Gypsy's Travels

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Travels With Em - "Chislehurst Caves"

We headed out of London proper on the train today. Went all the way to the Chislehurst Caves on a series of underground and rail connections. Supposedly associated with Druids, murders, and other atrocities, we discovered the story is not nearly so sordid nor ancient. No Druids, No Romans, No known murders. More importantly, it served as an air raid shelter and temporary home to 15,000 people during the war. You had to pay your way.

A gas mask for baby.

Food was rationed. This was a week's ration for ONE person.

Healthcare was difficult.
Vignettes of past life provide some idea of the circumstances the people endured.

It is totally black inside except for light brought in. We were given kerosene lanterns to carry with us - one for every 2-4 persons. Sanitary facilities were primitive at best when the masses first arrived. They had individual receptacles which were emptied into centrally located barrels, which were then carried out, sloshing, by wagon. The men had to be at work early in the morning, so children HAD to be quiet by an early hour.The caves were actually miles and miles of man-made tunnels which had been mined for chalk from the late 1800's. They were used to grow mushrooms in the 1920' and 30's,

storage for ammunition during the war, hosted bands and dancing in the 1970's. Now they are a tourist attraction. This was one time Em followed me closely and held on tightly to my backpack strap.

All cave guides get great delight in turning out the lights so everyone can get a real sense of the dark. Ours was no exception. He added sound effects which must have been like hearing bomb raid during the war. It was a moment's insight into what the people must have gone through.
More recently, an artist was granted leave to carve a design area. I wonder if one day theat information will be lost and someone will claim that the Mayans were there. It might be difficult to make that claim since the atist put some contemporary items in the design.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Travels With Em - First Full Day in London

Just a quick post from Pax Lodge which is next door to Olave House, one of the 4 Girl Scout World Centers. Em and I are staying here for the first 6 days we are in London. Maybe I can catch up with the previous part of the trip later. Getting computer time is difficult for various reasons.
We are having a hard time getting oriented since I am so directionally challenged. Em is a big help, but not always right so I can't really rely on her. Before we left I bought a London Pass which covers entry fees to almost all the London attractions. I am trying to get everything I can, done before it expires after 6 days. The smartest thing I did , was to buy a London travel pass which allows us unlimited travel on all conveyances in zones 1-6. That just about covers everything. Today we spent a couple of hours looking for a Bicycle Tour Company. Finally found it and they told me they only have one tour a day for card holders and it had already left. That is not quite what the card led me to believe.
Nevertheless, we pressed on. We went to St. Martin's in the Field, did brass rubbings, and toured the National Theater where we were actually on stage for a short while. We sat in the Victoria Embankment Gardens for a band and choir concert by students from Virginia. It was a BIG group.They played and sang right on through the light rain we had. I grabbed a lunch from a nearby shop to eat while Em and I sat in sling-type lawn chairs and enjoyed the rest and the concert. Unfortunately, Em ended up on the ground when the seat of her chair tore. After the Theater tour, we stayed for a while to take in the program put on by an Argentine group. There were some wild dancers and it appeared that things could get a little lovey, so we headed home. We walked over eight miles today, according to my pedometer. No mean feat with a backpack and fanny pack. I felt like the proverbial "bag lady."
Not sure yet what is on the agenda for tomorrow, but we having a good time!

Monday, July 14, 2008

Travels With Em - "Friday 11 July"

"We are holding our Garden Fete and I am looking for some minor celebrity to open it. Would you be available?"

Thus began Colin Dexter's presentation to our group. He called it the "worst letter I ever received."
Colin is a wizened little man who admits to a profound hearing loss. The loss had a pronounced effect on his life, leading him to give up teaching and, eventually, become a writer. He has been quite successful with his "Inspector Morse" novels.A couple of days later, we happened on a filming of one of the Inspector Morse episodes.... right downtown....right in the bookstore where we we were searching. Truth be known, I had never heard of the series before. I believe the man in the pink shirt, on the far right, is the "star."Colin delighted us for an hour with his dry, self-deprecating, British humor and left us wanting more. He willingly answered questions, posed for photographs, and signed books, He admits to being "well past my 'Sell By' date," but exudes a wonderful sense of humor that surpasses age.

After lunch, we boarded the "coach" for an afternoon at the Roald Dahl Museum in Great Missenden. The gates at the Museum are from the film, "Willie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory,"and were donated by the film company.The doors inside, leading to the Museum area, looked, and smelled like a bar of chocolate. It is a delightful, almost magical place where there is a lot of information and encouragement for young writers. The museum told about Dahl's life and there were dozens of interactive displays and informative tips for encouraging young writers. One of the children tries the hands-on exhibit which showed how Dahl set everything up every morning in preparation for his day's work.Dahl's method of designing unique characters was explained and interested participants designed to their heart's content.A short video could be made using ordinary toy animals.
The children had an evening workshop with Helen, leaving the adults free for a couple of hours. Four of us banded together for a brief exploration of downtown Oxford. All the Pubs / Taverns were crowded so it was easy for us to pop in and have a look around. A plaque inside tells the story. Sinclair Lewis, his brother W.H. Lewis, J.R. Tolkien, Charles Williams, and other friends met at "The Eagle & The Child" every Tuesday morning between the years 1930 - 1962 in the back room of this, their favorite, pub. They commonly changed the names of the pubs where they met, calling this one "The Bird and the Babe." These men, popularly known as "The Inklings," met to drink Beer and to discuss, among other things, the books they were writing.This unassuming house was the home of Edmund Halley, a Savilian professor of Geometry 1703 - 1742. He live here and had his observatory in this house. Don't recognize the name? Think, Halley's Comet. The Turf Tavern was built within the old canditch (moat outside the city wall). The town wall was initially raised as part of Alfred the Great's defences against the Danes in the later 9th Century, but was continued in the Middle Ages and would have stretched along the line of New College Lane fronting on the Turf towards Smithgate, at the corner of Castle St. There are very few sections of Oxford's town wall left standing, but the Turf is blessed to have one of the prime examples literally in its back garden. The oldest part of the buildings standing today is the 17th Century, low-beamed, front bar area.

Travels With Em - "Table Service"

Thus far we have only had meals in the hotel - buffet for breakfast and dinner and sandwiches for lunch. The display of silverware at dinner is particularly British, even the children have remarked on it: 3-4 knives, 3 forks, one man-sized spoon, and 1-2 small spoons for dessert and / or coffee. We laughingly told the servers we only needed a knife, fork, and spoon.They just smiled.
I was longing for some iced tea, which the Brits never have so I did just what DH taught me several years ago. I asked for a cup of hot tea poured over ice. The server was astounded.
"You really drink this?" he questioned laughingly.
Em is ordering coffee. I admonished her for it but she told me it was o.k.
"Mommy lets me drink some of hers at breakfast and I drink half of it." That's news to me since I didn't know her Mom even drank coffee.
"Besides that, she drinks two Red Bulls every day!"
I hate to be the big bad monster, but I don't think coffee is healthy for a 10 year old child. Sometimes I can have her substitute hot chocolate. Sometimes she will ask for tea if she can't have coffee. Sometimes I just let her have a half cup of coffee, and fill it with milk. Then she adds 2-3 sugar cubes. Woe is me.....what would you do? I think she is enjoying her freedom and trying to be more some ways.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Travels With Em - "A Visit to Jericho"

The children stayed behind for an activity and the adults had a field trip to Jericho. Joshua may have "fit the battle of Jericho," but Mark Davies has brought it to life.
Mark, our EH speaker, lives on the Oxford Canal in a "narrow boat." He says he didn't start out to write a book, but became intrigued by the area called Jericho and has spent a great deal of time researching it, interviewing people who have lived in the area a long time and, this year, trying to make a living telling the world about it. He now gives tours and has just released his 3rd book on the area. Check out Oxford Towpath Press.
Mark led us on a tour of Jericho, which was originally an unsavory, red light district, but has been renovated and currently consists mostly of living spaces and shops. You will also find Jericho listed in Colin Dexter's novels.

We meandered along the paths by the Isis (known as the Thames elsewhere in England)., where long, narrow boats lined one side of the Oxford Canal.
Some of the occupants of these boats were at home, while other boats were dark and quiet.

The boat owners pay one fee for plying the waterways and another, depending on the town or area, for mooring. They have coal and fresh water delivered, and sump tanks emptied, by other boats who service the area. It is all very picturesque.
On this particular day, police were, quietly, everywhere and a police tape cordoned off an area where divers were searching the dark, murky waters. One of the boat people was missing.

Travels with Em - Em Update

Helen, the EH staffer in charge of the children, sometimes keeps the children for activities while the adults pursue other avenues. I am not quite sure who benefits more. The children love her, they are bonding, having a great time, and Em couldn't care less where I am. In other words, Em is having a great time and is being very independent. She has become quite friendly with 1-2 other girls and has someone to pal around with. I gave her a key the very first day and she has felt like she is older and ready to take on the world. I have to bring her back to earth occasionally, like when she plays with the ketchup bottle and (accidentally) squirts it into the air and a plop of it lands in my hair.......or when she sticks the bowl of a spoon into her mouth sideways and leaves the handle hanging out on one side, and turns around to show everyone......or when she orders coffee.....

I got her up for a walk the first morning we were here. She did not want to go...dragged her feet....refused...until I suggested we go to take photos of the Dragon School. That is actually the name of the school where the girl who played Hermione, in the Harry Potter film, went to school. That got her out and we managed pretty well except I couldn't keep up with her. Either I am slowing down or she just doesn't want to be seen with me, or both. We managed alright until we headed back to the hotel and she was more anxious to get there than I. She kept running ahead and I kept calling her back. As we got closer to our destination, she got faster, until I saw her heels disappear around a corner. Unfortunately, she was going the wrong way....and going fast. Calling out someone's name on the street with other people around, is not a safe practice, but when I finally got within calling distance, I called her. It took three tries before she heard me. She was standing by a very busy street.
"Well, I wasn't going to cross it," she told me.
I gave her a lecture and we headed back.
There is a fine line between guarding Em's safety and squashing her independence. I hope we can get it resolved here, where the streets are mostly quiet and life is slower.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Travels With Em - "The Sorting"

Our ElderHostel (EH) program is a literary tour of Oxford, England, focusing on the Harry Potter novels. Helen, the EH staff member who works with the children's part of our program, was in charge of "The Sorting." Fortunately, I saw the Harry Potter movie that included "The Sorting," so I knew what was going on.

In the movie, each new student at Hogwartz school, takes a turn sitting in a special chair at the front of the room. A witch-looking hat is placed on the student's head, the Sorting Hat. The talking hat divines the student's attributes and sorts them into different groups, called Houses, at the school. By the light of votive candles sitting on a white-clothed table, our children each took a turn sitting in the chair placed at the front of the room in front of their peers and grandparents. A witch-like hat was placed on their heads in turn, and a voice from the depths of the darkened room announced the group the child would be in. Em is in Fwooper group. Well, it could have been Billywigs or Puffskins.

Travels with Em - "We Arrive"

We arrived at Heathrow Airport in London safely, but not quite uneventfully. With the landing gear lowered and just about to touch down, the pilot suddenly gave a thrust to the engines and we were again ascending at an acute angle. A minute later, with everything under control, the pilot calmly explained that the plane in front of us, on the runway, failed to negotiate the turn off the landing path. Our pilot had to abort the landing.

It was all done so smoothly, that I am sure many did not immediately realize there had even been a problem. I made sure the flight attendant would convey my respects for the pilot's expertise and handling of the plane. I can remember DH's words when there was a discussion about an airline pilot's pay, "I don't ever want my pilot worrying about the cost of his child's shoes while he is flying."

Friday, July 11, 2008

Travels with Em - Days 1&2, cont'd

NOTE: I will try to post photos at a later date, when I can get to them.

The continuing story of travel from Toronto to London:
I asked the waitress for a "To Go" box for the food which had just arrived. The waitress put a cover on the plate and made a comment about how the airline always does this to to travelers. We hurried off to follow the crowds and not be left behind.

In spite of my dislike of generalities, Brazilian teenagers vacationing in the U.S. continue to ply the norm of the very first group I met. This time, the group came barreling down the wide hallway from the opposite direction. In a great hurry, happily chattering, and oblivious to the rest of the world. They remind me of the flocks of birds I frequently see that swoop and move as one large body, without apparent direction, not led by any particular leader, but so in tune with one another that they function as a single unit.

The group of teens in the hallway pressed on by, oblivious to anyone in the area, including Em and I who were directly in their path. They swooped and served as they headed toward some unseen goal. One nice-looking young man suddenly decided to bounce his basketball around the group in an an attempt to reach the front. He ran right into Em and our cherished plate of food, The cover came off the dish, the dish flew out of the bag and landed on the floor. Fortunately, the dish was face up and our overpriced dinner was mostly saved. As one, the group came to a sudden halt, silently observing the situation. One person laughed, the others had the kindness to remain quiet. The shocked lad looked at us for a minute, apologized, picked up the plate and handed it to me. Then they were all off again, just like the flock of birds, swooping, swerving, and chattering.

Em wiped up the floor and we hurried on.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Travels with Em - Days 1&2

When you travel towards the rising sun, you lose time, so we had two days in one without much sleep. Em has been SO excited. She manifests her excitement by talking, talking, talking.

We flew Air Canada to Toronto, were delayed by a heavy thunderstorm, and finally made our way on to London Heathrow Airport. It was a good trip, the first time I have flown this airline. I am sure they have tightened our belts to help keep profits up and not have to raise prices too much. Fortunately, both our bags were under 50 pounds and we did not have to pay the surcharge, an extra $25-50. We each had only one bag and a backpack which saved the 2nd checked bag fee. I had ordered lactose-free meals, which turned out to be VILE. I will try to change to regular meals and take my chances.

There was nothing to eat, not even a snack or peanuts, on the Austin / Toronto leg of the trip, so we arrived in Toronto very hungry. After clearing immigration (even though we were only staying a couple of hours), we found our gate and eventually found the agent who wandered over from one of the airport shops.
"Yes," he told us, "you have time to eat because your departure has been delayed."
It had been 8 hours since our last meal and Em likes to graze every 2 hours.The late hour did not offer much choice other than junk food, which would have delighted Em but I refused. We finally found a small place, ordered some chicken strips, and I positioned myself in a spot where our departure gate was visible. Just as the meal was delivered, I saw everyone who had been waiting at our gate, get up, and head down the hallway. The agent was pushing someone's wheelchair and we were still trying to calm our rumbling stomachs.

To be continued.......

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

We're off!

Just in case you are one of the ones who check in here occasionally, please note that I will return.
Em and I are off to Oxford and London, England for the next 3 weeks. Since I don't know when I will have time, or access, for blogging, I am posting a note now. I expect there will be plenty to share so check back frequently and share your comments. You are always welcome.

Monday, July 7, 2008

A Sunday Lesson

I kept Em and Abs Saturday night and took them to church on Sunday morning. They are well known at my church, often providing comic relief, but accepted for the children they are.
Em looked great, even though at 10 years she thinks she is going on 16. Abs is Abs, has her own way of looking at the world, and generally manages to take everyone on the journey with her.

Em was born in Germany and I made this dress for her when she needed it for a school play. Abs thinks it is wonderful. They both have their Aunt B's sense of glitz, though not always her style. Abs chose to wear her German dress with pink cowboy boots and, though they do not show here, shorts and a purple petticoat with loose silk flowers encased between the layers. They look happy here but that was just a pose for the camera. You can tell by Em's posturing that she did not want to stand next to Abs.

I give the girls a couple of rules when we go to church. The rules are mainly to remind them of proper behavior when they are out of my reach. The most critical time they are out of my reach is when they go to the front of the church for the Children's Moment. The congregation loves this time and is very open and affirming. When Em and Abs are not there, I field a load of inquiries.

The lesson this Sunday was on yoked oxen and how we work together. A young ox is yoked to an older, more experienced ox, until s/he learns the task. To demonstrate this, the children were paired and one hand from each of the pair loosely linked. With their other hands behind their backs, they were supposed to use their linked hands to , cooperatively, pick up a snack bag of crackers. Food is usually enough incentive to effect cooperation.

Unfortunately, Abs and Em were sitting close enough to each other that they would likely be paired for this exercise. I prayed and held my breath, but God had other plans. The leader asked them to put their hands out to be linked. Abs waved a pipe cleaner person she had fashioned and announced it would be her partner while Em stood resolutely straight, her arms crossed in front of her, and her mouth clamped tightly into a determined line. Em said nothing. Abs happily told all.
"My sister won't touch me," Abs announced to the congregation while joyfully dancing around with her pipe cleaner person. "She says I have cooties."
Abs doesn't depend on others to make her happy, she revels in her own views of the world and reaches out to include everyone. The congregation was laughing and I was embarrassed, but now I wonder ......who taught the real lesson.

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Odd Shots on Monday - "The Fountain Heads"

More Sculpture by artist, Niki de Saint Phalle
More "Odd Shots" here.
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Saturday, July 5, 2008

PhotoHunt - "Pointed"

Not exactly pointED , but pointING to an "Osteria" (restaurant) down below.
Italy 2007
More photos from PhotoHunt
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Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Wordless Wednesday - "Fiddle-dee-dee"

Check out more photos on
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