Exhaustion in London

…and come to find out the antithesis of a cure for exhaustion is a visit to the Boroughs market. 

The throngs of squished together, shambling market goers redefined the word ‘throngs’ for me. 

Kaety was getting cranky and decided she’d medicate herself into a better state with a Prosseco peach spritzer. It worked. 

We took one pass through, dodged into a cheese shop to admire the many, many, beautifully white powered and waxed rounds, and then up to a chocolate restaurant to recharge and enjoy artistic and delicious food. As we entered the restaurant the hosted informed us that the table had a two hour limit. I had to reiterate just to make sure I understood, “You mean we can’t sit here longer than two hours?”. Funny. 

Symone wanted to see a few more British icons, so after a lunch of beef, rum, butternut squash, and chocolate we headed to Buckingham Palace to watch the guards move around in very stiff and specific ways with two thousand of our closest friends. 

We got our second wind and were in much better spirits as we strolled through James park and enjoyed the flowers and an odd encounter with a tree full of parrots. 

We were chatting about how the place looked a lot like Washington DC. Kaety made the statement, “…except their aren’t as many statues of giant white guys here…” just as we broke out onto a boulevard filled with giant white guy statues. 

The Tate Museum of Modern Art

After we finished visiting the galleries of the first and second floors of the Tate Modern art museum, Symone paused and asked, “Now what exactly is ‘modern’? Because I really like it!”

I had a suspicion that Symone would like the Tate but hadn’t set my hopes too high. 

I mustered up an explanation that I knew she would connect to and be mostly accurate, “The modern movement was a rejection of painting pleasing fruit and fat ladies. Artist wanted to press the bounds of what aren’t meant and often tried to use their art to evoke feelings and thoughts that challenged the viewer to alter the way they perceived the world. Sometimes the art could be very confrontational”

She spent a lot of time looking and talking about the pieces she saw. She grokked it. She was super curious why certain pieces ‘worked’. We talked about how words were employed in odd ways to evoke feelings, we talked about size, repetition and pattern being used to create awe, and we talked about performance artists being confrontational and breaking social rules.

She was really struck with one piece that was a tower of audio devices that started with a base of old radios and ended a the top with bluetooth speakers. As she walked away she said, “..it kind of freaks me out when I look at it, but I like it.”

The museum itself was a huge austere place perfect to house such a collection. 

Come to find out, Kaety does not love the modern art. By the time we left the Tate, we were hitting the exhaustion wall….

Shakespeare’s Globe theater

Weeks ago I had booked a 9:30 am tour of Shakespeare’s Globe theater on-line well before I knew how exhausted we’d be on the last day of our trip. 

We cajoled and harassed Symone out of bed and out the door into the deserted streets of the soho district. Finding breakfast at 7:30 am was challenging. The all-night pub crawlers who were still up with the dawn had already staked out the best places well before we arrived. Fortunately you only have to throw a rock and you will eventually hit a cafe that isn’t has hip and cool as the one you just tried to get into.

Accompanied by a bitingly cold wind, we arrived just in the nick of time at the Globe where our gregarious actor/tour guide was laying the scene of London in the 1500’s. Seeing the Globe was fabulous, and our guide was funny, informative, and deeply invested. 

Symone was jazzed and excited to share the experience with her theater buddies in Newport. 

After the tour, I approached the actor who had been our guide and asked him if the tour gig was mandatory, or extra credit for him. He shared that they joined the Globe company for life, and as their careers offered them other opportunities they keep up their responsibilities to the company by acting as guides, ticket takers, and promoters. He had stepped away from the Globe for a number of months to take an MSNBC gig in a 70’s detective period series – so he was on tour duty.

Vintage stores and civil unrest

Symone had one last desire to fulfill before we left in the morning – she wanted to do some vintage clothes shopping. Kaety crashed facedown on the bed once we arrived back from our outing, so I took Symone out on my own. 

The vintage store was fabulous…and filled with interesting characters making their wardrobe melange from the 60’s 70’s, and 80’s totally work for them.

Our walk back through the city was filled with fun sites and interesting characters – and as we neared our apartment I heard a loud rally of some sort. I diverted us a block to check it out. 

It was the conclusion of an Algerian march we’d seen earlier in the day. Symone didn’t want to go, but I insisted that she couldn’t visit London without experiencing some civil unrest. 

We watched the rally for a moment and then made a hasty exit as punches start getting thrown and the police rushed in. 

London! Slumping in the British Museum

After a lovely train ride from Bath to London we found our way to our London AirBnB apartment. It was fashionably ‘city grunge’ and nothing like the Cotswolds. I looked out the window onto the row of pubs lining both sides of our streets and knew we’d be in for a night full of hootin’ and hollerin’.

We were all kind of beat but wanted to make the most of our time in London so we drug our tired butts to the British Museum. 

It was only a short walk but somehow turned into a long walk after a few missed turns and some anomalous digital blue dot city antics. 

We finally arrived at the most overwhelming museum collection I’ve ever seen. 

As I have visited various ancient sites throughout my life I’ve always have wondered, “Where had all the stuff gone?!”

Come to find out the British Museum has it all! And I mean ALL of it!

Room after room blew me away. Huge artifacts filled huge, seemingly endless, spaces. After many surprises startling me in ever room I started wondering if the next room would contain the Lost Tribe of Isreal, the UFO from the Roswell crash site, and maybe Napoleon’s mummified remains. 

Oh…and they have the Rosetta Stone. And all of Babylon. And Egypt. 

At some point during 800 BC Kaety got cranky. She said, “Assyrian wall panels are making me hungry. I want to eat now!”

Unfortunately ‘Eating now’ isn’t something you just do in London. It seems hard to believe but among the 18,000 restaurants in the city, 17,000 of them are farther than walking distance, and the other 10,000 near you don’t have a table open until midnight. 

While I made calls to find a reservation Kaety slumped on the floor under a cultural heirloom with a whole lot of other tired museum slumpers.  

After many calls I found a seemingly mediocre Italian place that had an opening. 

As we emerged from the museum the sky opened up and it began to pour!

We dashed across the street and into a shop – walking out with a matching set of the tackiest umbrellas ever. We had a moment of frustration and consternation when a lagging Symone was standing half a block back, soaking wet, fumbling with her umbrella. Kaety yelled back at her, “What are you doing?!”

Symone yelled back over the sound of the rain, “I’ve never used one of these things before!”

Bath – “Slavery and human sacrifice sounds so cheery when discussed in a British accent”

We left the narrow but charming comforts of the Cotswolds and headed for Bath and ultimately on to London. 

We ditched the rental car, hopped into a surly taxi and in moments found ourselves in front of the Roman Baths…surrounded by a henge of luggage.

I pointed at a sandwich board outside a barbershop that offered what we needed. Kaety whispered, “Are you shitting me?! We are leaving all our worldly goods at a barbershop?”

Moments later we were luggageless and heading to meet our timed entry to the Roman Baths. 

Kaety and Symone opted for the audio tour devices. I opted for jackdaw mode – racing back and forth between whatever attracted me most. 

The upper levels were committed to a historic preamble before seeing the actual bath site. 

As we looked over the mandatory diorama Kaety turned away from her audio feed and said, “When you talk about slavery and human sacrifice in a British accent it all sounds so…cheery”.

The ruins were in phenomenal shape. Dating from 60 AD and in use for 400 years – the extensive complex of pools were fed from one of England’s only consistent hot springs. 

While walking on the main pool level we marveled at the lead water pipes and the Roman foundations that had been coopted and were still holding up the nearby Bath Cathedral. I was admiring some intricate mosaic when Symone interjected, “I just thought about something someone did to me once that hurt my feelings”

I turned to her, “Darling, we are in a 2000 year old Roman ruin, can we wait to process your feelings once we return to our own century?”

As we neared the exit we made all the bath puns we could muster, which lead me to realizing that I actually needed to use the bathroom. 

The restroom hosted a cacophony of odd international cell phone use. On one side of me was a Japanese guy yelling the same phrase over and over again into his cell phone. The guy on the opposite side of me was watching a Full House rerun dubbed over in French. All of this was juxtaposed with loud Venetian choir music playing over the bathroom speakers. 

I emerged from the restroom to find Symone and Kaety in the gift shop, which was full of bath products. Literally. I guess we aren’t the only ones with a sense of humor. 

We returned to the street level, leaving Ancient Rome behind – next stop London!

Kennet Long Barrow and the tomb dust

Kaety was staring at the blue dot on Apple maps, and I was trying to navigate out of the car park. We were trying to find a tomb, but every time we typed in ‘Kennet Long Barrow’ it directed us to the middle of a roadless field. 

So…we drove towards the field with high hopes. 

I screeched to a halt and whipped into a ‘lay over’, which is what we’d call the shoulder of the road, as I saw an ancient tomb in the distance. It was indeed in the middle of a farmers wheat field. 

There was a track that lead up the hill to a 5000 year old tomb that had contained 36 bodies. At some point up the track Symone asked in a slightly sarcastic and dry tone, “Why are we walking up this hill to see a mound of dirt?”

I looked over at her, “It’s not a mound of dirt, it’s a 5000 year old tomb?”

She replied, “Haven’t we been in like 40 graveyards during the trip?”

I smiled at her, “Honey this is better than a graveyard, this is a tomb you get to crawl into”

She started looking a bit worried, “Crawl into where the bodies were?”

I jumped up and down, “Yes, isn’t that great!”

The view was stunning and the tomb was just a small alcove but still pretty amazing. 

I had to do another round of laundry when we got home because I realized that I had limestone tomb dust ground into my pants. That stuff doesn’t just brush off!

Avebury – prehistoric musings

I brushed up on human pre-history over a cheese and quince paste breakfast. We were going to visit the Avebury Henge and I wanted to be vaguely informed.  I went back about 500,000 years and started working my forward. The Henge was constructed in 3000 BC – making the site 5000 years old. The henge contained a number of nested circles made up of huge rocks – all running through a ‘modern’ village. The site was added to over a time period of 1000 years. An outer circle was added as well as a boulevard of huge stones acting as an entryway extending over a mile from the site. As a prehistoric person visiting this region, you knew early that ‘this was the place’! 

If you stood in the midst of the boulevard of stones on the crest overlooking the approach to the great nested circles of stones sitting in a huge earthworks henge and looked north you’d spot the enormous Uffington White Horse decorating the distant hillside. If you looked to the south you’d see the Silbury Hill – one of the tallest man-made hills.

Yep – this was the place. Some serious folk lived here!

I reflected on our visits to the cathedrals and thought about the time span in which they were created and the people of the times intention for creating them. People have been in the cathedral making business for about 600 years and how they have been used has altered significantly. The role and power of the church changed over time, plumbing and electric lights were added, and the community began using them in different ways – 12 step groups, community action committees now use them as much or more so than the worshippers. They still act as a place of religion, but they have become places of community culture as well.

I had thoughts about the evolution of the Avebury site along those same lines.

It’s conceivable that after 1000 years of building a gigantic religious site that everyone in the region would still be using it, but perhaps in different ways. Maybe it became more about the human sacrifice…or less. People may have gotten practical about allowing concession stands on-site. Seminar series and lectures in small outbuildings: “Making it in the new agrarian world: leaving the hunter/gatherer behind”?

The stones were pretty impressively large but what struck me equally impressive were the earth works around the circle. The builders moved staggering amounts of dirt…using deer antlers as a shovel. 

All of it an impressive feat – almost inconceivable in an era that had just invented ‘the planting stick’…although I had to pull on some first hand knowledge from having a lot of boys in my life. They can move a lot of huge rocks, dig enormous holes and move a staggering amount of toys over long distances in short order. People have always been good at moving things and being ridiculously over-the-top. 

We spent a better part of 2 hours wandering through the rocks and letting them talk to us. I regurgitated all the archeological facts I had gleaned over breakfast. Once we ran out of facts Kaety started pulling information from episodes of “Ancient Aliens’ she’d watched. 

When we asked Symone if she’d had a good time she rolled her eyes and said, “Yay, rocks!”

The English pub and the art of adult conversation

We got back to the village just in time for the pub to fire up the kitchen and the hearth. The fish and chips came with the ever notorious minted mashed peas. I kind of enjoyed it. Kinda. 

While we enjoyed our food we talked to Symone about conversational tennis, and how to get better at it. She has been trying hard to participate in conversations in an adult way and find her conversational groove but of course it’s a clunky process. I remember being this age and just never feeling like I was finding the right balance. 

Today’s lesson was: 1. Know your audience, and 2. If the joke didn’t hit the first time, it’s really not going to work to repeat it…three more times. 

She was open and interested and as the evening wore on we moved on to other topics like why people want to talk about the weather instead of what’s real, why anxiety and depression often go together, how to know when you are getting better at something, and what college is like. 

Good stuff. 

Stow on the wold – Mines of Moria

Stow-on-the-Wold welcomed us for a tea and shopping interlude. 

It also hosted happened to host the entrance to the Mines of Moria – a daring yew planting by a long ago parish gardener near the backdoor of the town’s church paid off big time!

…and we bought cheese. Probably more than we can eat.