Saturday, January 3, 2015

Starting Again From 0º

Well, I didn't get back to the British Museum, so that will have to go on my to-do list for the next time I'm in London. What with the holidays and the weather I've spent most of my time here at the house, with the cats. Monday I'll catch a train from Euston Station to Glasgow, and then will hail a taxi for the short ride from the train station to the bus station; it's walkable, and I've done it before, but not with all my bags, and if I remember correctly there's only about 30 minutes between when the train arrives and when the bus leaves for Beith, a half an hour away. Bill and Sheila have an internet connection - or at least they did back in 2007 - but I don't believe they have wi-fi, so I may be off line for a week. The local library offers wi-fi for its members, so if Sheila has a library card I might try to borrow it, but I think that's going to be my only option, unless I take the bus back in to Glasgow and look for an internet café.

I did go in to the city a few times, and walked by Buckingham Palace. There were two guards standing stiffly at their stations, and two hundred tourists taking pictures of them through the spokes of the tall iron fence around the courtyard. Didn't you used to be able to go right up to them and make faces and try to get the guards to smile? Perhaps the gates are open sometimes, but they weren't that afternoon. Queen Victoria's eternal unsmiling stare surveys The Mall bordering St. James's Park, and I followed her direction, though I wish I'd gone down into the park itself and walked along the edge of the lake instead.

Next door to the 300-year-old fancy food (and other things) shop Fortnum & Mason is the 200-year-old bookstore Hatchards, a name that will be familiar to anyone who reads silly books (if they're set in London, in any event). I have spent more time than I should have reading this past week, instead of writing. A little literary holiday. When I sent my Australian client the December invoice this morning I realized that I spent much more last month than I earned, which is not good. (England is expensive!) My 2015 focus needs to be on work as much as play, if not more; writing rather than reading, exercising rather than eating. Towards the end of 2013 I found a 12-month "get in shape" plan somewhere on line, and cut and pasted each month's directions into images I then used for my desktop background throughout the year. Unfortunately I didn't actually do any of the things outlined in the plan. I'd change the image at the beginning of each month, read through the plan, and think, "yes, that is a really good idea" but never implemented any part of that plan. I'm going to give it another go this year. Here's the January routine:

  • three 30-minute sessions of fast walking per week
  • stretching for 5 minutes after each walk
  • core and balance exercises twice a week
  • 30-60 minutes of yoga per week

They also recommend making a calorie count three times a week, tracking food intake, but I'm not going to do that. Simply eating a bit less will have to do, and that's probably going to be accomplished merely through eating on other peoples' schedules again. None of this all-day snacking that has been my London lifestyle.

Brisk walks will be even brisker due to the weather; it's in the 40s in Beith and Buckie right now, the 30s in Flekkefjord, and I doubt February will bring a sudden warm spell. It's even colder in Budapest. But I have a good wool coat and lots of scarves, two fleece pullovers and two pairs of gloves. I'll survive.

I don't plan on doing any sightseeing in Glasgow, though I'd like to meet up with my second (third? twice removed?) cousin Siobhan for a coffee, if she's in town and not touring around. And there's a bus from Beith to the Isle of Arran, or at least to Ardrossan, where there's a ferry over to the island. Arran is in the Firth of Clyde off the west coast of Scotland; the Aran Islands (famous for fancy cabled knitting patterns) are in Galway Bay off the west coast of Ireland.

I'll go to Ireland, some day, if time allows.

Arran has a dairy where they make cheese, not far from the ferry port. There's a local bus that goes there, and then up to the north of the island, where if the weather's good I might be able to hike out to take a picture of Hutton's Unconformity for Mom. It's not far from the town of Lochranza, which also has a whiskey distillery (which I would of course have to go visit, for blogging purposes) and a lovely ruined castle. I hope I'll have time to do everything I'd like to do while I'm there, before the ferry goes back across to the mainland. I don't know if Bill and Sheila would be interested in a quick island trip, but I'll certainly invite them to join me, and if it's sunny it would be a nice day trip. I'm not sure how much walking they're up for, however, and there's an almost $50 surcharge to take a car over on the ferry. But that's next week, so I'm not going to worry about it now.

I was so happy that the giant blue rooster is still in Trafalgar Square. I'd seen a picture of it on a friend's Facebook page and knew I had to go see it for myself. I thought about taking a picture of one of the iconic lions as well, but there were children crawling all over them. I walked to the Charing Cross station instead, and caught the next train to Kidbrooke. There are two different trains that run through Kidbrooke; one goes to London Bridge and Charing Cross, and the other veers westward past Nunhead to Victoria Station. That's where I went last week to meet my friend Pascoe for lunch - we met at La Tasca again, since we both enjoyed the food the last time, and I know how to get there now. I arrived a bit early, so I went across the street to Westminster Cathedral, which is not Westminster Abbey by the river (which I also didn't visit this time, or back in August). Westminster Cathedral is small, as cathedrals go, and very very dark. It's made of brick, and the ceiling is all brick in the nave, a black roof over the gilded chapels below. Since I wasn't there during a service perhaps it wasn't as well-lit as it could have been, but my impression was that the ceiling is just that undecorated brick. The gold and enamel mosaics that cover the walls and ceilings of the chapels are ornate enough, and seem to be still in progress. The cathedral was only built a little over a century ago, and I don't think it's entirely finished.

There are more than a hundred different types of marble used inside the cathedral, many of which were brought from overseas by stone merchant and adventurer William Brindley, who researched and sought out existing and abandoned quarries. White marble from Carrara in Italy (which I'll see in situ next May, if I can figure out how to get there), pink marble from Norway (much further north than I'll be at the end of the month), black and green marble from Ireland, dark blue marble (lapis lazuli) from Chile. Brindley spent weeks in the desert in Egypt, riding camels with his wife and their Bedouin guides. He was made a Fellow of the Royal Geologic Society in 1888; his wife didn't get any recognition, but I hope she at least had a good time on the trip.

British explorers helped create the great British Empire, which at the time Westminster Cathedral was being built covered nearly a quarter of the world's land surface and contained nearly a fifth of the global population. Many of the people responsible for getting people to the colonies in Africa, Australia, Canada, and India were trained at the Royal Naval College at Greenwich, originally a hospital for sailors established at the end of the 17th century, and now the site of the University of Greenwich and the Trinity College of Music. I didn't go in to the massive complex, but continued to the Royal Observatory, which has been perched on the hill above since 1675.

This is where time starts, where East meets West: 0° 0' 0'' at the Prime Meridian. Where I'm sitting right now typing this post is at 0° 2' 7.5228", less than three arcminutes towards the east, and all my travels will be eastward for the next few months, after a quick jog west to Glasgow Monday. I'm quite pleased that I remembered the term "arcminute" - the random access database in my brain tossed that term to the top of my head as I was typing, though I did confirm that it's the correct terminology before publishing this post. It's amazing, what's stored in the mind and memory.

So off I go, setting sail again, collecting more memories, in a looping 3,500-mile spiral that finishes in the heart of France, in Paris where part of my heart remains, before making the final 3,500-mile journey back to the United States. And it's only because my heart is lonely for the people that I love that I'm even considering going back; yes, there are other practical considerations, but I could overcome them. I could look for work (or work exchange) in Ireland starting in June, and could stay there for six months without a visa, and without spending much money. I could apply for a new passport at one of the consulates. I could skip getting a new driver's license, since I'm not driving anyway; I could buy a new computer on line if and when necessary and get it shipped to me.

But I will go back, and it will be good. And I will stay as long as I need to, enjoying whatever I end up doing while thinking about and planning where to go next. Japan, maybe, if I get my credentials together enough to be able to market myself as a French-style cheese consultant to startup dairies over there. China has a burgeoning cheese industry as well, but I don't know if I want to go to China - a lot will depend on the political situation in 2016. What happens in November 2016 will also affect my plans; if, gods forbid, there is a Republican president, with or without a Republican majority in the House and Senate, I will leave again, and this time I don't think I'd make any plans to go back.

Enough of that! For now, it's a sunny day, my laundry is drying, there's a house to clean and two suitcases to reorganize (again), there are cats to pet and paper towels to buy and cheese notes to finish typing in. 2016 is too far away to worry about, and there's too much to look forward to in 2015 to even bother with coming up with things to start worrying about in the future. Time to move on. Eastward Ho!

QUICKSILVER: 'Sfoot, man, I am a gentleman, and may swear by my pedigree, God's my life! Sirrah Golding, wilt be ruled by a fool? Turn good fellow, turn swaggering gallant, and "let the welkin roar, and Erebus also." Look not westward to the fall of Don Phoebus, but to the east — Eastward Ho! "Where radiant beams of lusty Sol appear, and bright Eous makes the welkin clear." We are both gentlemen, and therefore should be no coxcombs; let's be no longer fools to this flat-cap, Touchstone, — Eastward, bully! — this satin belly and canvas-back'd Touchstone. 'S life, man! his father was a malt man, and his mother sold gingerbread in Christ Church.

GOLDING: What would ye ha' me do?

QUICKSILVER: Why, do nothing; be like a gentleman, be idle; the curse of man is labor. Wipe thy bum with testones, and make ducks and drakes with shillings. What, Eastward Ho! Wilt thou cry, "What is 't ye lack?" — stand with a bare pate and a dropping nose, under a wooden penthouse, and art a gentleman? Wilt thou bear tankards, and mayst bear arms? Be rul'd; turn gallant. Eastward Ho! — Ta ly re, ly re ro!

- from the 1605 play "Eastward Ho" by Ben Jonson, George Chapman, and John Marston

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