Monday, 29 June 2015

Starting out: Van Morrison, gourmet pizza and St. Paul's

Dateline:  Wednesday, June 24, 2015
Place: Ottawa International Airport
Time: 8:00 p.m.
Temperature: 22 degrees C
Song of the day: Up, up and away by The Fifth Dimension

Finally, I have crammed all the work I can into the last few days and we made it to the airport, on time and passport in hand ...
Ian and Martha, Ottawa International Airport, June 24/15.

I am excited, and a little nervous, to be setting off on this grand adventure to the UK for the University of Mississippi British Studies Program. After all, aside from to trips to Vancouver (BC) and the odd three days in New York or Chicago, I haven't traveled any distance without my navigator and two-boy entourage for 30 years.

But studying abroad is a dream come true.

I arrive safely at Heathrow, buy two SIM cards and find a Caffe Nerro (the Italian Starbucks) for breakfast plus a Facetime session with Sean. Bless his heart, he's waiting to chat. 

Sean (L), Bruce and Ian (R)Ottawa International Airport, June 24/15.
We don't need to talk about anything life threatening or morally threatening--just being connected is enough to feel settled and ready to follow the directions that Kay Bradford has given me to make it to her Hamilton House B&B in Woodstock, Oxfordshire.

The coach is driven by a young man who could give the Incredible Hulk a run for his money, plus he seems to sport significant body art and a hair cut like Sean's, although his is longer and braided down his back. Toto, where's Kansas?

And now, onto the bright side of the road ...

Dateline: June 25, 2015
Place: Woodstock, Oxfordshire
Time: 4:30 p.m.
Temperature: 23 degrees C (and sunny!)
Song of the day: Bright side of the road by Van Morrison

View from Kay Bradford's back garden.
Fast bus to Oxford, short city bus to Woodstock and Kay meets me at the Hill Rise bus stop. The room is lovely, the tea is hot and Kay couldn't be more helpful.

I walk back down the hill (because there really is a hill that rises) into Woodstock.

I am off to the Van Morrison concert at the Great Court at Blenheim PalaceIt's the first concert in the Great Court in 10 years and Van the Man is headlining with American jazz singer Gregory Porter.
Blenheim Palace, seat of the Duke of Marlborough
and site of Nocturne Live.

The evening is truly perfect--people sprawled on the grounds of this 18th century baroque palace to eat and drink so I lie down and close my eyes just for a bit (after I've eaten my egg salad sandwich and drunk my Diet Coke as I forgot to order my Carlucci's hamper. Kidding!)

The concert starts at 7:15 p.m. on the dot! Gregory Porter, who I haven't heard before, is warm in both voice and manner and his back band comes with a killer sax player. And then there's Van ... who says "Hello," plays for a solid 1.15 minutes and then says, "Goodbye" leaving his band to close out the final 10 minutes. Each note hangs in the air, vibrating, tingling, resonating ... it was a jet-lag worthy concert.

And here is Van the Man playing one of my all-time favourites: Bright side of the road.

But London awaits ....

Dateline: June 26, 2015
Place: 127 Stamford Road, London, SE1 9NQ
Time: 4:00 p.m.
Temperature: 28 degrees C
Song of the day: London calling by The Clash

King's College London Stamford St. Apartments
My home for the next five weeks.
I have fallen in love already--with traveling in the UK. I alight at the Gloucester Green bus station in Oxford (passing row upon row of golden, intricate and utterly exquisite Medieval buildings, although Oxford itself has existed since AD 900).

I hop on the London coach,having bought a return ticket for £30 at Heathrow the day before. How great that return means Heathrow-Oxford-London.

I get off at Baker St. to catch the Bakerloo Line tube to Waterloo and I'm thinking this name is some combination of Baker Street and Waterloo (or WLoo as it reads on the pavement of the ever busy, ever- turning roundabouts). I'm glad we're not in Mountain any more ... now I get to travel fast, both on foot and by train ... London calling indeed!

My building: Room 55 D on the second floor.
Jessica Thompson, the coordinator for the University of Mississippi British Studies Program is waiting patiently ... I am the last to arrive. 

My dorm room is monastic ... single bed, shower and toilet combined in a closet (really!) and one chair. However, the luxury of a mini fridge.

Which I put to immediate use as I race down to The Cut and the nearest Sainsbury's for a sandwich. Food is expensive ... to eat or not to eat? And how much? I make it to the orientation for everyone in the British Studies Program (BSP)--200 of us from a range of programs and from across North America. 

A Library Science British Studies tradition:
Group photo at all major events.
Then our own 21-person Library and Information Science (LIS) group meets for a neighbourhood walk (up The Cut past Waterloo Station, grocery stores and the Old Vic) before being treated to lovely gourmet pizza for dinner by Prof. Teresa Welsh and Prof. Matthew Griffis

I think it's going to be a good five weeks.

London comes alive on the weekend ...

Dateline: June 26 and June 27, 2105
Place: London all over
Time: Morning till night
Temperature: 25 degrees C on Saturday, 21 degrees C on Sunday
Song of the weekend:  Downtown by Petula Clark

First view of the Houses of Parliament,
the First London Alive stop.
BSP has a tradition the first weekend: tours not just of the neighbourhood around the residences but also of London highlights.

It's a brilliant way to start off ... seeing the city by pounding the pavement, which means smelling, hearing and tasting the city as we move through the throngs that make up London's regulars and visitors.

Changing of the guard on Canada's Parliament Hill. 
We were all treated to a tour of the House of Parliament--the Palace of Westminster-- first thing Saturday morning ... while we Canadians are familiar with a constitutional democracy, nothing has prepared me for the shear grandeur and opulence of Britain's Houses. Rich, ruby leather seats, gleaming golden oak tables, oil paintings awash in every colour.

Truth be told, my feet are aching at the end of the self-guided tour so I am grateful to lunch with Prof. Welsh, along with Matthew and Michael from my class, in the Jubilee Café. I am about to discover two more tradtions: that many of the public institutions we visit come complete with lovely eateries and that our professors love to break bread with us. Thank you!

Monument to the women of World War II.
That same day I joined Prof. Allison Abra's Women's History tour that took us past St. Thomas Hospital on the south bank in honour of Florence Nightingale, over the Westminster Bridge past Bodica still defending Britain against invasion, on to the memorial for Emmeline, Crystabel and Sylvia Pankhurst and the statues outside of Clarence House of King George VI and Queen Elizabeth (and a good reminder of the difference between a Queen reignant and a Queen consort).

We try to get to the steps of the National Gallery (in honour of Lady Emma Hamilton) but collide with the annual Pride Parade--racuous and jubilant.

Saturday ends ... I'm pooped but ready for being alive in London on Sunday ...

"Feed the birds, tuppence a bag.
Tuppence, tuppence, tuppence a bag."

I can remember clearly being taken to see Mary Poppins in 1964. I was six and Lainey, my aunt, took me. At the end, I was convinced of two things: one, that I must feed the birds; and two, that Lainey and Mary were the same person.

Well, now I have fulfilled at least part of this six-year-old fantasy by attending a lovely Sunday service at St. Paul's.

Sunday worshipers leaving St. Paul's:
In the front door, out the side one.
I go with about 20 other students (or scholars as we are called on this trip) and professors from our British Studies group. We walk up to the Jubilee Greenway and then east to the Millennium Bridge, which crosses the Thames to the cathedral. It is another sunny morning and the river cast off a light breeze that seemed to tug us towards the church. We are part of a large crowd, filled with parents, children grandparents, parishioners and non-parishioners and folks from all around the globe.

The music is glorious. The City of London Festival is on and so we hear the London Symphonia Orchestra, with the cathedral choir, playing Mozart and Bach ... Glorious.

Afterwards, I again have lunch with Prof. Welsh and this time also Jenny and Andrea (both from the University of Rhode Island MLIS program) in the cathedral café ... Yummy vegetarian quiche and two salads, plus tea of course!

St. Paul's at night: sparkling.
My iPad is a blessing and a curse. It takes lovely photos but I am deathly afraid of dropping it (due to Ian's prediction that this could happen ...) and so do not always stop for photos when I am with a BSP group. 

Poor me ... I have to retrace my steps to St. Paul's that night and am treated to the magical vision of the cathedral "thick inlaid with patines of bright gold" (thanks Willie).

The South Bank bustles and hustles seemingly all day and all night so I feel comfortable striding along, stopping to point and click whenever I want. And I have the delight of coming across ... two accommodating young men ... rocking the boat but not in the bosom of Abraham ... alas.

Two young men, out on the town, 
making music.
Nonetheless they indulge me with a photo.

I would have loved to have played myself but could not interrupt.

And so my first 48 and a bit hours in BSP drew to a close and I do feel alive and ready to begin being an LIS student in London. 

Bring on the libraries, the museums and the archives!

And may, if I am really lucky, another ukelele or two. Actually, I am being disingenuous as Ian and I will see the Great Britain Ukelele Orchestra in August at the Cambridge Folk Festival. 

Here's their The good, the bad and the ugly.

Ceremonial Guard. (n.d.). In Wikipedia. Retrieved August 15, 2015 from

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