I arrived at Gatwick the morning of Sunday, July 8; it was pouring rain and Britain was suffering from flooding in the midst of a hose pipe ban. It had been seventeen years since I’d left the country, after completing my MSc degree at De Montfort University in 1995; my daughter Karina, who was now living in the UK, had been not quite seven years old when we left. So much was familiar to me from my time there; as the houses and fields near the airport finally appeared as we emerged from the low cloud, there was a real sense of return.
I made my best efforts to stay awake after the “overnight” flight during which the sun lowered and rose again, around Greenland and Iceland, without the sky darkening. But I slept through the afternoon.
The first real highlight of the trip was a trip to Glasgow for Karina’s immigration appointment. It was great to see the British countryside, which is pretty much exactly mirrors its romantic reputation. And there are windmill farms all over Scotland (I even saw some on my flight home). Can’t say I was much impressed by Virgin Trains, though.
Downtown Glasgow didn’t have a lot to recommend it, though I had a good visit to the Gallery of Modern Art while Karina was at her appointment. After a couple of days back in Camberley, I travelled to London and spent five nights at the Abbey Court Notting Hill, which was great both in terms of location and quality.
During my time studying (in Leicester) in the ’90s I hadn’t had any real time in London, so this was a chance to immerse myself in one of the world’s great cities. Upon my arrival the first night, Sunday, I caught the tail end of the Portobello Market and was tempted to sleep afterwards, but zipped down to the Thames on the tube and walked the South Bank. I tend to be a bit overwhelmed by travel: seeing the world, and especially historic sites, is an emotional experience. It was a beautiful night and walking by the Houses of Parliament, all the historic buildings, St. Peter’s, the Tate Modern, and even the London Eye really was incredible.
There were some acrobats crawling the spokes of the London Eye. The city was, of course, on the eve of the 2012 Summer Olympics, and the sense of anticipation and a bit of dread was obvious, and exciting.
Monday I walked through a lovely drizzle in Hyde Park and attended the British Design 1948-2012 exhibition at the Victoria and Albert Museum. This was notable mostly, for me at least, for the pop art/rock and roll-related fashion and design. Later I met Karina at the Tate Modern, which was really stunning. Damien Hirst was interesting, if a little mixed in quality; Edvard Munch: The Modern Eye was great, as were the more permanent exhibits. As always, one wishes that there was more time in the day.
I’d done a Google search for vegan and vegetarian restaurants in London, and for our dinner Monday night chose Vanilla Black, which turned out to be Michelin-recommended and one of the best restaurants at which I’ve ever eaten—the price was reasonable, as well.
Tuesday we went to Camden Market. There had apparently been a couple of Banksy works along the canal but they were, unfortunately, gone. The Market was fun—and large; later we went to the Natural History Museum. This was probably the only disappointment I found in the city: it is really geared towards children and there was nothing new, and certainly no in-depth information, to be found. I’m always interested in the vast number of extinct prehistoric mammals, but even that was treated cursorily. Likewise, the “cocoon” was architecturally impressive but the exhibits shallow. I wanted to get into the back rooms and look at the real works and research.
After dinner Karina returned to Camberley. On Wednesday I made my pilgrimage to the British Museum. This was the highlight of my trip. I read last year The Rise and Fall of Ancient Egypt, by Toby Wilkinson, so headed directly for the Ancient Egypt section. Standing under the colossal bust of Ramesses II, I admit to becoming teary-eyed: here is history. Knowing a bit of the story helps. “I met a traveller from an antique land …” as Shelley famously wrote.
The Museum is almost as huge and overwhelming as New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art. Among the other highlights for me were Picasso’s Vollard Suite and Asian Art. Not to mention the architecture, particularly the Rotunda. Just stunning overall.
There was even a Haida front pole—a bit of home away from home. I didn’t have nearly enough time at the Museum, and as in New York I could spend years of weekends there.
Thursday I got up and went to the main branch of Foyles, a great book shop which I’d visited along the Thames a few days before. How I wish Vancouver had something half as good. Chapters is awful, just awful! On to St. Paul’s where I climbed several hundred steps up into Christopher Wren‘s marvel.
My last major event was another highlight: Karina met me at Shakespeare’s Globe, and after we had a nice lunch at Tas Pide we saw a great and hilarious production of “The Taming of the Shrew.” To see Shakespeare here, within a recreation of the original theatre not far from its original site, and all of it such a wellspring of our culture, was another emotional moment. In London, we are the indigenous peoples. This is where and from what so much of who we are, our culture and language, originated.