Sunday, October 19, 2014

Staverton Fayre

On Monday, August 25th (a bank holiday), the village of Staverton held their annual Fayre. Sometimes it's called the "Elizabethan Fayre" but I couldn't find any information on its history; although the village (or a village) has been there since the 14th century, there does not appear to be proof that a fair was held there, and of course that was long before bank holidays were invented. Or banks, for that matter, at least in England. I invited Cornelia and Alex to go along with me, but they declined, so I set off by myself in the rain that morning, first taking the bus from Ashburton to the railway station at Buckfastleigh, and then hopping on the South Devon Railway's steam train.

Built in the mid-19th century, the railway line was originally supposed to go all the way from Totnes to Ashburton, but they couldn't get the funding, so the line stopped at Buckfastleigh. They ran passenger and freight trains from 1872 to 1962, when the local branch of the National Railways decided it was not profitable. A few years later, a group of local businesspeople reopened a commercial rail service, but by 1989 they decided they weren't making money either. Other volunteer groups took over and registered the business as a charity, and since 1991 the South Devon Railway Trust has kept this bit of English trainspotting history going. It's a popular tourist attraction, and a really fun ride. The carriages are all Harry-Pottery, and every time the steam whistle blew, hooting shrilly over the rumbledy-clack of the wheels on the track, I couldn't help smiling. The line goes through woods and fields, giving glimpses of rural life: cows grazing in the pastures by the river, with sheep dotted on the hills above; pheasants gleaning the last bits of corn and wheat from the stubbled fields; a shaded hollow in the embankment holding a wooden chair next to a tea set on a stump.

It doesn't take long to get to the station at Staverton, and many of the passengers never even made it out of the station, as that was the venue for the Real Ale Festival and the Rails and Ales event, featuring local ciders and ales served from a pub that was built into the station a few years ago. They set up a tent next to the pub to hold the overflow, and I had to push my way through the crowd of large hearty men holding pints in order to get to the road leading to the fairgrounds. According to the fair's website, there was supposed to be a bus shuttling people between the station and the grounds, but it never appeared. Since the weather was crap, it's possible that they decided not enough people were going to show up to justify it. But it was only a half mile away or so, and it wasn't raining too hard.

I never did figure out what the "Elizabethan" part of the fair was supposed to be, though looking through information on fairs of years past it looks like when the weather is good, there are more events and dancing and things that might be more historically relevant. The Punch and Judy show, at least, dates back to the 17th century in Britain, and you'll find it at pretty much every fair. A newer addition is the dog agility event, and this year there were a fair number of people standing out in the rain with their damp dogs, watching the contestants and barking in encouragement. The dogs, I mean.

About half of the small tents were people selling home-baked goods or FIMO jewelry and other handmade items, or offering typical rummage sale wares like old toys and dolls and kitchen equipment. The large rummage sale tent seemed to be mostly full of tea towels, but there was also a long table full of books, and I found some paperbacks for my bus and train trips, including Stephen Fry's autobiography, "Moab is My Washpot." The first volume of his autobiography, that is, just up to his twenties. I will have to look for "The Fry Chronicles" and "More Fool Me" to get the rest of the story, now.

I have gotten completely addicted to the show Fry hosts, "QI" (today's fact of the day: at the enthronement feast of George Neville, Archbishop of York, in September 1465, the guests ate 204 bitterns) and have always enjoyed watching him act, especially in the Jeeves and Wooster series (I missed the earlier show he did with Hugh Laurie, "A Bit of Fry and Laurie"). Like Emma Thompson's character, I fell for him in the movie "Peter's Friends," but as he shares more than a passing resemblance to the title character of another movie he starred in, I wouldn't have had any more luck than Maggie with him.
One should always be a little improbable.
- Oscar Wilde (1854-1900)

There weren't that many booths set up, and not that many people in them either. It had started raining fairly early, and by the time I got to the fairgrounds it was alternating between damp drizzle and gusty squalls. A few of the smaller tents weren't standing up to the wind very well; I watched a face painter decorating the cheeks of a small girl while the posts of her tent leaned over nearly to a 45-degree angle, and a few minutes later after the girl had run off to join her parents the face painter packed up her things and took the tent down.

I was watching this from the safety of the beer and cider tent, which had the advantage of facing away from the wind, with chairs and hay bales to sit on inside, and live music by the group Men Behaving Tradly. In the tea tent, filled with things I couldn't eat, The Old Gaffers were belting out sea shanties. Next to the beer tent, the Riverford BBQ team were carving slices off their roast pig, and if I had thought to bring a few slices of gluten-free bread I would have had a sandwich. The iced lemonade stand was not doing much business on that chilly day, but I saw a lot of people with boxes from the mobile oven-fired pizza van. I had a pint of local cider while I watched the locals stroll around, trying to dry off my socks. I'd worn sandals because I didn't feel like wearing my shoes that day, and my toes were rather damp.

Most people were wearing wellies, and one of the reasons I had gone to this fair in particular was because it promised to have a welly-tossing competition. Unfortunately that had been cancelled along with several of the other booths and games, due to the weather. But there was ferret racing! Terry Moule is a well-known figure in the Devon event circuit; he has been driving his racing ferrets to fairs and such for over 30 years. I talked to him for a bit between races, and he said that he started out raising ferrets as a hobby, but that the fair races became so popular so quickly that he now spends most of his time doing them, at least in the summer. He lives near Exmoor, the other national park in the north (Dartmoor is in the south) and says that he will drive anywhere within a 70-kilometer radius (if I remember correctly) to take his ferrets to the shows. He gets paid for the events, but he also sells tickets so that people can bet on the races, and the proceeds of the betting go to charities, or to the event sponsors.

When the race is ready to begin, he brings his ferrets out and talks about them a bit, and explains the race rules, such as they are. He puts each of the six ferrets in a cage at the start of the pipes that form the racecourse, and gets six children from the audience to serve as the gatekeepers. When the whistle blows, the children lift the gates, and each ferret runs into the pipe and down to the exit at the other end. The winning ferret is the one who exits the pipe entirely, tail and all, before the others. He stresses this point, because often a ferret will race down to the opening at the end, stick its head out, and then snake its body back into the pipe and disappear, presumably in search of rabbits, which is what they are traditionally trained to hunt. I was standing in front of the pink pipe with one of the white ferrets, and that's exactly what it did - it was the first to pop its head out, but the last to actually come all the way out of the pipe.

"I'm here! I'm gone again! Hey, where's everyone going? I'm still competing in this race, damn it!"

The weather was clearing up just a bit as I walked back to the train station, and I saw more families heading towards the fairgrounds, but even in the time I was there three or four of the tents had been taken down, so I am not sure how much entertainment was left. Terry Moule had told me that if the weather didn't stay clear, he wasn't going to stay to the end of the event, but Zoe, the clarinetist with the band in the beer tent, said that they were there for the duration. There were even more people at the beer tent at Staverton station when I got there, spilling out onto the platform and taking advantage of the brief patches of sun. I took my books and my damp toes back onto the steam train, and leaned out the window all the way back, inhaling the green woodland smells and the occasional whiff of coal smoke from the engine boilers.

"What a feeble thing intelligence is, with its short steps, its waverings, its pacings back and forth, its disastrous retreats! Intelligence is a mere instrument of circumstances. There are people who say that intelligence must have built the universe — why, intelligence never built a steam engine! Circumstances built a steam engine. Intelligence is little more than a short foot-rule by which we measure the infinite achievements of Circumstances."
     - F. Scott Fitzgerald, "The Beautiful and the Damned" (1922)

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Erinaceus Europaeus

The fox knows many things; the hedgehog one great thing.
     - Archilochus (c. 680 BC – c. 645 BC), as quoted in Plutarch's Moralia

If you start throwing hedgehogs under me, I shall throw a couple of porcupines under you.
     - Nikita Khrushchev, as quoted in The New York Times in November 1963

CALIBAN: All the infections that the sun sucks up
From bogs, fens, flats, on Prosper fall and make him
By inch-meal a disease! His spirits hear me
And yet I needs must curse. But they'll nor pinch,
Fright me with urchin--shows, pitch me i' the mire,
Nor lead me, like a firebrand, in the dark
Out of my way, unless he bid 'em; but
For every trifle are they set upon me;
Sometime like apes that mow and chatter at me
And after bite me, then like hedgehogs which
Lie tumbling in my barefoot way and mount
Their pricks at my footfall; sometime am I
All wound with adders who with cloven tongues
Do hiss me into madness.
     - William Shakespeare, The Tempest, Act 2 Scene 2

Interviewer: Was there anything unusual about Dinsdale?
Woman: Certainly not! He was perfectly normal in every way! Except... inasmuch as he thought he was being followed by a giant hedgehog named Spiny Norman.
     - Monty Python's Flying Circus

And oh ! when the blessed diurnal light
Is quench'd by the providential night,
To render our slumber more certain,
Pity, pity the wretches that weep,
For they must be wretched who cannot sleep
When God himself draws the curtain !

The careful Betty the pillow beats.
And airs the blankets, and smooths the sheets.
And gives the mattress a shaking —
But vainly Betty performs her part,
If a ruffled head and a rumpled heart
As well as the couch want making.

There's Morbid, all bile, and verjuice, and nerves,
Where other people would make preserves.
He turns his fruits into pickles :
Jealous, envious, and fretful by day,
At night, to his own sharp fancies a prey,
He lies like a hedgehog roll'd up the wrong way,
Tormenting himself with his prickles.

But a child that bids the world good-night.
In downright earnest and cuts it quite —
A Cherub no Art can copy, —
'Tis a perfect picture to see him lie
As if he had supp'd on a dormouse pie,
(An ancient classical dish by-the-bye)
With a sauce of syrup of poppy.

Oh, bed ! bed ! bed ! delicious bed !
That heaven upon earth to the weary head,
Whether lofty or low its condition!
But instead of putting our plagues on shelves.
In our blankets how often we toss ourselves.
Or are toss'd by such allegorical elves
As Pride, Hate, Greed, and Ambition!
     - Thomas Hood "Miss Kilmansegg and her Precious Leg" (1870)

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Business As Usual

It's getting chilly here in York and I'm glad I have my wool coat with me; it's worth the space and weight in the suitcase. The sky looks like snow, but it's not cold enough, so it's just raining. I'm glad I played tourist last week in the sunshine. Right now I'm concentrating on some freelance projects, so it will be a few days before I start catching up with myself again on this blog, but other than some fairly random photos I think I'm done with London (for now). Up next: ferret racing in Staverton, and fifty photos of Stonehenge.

Friday, October 3, 2014

And We'll Dance

Old dances are simplified of their yearning, bleached by Time.
Yet from one black disc
we tasted again the bite of crude Spanish passion.
… He had got into her courtyard.
She was alone that night.
Through the black night-rain, he sang to her window bars:
Love me, love—ah, love me! If you will not, I can follow into the highest of mountains; and there, in the wooden cabin, I will strangle you for your lover.
—That was but rustling of dripping plants in the dark.
More tightly under his cloak, he clasped his guitar.
Love, ah-h! love me, love me! If you will do this, I can buy a fringed silk scarf of yellow, a high comb carved of tortoise; then we will dance in the Plaza.
She was alone that night.
He had broken into her courtyard, above the gurgling gutters
he heard—surely—a door unchained?
The passage was black; but he risked it—
death in the darkness—
or her hot arms—(love—love me ah-h-h!)
"A good old tune," she murmured
—and I found we were dancing.
The music beats, up the chasmed street,
Then flares from around the curve;
The cheers break out from the waving crowd:
—Our soldiers march, superb!
Over the track-lined city street
The young men, the grinning men, pass.

Last night they danced to that very tune;
Today they march away;
Tomorrow, perhaps no band at all,
Or the band beside the grave.
Above, in the long blue strip of sky,
The whirling pigeons, the thoughtless pigeons, pass.

Another band beats down the street;
Contending rhythms clash;
New melodies win place, then fade,
And the flashing legs move past.
Down the cheering, grey-paved street
The fringed flags, the erect flags, pass.

"Phonograph - Tango" and "To War" by American poet Samuel Foster Damon, from the collection "Eight Harvard Poets" (1917)

Washing Away The Past

I find the London skyline somewhat ... odd. The collection of strange shapes called The Gherkin, The Cheesegrater, The Pinnacle, and The Walkie-Talkie sprout up, shouting steel toadstools, between the low quiet golden stone of the nearby Tower of London and the silvery dome of St. Paul's Cathedral, which for 250 years was the tallest building in London (365 feet). Up until the 1960s there were rules about building height and placement in the center of the city, originally designed to protect the view of the cathedral. These rules were modified in the 1960s and buildings began to creep over the 300-foot limit, several in the concrete-and-glass "brutalist" style, though the taller buildings tended to stay on the outskirts, and the line-of-sight rules are still in effect to some extent. But the economic boom - or at least the economic optimism - of the 21st century fueled the construction of ever larger office complexes in the City of London area and also in Canary Wharf, though the revitalization of the dock area has taken the shape of more normal ("normal" being a fluid term these days) symmetrically-lit rectangles, and due to its location the buildings don't overshadow any major historical landmarks. In the center of the city, glass walls crowd into old brick buildings, and while I think it is an excellent idea to not knock things down, I wonder how much really needs to be built up.

There are other tall buildings scattered around on either side of the river, like the BT Tower to the northwest and The Strata, a 43-story apartment building, to the south. They poke up here and there, but they don't really have the impact of the City of London collection, to me.

This could change, however, as there are over 200 proposals for new buildings in the pipeline, and the center of the city is bristling with cranes and rattling to the sound of jackhammers.

Many of the proposed buildings are being criticized even before they've been built and the residents of London, like those of Paris, have mixed opinions about them. Other than the Tour Montparnasse (which one candidate for mayor would like to tear down) the tall buildings of Paris are clustered on the edge of the city in the area called La Défense, or outside the old walls entirely. But there are people who want to build up to the new limit of 590 feet within the historical city limits, sending properties as well as property values shooting sky high. There are only 12 proposed buildings, rather than 237 as in London, but will concrete canyons darken the City of Light some day?

On the other side of the river, the buildings are lower, and other than spike of The Shard they're more organic, often curved, forming a rolling landscape along the waterfront. You can walk all the way from Hampton Court Palace to Chelsea Harbour following the Thames Path - or if you're really intrepid all the way from the source of the river, 184 miles upstream near Cirencester - but if you don't want to do the entire route you can still do bits of it within London itself.
The path goes along the south bank of the river past the reconstructed Globe Theatre and under the shadow of The Shard. Between London Bridge and Tower Bridge the path turns into a promenade, and the day that I walked that stretch there were still office workers from the City Hall complex eating their lunchtime sandwiches in the sun, as well as many many tourists taking pictures. Lots of families, too - it was August, so school was out, and the weather was good that day.

An outdoor amphitheatre called "The Scoop" is tucked into a curve of City Hall that's a popular place for summer events, like free movie screenings. There's going to be a three-week-long Christmas Market there in December, and since I still haven't done all of the Books About Town bench-spotting I wanted to do, I will be going back there anyway, if only to take a picture of the Discworld bench for Debra and Elizabeth 2.0 - oops, never mind. I just discovered that all of the benches have been removed and will be auctioned off on Tuesday. Ladies, the bidding for Lot 23 is probably still open, if you want to get in on the action (and have several thousand dollars lying around).

"I don’t know what London’s coming to — the higher the buildings the lower the morals." (from the Noël Coward playlet Law and Order, written in 1928)

When most people think about "London Bridge" they have the mental image of this bridge, the Tower Bridge. Today's London Bridge is a fairly boring flat concrete span with three shallow arches underneath, but back at the beginning of the 13th century, there were twenty pointed arches underneath a tall wide wooden span that included a drawbridge, gatehouses at either end, and shops and houses lining either side in between. With very few changes (relatively speaking) over the next 500-plus years this bustling bridge-based mini-metropolis was the home of several Lords Mayor of London, the site of a joust, and the place where Oliver Cromwell's head was spiked for display. However, by 1776 all of the shops and houses had been removed, and the bridge widened to make room for the increased carriage traffic. Architect John Rennie drew up the design for a new bridge that was built beside the old one, a five-arched stone construction completed in 1831, when the old bridge was torn down. This stone bridge only lasted 150 years, because it had started sinking into the river mud on one end as soon as it was completed. The city officials decided to tear this one down, too, but first they put it up for auction; you can see this version of London Bridge in Lake Havasu City, Arizona.

The Tower Bridge was built fifty years after the new (old) London Bridge was finished. Because British colonies were still sending back goods by ship the bridge had to accommodate masts, and the lower section is a drawbridge. These days the drawbridge is rarely opened, except for special events like the 2012 Olympics, or for the chartered boat tours on the paddle steamers "Waverley" and "Dixie Queen." In 1977 the bridge was painted red, white, and blue for Queen Elizabeth II's Silver Jubilee, and those are the colors still used today, which gives the bridge a nice festive touch.

Compared to the modern glitz and shine of the office buildings behind it, the 14th-century Tower of London doesn't look real. It looks like a model of a building, a Hollywood set for that fantastic series "The Tudors" (have you seen it? you really must) which was actually all filmed in Ireland, even the scenes set in the Tower itself.

It isn't really one tower, but a castle/fortress with short towers at each corner, surrounded by two sets of walls and a deep moat. We visited the inside of the building on that long-ago high school Honors English trip, and I remember marveling at the Crown Jewels displayed there. I didn't go in this time, because what I'd come to see was a display along the second inner wall, covering the green grass that replaced the water in the now-dry moat.

Edward I built the walls around the fortress at the end of the 13th century, and also the waterway into the complex that's now known as "Traitor's Gate." At the time, the king simply wanted to make it easy to get into the castle by barge; later kings sent political prisoners that way to make a statement.

It wasn't only people who were imprisoned in the Tower. Lions were kept there as far back as the beginning of the 13th century, gifts to kings from other kings, followed by ostriches and kangaroos and rattlesnakes and llamas and tigers and bears, oh my, until by 1820 there were representatives of birds and beasts from all corners of the Empire trapped within its brick walls. James I, who was responsible for such things as the first government-sponsored witch hunts and the establishment of illegal immigrants in an eponymous settlement on the east coast of Tsenacommacah, also enjoyed a bit of bear-baiting in his free time, and he had wooden platforms built over the enclosures so that he could watch lions fighting dogs, dogs fighting bears, or all three at once. He must have read the Book of Daniel in the authorized translation of the Bible that bears his name, but as far as I can tell he never threw people in there.

And the king commanded, and they brought those men which had accused Daniel, and they cast them into the den of lions, them, their children, and their wives; and the lions had the mastery of them, and brake all their bones in pieces or ever they came at the bottom of the den. (Daniel 6:24)

In 1832 the remaining animals were sent to the new London Zoo in Regent's Park and all of the blood stains were washed off the stones of their enclosures. There's been a lot of blood spilled within those walls, though relatively few executions; the popularity of public hangings meant that most people were killed in plain sight. Only the politically sensitive prisoners were actually done away with there, according to the Historic Royal Palaces Trust. The young Edward V and his brother Richard were sent to the Tower by Richard III so that he could declare himself king in 1483, and while there has never been proof that they died there, they were never seen again. Sir Thomas More pissed off Henry VIII when he objected to the king's attempts to begin his serial bigamy and killing spree, and he was beheaded in 1534, followed by Anne Boleyn and later Jane Boleyn, Catherine Howard, and Lady Jane Grey. Eleven World War I spies were shot by a firing squad there, and the last person to be executed in the Tower of London was the World War II German spy Josef Jakobs, who was shot on August 15, 1941.

The Tower is currently the site of a public exhibit called "The Tower of London Remembers" commemorating the 100th anniversary of the start of World War I, and that is what I'd gone there to see.

Since August 5th of this year 888,246 ceramic poppies have been, or are being, placed in the grassy moat around the tower, in an installation titled "Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red." I'm not sure whether they're all there now, or if the last one will be put in place on the final day, the official anniversary of November 11th. Then they'll all be taken up again, and many will be sent to people or institutions who have bought them as keepsakes. The proceeds will go to charities that support active and retired servicepeople and their families, helping with things like PTSD and housing needs.

Great Britain declared war on Germany on August 4, 1914 at 11:00pm and by August 6th the first British casualties were logged after the HMS Amphion hit a German mine and sank, killing 151 sailors. In September 1915 more than 2,500 British soldiers were injured at Loos, when the army tried out their new weapon, chlorine gas, and the wind blew it back into their own lines. By summer 1916 military service became compulsory in the UK; by summer 1917 US troops had joined the battle. Kaiser Wilhelm II abdicated on November 9, 1918, and the Armistice was signed two days later at 11:00am, three minutes too late for Canadian George Lawrence Price, and for Baltimore-born Henry Gunther, who was shot at 10:59am, though that was apparently his own damn fault.

It's an impressive and thought-provoking piece of art, and very moving even for someone like me who has no real emotional connection with the war or its aftermath, especially where the blood-red poppies pour out of the window before splashing on the grass below.

See where the Thames, the purest stream
That wavers to the noon-day beam,
      Divides the vale below:
While like a vein of liquid ore
His waves enrich the happy shore,
      Still shining as they flow.

Nor yet, my Delia, to the main
Runs the sweet tide without a stain,
      Unsullied as it seems:
Thy nymphs of many a sable flood
Deform with streaks of oozy mud
      The bosom of the Thames.

Some idle rivulets, that feed
And suckle ev'ry noisome weed,
      A sandy bottom boast:
For ever bright, for ever clear,
The trifling shallow rills appear
      In their own channel lost.

Thus fares it with the human soul,
Where copious floods of passion roll,
      By genuine love supplied:
Fair in itself the current shows,
But ah! a thousand anxious woes
      Pollute the noble tide.

These are emotions known to few;
For where at most a vap'ry dew
      Surrounds the tranquil heart,
Then, as the triflers never prove
The glad excess of real love,
      They never prove the smart.

Oh then, my life, at last relent,
Though cruel the reproach I sent,
      My sorrow was unfeign'd:
Your passion, had I lov'd you not,
You might have scorn'd, renounc'd, forgot,
      And I had ne'er complain'd.

While you indulge a groundless fear,
Th' imaginary woes you bear
      Are real woes to me:
But thou art kind, and good thou art,
Nor wilt, by wronging thine own heart,
      Unjustly punish me.
                                                  - William Cowper (1731–1800)

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Walking Through Regency England

The well-dressed men with their many-caped driving coats, the women in elegant riding skirts sitting sidesaddle on glossy horses, the debutantes with their parasols and white gloves and attentive maids and footmen strolling down the streets (where one sees the occasional flower-seller or street sweeper to lend local color, but let's not go overboard with the riffraff in this tableau) - anyone who reads what Kate and Mom and I affectionately call "silly books" will recognize the setting for your typical London-based Regency Romance novel. In my strollings around London I would often come across a familiar street name; familiar in that it was used in one of these books (or many books, for the more posh neighborhoods), giving me a brief double vision of the area, as I was suddenly surrounded by the imaginary population of a place that never really existed in whole two hundred years ago, though some of the parts are fairly accurate.

Two hundred years ago, Shepherd's Bush was a place where you'd find actual shepherds and sheep, out in the middle of the countryside surrounding metropolitan London, which at that time didn't go out past the east edge of Hyde Park, according to this 1817 map. Instead of walking through housing developments and shops, I would have been tromping through fields and hopping over stiles in hedgerows, until I reached Kensington Gardens. These formal gardens have been there since the early 18th century, and Kensington Palace has been the royal residence, either year-round or for short breaks, since 1689. Charles and Diana raised their sons in Kensington Palace and that's where she was living up until her death in 1997. The newest famous royal couple live there now with George Alexander Louis and the yet-unborn fourth in line to the throne (I think that's how it works, anyway). Tourists can walk through the State Rooms and the gardens, but probably won't be invited up for tea.

For those of you who are neither historians nor devotees of silly books, a brief explanation of the term "regency" follows. It refers to the years between 1811 and 1820 when George III (as in The Madness Of) was unable to rule, and his son acted as Prince Regent instead. Prince George became George IV in 1820 but he only ruled for ten years, having spent most of his time on the throne eating and drinking and being merry rather than royal, and his younger brother became King William IV in 1830. He was already 64, though, and died in 1837. As neither he nor George IV had any living children (legitimate ones, anyway), the throne went to the 18-year-old Alexandrina Victoria, only child of George III's fourth son.

Queen Victoria married her first cousin Francis Albert Augustus Charles Emmanuel, Prince of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha, and they and their nine children were very happy until Prince Albert's death, at which point Queen Victoria switched to all-black clothes and ushered in the elaborate mourning rituals of the era which paved the way for later generations of goth teenagers. She had the Albert Memorial built in 1872 and its gold spire still shines at the south end of Kensington Gardens, at the border with Hyde Park. By this time the city had spread out to enclose the parkland, though Shepherd's Bush was still out in the sticks, as you can see from this map.

Kensington Palace was where William III lived at the end of the 17th century, but St. James' Palace was where he reigned, and according to the Royal Parks website, he had 300 oil lamps installed along the "Route de Roi" between the two so that the trip was less dangerous after dark (at the time this open park was much more wooded and probably full of nefarious types, not to mention wild boar). The Franglais version of the name of this pathway became "Rotten Row" and it features prominently in many silly books as the place to see and be seen on horseback or in a carriage, especially at the fashionable hour of 5pm or so. Plucky heroines in such books flout convention and ride in the very early morning so that no one can see that they prefer to ride astride wearing the stableboy's breeches. You can still ride your horse along the track, astride or sidesaddle, if you can afford to keep a horse in the middle of London. If you don't have a horse of your own, you can rent one, but it will set you back about $150 per hour.

The carriage road makes a circle around Hyde Park, and the Serpentine curves through its center. Although silly books accurately refer to it as the Serpentine River, it's actually a lake. In the beginning it was part of the River Westbourne, but when Queen Caroline had both Kensington Gardens and Hyde Park redone in 1730 she had the river dammed to form a lake.

100 years later the Westbourne became too polluted to use, so water was pumped up from the Thames instead, and the Serpentine became a true lake; any outflow goes through an underground culvert back into the Thames. You can swim in the lake at one end, off the Lido, or rent boats - also a fashionable pastime in the silly book era.

If you walk around the south end of the lake you'll reach Hyde Park Corner, at which point you may set yourself up on a soapbox and talk about anything you like. "Speaker's Corner" is technically more up north towards the Marble Arch, but the free-speech area is generally the entire eastern end of the park. I didn't see (or hear) anyone in my walk that day, and I wasn't moved to start a speech of my own. In fact, there weren't many people walking over in that area, but again it was a Monday during working hours. As I got to the Marble Arch region there were more and more tourists, and once I went through the arch onto Oxford Street I was back in the middle of both tourists and locals, in the center of the shopping district. Oxford Street goes into Bond Street, also another famous shopping area; it's the older of the two, and the silly books have their female characters spend a good deal of time looking for laces and gloves and hats (especially hats) along this stretch of road.

The more intellectual Regency Romance heroine would have left the park at Hyde Park Corner instead, to walk up to Picadilly where the bookshop Hatchard's has been located since 1797. She could have then gone on to see the latest exhibit at the Royal Academy of Arts (founded 1768), perhaps meeting an elegant friend walking back from visiting his tailor on Saville Row, well known for bespoke men's clothing since the early 1800s. All of the group might have met up again at Berkeley Square for a sorbet at Gunter's, a tea shop that no longer exists, sadly, having vanished into time along with the lords and ladies and poor but noble vicars' daughters that I'll only meet in my silly books, and in my imagined strolls through London.

But Beau Brummell for your more than finished coxcomb. He could be grave enough, but he was any thing but a solemn coxcomb. He played with his own sceptre ... He played the balls of wit and folly so rapidly about his head, that they lost their distinctions in one crowning and brilliant halo.

On a reference being made to him as to what sum would be sufficient to meet the annual expenditure for clothes, he said, "that with a moderate degree of prudence and economy, he thought it might be managed for eight hundred per annum."

He told a friend that he was reforming his way of life. "For instance," said he, "I sup early; I take a little lobster, an apricot puff, or so, and some burnt champagne, about twelve; and my man gets me to bed by three."

- excerpted from "The Flowers of Literature; or Encyclopaedia of Anecdote: A Well Diversified Collection in History, Biography, Poetry, and Romance. Jeux d'Esprits, Traditionary Relics, Essays, Critical Scraps, (of "pith and Moment:") with Translations of Approved Authors, Ancient and Modern" by one "William Oxberry, Comedian," published in London in 1821