Treehouse Tea

There’s a brilliantly painted yellow-and-blue boat outside of my window. This is an unusual occurrence, and it likely won’t happen again soon, after tomorrow morning. It says “Del Norte Sunrise Rotary Club Welcomes You”. It’s sitting on the grass, across an access road that runs behind our hotel room, as if yearning for the beach not far to the west. I can see the beach from the same window. Poor boat.

Behind the boat a fierce breeze is whipping the tall stands of grasses and fuchsia wildflowers, and behind them stands a backdrop of redwoods on a hilltop in the distance. For the first time today, they look small. Those redwoods have loomed above us since we took to the road this morning, leaving the Old West hotel in Willits, California, where we took possession of the Sheriff Room for the night. Ben asked if the Jail Room, next door, was likely to be less comfortable than ours; I honestly couldn’t say, though a brief glimpse through the open door of the Bunk House Room downstairs showed it to have a decorative washstand, with rose-painted pitcher, an amenity lacking in ours. The Sheriff Room did have a roll-top desk, however. Particularly good for the traveler who wishes to take care of some sheriffy business, or write a few letters. We did the crossword.

That was about 250 miles ago. We started this trip in San Diego, driving to Los Banos the first night (which no longer employs the tilde over the “n” in Banos. This I don’t understand. If you have the right to a tilde, why not use it? I wouldn’t mind a tilde. Or an umlaut). Los Banos boasted some tasty Mexican food and a friendly breakfast diner. But that seems so long ago. Tonight will be our last night in California before crossing tomorrow into Oregon, and it will be a while before we drive back, as we’re headed for our new home in Seattle. I haven’t ever not been a Californian.

Each morning of our drive Chris has delighted me with a bottle of hot tea for the drive, and has stretched himself to find restaurants and other places to eat. With each act he reminds me over and over that home is what we carry with us, it is the company we keep, the people and things we choose to surround ourselves with. The Atlas movers came last Thursday and emptied our apartment of our belongings, quite a bit thinned out but still plump with books and Legos and fiber goodness. Yet we were able to pack the car as well, with our suitcases and work monitors, artwork and stuffed animals, computers and pet fish. My basket of knitting is so much a part of me that I did not consider the room it would take, any more than I would worry that my arm wouldn’t fit in the car when we left. I’ve driven most of the way with it under my knees. All of these things help our home to be a space in which we like to live. Though I’m already feeling homesick for the friends and family so far to the south, this has been an interesting practice in reminding myself what it is that makes home be home: Chris in his yellow socks, reading. Ben, designing environments in Portal 2 near the open window. Mrs. P the fish and her companion George, existing in their halfway space of a lunch cooler and battery-operated oxygen bubbler. The knitting basket. The cup of tea. (Dandelion.) A book. Snacks. All of these things remind me how safe I am, how surrounded I am by my home. I don’t need them, but oh my, they do make life nice. For the first time in a long time, the home I return to after going out into the world is the car I use to go out into the world.

The treehouse is traveling.


London, Day 8

Ah, London, I do love you so. You’ve made me laugh: today, in the British Museum, I saw three small statues in a row, and the caption read: “Clay votive figures of the hmnmn culture, hmnmnm B.C. At least two are male; the other is female, or it has lost a bit of clay.”

You’ve made me frown (see yesterday’s post). You’ve made me cry (at All-Hallows-by-the-Tower church, reading “To the Fallen” over a WWI tomb).

You’ve made me exclaim in surprise: In wandering around St. Paul’s Cathedral today, I stumbled upon a miniature village of tents, with walkways, Loo Notices and calls for theatrically inclined people to perform in Saturday’s play. There was even, for Sukkot, a pop-up tent Sukkah (in case, I guess, you weren’t satisfied in your spiritual leanings by the overwhelmingly non-pop-up presence of St. Paul’s).

You’ve made me disappointed: The William Morris museum was closed during this visit, and the great majority of the textiles have been removed from exhibit at the V&A.

You’ve left me well fed. You’ve worn me out. You’ve left me proud to have figured out the Tube system and even to find my way around a bit. You’ve left me with things I’ve not yet seen or done, things I’m glad to have revisited, and friends I’m glad to have met.

It’s been fun. Let’s do it again, shall we? But next time, I plan to visit here as well. I’ll fit it in. Perhaps I’ll even be wearing the P3 sweater?

London, Day 7

Occasionally, in the course of activities, it becomes a necessity to cave to one’s sense of decorum and propriety and do that which must be done, that which is expected of one. Today I followed that dictum, and took the Circle line (packed like a sardine), with only my pointy Addi bamboo circular needles to protect me, all the way to the Tower Hill stop.

The Tower of London.

I’ve been to London before, but always the Tower was too busy, too packed, too expensive, too touristy to make a point of visiting. Today it was all of those things as well. But, well, I felt it was time. Also, the Boy and I have read about English history a lot over the last few years and I felt I owed it to him to bring him home photos of the White Tower at least.

The sun was shining, it was cool and bright outside as I emerged from the Tube and the underground tunnel that leads up to the Tower. I experienced a little thrill each time I saw pieces of Roman wall, fenced off and sitting there like it wasn’t, you know, history. I mean, gum wrappers could get blown in there! Rain! People might cough on them. Pigeons?

The area around the Tower was crawling with tourists. I know they were tourists because a good deal of them were speaking French or Japanese or German and waving brochures around. Since I wasn’t doing any of those things, I must not be a tourist? No, I am. And funny enough, I feel safer taking pictures of things in a crowd of tourists than I do just wandering along the street. I don’t know what it is, but this trip I feel more fearful wandering around by myself than I ever have before. It’s an attitude I’ve picked up from some travel book or resource somewhere and I don’t like it. I remember traveling by myself and stopping to take odd photos that I love looking at even now. But now? I’m fearful, lest I be targeted as a tourist and attacked and stripped of all my worldly goods. Imagine a cloud of buzzards and a tasty bit of roadkill. It’s a frustrating attitude, and one I’d like to shake.

In any case, when you are in a crowd of tourists you are just one more camera, but! But! You are taking photos of the exact same things.

Ah, well. The Tower itself is an amazing place, a community with its own live-in population whose purpose, it seems, is to protect the past and mediate the experiences of thousands of people per day (I asked). There are actually 20 towers that together make up the Tower, and many of them have very interesting stories of blood and murder, treason and terror, and the fear of those involved that at any point you will be attacked and stripped of all your worldly goods (that would be either the prisoners or the ruling monarch of the day).

While the masses milled (and I know that I milled right along with them, no pride, me), I was able to find the occasional bit of wonderful that made me skip a bit. Again there were fragments of Roman walls inside. Just sitting there. Hello? Did anyone hear me say pigeons? And then there was the Crown Jewels display. Now, the jewels themselves were pretty fabulous, especially the sapphire on the back of the Imperial State crown that is about the size of my eyeglass lens and cloudy, like a chunk of sea. This I could imagine being mined, being held up to the light and admired by a crowd of dusty, muddy miners. Washed, gently, and cut to the minimum of necessity. Presented to the queen’s court, or perhaps acquired by the queen’s jeweler. It felt like a jewel that was held in someone’s hand before being set.

I was set a-shiver, however, by the coronation stole. I’ve been reading a lot about Wales lately, in preparation for the trip, and while I’m not at all as well versed in its history and culture as I’d like, it is my understanding that the Welsh people are very independent in spirit, especially when it comes to the English and to being part of Britain. I came up to the case that holds the enormous coronation robe and next to it, the coronation stole, and as such things are, they were covered in symbols. The robe had things that were obvious: lions, roses (for England), thistles (for Scotland), and an odd ribbonlike shape that could be thought to look like a shamrock. I turned and asked the docent/guard about it, and she was quite voluble. Not only did she laugh and tell me that it was a shamrock, but she brought me up close to the stole and told me about all the symbols on it. It seems that running up and down the length of the stole are floral symbols for Canada, New Zealand, Australia, and Ceylon, as well as the flags of St. George, St. Andrew, and St. Patrick (which laid upon one another and futzed a bit make the Union Jack). Running along on both sides are red embroidered buttons symbolizing St. Matthew, St. Mark, St. Luke, and St. John. At the bottom are, again, the thistle, the rose, the shamrock… and the leek.

Ah, I thought. The leek is for Wales. At the same time I thought, why hasn’t Wales been mentioned until now? As if reading my thoughts, the guide said, “Wales was going to be represented with its national flower as well, the daffodil, but they thought the yellow would blend too much with the gold embroidery, so they put the leek. They don’t usually put Wales on these kinds of things, you know, because we have Princes of Wales. Wales is thought of as more like a principality of England, than its own country.” She was quite unconsciously dismissive, and I thought of my conversations over the weekend, about the independent spirit of the Welsh, and could just hear the mutterings of dissent that might have begun after that comment…

Well, after that I did tour the White Tower and see its armaments and hear its history and it is a monument worth seeing. There were garderobes and oddly shaped fireplaces and stone cut and set in William I’s day. The chapel. The room where 47 soldiers would bathe, watched by their regent, until he made the sign of the cross on their wet backs and they were allowed to dry and dress for battle. I wanted to sit down and take it all in, but the flow of humanity around me kept me moving until, almost without my own volition, I found myself out on the plaza that surrounds the tower, surrounded myself by the gift shops and memorabilia emporia that make up such places. And I wanted money (I’d spent all mine on yarn) and food.

After using the ATM while surrounded by disaffected smoking German youth, I took the Tube back to the hotel to a lovely surprise: Not 1/8 mile from my hotel is a little bakery cafe called Le Pain Quotidien. They seem to be a chain, but the kind of chain that has one shop here, one in Belgium, one in New York… I don’t care. They had organic dishes, fresh vegetable soup, fresh bread and hot tea and were so kind. My legs were shaking, shaking! I ate, and read a magazine, and didn’t really want to get up after eating my quiche and olive tapenade and salad and tea. I purchased a cup of tea to take away and made my way back to my room, where I promptly collapsed. It was 5:30pm, and I was not going anywhere. And now, as I sit in my pajamas at not 8pm, tissues covering the coverlet and toes frozen, I can admit that the sniffing isn’t city air and the sore throat isn’t damp: I have a cold, and it’s time for an early evening in.

Wales to London, Day 6

Bizarre girls. Who knew? Well, BBC Four did, evidently. Miss Clarice Cliff and her Bizarre Ware, making pottery and feeling that she was a part of the process and just as important to the process as the end product. Susie Cooper, who wanted to create and to use her creativity to create things both of utility and beauty. While BBC Four indicates that the were rivals in the early years of the 1900s, working the area known as The Potteries and then beginning their own businesses, what I think I’ll take away those aspects Mr. Wilson, speaking now, whose father was a potter and directed the factory, speaks of: the community of the creators, mothers and fathers teaching daughters and sons how to make the objects. I’ll take away Susie Cooper’s attitude that everyone, not just those who are wealthy, can have taste and discernment, an eye for beauty and the usefulness of the everyday object. And Clarice Cliff reminds me than my own hand and head and heart have impact on the things I make and give.

It seems pretty fitting that this documentary is the first thing I saw when I turned on the TV in my hotel room tonight. Big giant thanks to everyone who made my weekend in Pembrokeshire so amazing.

Now, off to wander the night stress of London, in search of my hotel.

In Wales, Day 5

Yesterday Amy Singer, one half of the P3 organizing crew, gave us a nice long class in designing lace knitting. There are about 14 students, all of us at different levels of mastery and knittingness. We were given lovely gifts–canvas shoulder bags with all kinds of handpicked knitting swag and beautiful, beautiful yarn. My three skeins included a semisolid red Falkland Merino/Nylon fingering weight blend from Alisha Goes Around, a skein of Indigo Dragonfly‘s merino sock in a sweet grey blend called Have Fun Storming The Castle (!), and a soft mossy green alpaca from Anzula. I am content. We spent the afternoon and all of this morning working on blending designs for possible shawls, and then swearing under our breath and frogging until our yarns had halos from the rough usage. Then there would be cries of triumph as someone would throw down a sample. Me? By the end of the day yesterday I had frogged my sample six times and hated my chosen patterns, and today I began anew with fresh spirit and was making progress. Just about then, lunch arrived, and after lunch, the vendors! Oh, the vendors. Two Welsh yarn dyers with lovely, lovely blends… I bought from Fyberspates, and I’d made a deal with myself only to buy projects’ worth of yarn now (not single balls, because they are lovely and not useful for anything). So, I purchased enough 4-ply Sportweight Superwash Scrumptious (a blend of silk and superwash merino) in Slate, for a sweater, and enough Faery Wings (isn’t that a wonderful name for a yarn?), a silk/mohair/nylon blend, which has no listed color but has shades of gold, red, pink, teal, and copper in it, for a shawl or maybe a Liesl. I wandered around for a while, holding them gently in my arms.

This afternoon, Brenda Dayne, the other half of our lovely leadership duo, gave a class on creating top-down raglan sweaters. It was a really helpful class and I’m hoping to put the ideas to work tonight, and begin a raglan sweater using the lace techniques Amy taught and the Scrumptious yarn (if I brought the appropriate needles). (Okay, note: That did not happen–perhaps tomorrow?)

As we knit and asked questions, the Welsh countryside outside turned dramatically from a beautiful sunny morning, pale blue sky, brilliant emerald green grass, dotted with dark-brown and copper trees and the creamy yellow of sheep in the distance, to have a leaden sky and then rain. The wind, blowing in through the propped door, smelled incredible, like a clear night. It would blow through and cool my hands, hot from holding the needles so long and so tightly. At one point we went outside for a photo, and my jeans ended up soaked from the wet grass. I was so happy.

Oh, I hear knitters gathering in the hall for TV watching and, most likely, more knitting. I have to find some mindless knitting now. Maybe a top-down raglan sweater with lace detailing? How hard could it be? Brenda makes it look so easy…

From London to Wales, Day 4

Yesterday was mad and too busy to write. I missed my train! I did. I was awake on time, but somehow misjudged the timing… and at 7:47am arrived, ticket printed out and in hand, at platform 4 from whence my 7:45am train had departed. Having no phone that works in the UK, I used a payphone to call my ride, Josie, in Cardiff, who was absolutely sweet and offered to meet me an hour later when the next train got in. I gamely purchased a new ticket–ha! So much for buying in advance!–and (this makes no sense, I know) went in search of the one thing that would give me solace:

The new Terry Pratchett book.

So, ensconced in my non-reserved train seat, bag of almonds by my side and knitting in hand, off we rushed through the English countryside, which is, of course, beautiful and looks exactly as the English countryside should, which is to say, English. No wonder everyone wanted it. Romans, Saxons, Angles, Normans… oh, and the Celts too, of course.

It seemed only a short time before we arrived in Cardiff. I battled my way upstream of a million frustrated Wales Rugby fans, a sea of red and black and green coming from the nearby Cardiff stadium that shares the parking lot with the train station. Wales had lost, but they gamely sang and made plans in Welsh to drink lots of beer anyway. I know this, because they sang, in Welsh, and held up boxes of beer to one another.

I found Josie and our fellow knitter, Lian, from London, and we piled into Josie’s car and were off. I had forgotten what it felt like to drive motorways in Britain, being on the left and using roundabouts, and it was so interesting that I refrained from knitting. Josie told us a lot of the history of the area (how one port town had crashed and currently was dealing with a lot of poverty after an industrial boom; how smaller Welsh towns can be difficult to live in if you are a minority, like Chinese or Indian, lesbian or English). We arrived at Beggar’s Reach Inn famished and excited, because the whole landscape is beautiful and the hotel looked to be an old, large white country house. The inn staff are friendly and bewildered by us. They bring us food and beverage and give us a giant room in which to knit, and in return we buy cider and tea and Felinfoel Welsh Ale, and we don’t bite too much.

Much knitting was had by all! This trip is officially called Plug and Play in Pembrokeshire, or P3 for short, and it officially started at 3pm. Officially. Unofficially, it began as soon as we arrived on Saturday. We claimed a table and ate sandwiches on wholegrain bread and drank tea and ate biscuits until Brenda and Amy ushered us into a large, light-filled banquet room that was to be our hive of activity for the weekend. And! They gave us presents! More on that later. The room grew bright, then shaded and then bright again with artificial lights as we learned all kinds of interesting lace-type things and ate very, very good food (like fried brie with cranberry sauce and baked aubergine, or eggplant, and creme brulee). As the world outside grew dark, hidden lights circling the large skylight began to glow red, yellow, green, blue, red, yellow, green, blue…

Now I prepare to sleep, with the disco lights of our gathering room shining right outside my window.

It is absolutely dark now. The disco lights have gone away, and my sky is velvet black with no stars. The cows were lowing earlier, but I scared them away with my cry of delight and rush to the fence. Funny cows, so big and yet so fraidy. Even the cows are covered in darkness, and sleep.

London notes, Day 3

Slept for 11 hours last night. It felt like my bones were stretching. When I woke up for the first time, it was still dark and I remember thinking to myself, “Why in all creation am I awake?” The second time it was still dark and I thought, “Why–?” The third time my alarm went off and I turned if off and went back to sleep. The fourth time was the breakfast arriving at my room. And it was pretty good, a Fair Trade Twinings certified as official and all by the Queen. I feel good knowing that the Queen has certified my tea.

Then, as I ate breakfast, I watched this, sent to my by my brother-in-law. It’s beautiful, and so good to remember to look, look, look and be grateful. It’s an attitude I want to remember to cultivate while I am here. Sometimes when I travel alone (not that it happens all that often, but when it has), I want to put on my hard shell of toughness, which is a bit necessary for self-preservation and defense when you wander a strange city. But I don’t want to let that shell turn into coolness and blase, I don’t want to forget to be wondering, wonder-ful, as I wander this amazing place. I am so lucky to be here!

And when I’m at home, I’m so, so lucky to be there.

John’s email meant that instead of listening to the news (which I don’t do at home, but do sometimes do when I’m on a trip, to kind of surround myself in what-they-do-hereness), I’m listening to George Winston as I prepare for the day. It definitely gives a different flavor to my breakfast.

After some toast and muesli and tea, I jotted some notes for my foray into the world, put something into nearly every pocket, and was off. My list went something like this:
1. Cecil Court
2. Trafalgar Square
3. National Gallery
4. Big Ben/Houses of Parliament
5. Westminster Abbey and St. Margaret’s Church
6. Across Westminster Bridge (with a photo of the London Eye for the Boy) to
7. The Imperial War Museum*
8. If I still had energy, the British Museum (which is open late on Fridays)

Okay, my list was slightly less tidy than this.

Things to Do, With Directions

However, I was full of energy after 11 hours of mostly uninterrupted sleep, so with saggy pockets I leapt out of the elevator (no mean feat considering that the elevator is only the size of my grandmother’s deep freezer and the door is about 2 feet wide. Leaping through it takes finesse).

I took the Bakerloo line down to Leicester Square. I was filled with joy as soon as I emerged into the daylight. It was a beautiful day, sunny but not hot, and I was in one of my favorite places in the world: Leicester Square. I didn’t even need my copious notes. I found the art supply store right away, and stood with my nose nearly pressed against one window. I’m sure they get a lot of odd ducks in there (it is an art supply store) but still… I didn’t really need anything, and contemplated buying some spray mount just as a memento, but figured that the TSA would probably frown on it.

Then I got turned around. It’s not my fault! They are doing a huge amount of construction in all those little streets around the theaters (excuse me, theatres) in preparation for the Olympics next year and Cecil Court wasn’t where it was supposed to be. Instead, the National Portrait Gallery was. I was somewhat dismayed and went around the building, thinking surely the National Gallery was just putting up a lot of signs around town for their exhibits and with Trumpets and Fanfare, there it was.

Trafalgar Square.

My first thought was, “But I’m not ready for it yet!” It was third on my list! I drifted slowly to the railing overlooking the fountains. Behind me, in the square before the National Gallery, a mime was waltzing with a life-sized puppet attached to his body, his music loud. A group of kids and their teacher arrived at the railing. The teacher began to talk to her students, asking them questions.

Teacher: So, who can tell me where we are?
In unison: Trafalgar Square.
Teacher: And what–
Multiple kids, spotting the mime: Ooh, cool! What’s he doing? What’s that with him? I like the music.
Teacher: Very nice, but now we’re talking bout Trafalgar Square. The tall obelisk is in honor of Horatio Nelson–
Kids, now facing the mime with their backs to the Square: Ooo, look at him now!

The two boys next to me were oblivious to everyone else. They, at least, were observing Trafalgar Square.
Boy 1, informatively: That fountain is deep.
Boy 2: I could jump in that. I could swim in that.
Boy 1: It’s really deep.
Boy 2: If I jumped in, it would probably come up to my neck.

But they were interrupted, because their whole class was moving over to watch the mime.

Fine. I was going to look at Trafalgar Square (#3 on the list) first. I glanced down at the brass plaque conveniently located near my elbow, which labeled everything I could see. Nelson. The lions. The plinths. “Impressive buildings.” An embassy or two. I looked at the generals, George IV on his horse, and the big ship-in-a-bottle that is on the fourth plinth. I saw the lions. I thought about the whole place being filled to the eyeballs with joyful people on VE Day in 1945. I got a little misty-eyed. Then, I turned around to go find Cecil Court. I didn’t want to get distracted by the National Portrait Gallery until I had visited my favorite place in London first. I found it easily enough once I realized that my orientation had been turned around (easy to do; London is NOT built on a grid). Cecil Court is a tiny little street that feels hundreds of years old and is filled with bookstores (new, old, antiquarian), map shops, shops selling old war emblems and authentic Nazi travel papers (with photos!). One shop sold ephemera and had a tea-towel in the window reading, “Weak Tea, Weak Mind.” I was very tempted. I didn’t buy anything, though I might go back next week. I just needed to visit Cecil Court. It made me feel like I had really arrived.

Then I got lost trying to find the National Gallery.

I went back the way I came, I swear, but each time (I think it took five or six times to get it right) I passed something new. James Earl Jones is doing Driving Miss Daisy right now. And the Odeon Leicester Square brings its popcorn in, in giant bags as big as me, on a pallet-dolly. And why am I wandering through Chinatown…?

Finally made it back to the Gallery, had some lunch (goat cheese and courgette fritatta and tomato salad, with apple-elderberry juice) and wandered the gallery. It had a beautiful exhibit of comedian portraits, and one of glamour shots of famous stars from the ’40s (but the line was pretty long for that one and I was on the clock today!). Then off, down Whitehall which blends into Parliament Street and then into St. Margaret’s. The teeming masses were teeming, and we were all tourists together, so I tucked everything more firmly into my pockets, made sure my backpack zippers were all snugged up, and pulled out my camera. I took a lot of photographs. I try not to take too many when I travel, as a rule–I don’t want to live through the lens, I want to have experiences and taking too many photos makes you stand out as a tourist, but in that area of town, where Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament are across the street from Westminster Abbey, there is no unique experience. You are just one more touristy body. So, I take a photo. But I try to get something different out of it. Also, these are the famous things that the Boy would like to see.

I love little St. Margaret’s Church, on the grounds of Westminster Abbey (I didn’t even try to go in there–the line was hours long) and I was lucky, because the choir was practicing, so I sat down and listened to them sing “1, 2, 3, 1, 2, 3, 1, 2, 3,” to the tune of “Hark, the Herald Angels Sing.” I don’t know, is this normal for choral groups? Anybody?

Also, in one of the stained glass windows in says, “Thou has been faithful over a few things.” Is this damning with faint praise? But then, why put someone in the window of The Official Church of Parliament if you are going to say, “mmm, not so shabby, your deeds”? I don’t know.

Oh, and then I remembered the Jewel Tower! So I went around back of Westminster Abbey and there it was. The little tower that could. Built in 1365 to house the personal wealth of the king (including his armory), it sat in the corner of Westminster Palace grounds with a moat all around. Now it has a quarter moat and a wee garden and you can visit its inside, which is mostly all still medieval, including a ceiling imp that glowers at you. There is a very interesting exhibit inside that explains how British government works, and talks about the civil war and Cromwell and the Restoration and how it was that William and Mary actually became co-regents, and it is all so medieval-now-Renaissance and stone and deep defensible windows and an iron door from James I’s reign and suddenly! There are photos of it as the official location of the Weights and Measures office and tables with scales all over them. The mind reels as history comes pouring in your ears.

Nice walk across the road to say hi to Big Ben, who didn’t look at all listy, then across the river, stopping to take a photo of Queen Boadicea and her daughters, evidently fleeing the Romans (or trampling them under the hooves of her prancing horses) and another of the London Eye. Then tramp, tramp, tramp, off I go to the Imperial War Museum. (Yes, I now have the Emperor’s theme in my head. Dun dun dun dun da dun, dun da dun…) I passed the Three Stags, which looked like a lovely pub, all renaissance and windowed, painted black and green, old man at a table outside with a beer in front of him, and Winnie-the-Pooh painted on each big window. According to their sandwich board out front, all honey will be donated to the British Heart Association.

Finally made it to the museum. There are giant guns mounted in front of the building. They are quite impressive, and longer than my house is tall. Inside, a guard lackadaisically checked my bag and let me go through. I thought to myself that he hadn’t checked very well, what if I were really packing? I came to a stop as I opened the doors to go in. I was confronted with a room packed to the gills with tanks, fighter planes and bombs. Clearly, the guard was not at all concerned with my backpack.

I will say right now that this museum was the highlight of all museums for me so far. I love the V&A with all my heart but as a museum, this was amazing. It had displays that were packed with items, all well themed and well labeled. They were not large rectangular spaces filled along the walls with cases; rather, one navigates a warren of cases that all lead in fairly predictable (for the staff) directions, but seem surprising to the visitor. Yet you end up where you are supposed to go, looking at things in the right order. At odd turns and corners there are videos set up, playing film shot at the time. I was there for three and a half hours and was only able to focus on a few exhibits: World War I, World War II, The Children’s War and 1940’s House, and Once Upon A Wartime: Classic War Stories for Children. The World War I exhibit has a part called “The Trench” in which you wander through a real trench, listening to the sounds and smelling smells and being surprised by what you see. Trench warfare was nasty. And the World War II area includes The Blitz Experience, in which you sit in the dark in an air raid shelter listening to the conversation of your “fellow” shelter inhabitants, waiting for the bombs… and when they happen, you are led on a tour to see the fallout. I didn’t take any photos of that area because it tended to be dark, but for the fires. The Children’s War and 1940’s House were wonderful, too, seeing it from so many different angles and hearing recounts from people who were children then, and were evacuated. I cried for a time in that exhibit. Classic War Stories for Children impressed me a great deal. It was a special exhibit, which you had to pay for, but was clearly intended for children as an audience. It focused on five children’s books about wartime, had exhibition materials (the suitcase of an evacuee, a barn with a model of a warhorse that was used for training those who were to help cavalrymen in WWI) but also had a child’s-eye level running series of synopses on small 3″x5″ tiles. Between each tile (a quote from the book) was an actor playing the main character(s), emoting what is happening with no background, just the actor in costume. I cannot exaggerate how impressed I was by this museum. And I completely missed their Holocaust area, and any wars after 1945. I just ran out of time.

Oh, and they had so many lovely wartime cooking and Make Do and Mend items in the gift shop! And the poster that read “Our Jungle Fighters Want Socks–Please Knit Now”!

But it was time to come home. The British Museum will have to wait until next week, because I was very tired and though I’d have had the energy to go a bit longer, my feet hurt and I have to be up at 5:30am to catch my train. That’s early enough that the hotel won’t even feed me my already-paid-for breakfast. They offered me a Boxed Snack, but I could tell that this is code for Thing I Won’t Like That I Have To Throw Mostly Away. I have a sack of almonds and cashews and a banana and the means to make a cup of tea before I go (though the little milk containers read “Tastes Like Real Milk!” which makes me nervous…). My next set of notes will be mostly notes on Not London At All, I guess. And I will say, I found myself so glad and grateful for the day, and so joyful to be here, and I don’t know if it was the video or three hours of children in wartime or just London that did it.

*Bing was so happy that I was going to visit the Imperial War Museum. He was slightly less happy to realize that it was not going to reference Darth Vader or the Rebel Alliance at all, but mollified when I told him there would likely be references to World War II.