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Homeward Bound and Down to Earth

August 13, 2012

British Museum gardenChristina writes: To conclude the tale of our trip to England, on Thursday, 24 May, after enjoying breakfast again in the Pearl Restaurant, Wayne and I had the hotel porter store our bags until the afternoon and booked a taxi to Heathrow for 3.00 p.m., aiming for a 4.30 check-in for a 7.30 p.m. flight. This left us almost two hours before we were to meet friends for lunch and nothing outstanding on our list of things to do. Although we had not been attracted by any of the special offerings at the British Museum this time, we decided to at least visit its book shop, only five minutes’ walk from our lunch appointment. We approached the Museum in a roundabout way, being sure to stop in Museum Street to pay homage to the former home of George Allen & Unwin Ltd, Tolkien’s publisher, now shops. When we finally reached the Museum, we were surprised to see that half of its front courtyard had been landscaped by Kew Gardens with trees and plants of North America – a very suitable and pleasant exhibition for a warm sunny day. We recognized many of the plants, and decided to add some lupins to our garden. Inside the Museum, in contrast to our previous visits, we found only souvenir shops along the inner wall of the great courtyard surrounding the old British Library circular reading room. The Museum bookshop no longer has an immediately visible presence – we had to ask the way – or as large a selection. Even so, we added more items to our list of books to buy later, and I bought three slim volumes (3 for the price of 2): Prehistoric Astronomy and Ritual and Prehistoric Henges, both by Aubrey Burl, and Medieval Roads and Tracks by Paul Hindle.

We then walked to the Spaghetti House restaurant in Sicilian Avenue, where we found one of our friends already seated; the other two had been held up on the road from Oxford. For many years while living in London, I met with friends for an evening meal about once a month at another Spaghetti House (now closed), in nearby Southampton Row, so this lunch held a degree of nostalgia. We waited for the rest of our party to arrive before ordering. I decided to have a starter, no main course, and a sweet: prosciutto with melon, followed by torta delizia (hazelnut, chocolate, and vanilla ice cream cake), with orange juice to drink. Wayne had spaghetti bolognese followed by coppa nostra (chocolate and vanilla ice cream with sprinkled nuts), and drank a Coke. With no pressure on us to vacate our table, we talked until about 2.00 p.m., when two of our friends had to make their way elsewhere. Wayne and I filled in our last hour of sightseeing in London with a brief visit to Covent Garden market, crowded as always with tourists and street performers.

Back at the hotel, we retrieved our luggage and waited for the taxi. We knew that a taxi ride all the way to Heathrow would be somewhat more expensive than one to Paddington Station plus two tickets on the Heathrow Express, but the latter involves getting luggage to and from the train, and on this occasion would have been made more difficult by building works. A taxi is also much more comfortable. We were worried, though, when we were well on our way, the meter was running on, and our driver seemed to be taking a very roundabout route. It wasn’t until we reached Heathrow that he explained that there had been bad hold-ups on both the M40 (the route on which our friends had come from Oxford) and approaching the M4, the two main routes to the airport. We felt that he could have been more communicative – though to be fair, we didn’t ask. In the end, we got to Heathrow in an hour, which was my outside estimate of the time needed, allowing for traffic delays. The notice boards said that check-in for our flight had not yet begun, so we sat down for a while and then moved towards the Club World section. There a helpful British Airways staff member explained that when travelling business class – a new experience for us, except when upgraded at the desk – we needn’t wait to check in, indeed we could have done so even first thing in the morning. So we checked our bags, went easily through security, and stayed for a while in one of the large Club World lounges with a variety of hot and cold food, snacks, and drinks, including a wide variety of wines. There were both comfortable upholstered chairs and chairs at tables. So soon after lunch, we weren’t hungry, though I did nibble a few biscuits and had a glass of wine and a cup of coffee, while Wayne had a snack and water and checked e-mail on our laptop using the complimentary wi-fi.

Our flight back was fuller than the one out. Once again, we were in the two centre seats, but now the aisle seats to the left and right were occupied and their associated barriers were raised, so that we were even more in our own enclosed room. (Having the barriers raised also meant that one couldn’t see the flight attendant coming – from behind, relative to the direction our seats were pointed – to take an order or ask a question until the barrier suddenly zipped down electrically. In Wayne’s case, this meant often missing the start of the question, since he was usually wearing headphones, and having to quickly take them off and say ‘Sorry?’ The attendant on his side seemed to find this annoying, while Wayne was put out by her sudden appearances. We also noticed that the entertainment system was less sophisticated than the one on our flight to London, our return flight being on an older model 777.) Before take-off, I had a glass of champagne. Both of us chose the same meal: poached English asparagus with Twineham’s Grange cheese dressing and quail eggs; seasonal salad with vinaigrette; chicken tikka masala with coriander rice and onion pakora; lemon meringue pie with raspberry compote; cheese and fruit. I also had a coffee and a Kir Royale. Towards the end of the flight, we were offered a selection of sandwiches, which I took and Wayne declined, feeling over-full from the main meal. Our journey had several bumpy moments, and after a rather bad patch the information screens showed that the pilot ascended significantly to avoid turbulence. Even with a longer descent, we arrived in Boston at 9.00 p.m. local time, a half-hour before our scheduled arrival.

We were again able to disembark quickly, and had only a few people ahead of us in Immigration. The agent noticed from our Customs form that we live in Williamstown, and made the connection with Williams College, though he thought that Wayne was a retired professor. Wayne is often mistaken for a professor, but this is the first time anyone has thought he’s retired; Wayne wondered if perhaps he looked particularly jet-lagged (by then it was nearly 2.30 a.m. London time). We did not have to wait long for our luggage, and once through Customs, probably more by good luck than efficient service, we had only a short time to wait for the hotel shuttle bus. We were in our room by 9.30. Although very tired, we needed a little time to unwind. Wayne had to go out into the hallway to check e-mail, as once again the wireless service did not work inside our room.

Books May 2012We thought that we would probably stay in bed late the next morning, but were awake early on Friday, 25 May, and could not get back to sleep. Undoubtedly this was because our body clocks were still on U.K. time, where it was approaching noon. We had breakfast in the hotel restaurant – blueberry pancakes, for a change, but the service and atmosphere were a marked come-down from the Pearl. We left for the drive home at about 8.00 a.m. and arrived back in Williamstown around 11.30, going first to the post office to collect our mail which had been held for us. On past occasions when we’ve been away a long time, our accumulated mail generally has filled a plastic box (though less so in recent years with the reduction in junk mail). This time, the clerk suggested that we drive around to the back as they had three heavy cartons for us: most of the books we had ordered in Oxford, plus a few other items ordered before we left (see Appendix 1 below). We found everything in order at home, unloaded the luggage from the car, and unpacked. We also unwrapped all of the newly arrived books and stacked them for me to list and put on dust-jacket covers where necessary. We shopped for food, and later in the day I dealt with two loads of washing. During the next few days, we began to put in orders for books we had noted after putting in that order in Oxford (or had somehow forgotten to include at the time), and by the end of June had another stack of books to deal with (see Appendix 2).

Everything in the garden grew a lot in our absence. Luckily, there had been enough rain to keep the plants healthy. We worry about the garden suffering but, as we dare not leave the water turned on while we are away, having heard one or two horror stories and even experienced a potential one ourselves, we can’t employ our landscaper to step in to do watering. What we did do, though, was to arrange for his men to mow our lawns just before our return, and to do up to ten man-hours weeding to get everything in good shape. They were mowing, in fact, as we arrived home, and the garden looked very good. Tackling a nineteen-day backlog of weeding would have been a nightmare!

But that didn’t mean we could relax. Normally in our area in late April and the first part of May, one can plant perennials and a few more hardy annuals, but most annuals must wait until the end of May or, at least, for a frost-free forecast (if one can believe it). I had not dared put anything in the ground just before we left, since I would not be able to ensure the necessary frequent watering to establish new plantings. So now I had about a five-week backlog, compounded by the fact noted earlier, that a few plants had not survived the winter, and last autumn I had our landscaper’s men uproot sections of plants in the perennial bed.

We spent Saturday, 26 May, the day following our return, visiting the various garden centres to the south of us: Ward’s, Windy Hill, and Whitney’s (see Spring at Last), and as usual, eating at Café Adam in Great Barrington, towards the southern end of Berkshire County. During those visits we acquired one shrub, thirty perennials, nine annuals, five packs of six annuals, and a flat of ivy. By the last centre, with the car already pretty full, Wayne warned me that if we bought too much, the cooler containing items bought at a supermarket we had visited would have to sit on my lap for the rest of the journey home. On the Sunday, we began to plant, and almost everything was in the ground by the end of the week when the last few plants were dealt with by our landscaper’s men when they came to plant two new rhododendrons Dan had purchased for us. On the following Saturday, after visiting an exhibition of Audubon bird prints at the Berkshire Museum in Pittsfield to the south of us, and then a supermarket and home improvement store nearby, we were again able to visit Whitney’s on our way home. On that occasion, we acquired another sixteen perennials, ten annuals, and six packs of annuals, and I did have to sit with the cooler on my lap! as fluorescent lamps and groceries took up quite a lot of space. A further excursion to Ward’s and Whitney’s on 16 June added another twelve perennials and thirteen more annuals. The shrub we bought on the first trip is a buddleia, or butterfly bush; the perennials include campanula, dianthus, evening primrose, wild ginger, goatsbeard, heuchera, daylilies, lupins, and speedwell; the annuals include blanket flowers, double impatiens, Guinea impatiens, oxalis, red salvia, summer snapdragon, super bells, and supertunias.

Not surprisingly, I had to spend spent much time gardening at the end of May and through June, averaging two hours a day, not counting time spent visiting garden centres but including time spent changing in and out of gardening clothes and, since the weather was very hot, wiping off sweat and drying my hair. Wayne helps at weekends, when he also has to mow the lawns. Almost as soon as we returned from England, another dry spell set in, and we not only needed to water new plantings frequently but also give water to the established ones. By mid-July, Williamstown was again subject to water restrictions (no watering lawns or washing cars, otherwise only handheld hoses can be used, early in the morning or in the evening). Our lawn, like most others, has brown patches where the grass has gone dormant, and many unwanted green patches where crabgrass and other weeds, which thrive despite the drought, have once again taken hold. Although we have had two or three thunderstorms, and there was one week when we had no need to do any watering, there has not yet been enough rain to increase water flow in the Green River (which state officials use as a measure) to the point where the prohibition against sprinklers, etc. will be lifted.

Images: Garden display in front of the British Museum; books acquired on our trip and received on our return.

Appendix 1:

The Age of Wonder: How the Romantic Generation Discovered the Beauty and Terror of Science by Richard Holmes

Alastair Morton and Edinburgh Weavers: Visionary Textiles and Modern Art by Lesley Jackson

Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll, illustrated by Tove Jansson

Athelstan: The First King of England by Sarah Foot

Batman Incorporated, Vol. I Deluxe by Grant Morrison, et al.

The Book and the Transformation of Britain, c. 550–1050 by Michelle P. Brown

Britain’s Lost Railways: The Twentieth-Century Destruction of Our Finest Railway Architecture by John Minniss

Christians and Pagans: The Conversion of Britain from Alban to Bede by Malcolm Lambert

A Companion to Arthurian Literature, edited by Helen Fulton

The Dam Busters: The True Story of the Legendary Raid on the Ruhr by James Holland

The Emperor and the Saint: Frederick II of Hofenstaufen, Francis of Assisi, and Journeys to Medieval Places by Richard F. Cassady

Eric Gill: Lust for Letter and Line by Ruth Cribb and Joe Cribb

Faber and Faber: Eighty Years of Book Cover Design by Joseph Connolly

Ian Fleming’s Commandos: The Story of 30 Assault Unit in WWII by Nicholas Rankin

In the Shadow of the Sword: The Battle for Global Empire and the End of the Ancient World by Tom Holland

Perceforest: The Prehistory of King Arthur’s Britain, translated by Nigel Bryant

The Plantagenets: The Kings Who Made England by Dan Jones

The Printing Revolution in Early Modern Europe by Elizabeth L. Eisenstein

Recording Britain, edited by Gill Saunders

Reflections by Diana Wynne Jones

Roman Britain: A New History, 55 B.C.–A.D. 450 by Patricia Southern

Writing Britain: Wastelands to Wonderlands by Christina Hardyment

Appendix 2:

The Adventures of Dickson McCunn by John Buchan

Aetius: Attila’s Nemesis by Ian Hughes

The Akhenaten Colossi of Karnak by Lise Manniche

Architects for a New Age. The Gothic Revival to the Arts and Crafts Movement, 1827–1927 by The Fine Art Society

The Broken Scythe by Roberto Arduini

The Eagle by Jack Whyte

Edward Bawden: Draughtsman & Printmaker by The Fine Art Society

Endless Forms: Charles Darwin, Natural Science, and the Visual Arts, edited by Diana Donald and Jane Munro

The Extraordinary Education of Nicholas Benedict by Trenton Lee Stewart

Fern Fever: The Story of Pteridomania by Sarah Whittingham

Harems of the Mind: Passages of Western Art and Literature by Ruth Bernard Yeazell

A History of Reading by Steven Roger Fischer

Holy Bones, Holy Dust: How Relics Shaped the History of Medieval Europe by Charles Freeman

Horten’s Miraculous Mechanisms: Magic, Mystery, & a Very Strange Adventure [also known as Small Change for Stuart] by Lissa Evans

Making History: Antiquaries in Britain, 1707–2007, edited by David Gaimster, et al.

The Margery Allingham Omnibus by Margery Allingham

Medieval Intrigue: Decoding Royal Conspiracies by Ian Mortimer

Mistress of the Monarchy: The Life of Katherine Swynford, Duchess of Lancaster by Alison Weir

On Rereading by Patricia Meyer Spacks

The Prayer Book of Charles the Bold: The Study of a Flemish Masterpiece from the Burgundian Court by Antoine de Schryver

The Queen: Art and Image by Paul Moorhouse

Revealing King Arthur: Swords, Stones and Digging for Camelot by Christopher Gidlow

The Secret Life of Bletchley Park by Sinclair McKay

Shakespeare: Staging the World by Jonathan Bate and Dora Thornton

Stilicho: The Vandal Who Saved Rome by Ian Hughes

Time Riders by Alex Scarrow

Turner Inspired: In the Light of Claude by Ian Warrell, et al.

Young Justice, Vol. 1 by Art Baltazar, et al.

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