Journal of A Trip to England

Summary:  Length July 11-30, or 20 days.  Areas visited:  Winderemere in Lake District 4 days, London 11 days, Cotswolds 1 day, Shrewsbury 2 days, Cambridge 1 day. 

July 30, Friday:  London to Phoenix.  Cloudy as we checked out of the Tavistock Hotel at 5:35 a.m.   Our flight home via Charlotte, NC, leaves at 9:40.  We had a timetable worked out to get us to Gatwick Airport in time.  Arrive at Victoria Station via the tube at 6, (actual 6:05).  Train to Gatwick, 6:30 (actual 6:21). Arrive at Gatwick at 7:30, (actual 7:05).  Get through the security check at 8:30 (actual 7:55).  Was surprised we didn’t have to remove our shoes coming through security.  Flight was 40 minutes late getting airborne, but reached Charlotte pretty much on time.  Our airtime from London was 8 hours, 24 minutes.  Liked the looks of Charlotte from the air.  Green and clean.  Three-hour layover.  Only at U.S. Customs did we have to remove our shoes.  Guess no one worries about shoe-bombers aboard U.S. bound airplanes anymore.  Reached Sky Harbor in 3 hours, 37 minutes.  Mixed emotions about being home.  Temps in Phoenix were in 90s about 6 p.m. with sticky, monsoon air.  But at least we cut away three weeks of miserable summer weather on this trip.

July 29, Thursday:  Last full day in England.  Mostly cloudy, some sun.  This is a day I’ve come to dread.  It is the day before we fly back to America from a foreign port, the day before the security gauntlet and the 21 hours it will take to get home.  Thinking about it, as with many things, is worse than the reality.  While Nebra was out at a museum or two, I took the tube over to Notting Hill, an area in West London I remember from a film by the same name starring Julia Roberts and Hugh Grant.   I’m happy with our stay in Bloomsbury, in north-central London, but I’m also open to a new area on our next visit.  I got off at the Notting Hill Gate station, in the southeast corner of the area, and walked along the business street and into residential neighborhoods.  Lots of trees, nice homes and apartments.  This only gave me a light flavor of Notting Hill, near the northwest corner of Kensington Gardens.  Enough of a flavor anyway to tell me I needed to travel farther north to find a more desirable lodging location.  Not today.   We are trying to reduce our combined resources of pounds, to take as few back to the U.S. as possible.  Nebra had 39 pounds, and I had 10.  Tomorrow we will need 32 of those 49 pounds to get to Gatwick and our flight:  8 pounds for the tube to Victoria Station and 24 for rail fare to the airport.  Prezzo, an Italian restaurant just south of Euston Station, provided our last meal in England.  Fell asleep at midnight after placing a wake-up call for 5 a.m. 

July 28, Wednesday:  Cambridge and London.  Brilliant sunshine in the morning, turning cloudy and cool in the afternoon.  We took the 10:45 “Cambridge Express” from King’s Cross and arrived in the college town 45 minutes later.  We bought a city map and began navigating streets far less busy than London’s.  It became quickly clear this was not as our guide book suggested:  “Few cities can take the breath away quite like Cambridge.”   Traffic was thick, the sidewalks dirty and narrow.  I wished I’d gone with my second choice, Canterbury.  We found a Waterstone’s book shop where I finally picked up the half-price copy of Dan Brown’s “The Lost Symbol” I’d failed to find in London.  Brown is light reading and not worth full-price to me.  His plots are juvenile and his prose pedestrian but I like his research.  They old symbols, secret societies, etc.  The attraction here is the many colleges of Cambridge University, Trinity, St. James and so on.  Some of the buildings are nearly 500 years old.  To enter the colleges, admission is charged.  I think it was 3 pounds, 20 for St. James.   At Nebra’s urging we stopped to take a punt ride on the Cam River.  The punts are flat, narrow boats propelled by poles in the hands of a “river god” standing in back.  A 45-minute trip upstream and back cost us 12 pounds each.  Our punt had room for 12 (though only 10 used on our trip).  That could come to $192 an hour nearly pure profit to the punt company!  And it owns five or six punts.  Young punt hawkers are everywhere on the streets near the river.  No wonder.  The best part of our punt ride was watching amateur polers trying to navigated the narrow stream.  Very comical.  Had a good late lunch at the Cote, near the river, stopped by the Market and the Cambridge University Bookshop before catching a local train back to London, 10 stops and 25 minutes longer than the Express.  Back at the Tavistock by 8.  Went around the corner for groceries and ate in the room. 

July 27, Tuesday:  London.  Cloudy, showers with  occasional bursts of sunlight.   What’s a trip to England without taking in a traditional version of a Shakespeare play?  Nebra purchased a couple of tickets to “Henry IV” (Part One)  for 7:30 at the Globe, the Bard’s old theater just south of the Thames and the Millennium pedestrian bridge.   The Globe is a medieval-style, open-air theater with covered balconies.  Half the spectators stand in a semi-circle around the stage with actors maneuvering between them at times.  The rest sit on wood benches in the balcony.  If you’re looking for comfort and great acoustics, forget the Globe.  It’s the experience that counts here.  We sat through Act I, and decided to leave.  A lot of others did too.   We were hearing only about half the dialogue from our second row seats above.  But I do know fat, old Falstaff with his antics stole the show.  Crossing back over the bridge and staring into a beautiful sunset of red, pink, gray and black, it began to rain.  We ducked into a Rogue Cafe practically under the dome of St. Paul’s for supper.  A strange red rash has developed on the insides of our lower legs between the ankles and calf muscle.  Nebra has it on both legs.  Mine is only on the right one.  Earlier, I purchased rail tickets at King’s Cross Station for a day trip tomorrow to Cambridge, the university town to the north of London.

July 26, Monday:  London. Cloudy and showers.  A chores and shopping kind of day.  We returned to the nice laundromat on Marchmont with a large bag of dirties.  And in no time I blundered my way into an expensive wash.  Stuck 8 pounds into slots in a remote control panel only to find I’d irreversibly paid for two hours of dry, not 30 minutes of wash.  Long story.  In short, it cost 16 pounds ($24 US) to do a load each of colors and whites.  With my hair trailing to the shoulders, I got a haircut and a beard trim for 19 pounds.  The American barbers I deal with want to mow hair to the max, down to the roots.  Not so their British counterparts.  My hairdresser, an attractive blonde from Poland, started at the minimum.  “Two centimeters?”  she asked.   Three-quarters of an inch.  I could live with that.  So she started and did a great job on a difficult project.  South of the Tavistock and a little west, Nebra and I found Oxford Street, an ant den of a shopping district whose average age drops at the intersection of Tottenham Court to 25 from 45.   Many of the young women, even preteen girls, wear skirts so short and so tight as to boggle the mind.  Where do they go from here?  They can’t raise the hems higher.  Can they?  I bought some stylish shirts a 30-year old Brit would be proud of,  but I was unashamed.   American middle-aged men are so scared to dress boldly it sickens.  The beige generation, they are dead while still alive.  Came back by way of Gower Street, jotting down names of small hotels in the area for our next trip to London.    

July 25, Sunday:  The Cotswolds.  Partly cloudy, warm.  The Cotswolds, meaning sheep hills, is a rolling rural area west of London, noted for its beautiful setting and quaint buildings of yellowish-brown limestone bedecked by colorful arrangements of flowers.  Combine the Cotswolds and an inherently mind-numbing 11-hour bus tour on the weekend and you have bad news.  Bad news anyway unless you’re rich and famous.  A popular destination, these environs give broad meaning to the word “sheep.”  Zillions of tourists, packed toilets and cafes, garish souvenir shops.   No complaints apparently from some Cotswold homeowners: Prince Charles, Madonna, Kate Winslett, Roger Moore, Sean Connery and Sir Philip (Mick) Jagger.  Anyway this nightmare began early.   A “feeder” bus picked Nebra and me up at our hotel and deposited us  for further assignment at Victoria Station.  Off we went at 8:25 with an eclectic bunch of fellow passengers that included a tour within our tour.   A loud guide translated the trip for a Japanese family of three.  Our overly-serious tour guide, Nick, the spitting image of a thin Dick Cheney by the way, delivered interesting tidbits, all unfortunately before we got near the Cotswolds:  A penthouse near Victoria Station that recently sold for 100 million pounds.  That 300 different languages are spoken in London, that the average cost of a home in the city is roughly $550,000 US.  As we passed an air force base, North Holt I believe, Nick pointed out it was the place where Princess Di’s body was delivered after her tragic accident in Paris.   The tour featured four stops, starting with a brief one at Bibury (bye-bree), then longer ones at Burford, Bourton on Water and finally at Shakespeare’s hometown, Stratford Upon Avon.  We had lunch in Burford at a table smacked in with two Chinese students, one bound for Columbia University, and a yakky New Jersey woman traveling with her quiet 20-year-old son.   A visit in Stratford to Shakespeare’s grave was not on the ticket, but we did get a look at a archaeological “dig” of Shakespeare’s last living quarters.  It was bound in typical Brit government red-tape.  The old house’s 15th Century foundations are protected by a 19th Century wall of red brick.  But to get to the old stuff you first had to get government permission to undo the protective wall!  The woman in charge of the dig said work had been held up for 17 weeks with no end in sight.  Even Nebra was glad to get out of the Cotswolds.   The three-lane highway back to London, the M40, was clogged with Cotswold traffic, and as far out as 40 miles it was stop and go.   Back in London we had a meal at a Greek restaurant across Woburn from our hotel, the Yialouse.  Again disappointment.  Poor service and bland food.  Nothing big planned for tomorrow.

July 24, Saturday: London.  Mostly sunny, puffs of cumulus.  It is beyond me why anyone would choose the Royal National Hotel over the Tavistock.  The Tavistock is superior in almost every way:  Cheaper by 3 pounds a day, less teenagers and tour groups and thus quieter, more reliable WiFi, rooms more attractive and cleaner, across from a beautiful park (Tavistock Square) and the breakfasts less crowded and easier to navigate.  I’m thinking of a side trip in several days to Dorchester, aka Thomas Hardy country.  Walked over to Regent’s Park in the afternoon, passing the site where the renowned economist, John Maynard Keynes, spent the last years of his life, virtually around the corner from the Tavistock, across from Gordon Square.  It had turned into a beautiful day, and Londoners, so devoid of sun, were loving the spacious park and its flower gardens and wide paths.  Numerous women stretched out on grassy spots and hiked up their skirts in effort to tan white legs.  An old man stretched out flat on his back in the grass, sound asleep.  Near one of the scenic ponds, a marriage of what we guessed to be a Pakistani couple was taking place, everyone dressed to the nines, some in vivid colors.  At the west end, a children’s circus was going on.  Tomorrow we’re headed off on a bus tour of the Cotswolds, three hours to the west.  Nebra’s idea.  I long ago circled the Cotswolds as “a pain in the ass.”   Crowded streets and restaurants, jangled nerves and cheap tourist shops is what I predict. 

July 23, Friday:  Shrewsbury and London.  Clouds with sunshine in late afternoon.  A staffer at the Old Post Office pub where we stayed added another reason to beware of the Lake-District.  Said he lived in Cumbria six months with only two days of sun.  Stopped at the Library on our way out of Shrewsbury to check the Internet.  The building used to be a school where Darwin attended as a young boy.  His dark statue rests in front.  There are four computers for Internet, all free, with a time limit of two hours.  While Nebra surfed, I asked a librarian about any tension that might exist between Darwin and the city’s church-goers.  She was aware of the Darwin controversy in America, the heated debate between the Scientist and the Creationist.  But in Shrewsbury, she said, “We celebrate Darwin.  I don’t detect any tension at all.”  Don’t worry about being stranded in Shrewsbury.  I counted 57 trains a day stopping at the local station on the way to Birmingham and easy connections to London Euston.  The trains were not crowded and Nebra and I found seats together in coach.  Changed trains in Birmingham, arriving in London at 2:10 in the afternoon.  Elapsed time, two hours, 39 minutes.  Checked in at Tavistock Hotel.  Cheaper but much better quality than the Royal National.   We strolled the still-bustling city streets in the evening, 8 to 11. Passed the old Charles Dickens place and Madame Tussaud’s museum on Marylebone, traveled down Baker Street and the Sherlock Holmes Hotel and bar.  Theater showing the latest DiCaprio flick, “Inception,” charged an admission of 11 pounds, or about $17 US.  Had a late supper at Zizzi’s.  Poor service again in London, average food.   Long walk back.  Most of the restaurants along Oxford still open with sidewalk tables humming with customers.   

July 22, Thursday: Shrewsbury.  Light rain with brief sunshine.  At breakfast our waitress said the Old Post Office is haunted.  A “study” done about 1 1/2 years ago found ghosts in the old livery area.  She herself experienced an episode while working one day a few months back.  Heard a knock on the window, went to look and found nobody, she said.  Having recently read, “The Vogyage of the Beagle,” I have become  enamored with Charles Darwin.  What discipline, what focus, what industriousness he had  in his early 20s when he shipped out on the “voyage that shook the world” with lessons that led to the theory of evolution!  So I sat out around noon on the “Darwin Walk,” a self-guided tour of the botanist’s old, ahem, haunts.  First, I crossed the Severn on the Welsh Bridge and walked up The Mount to the home of Darwin’s birth.  I found a large Georgian-style home on a knob overlooking Shrewsbury, a building now occupied by the District Valuer.  Ugly row houses blot the view of town but I tried to imagine what it would’ve been like to live in such a beautiful spot a century and a half ago.   Shot a few photos and left.  The major part of the Walk is in the south part of town.  Seven or eight historical points that became like a treasure hunt.  Some seemed to have only a loose connection to the scientist.   But the Walk did produce the most pleasant surprise of the day, The Dingle.  Crossing the street at St. Chad’s, the church where Darwin was baptized, there is a wide open park lined by trees, The Quarry.  And down a path a few hundred yards is The Dingle, a world-class manicured flower garden.  It is spectacular, a sure thing to pull you out of the blackest mood.  Sunken below the main park, it has freshly-cut lawns surrounding colorful beds of begonias, petunias and many other varieties of plants.  A nearby pond where Darwin was said to capture tadpoles is a lush area festooned with old sculptures and two burbling fountains.  Not to mention an assortment of ducks.  It is lined with wood benches, designed for contemplation.  And there is no charge to see it.  In the evening, we ate at an upscale seafood restaurant, the Loch Fyne.  I had poached salmon and Nebra had mussels and a Caesar salad and finished off with a shared sorbet.  Tomorrow it’s back to London.  Nebra would like to stay another day.  She’s hooked on the local architecture, the black and white Tudor homes that dot the city.

July 21, Wednesday:  We took the 10:43 out of Euston bound for Shrewsbury, 3 1/2 hours to the northwest.  Changed trains at Birmingham.  A light rain was falling when we hit Shrewsbury, the so-called “Gateway to Wales,” which is only 9 miles to the west.  The town is built on a hill and is almost an island with the Severn snaking around it.  Up the hill, in the town centre, we ran into a couple of pensioners, Charlie and Libby Jones who went to great length to help us find lodging.  Libby even ran down the street trying to locate the information bureau for us.  We eventually took a room in The Old Post Office, a pub that was once a livery stable.  Our room, No. 3, was on the third floor, up a labyrinth of stairs, landings, twists and turns.  But it was clean and attractive.  A theme of this trip has been the lack of access to the Internet and the O.P.O. was no different.  Like the last few nights at the R.N., I was able to connect to the local network but not the internet.  Blogging on a regular basis has become all but impossible.   A nightmare.  After settling in, we walked the streets.  The presence of Charles Darwin abounds among all the old churches and spires.  Darwin, like Wordsworth in the Lake Country, is a tourist magnet.  A large, two-floor shopping mall is named after him, his statue rests in front of the library and there is a self-guided “Darwin Walk” through town.  We had supper at the Royal Siam, a Thai restaurant with immaculate decor but only mediocre fare.

July 20, Tuesday:  London, cloudy and warm.  Have no regrets about leaving the Lake Country.  Somewhere up there yesterday in Cumbria 6 more inches of  rain fell.  Prepared to leave town today, but we took another night at the R.N.  More cancellations.  We bought day passes for the Tube at 11 pounds, 50, and took the Piccadilly Line west to the Kensington museums.  While Nebra headed for the Victoria & Albert Museum, I split off for the Museum of Natural History, housed in a magnificent stone building.  The place was boiling with screaming, unruly children, all it seemed shooting off their digital cameras without hesitation.  I quickly found sanctuary in the Darwin Centre and its collection of insects and plant life and later in the Mineral Room.  Had supper at the bustling corner restaurant, Balfour, with its basement kitchen.  Turned in early.

July 19, Monday:  London, mostly cloudy, warm.  This trip turns with every passing day to less pleasure, more work.  Although we’ve re-upped for another night at the R.N. because of cancellations, we spent the day tramping the streets of the Bloomsbury area looking for “permanent” lodging at a B&B.  Nothing available anywhere, and we trekked all the way east to Gray’s Inn Road.  We’ve secured a room at the Tavistock Hotel around the corner for five days beginning Friday, but Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday nights are blank.  Nebra has become edgy.   To take our minds off the lodging issue, we did laundry and watched a frantic young woman and the attendant feverishly try to stop the washer to salvage her passport.  Later in the day Nebra took off for High Gate by Tube to find a cemetery she read about in Aubrey Niffenegger’s “Her Fearful Symmetry.”  I did my favorite pastime.  I slept.  It’s dawned on us our solution to finding a place to stay is to leave town for 2-3 days.  I suggested Shrewsbury, the birthplace of Charles Darwin and by all accounts a pretty medieval town on the River Severn.  We bought some picnic fixings and ate at a bench by the foutain in Russell Square until the park closed at 9.

July 18, Sunday:  London, clouds with sun breaking through.  Can’t remember if it’s the Royal National Hotel or the National Royal.  So to make it easy, I think of nurse, or RN.   The hotel’s English Breakfast served an extra 30 minutes on Sundays, to 10:30.  What a zoo!  Long waiting line at 9:45.  The breakfast help is all Southeast Asian, I think, where in Phoenix it would be Hispanic.  Few are conversant in English.  Checked out potential lodging for rest of week.  We even walked down to the B&B area south of King’s Cross Station where we stayed in 2002.  It was Nelson Mandela Day at the Brit Museum.  The front gate and building draped in orange.  Exhibits, performances, talks.  A modest but enthusiastic crowd.  An elderly South African woman attempted to play a primitive flute-like instrument.  She strums a string at its side as she blows through it.  We’re told the instrument has a “very soft” sound.  We huddled close, heard nothing.  A microphone is placed near the instrument and still no sound.  Strangely the big attraction is some American gospel singers.  Supper at a nice shopping center east of the RN.   The restaurant is called the Giraffe.  I had a sushi salmon salad, and Nebra a falafel quesedea.  Our waiter is a young Cuban, handsome, muscular with heavy eyebrows.  He is biding his time in London until Fidel Castro dies.  Then he will return.  “Everything will change in five years,” he predicted.  Like most London waiters he used a hand-held computer by the side of our table to compute the bill, accept the credit card and print out a receipt.  Not sure where we’re staying tomorrow.  The hotel is full.  We’re thinking of going out of town until our reservation at the Tavistock Hotel opens up on Friday. 

July 17, Saturday:  Goodbye, Lake District.  Hello, London again.  A fitting farewell from Windermere.  It was noon at the little train station.  Pouring rain, a breeze made  it seem even cooler.  I’d gotten up at 7:30 to look for coffee in town.  I walked up the main drag and back to the Kenilworth.  Dead town.  A newsstand was the only store open.  A butcher shop and bakery lit up, men at work but still closed.  Passed only three people on street.  All young, probably going to work.  The train made it to London in three hours, seven minutes with only the one train switch at Oxenholm.  We checked in again at the Royal National, south a few blocks from Euston Station.  It was four o’clock.  I fell asleep in the room while Nebra circulated the city streets.  So we’re resetting the schedule.  Wales was and will be wet.  Ditto the Cotswolds.  But London was only cloudy.  Nettled by having to pay 30 pence for the toilet at Euston.  Huge crowds of young people in groups at the hotel.  Have no clue what they’re here for.  Ate supper at a very mediocre Italian place off New Oxford Street.   Our immediate goal is to find a place to stay here that is more permanent.  Nebra made reservations to take a tour in the Cotswolds on Sunday, the 25th.  Everything in flux.  I like it like this at times, not knowing where your next foot will land.  Makes you feel alive. 

July 16, Friday:  A gale blew against the wall of our room most of the night.  Our host, Chris, said it was the harshest wind here in four years.  With it came more rain.  Very eclectic crew for breakfast.  An English-French family from the Riviera, two Swiss sisters, a young German man, an elderly English couple and us.  Ten in all.  Tired as I was I walked down to the docks at Bowness thinking I would shoot a photo or two.  The rain had gone by then but it was still darkly cloudy.  I decided it would be insane to come this far from home and not do the minimal of taking a boat ride on Lake Windermere.  The lake is the largest in the Lake-District, though it is only 10 1/2 miles long and a mile at the widest, up to 220 feet deep.  Several lake cruises depart about 20 minutes apart most of the day.   There is the Blue and Yellow cruises, each covering a different part of the lake.  I took the Red, a cruise up to the village of Ambleside on the lake’s north end.  With the mountains in the background, it offers the most dramatic views.  I plunked down my 9 pounds and 15 for a round-trip.  In all, a 70 minute undertaking if you come back on the same boat.  I boarded the Teal, a white ship with green trim, built in 1936, and off we went.  The lake’s dark greenish-brown waters were calm.  I sat up in front, out in the open, a bit brisk at 68 degrees F. with a breeze coming into you.  The eastern shore toward town has several large, attractive hotels.  And even more at the dock at Ambleside.  I got off, walked around, bought some batteries for my camera and took the second boat, the Miss Cumbria III, back to Bowness.  Traveling close to the western shore, I could barely see the turrets of a castle above the forest.  It was said to be the Wray Castle, where the author of the Peter Rabbit books, Beatrix Potter, lived for a while.  She also owned Claife Heights, a four-mile stretch of forest, near the shore that she later donated to the National Trust.  Reached the port at Bowness again at 4:25, gone just about an hour.  While I was playing seaman, Nebra visited the Blackwell House, an arts and crafts home south of Bowness.  Had an early (for us) supper at the Lighthouse Restaurant.  Pretty good food, but we ranked it behind Francine’s and Lazy Daisy’s.  I hit the sack early.  We’re hitting the reset button, traveling back to London for a few days until the weather improves.

July 15, Thursday:  Rain continues.   As it does, our minds shift away from the Lake-District and toward Wales, a possible destination for the weekend.  Still we tried to make the best of it here in Windermere.  After seeing a pinpoint of sunlight, we hustled through the streets of town north and up to a high point called Orrest Head.  From there we hoped to catch a great view of the long knife of a lake and the town of Windermere before the next nasty bank of rain hit.  The winding trail was steep but short through a heavy cover of trees, and we reached the top in about 30 minutes.  It’s an open area with three or four benches.  Five others were taking in what is a rare sight these rainy days.  Sure enough.  A low gray rain cloud was heading our way.   Nebra captured a nice video of the lake, sweeping north to south, and I a photo before we had to scurry down the hill.  A hundred feet down the deluge struck and we got a bit wet even with the rain gear.  Still struggling with sleeplessness, I went back to the Kenilworth and fell asleep at noon.  Awoke 5 1/2 hours later and not much refreshed.  We had a nice supper at Francine’s, a French restaurant in the middle of town.  Tomorrow’s our last full day in the Lake-District.  Not much to hope for.  More rain a-comin’. 

 July 14, Wednesday:  Writing from a pub in Windermere, a glass of Cumberland Ale at my side, a boat-load of chile, white rice and chips trying to find peace with my stomach.  The bitter ale brewed up the road at Cockermouth.  One thing about this place, jumping on the Internet ain’t easy.  The local library, our most logical choice, closed on Wednesdays.   Information office has only one computer and charges 4 pounds an hour.   The Kenilworth serves a great English Breakfast as part of our rent:  poached egg, ham and link sausage, pork ‘n beans and a delicious steamed tomato.  Cereals, milk, O.J., toast, an assortment of jams, coffee or tea.  Sun broke through briefly but our friends, the dark clouds, soon reemerged.  Took a double-decker bus up to Grasmere in Wordsworth Country to the north.  Pllurchased an all-day pass for six pounds, fifty.  Buses run about every 20 minutes.  Grasmere rests amid the fells by a small stream.  Trees and green everywhere.  It’s enough to unnerve a desert-dweller.  It’s hard to believe a poet can be an industry.  But up here Wordsworth is king, though long dead.  He lived near Grasmere most of his life and is buried here in a cemetery behind a church.  Numerous tour buses stop and empty at the big parking lot on the edge of town.  Some even stay at the Wordsworth Hotel.  We walked a short distance up to Dove Cottage on a paved path along the highway.  Wordsworth lived here for about a decade, writing some of his best poems.  The white-washed exterior amid a sea of colorful flowers is one thing.  To go inside is quite another.  Dark and dismal, low ceilings.   And what a strange household.   Wordsworth and his sister Dorothy were extremely, almost unnaturally, close, and she lived with him even after he was married.  I find Dorothy far more interesting than her famous brother. I purchased a copy of her journals at the gift shop.  Back in town, while having a light lunch of leek soup (for salt-loving me) and blackberry crumble (for sweet-loving Nebra), a heavy downpour descended on the streets, ending any hope of walking more.  Took the bus back to Windermere.  Still short on sleep, I immediately returned to the Kenilworth for a long, deep nap.   Nebra meanwhile visited Lakeland, a kitchen and home goods kind of place, which she describes as a cross between Ikea and Bed Bath and Beyond.  Getting ready for supper, thunder sounded, and a menacing black could began to unload ungodly amounts of rain.  I wanted something less than desert.  But this Cumbrian weather is ridiculous.

July 13, Tuesday:  Reached Windermere about 2 o’clock.  Three and a half  hours by speeding train from London Euston.  Took the “10:30 to Lancaster.”   In 12 minutes we’d left the gloominess and fast pace of London behind and began passing through hilly farmland.  Mostly sheep,  specks of white in lush green pastures.  Cattle too and a few horses.  Scenery flashed by so fast I couldn’t read signs of the many towns we swished through.  Changed trains at Preston.  Weird station, trimmed in white, red and green.  Windermere is a quaint little place above a long, narrow lake by same name.  Winding streets, zillions of lodging possibilities, shops lining the main drag for about a half mile, the burg bustling with traffic.  Tourists I assume with more to come.  School still underway.  Students get a month break beginning in late July.   We carried our baggage to the Kenilworth Guest House in a quiet residential area.  Our room is small.  Ten by 12 at best.  But nicely furnished and clean with a tiny bathroom.  Electrical shower no less.  Weather forecast was right on.  Heavy clouds hover, temps in the 60s.  It’s supposed to be this way every one of the four days we’re here.  Just like Sicily last year.  Walked downhill a mile and a half to Bowness, a village on the lake.  All the excursion boats leave from here.  Walked back in a steady rain.  Nebra bought an umbrella.  In the evening we ate at a silly-named restaurant, Lazy Daisy’s, with a great menu.   Trouble was they were out of my first two choices, steak or spaghetti and meatballs.  Still raining when we left and quite cool.   Anxious about sleep.  I want to but can’t.  Nebra of course can fall into slumber at the snap of fingers.  I’ll have to try that new insomnia remedy I heard about.  Start counting down backward from 100 by threes.  Tomorrow we’re hoping to travel north into Wordsworth country.  The poet William Wordsworth that is.

July 12, Monday: Arrived at Gatwick Airport, London, 30 minutes ahead of time from Charlotte, 6:48 a.m..  Sixty degrees, cloudy.  It had rained overnight.  Flight choppy at times, couldn’t sleep. Numerous empty seats.   Read half of a Jim Thompson mystery, “The Cropper’s Cabin.”  All night I heard stewardesses coming down aisles as we passed through stormy spots.  “Buckle up, buckle up please.”  It’s cheaper by several pounds to take a regular train into Victoria Station, in town, than the Gatwick Express, though the latter is said to be six minutes faster.  The underground was crowded, stood all the way to Euston Station.  Left Nebra there to watch the bags while I searched for lodging.  Walked south on Woburn past the ritzy Euston Hilton (237 pounds a night) and the dismal County London (57 pounds) with its bunk beds, cramped quarters and sharing bathroom.  Settled on the sprawling Royal National, still a stiff 94 pounds.  Exchange rate for the American dollar is horrible, roughly $1.50 U.S. to the pound.  Crashed in mid-afternoon.  First real sleep I’ve had in 24 hours.  Hope I’m not going to start up this jet lag thing again.  Sun came out in evening,  We took a stroll down still-busy Woburn.  Many restaurants and hotels south of Tavistock Park.   Trip really gets underway tomorrow when we take rail to Windermere in the Lake District.  Bought two one-way tickets at Euston for 58 pounds each.  Weather there today was very cool and rainy.  Hope we can find some sun now and then.  Writing this standing up in hotel lobby.  The Royal National wants 5 pounds an hour for Internet in the room.  No way. Still groggy at bedtime.

July 11, Sunday:   Shortly after midnight.  In about 10 hours Nebra and I hopefully will be on our way to London via Charlotte and U.S. Airways.  Not looking forward to the flight.  Four hours to Charlotte and another 7 1/2 to Gatwick.   Suffered bad jet lag last autumn flying east to Rome.  Took almost a week to get my system back in order.  I pack light.  A small clothes bag crammed tight and a backpack not crammed at all.  Made arrangements about an hour ago for taxi pickup at the house, 7:30 a.m.  Should arrive in London about 7 a.m. on Monday.  The plan is to leave the next day by rail for the Lake District, then work our way south through Wales and the Cotswolds back to London.  Our last visit to England was in 2002.  Hit Edinburgh, Glasgow, the isle of Aran and St. Ives on that one.   Can’t wait to get out of Phoenix.  High temp today was 109 with dew point at 57.  Sweltering.    It’ll no doubt be the same when we get home on the 30th.  I’ll try to get some shut-eye now if I can.  May not be able to write again until Monday night. . . . Flights went like clockwork.  On time arriving and leaving Charlotte.  The airport there is modern and beautiful with interesting shops and, yes, white rocking chairs lining the long route between gates.  One problem.  Not enough electrical outlets available to recharge phones and batteries of  the young and wireless. It’s a scramble.  After a long search, I finally discovering an outlet between two drinking fountains.


No joy in UpTown

Nothing much happening here as Kirk Gibson era begins

On the night the Arizona Diamondbacks officially blew up their sorry baseball team at midseason, I bought a $21 ticket in an UpTown section of the right field bleachers at Chase Field.  To me, UpTown was the perfect place to check the emotions of Dbacks fans as the team’s record of futility continued.

It was a Friday night, the 2nd of July, and the Dbacks now had a new manager in a former World Series hero, Kirk Gibson.  The firing of the previous manager, A. J. Hinch, had been officially announced at a morning news conference.  The affable Hinch made the afternoon radio talk shows, lying through his teeth of course how much he “respected”  his former employers for giving him a shot at his first managerial post.  Josh Byrnes, the young general manager who had hired the inexperienced Hinch and put this team together, was also fired. 

As for the players, it was a trip into the unknown.  Trading deadline looms and some of them will be gone, maybe even some of a talented young group that arrived several years ago.  A group that was seen as the cornerstone of the franchise for a long time.

The UpTown section was a clever promotion that began in April, at the start of the season.  It was a play on the last name of the team’s 22-year-old right fielder,  Justin Upton.   It was Upton who symbolized the rosy future of the franchise.  He signed a six-year contract in March for $51.25 million going through 2015.   He is built like Adonis with a handsome face, a black man who could be king in a white man’s town that is Phoenix. 

Upton (foreground) facing a largely empty stadium.

UpTown rests in Sections 102, 103 and 104, just behind Upton’s position in the field.  And on this particular night, it was about a quarter full in a stadium strewn with empty seats.  Another disappointing turnout, especially in the light that the opponent was the Los Angeles Dodgers. 

Before major-league baseball hit Phoenix in 1998, it was the Dodgers who were the darlings out here in the desert.  But it is summertime and everyone has no doubt found a cool place on Mission Beach.  I estimated the crowd at 12,000, though the official figure, the paid attendance, was announced as twice that.  It is the actual number of seats filled that reveals interest in the team.  Not the paid attendance  that includes no-shows.   And there have been lots of no-shows for some time now.

My seat was several rows up in 102, toward centerfield.  It was unimportant that I could see little of the game from so far away without binoculars.  I was there to experience the fans and their interaction with Upton and the game.

On the way to my seat I picked up the only perk at a nearby gift shop.  A sign said something like “Get your free UpTown towels here.”  It was small and thin and had “UpTown” inscribed in Sedona Red, the team’s predominant color.  A good dust rag.  I showed the clerk my ticket, and he produced the gift.   I thought if it were such a big deal, the kid might have at least said, “Welcome to UpTown.” 

I settled in among a scattered number of mostly whites.  But there were quite a few Hispanics and a smattering of blacks.  A typical ethnic mix for Phoenix.  I saw families with children but it was largely couples of middle age.  This obviously was not a place for young adults, but a good spot for blue-collar types.  And an optimal position to snag a home run ball.

About a half-dozen high school girls sat a row in front.  They were busy fondling their over-worked cell phones and texting with their thumbs so rapidly it defies belief.   The girls disappeared for long periods and did not seem one bit interested in the game, but only slightly less interested than anyone else. 

The most excitable anyone became was when the Wave came around twice in the middle innings.  I may have been the only one in UpTown not to rise and raise my arms above my head. 

The game’s subplots seemed lost.  That the new manager was facing in the Dodgers the team he had once hit a famous home run for in the World Series did not mean much.  Nor did the fact the starting pitcher, Edwin Jackson, was making his first appearance since throwing a no-hitter at Tampa Bay’s Rays on the road.   Nor did anyone talk baseball strategy and the return of the team’s only All-Star this season, Chris Young, to the lead-off position. 

No.  The loudest voice in UpTown belonged either to a Dodgers fan or a Dbacks hater.  “Ahn-dray Eee-thyer, Ahn-dray Eee-thyer,” he yelled as the opposing right fielder, Andre Ethier, trotted out to his position.    And when a few far to the back began to chant, “Let’s go Diamondbacks,” he would counter even louder, “Let’s go, Dodgers.” 

If there was a chant in UpTown for Upton I did not hear it.  The interaction between player and his special section was minimal.  Every other inning Upton would turn to face the fans and soft-toss a practice ball their way.  That was it.   It was a mindless toss, always to the same area.  Like something he’d been told to do.

Upton showed no feeling for anyone except his friend and center fielder Chris Young.  And as the game progressed, Justin was having another bad night in what so far has been a disappointing season for him personally.   In the first inning, he let his mind wander and was easily picked off first base.   In the outfield, he made good on a few routine plays and kept chomping his pink bubble-gum.   He blew bubbles.  They were large and near-perfect from all the practice.  They marked the best part of his evening. 

Unless Upton begins showing his playing potential soon, UpTown will become meaningless.  He has to do well on the field.  His personality alone will not carry him far with this crowd.  Despite his many baseball talents, he lacks charisma.  He is often seen as moody.  He never seems to be enjoying the game.   Sometimes he loafs.  It is all so disappointing.  Like everything else connected to the Dbacks.  Even though this night they beat the Dodgers, 12-5. 

Right now, UpTown is really Mudville, and Mighty Casey has two strikes and no confidence.