutes, and then when we knocked three times to get in, were scolded for knocking, missed the beginning of the tour we paid $24 extra for.)


But most of the food was good, especially the first course of glamorgan sausage and the last, some incredibly rich mousse. And our company was nice. Most people were there with tour buses they traveled with, so we were at a table of ourselves and four other leftovers: a darling young couple of the type I call Internationalistas. She was born in Lithuania but hasn’t been back in a decade and lives in Ireland. He was a Welshman in sales. The other couple were the Whitcombes, a retired truck driver named Paul and his wife Myra, from Aukland, New Zealand, both car fans, driving for weeks now around the British Isles. We laughed that he was the first person we knew to have a busman’s holiday literally.


The Emcee was a Welsh actor and a good singer, and he did a good job of hosting, with a lot of joking at the expense of the many Australians, whose rugby team The Wallabys had lost that day  to the British Lions. He explained each course of the food, and got me up onstage to discuss chicken. He was backed up by four young actors who dished up food and performances. I heard our waiter early in the evening and said, “You are very good. I hope you are singing elsewhere, too,” and he said, “Well, I am always at auditions.” Later, we learned that he had been in the London cast of Les Mis. He went on to do two solos, just terrific, as were the rest of the cast. Dinner theater audiences like this can be a pain, I know, but the troupe was made up of just terrific, talented troopers.


And they had spread the evening out long, so it was 10:00 as we waddled our mousse-filled bodies back out the castle gates to the modern city, which was rocking on a Saturday night.



Diane & Paul Return to the UK Day 5 - Swansea, Wales

Dylan Thomas' childhood home

DAY 5, Friday – We See Swansea & So All Things Dylan (Thomas)

Today, we slept as late as we could, which was maybe 7:45 a.m. as we hadn’t booked the train ahead this time. We arrived at Cardiff Station about 10 and found we’d have a train in half an hour. We sat on the platform next to a woman from Glastonbury. “Ah, the mud!” said Paul. “Are you leaving?” (The four-day rock festival begins in about a week) “I’ve left already,” she said drily. 

On the train were four college-aged guys toting boxes of beer—one group of a type we saw several of in Swansea, clearly there to drink and party. We got off, found some tourist info at the station and used the map to wend our way to the downtown shopping mall, where a fairly large group sang back up for a Christian street preacher with a big PA system. We found a street of pubs, and decided on one called “The No Sign Wine Bar”

because it had a long narrow sign, saying, at length, basically, “Thomas drank here.” There, I had a wonderful dish of cockles “with laverbread gratine” and bacon. The cockles were like tiny mussels in a thick white sauce where the laverbread hid out with the bacon, all topped with slices of cheese, not what I’d think of as “gratine,” but it was very good and no doubt more calories than usually I get in a day. Paul had a local lager, as usual, good but warm. A Welsh couple seated near us, who’ve been on a Caribbean cruise, said Gower is a good beach town to visit, and I see in the books, it has both beach and historic buildings to see.

But what is to see in Swansea is the life and times of Dylan Thomas, and we set off first for The Dylan Centre. Their exhibition theme is “The Man & the Myth,” and it treats discrepancies of whether Thomas was a sickly person whose alcoholism was a stance or an alcoholic who drank himself to death. On the one hand were quotes and clips of friends saying they never saw him drink much or that he’d have one drink and go out acting as though he were stewed. On the other, we have his last bill for one day at the Chelsea where he had more than 40 drinks, 18 bottles of Bass Ale among them. Maybe he had a LOT of company. But the exhibit had a lot of information too on his composing habits (lots of revision, years after the fact, of early drafts),  his family, and his acting and directing. There was a marvelous video with two 92nd Street Y employees who were in his first Under Milkwood and a long interview with Robert Lowell, who hosted Thomas at Iowa. A lot on his influence and a lot of tchotchkes, including a huge double door to his house that someone rescued and a children’s book of Strawelpeter, a very early Edward Scissorhand character.

Geoff Haden, owner of the house,
was our terrific guide.
Then we caught a taxi up to the Dylan Thomas Birth House at 5 Cwmdonkin Drive. (I’ve long wondered how that’s pronounced: it’s “come-DONg-kin.”) I had read some disparaging remarks on Trip Advisor about this and didn’t get my hopes up, but what we found here was quite good, excellent, showing once again what idyots many T.A. commentators are. We were met by the owner, Geoff Haden, and though he is a bit self-effacing, we got him to talk first about himself. A retired structural engineer who was born and raised in Swansea, he was distraught to tour the house and find it in terrible condition, rented for years to groups of students who had painted over and over in garish colors. Then for a solid year, he and his wife Anne had the walls and baseboards and fireplaces stripped down layer after layer to their original colors, which they got matched by a paint company. And they found a 92 year old woman who had been a servant in the house and led them around telling them how it would be, after warning them, “You mustn’t say anything bad about the Thomas family. They were wonderful people.” Not much had been changed structurally, so they then set to work gathering furnishing of the period, including a big Swansea grandfather clock.

He gave us an excellent tour, interweaving biography and writing and a few of his own experiences. His most recent was having Prince Charles visit in preparation for the 2014 centenary celebrations of Thomas’ birth. My favorite part was that Prince Charles wasn’t to be served any food, but they had tea there and so of course he had to take it, and when he saw the food, he ignored the biscuits and mentioned he LOVED Welsh cakes, and he ate a Welsh cake then and there as his “Minders,” who’d been pointing to their watches for a half hour, were dying. (I mean, food is supposed to be vetted.) Can’t imagine how he managed to have only one.

Haden even pointed out to us how the neighborhood would have been when Thomas lived there, and told us about one of his favorite Thomas short stories where Thomas returns to Swansea decades after leaving, looking for himself. I told him I knew the feeling. We mentioned we had lunch at the No Sign, and he said it the best place in the city for authentic good and a place Thomas really did go. He also suggested a pub just down the hill as a favorite
Thomas drinking spot. Before we left, I asked him about getting to Cwmdonkin Park, the setting for Thomas’s poem, “The Hunchback,” one of the many he wrote in the prolific 5 years of his youth and then revised years later for publication. We walked to the park, quite an uphill climb, and watched families with children and couples with dogs play and play.

If you are going to South Wales, I highly recommend this terrific heritage spot, especially if you know Thomas’ poetry (See “Do Not Go Gentle into That Goodnight.”) or A Child’s Christmas in Wales. The Hadens are extremely gracious hosts, who have done a lot of work to bring this site up to excellent historical and enjoyable standards.

As for us, we grabbed a taxi back to the train station with the most jolly Welshman I had met so far with two arms filled with tattoos that go way back to before the latest tattoo craze, 30 years old they were, he told me.

We got the train back to Cardiff and with enough culinary adventures for a day, ate at the hotel, which had just recovered from a kitchen disaster and were mostly serving salad (which I had) and jalapeno pizza (which Paul had).

Diane & Paul Return to the UK Day 4, Cardiff Wales

DAY 4 - We Take Off for the Land of Welsh Cakes and Doctor Who

We head to Paddington Station, early as always, and so have time to track down Paddington Bear and talk to a Chinese family in London for the first time. The parents have come from China to meet their son, who is studying in upstate New York, and he translates me for them. They ask if
 there is anything famous they can take a photo of but nearby as they don’t have much time, and when I tell them about Paddington Bear, they are thrilled and head off. I go and snap a photo of the big-bellied bronze bear myself.

They only post the platforms at the last minute, and so I stood waiting and watching till they posted “Track 12,” at the far end. We hurried for it, to arrive at the barriers where the guard looked at our tickets and said, “Track 3.” I looked in disbelief and said, “No, they posted track 12,” and he said “Track 3,” and I said, “Are you sure?” (I mean, do I trust my eyes or the voice of someone I can barely understand, who is purportedly speaking English? He is pronouncing slowly, as though to an idiot, “Cardiff, track 3.” (Days later, an English woman in Wales told me they sometimes post the track, then change it.)

Now we REELY really had to run for it, and then had to find our car, D, at the end, and then the luggage racks were full, but we juggled them all with four youngish tall Asian men (speaking Chinese? Tibetan?)  traveling together, looking on, clearly having fun, and they sat across from us. At our station of four seats sat a young blond woman, laptop open like me, typing like me but looking too at a lot of edited paperwork. We learned she had been an English major nine years before, now working in marketing for “the building trades,” and clearly doing a lot of Tech Writing. We asked if she did the writing or edited others’, and she said, “Both, but I’d rather do all the writing myself. They write so badly.”  Paul smiled ruefully as he’d  spent the previous week “Writing by Committee.” It was like meeting up with one of our 1990s UF students now on the job.

We arrived at Cardiff Station and caught a taxi for the .8 mile to our hotel, The Premier, a “B” level sort of change, I imagined like Ibis, where we often stay (but it was full), more expensive than “The Big Sleep,” which was booked but I read on TripAdvisor had gotten groaty. Our first night was 79 pounds (about $120) but much more on the weekend nights. So all in all, one of the posher hotels we’ve stayed at. Color scheme purple. Toilets with two button to flush, depending on, uh, what one is flushing. Honey-colored wood, lots of hot water, and a relatively strong hair dryer (yay!) Twinings tea and Starbucks instant with the pot.

And with nothing till a concert in the evening, we took off to walk Cardiff, the Hays, which is the downtown area with no cars and all the shops and pub and cafes—oh, and the Castle, though we hadn’t see it yet.

There are many arcades, and Paul had heard of a good record store in the Morgan Arcade, and while he looked through Spillers there, I looked in the vintage clothing Oxfam shop, really a nice one. There we found a café called The Plan, which was wonderful, lots of local food options (Paul had potato and leek soup and I had a salmon salad baguette). At the table across from us was an older couple from Chester, who were in town for the four-day "Cardiff Singer of the World" competition, classical singing which has launched opera careers for many people. ****They said the American woman was a great favorite (and we’ve since learned she won: she’s on the TV in a long red dress singing something translated on the screen). On the elevator in our hotel, we met two couples going to the competition that evening, and I said to one woman, “Do you have a favorite?” “Yes, but I’m not telling,” she smiled.

After lunch, we found the Cardiff Market, which is a lot like Cleveland’s West Side Market, and I bought a Welsh cake, which cost 30p. (about 45 cents). It was wonderful, like a very dense sugar cookie or pancake, and small, about 2.5-3 inches, baked on a griddle instead of in the oven, so both sides are flat and golden brown.

And we went back for a nap. I still hadn’t shifted to time on this side of the pond and was only sleeping 3-4 hours a night and was a bit of a wreck. The hour of snooze I caught with my eye mask transformed me into someone bearable, and we took a taxi to Cardiff Bay, a newly- rebuilt up bay area with retaurants and attractions, only 3 miles from our hotel, but we are taking taxis a lot here to save Paul’s ankle, though unlike the woman from LA, we aren’t usually more taxi than Tube.

There, we roamed a bit. On a Thursday late afternoon/early evening, Cardiff Bay was pretty quiet. We went to Crafts in the Bay, the local crafters studios and store, but it had closed, and stopped to see the architecture of the opera house. Hoards of school children were finishing up their day at the Science Museum (and not, I imagine, at Dr. Who, as they might prefer).

We looked at the many good restaurants and settled on Cote bistro, where we had a plate of olives, a Kir Royale (me) and Meteor, a French beer (Paul) and then the 2-course Prix Fixe: me, ratatouille followed by sole and potatoes and Paul had vichyssoise, served warm with truffle oil and a risotto with asparagus and spinach.

At the table on my right were six young people, four men two women that I am guessing were from the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama. They had very simple but distinct clothes, the two women with their heads wrapped in kerchiefs, Caribbean Island style, one of the guys with a very ruffled distinctive hairstyle. They talked constantly, all at once, did imitations, and at one point, one of them did such a spot-on version of Tiny Tim singing, “Tiptoe Through the Tulips” that I laughed and laughed and wondered where they heard it. The old couple to my left sat and read newspapers.  

We’d seen a very bright, medium-sized carousel with up and down horses with Welsh names (Rhianna, Fion….),
and when we arrived, a mother was riding with her very small son. We caught a ride for 2 pound, and then slipped off to walk to the Norwegian Church.
 It’s a white wood structure built originally for the Norwegian sailors that shipped out of Cardiff and now is an arts center with an excellent café.

We were there to hear Terry Neason, a Scottish singer-song writer and also actress and all-round terrific performer. Paul found her and her listing before we left, and I wasn’t keen on going till I heard her U-Tube, “Whole of the Moon” (The Water Boys) which I loved: Terry Neason sings, "Whole of the Moon". The room was set up cabaret style, and we shared a table with a young man named Anthony, a Scot working in IT in Cardiff. He said the economy was bad and free-lance IT work was not plentiful, but he had a Spanish roommate who was a lawyer just trying to find secretarial work as the economy in Spain is a train wreck just now. Anthony had known Terry since he was a child as she had roomed with his parents, so we were three fans—but from the looks of the audience, everyone was, knew her songs. She began with Jacques Brel, which I have loved since the 1970s show, performed poetry (her own and Yeats and Hegley, the latter being pretty funny, and a very funny poem, “Fuck em if they can’t take a joke”), did a generous first set, with some Piaf, a Dylan we had never heard took a brief break, and then did a very generous second set too, with “Whole of the Moon” and her last song and her encore (can’t recall the order) were Carole King’s “Natural Woman” and Piaf’ “No Regrets.”) She was just incredibly energetic and talented, a winner of the Edinburgh Fringe competitions. If she is performing anywhere in the U.K. (the world!) where you are visiting, check out her act.

Afterward, we met her in the parking lot, and she was still filled with energy and generosity and we commiserated about having to do one’s own self-promotion as performer and poet.

They called a taxi for us, and we had a young driver of Yemeni heritage whose family had been in Newcastle for 50 years. His father was with an Englishwoman, and all went well, but he said after his father died, Newcastle became very racist for him, and he felt he had to get out. He felt Cardiff was not racist, that he was comfortable there and liked it very much. I saw many people of various ethnic makeup and detected no racism, either, tho next morning, an older man seemed upset that four young men passing him might be gay, and he asked me (with a hand motion) if they were. I walked on.

Diane & Paul Return to the UK Day 3; Stonehenge & Bath


Stonehenge Rocks, Bath Awash in Our Walking


Up at 6:30, having shared half a whole grain bun and the horrid instant coffee everyone seems to drink here (I mean really? Instant? Pah!), we greeted a Premier tour guide outside the door, much to his surprise as he was five minutes early and often has to chase people down. We rode his bus to Victoria Station, where we had to get out and find our tour bus. A long line had already formed for ours, and I was feeling sorry for myself as I had read Trip Advisor complaints of being at the end of the line and getting crappy seats, when a short man in a seersucker jacket said to a handful of us, “Tour eight? Follow me,” and he led us to a second bus. Little did I know that we had won the lottery of tour guides, Paul Metcalfe.

Paul Metcalfe, our tour guide

Now Paul Beauvais and I are not great tour participants to begin with. We tend to do our own little side trips, and when we are on a brief tour, we feel pinched and rushed and stuck with unpleasant people and corny tour guides and when we are going through, say, The House on the Seven Gables, we behave badly, snickering with our own little puns and side jokes about Red A’s and ministerial veils. (“I gather you have read Hawthorne,” our Hawthorne guide snarled on a one-hour trip through the house.) Still, I wanted a day when we could do something outside London we had not yet done without juggling the Tube or the train or a car, or all the other vehicles that tax our brains the day after jet lag, or actually jet leap. Several tour with several companies included Stonehenge, which I was medium-interested in, combined with (in varying combinations) Windsor Castle, Bath (with and without seeing the baths), Laycock (something to do with Shakespeare and a glass of champagne), or one called “England in a Day,” a sort of horrifying idea, that. So I chose one that gave us the most freedom: an hour or so in Stonehenge, set loose with audio, and then three hours free in Bath. We could have had a tour of Bath and of the Roman baths there, but we were looking for other things. Three hours to walk on our own would be great. My intrepid second cousin Julie, who lives in Germany, did this tour with two young sons and recommended it

So we boarded the bus up front and met our bus driver, Lester, and Paul Metcalfe, our guide (referred to here as Paul M. and our Paul as Paul.) introduced himself with a patter I found charming, fast, quick, and fairly original (though it may not seem so to him). “So sorry we had to get you up at stupid o’clock,” he said, “And on the solstice, I am doing the sunrise tour and have to get up at even stupider o’clock, 3 a.m., be at Stonehenge by 6 a.m.” He promised to be quiet once we were on the road, but would point out sights for the first part of the trip. And he did: Buckingham Palace, various businesses and governmental buildings, and a pub called “The Three Great Kings” with its sign bearing caricatures of Chas I, Henry V, and, between them, Elvis. He pointed out Harry Potter settings, which he said he could field questions on, but he would refuse to talk about Harry Stiles (but not before ranting a bit good-naturedly about how he didn’t like Stiles.)

Out in the suburbs, he pointed out Chiswick with its Edwardian housing. In Shrewtown, he pointed out the smallest and oldest jail I have ever seen (& you know I have seen a lot), a concrete space the size of a phone booth. He pointed out a very large pig farm and said his parents got him a book on pigs for Christmas so he’d know all about them. He poked fun of his parents, saying that they thought he gave pig tours, but I suspect the truth may be more that he does study up on these things, seems to take the job seriously and his parents were supporting him. Many of the details he shared were not so shop-worn as the tales one hears in, say, the Tower of London, but about things he has dug up in a book (real or imaginary) titled, What Is It. Perhaps it is the lack of history, but U.S. tour guides don’t seem so professionalized in the U.S. as they are here. Ours tend to be kids, given a script they know by rote, or re-enactors, who do know specifics, but only at one place. All the tour guides we saw that day (from 5-6 different companies) were all grown men in suitcoats or jackets. Not a single woman in sight in the job, which is a shame. Paul M takes the job seriously, with a great deal of humor, though not the old corny stuff…though there were his sheep jokes on the ride home through through the Cotswolds:

1)      What do you call a sheep with its legs cut off?  (A cloud.)
2)      How do you tell a male sheep from a female one? (You look for its “Bah code.”) 

Canola (yellow) crops

My Paul noticed that Paul M pointed out a badge he wore that he said took him 18 hours to earn, and I have since learned it means he is a "Blue Badge Guide," a professional organization of guides formed in 1950. If Paul M is any indication, they are really professional. If you'd like to know more about him, see his Facebook site, Paul Metcalfe, Blue Badge Guide.

After pointing out fields of canola (which I had just told Paul B. were weeds) and going past Chiton, where the British film, Return to Oz , was filmed, we passed through Minster, where Paul G. gave us many of our etymology lessons: Cities with “minster” in the name had monasteries “before Henry VIII shut them down,” place endings with “set” (as “Soerset”) are Roman names. And then, near Cley, with its Celtic hill fort, he pointed out after Cley and its hill fort and the town of Wolverine (and a lesson on place named for animals),then further out, a spot in the road called “Dead Maidens,” he told the legend of the maiden whom two men were to dual for. One killed the other in the back as he walked in the woods with his black dog, but when he returned, he told the maiden that he had won the duel fair and square. And she immediately keeled over dead, clearly her Truth o’ Meter set pretty high.


On the way on the path

Paul G. gave us awhile of silence till we arrived near Stone Henge. Then he told us that Stonehenge was nearly sold off to an American business man in the 19th c. but Dickens and others campaigned against it. Then there were decades where people arrived with picks and chipped off pieces to carry away, then in 1978, they shut it down. Now they actually allow visitors to get fairly close, but not close enough to touch. So we arrived, and got through fairly fast and picked up out accompanying audio cassette, and roamed amoung a hoard of bugs and people. The bugs were quite pesky and surprised even the people who worked there who said they had just attived. But constantly shooing them and dodging the crowd, I couldn’t really concentrate on audio and just heard, “Blahblahblah, lintel……mystery…we don’t know….blue rock….Brought from Wales, then dragged across land somehow….” I just looked, rather amazed at how open of a space it is in, how close we were, how many very different people were there. Most people were polite and everyone took photos of families and couples. I did hear a very British-accent say, “Of course, there isn’t anything to see in Ohio,” and I said, “But there is the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame! I.M. Pei design!” but he was long past, left in the dust of ignorance.  

Out in the grass
I was surprised that after the path, we could walk to the back of Stonehenge by walking through the grass, which isn’t worn down yet. And what is most amazing to me, past the mystery of “what is means” and how it marks the solstice, is what a fat lot of work it was and how thought out, to have the uprights topped with a point and the lintels with a slot so it fits in there and stays upright for centuries and centuries. And you know it wasn’t the businessmen doing the work, all that quarrying and dragging and shipping and lifting. Whew.

We saved time to visit the gift shop, where we did not buy t-shirts that say, “Stonehenge Rocks” nor mugs nor bags bearing the Stonehenge official logo, just four postcards and stamps. We shared a cup of slightly better coffee and a raisin scone and climbed back on board.

I wish I could say more of Stonehenge, but it was sort of like being in Paris my first time, effing amazing to be there, but sort of boggling too, can’t make any original observation, just the photo of us together, saying here we are, together as the stones.

Most of our fellow passengers were bearable, some even nice, like the couple behind us from near Seattle with their two teenage daughters ahead of us. And a young couple from Houston who thought it was terribly funny that people kept saying it was the warmest day of the year (75 degrees or so) where they had left 90 plus degree weather. One 75-year old couple fro L.A. (who kept saying they were 75) held hands the old way out and fought the whole way back. When Paul G. tried to tell them to take the Tube to their tour the next day, she said, “We really are more taxi people than Tube people,” and I empathized because we have taken many more taxis this trip than ever because of Paul B.’s sprained ankle and two weeks’ luggage.


So anyhow, we got back on the buses and rode out to Bath, where I thought often of Mary Diaz, our former student who so loved Jane Austen. The approach is “quite lawv-lee” as they say here, as Bath is surrounded by seven hills and tons of limestone “And 90 percent of the buildings are honey-colored stone.” The bus set us down just a block from the Information Center, where Paul M. gave us an overview the option to go with him or mosey on our own, and Paul and I set off looking for Queen’s Square, where the Jane Austen Centre was, but unmarked, would be an apartment where Shelley lived.

Plaque, "Circus"
We found the Jane Austen Centre and looked over the gift shop but decided not to do the tour. When we headed up the street, we bumped into Paul M., who was pointing out the real Jane Austen house, privately owned (“by a dentist, couldn’t get him to sell,” so the Centre was not where she really lived. (WHAT would one see on the tour then???)  We followed Paul up the street to the Circus, which would be a Rotary in New England and a Traffic Circle in the Midwest, but in fact, is more amazing for 

circus trees
 the building erected around the whole circle. There Paul M. gave an excellent architectural lecture on its outside features: no signs of technology, all the doors painted white, and each floor marked with a set of columns: one floor Doric, one Ionic, and one Corinthian. In the center, was a circle of ancient trees.

The Royal Crescent

From there, we walked to the left, up a short hill to the Royal Crescent,  another very old building of apartments in a big swooping crescent-shape. One good story there, though I most regret not getting a photo: As with the Circus, all apartment doors are to be painted white. One is yellow. It sees the woman there painted it when the city painted the edging bricks of the drive yellow because traffic had become a problem. She was told that she could not paint her door as it was a historical building with rules. She pointed out that the road too was historical and not to be painted. So far, both road and door remain yellow.

We walked to the Assembly Rooms, hoping to have tea where Jane Austen did, but the “tea room” was a snack bar, so we found some locally made gifts in the gift shop and a postcard for Mary and headed to find Shelley’s apartment—which we did, we think. Unmarked, and numbers do change, but I think we  were spot on. We went to the Sally Lunn shop for lunch, but we ended up getting Sally Lunn buns and tea and a very refreshing Elderflower drink at the Sally Lunn Shop. I was told it was sort of a brioche, and is was, a very large one, and then read that Sally was a Huegenott in 1680. I had one with lemon curd and clotted cream, Paul B had clotted cream and jam. In a bakery, I bought a “bath bun,” and I have to say the Sally Lunn bun (ahem) was much better.

We decided not to see The Baths. This may sound terrible, but after living in Segovia, I am sort of done with Roman architecture in general. So sorry! Paul B. and I separated to shop instead. I found a postcard of the “Pigs of Bath” for Paul G. I got fudge made with clotted cream in a box that said, “Thanks for taking care of my dog” for Judy in a wonderful wonderful penny candy shop and thought of Matt Lichter at the Tobacco Shop across the way. The Houston couple says smoking is illegal in any public place in Houston now, even the streets, so maybe Matt has quit with the cigars. I don’t think so, think I saw a mention of them on FB. Matt, keep the smoke out of Amanda’s lungs! I found two very cheap jokey things for Paul.


We boarded the bus and rode back, with some of Paul’s patter, like pointing out when we were in the Cotswolds and telling his sheep jokes.

Cotswolds, meaning
"Sheeps' Hills"
The bus crawled back to London in a snarl and stop of traffic, and finally set us down at a Tube stop where we finally got an Oyster card and took the tube back to the Tavistock Hotel. Along the way, we saw another blue plaque marking the home of a famous person. Paul liked this one:

A Secret Agent lived here

We weren’t there long, got an address and set out for Ciao Bellaan Italian restaurant that the man in the pub told us about the night before. Let me begin by summarizing my review: some of the best Italian food I have ever had in the very loudest space I have ever sat in:

We got a table smack tight in a line of tables, on my right a pair of young women, on our left, a middle-aged couple so happy I thought they weren’t married (after the couples I had been seeing the past two days). I ordered tuna, sliced thin and fanned out on a bed of rocket (argula, to us Gringos(, Paul ordered pasta with an Arribata sauce so spicey hot I couldn’t even taste it & he sooo loved it.. We were both very happy with that. Finally, I turned to the couple on my left and said, “Is it always this noisy?” He laughed and said, “No, it’s usually louder!” Then we talked quite a while to them. They are foodies who had drive three hours to eat there and they occasionally fly to Italy just to eat. She had been to NYC twice and loved it. They have two teenage daughters, “Twins who share the same DNA but are so different. One is working as a waitress on Lesbos, the other has applied to get a job as an elf in  Lapland during the holidays.” The husband seemed more of the outdoors type and when I told him my sister had lived and taught in Antwick, he said he had bought his fly fishing rod there.  

I also got up and spoke to a table of six women, three young ones on my left, three older ones on y right, who were passing around two fans and waving them. I told them I had been working on a poem about the painting, “Woman with a Fan” and was curious about their using them. I learned the three young women (from the U.K., Indian, and Greece) were best friends who had brought their mothers to meet for the first time. Both the Greek and the Indian woman had memories of their mothers carrying fans everywhere, and they were all sharing stories about those memories. They said they would send me a photo of them, but so far, they haven’t.
Fed and full, our ears literally ringing still with the din and  with a train to catch by 10 at Paddington, we walked back to the hotel and went to bed right after that very filling supper.