English History and Other TV Shows

I have been very excited lately with the choice of interesting TV shows and documentaries they are showing on American television.   One of my all time favorites, like a lot of people, is Masterpiece Theater.  The latest historical offering is Wolf Hall.  It’s very well done.  I’m not sure how accurate it is, but I do find it entertaining, interesting and a new take on a subject that’s been done a lot in the past.  From Thomas Cromwell’s perspective.  I couldn’t help feeling for him in the beginning: a poor man who has raised himself up to such a high place in the English court of the King.  The blue bloods of the time were furious that he rose to such power due to his talent and intelligence.

I didn’t grow up learning English history like I did American history, though all of it is questionable.  I think it was and is human nature to not stick to the facts as far as history goes.  “You can’t handle the truth”!  I’m pretty sure, just because it’s the way things are, that he was as good and as bad as all of us are.  Watch the series on PBS, it’s compelling and if nothing else a good story, great English iconic buildings and costumes.

Another great show that I’ve been watching is on Netflix called A Time to Remember.  It’s a compilation of old Pathe film that was shot starting at the turn of the last century and captures amazing film of life in Britain and around the world.  From early airplanes, war, theater and every thing in between.  Really captivating and nice to see this original film preserved and shown. 

If you haven’t watched the comedy Moone Boy, you are missing a hysterical show.  It’s actually an Irish show and it chronicles the daily life of a preteen boy with an imaginary friend played brilliantly by Chris O’Dowd.  Just watch it, you’ll love it.

Is it just me or are the British obsessed with murder?  There are so many murder mystery and crime dramas out that it makes your head spin. I found over 220 just in doing research for this article!  I love it!!

A few fun ones are Midsomer Murders, Inspector Lewis, New Tricks, Sherlock, Rosemary and Thyme and of course Miss Marple.  A few of the more serious and interesting are Broadchurch, Whitechapel, Happy Valley, Foyle’s War and The Bletchly Circle.  That isn’t counting all of the really top notch spy shows:  MI5, Page Eight and Spy which is a comedy.

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A Story Set in London

I’ve finally done it, got my little story published on Amazon!  Of course it’s set in England, where else would I imagine it?  It’s a young adult novel about a widowed mother that discovers her late husband was adopted from England.  She figures out a way for her and her daughter to move to London for a year to search for his family.  She decides not to tell her teenage daughter and set her up for possible disappointment.

I’ve always been fascinated by family stories and hope I’ve presented this one in an entertaining way.  Please, check it out on Amazon:

Scattering Ashes at Jane Austen’s House by Linda Smith

Oh To Be in England Again!

Any year I’m not going over to England for a visit, I long for the planning and the anticipation and just to be there.  My friends who have joined me there understand exactly what I mean by longing to be there.  Instead I find myself looking for things that remind me of that feeling, be it my photo albums, journals, movies, or books.

Here are a few of the images that keep me going until I have concrete plans to make the journey again:

Sheffield Park

Shop front in London

                                                                        

                         

Hope you get to go soon!

Drag Racing in England-part 1

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Santa Pod Raceway in Bedford, UK

Neil has been drag racing since he was sixteen.  I’m not exaggerating when I say he eats, drinks and sleeps drag racing.  He used to talk in his sleep, mumbling some nonsense and then clearly say something like “manifold”.  I once told him to get a 1-800 call and ask Neil phone so we could make some money on the time he spends just talking about it.  People still call him to ask questions and since it’s a passion, he knows pretty much everything you need to know about it.  He never tires of talking about it, researching it, working on cars or watching it.  It’s a community of like minded people and they feel free to start up a conversation with any other racer anywhere, like they’ve known each other for years.

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Alan Lawrie owned-1970 Big Block powered 240Z, winning run

He won a Wally in NHRA’s Super Gas category in 1985!  It’s the equivalent of an actor winning an Oscar.  Some people race their entire lives and don’t win one.

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Left: Wally awarded for “Best Appearing Crew”. Right: Wally awarded for Super Gas win-Fall Nationals 1985

                                         He’s actually a pretty private guy and would never brag like this, but since I’m his wife of almost forty years, I hope you’ll forgive me.  I’m really proud of him and his achievements, even though I don’t share his passion.  I just don’t get it and have disappointed him more than once by saying “who cares who gets to the finish line first”.  He has explained to me numerous times that he isn’t really racing the other guy, he’s racing himself.  Drag Racing is a science and making that perfect run involves a lot of thought.  It’s not only the car and engine, the fuel, it’s the tires and how hot they are, the air temperature and wind direction are also factors that he keeps track of and weighs in when he works on his strategy!  See, I must have learned something over the years because I know this stuff!  When we were dating and first married, I went with him to all of his races.  I’m not really into sport, so I usually took a book with me.  This was before internet and smart phones and frankly I was bored.  Of course I cheered him on and was excited when he made a run, but you can sit there for 6 or 8 hours before a run.  Then, if you aren’t familiar with drag racing, it’s a quarter of a mile in less than 10 seconds.  Boom, it’s over and you’re back to waiting for the next one.  When our kids were young, we bought a motor home and went to the races as a family.  We have 3 daughters and none really had the passion to race. We bought a little TV with video and the girls and I would watch Disney movies, make food and run out to see Daddy’s run, then back to the motor home. It was great family time.

He still races today, although not drag racing.  He is building a Bonneville car at the moment and goes every year he can to Speed Week there.

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From left: Graham Light, Neil Schindler, Mindy (Winston Trophy Girl), Alan Lawrie

It came as no surprise that he did a little research and found that there was a race in Santa Pod a few hours north of where we were staying in London.  He got online and figured out which bus and train he needed to take to get there, he got up early and he went.  He had a fantastic time and met some excellent people.  I tried to get him to guest write this post for me, but he says he’s no writer.  I have interviewed him about his experience and hope I can do it justice.  (stay tuned for part 2 and his experience at Santa Pod)

Needless to say he had a fabulous time.  At about 7:30 that night, I told my friend Sue that I was getting a little worried.  She looked at me and said “he’s an adult and he speaks the same language, sort of”.  Of course she was right and he walked in a few minutes later carrying some Chinese take away that he had gotten walking home from the bus stop.  Just like a local!

The drag strip at Santa Pod-Bedford,UK

The drag strip at Santa Pod-Bedford,UK

The Home of Charles Darwin

September 19, 2014

Visiting Darwin House was one of the highlights of this latest trip to England.  It’s in Kent which I have fallen in love with and jokingly tell my family and friends that if I win the lotto, I am moving to Kent.  (Of course it would help if I played).

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Front entrance to Darwin House. My friend Sue and I, hiding behind a pillar!

The weather was obliging and it turned out to be a beautiful sunny day,  so the drive down from London was really lovely.  I’m not sure what I imagined it to be before I went, but I know I wasn’t expecting such a large property.  It is a beautiful setting and the grounds are immaculate.  I love the Virginia Creeper climbing the walls of so many places in England, really spectacular.

This is an English Heritage property and they do such a nice job of preserving and presenting these historical places.  I enjoyed seeing the family rooms with a lot of the Darwin’s personal furniture and belongings.  There are a lot of interactive things to do, especially for the kids which would make a nice family day trip.  I also spent quite a while following the time line and history of Darwin and his studies and research.

One thing that is a passion of mine is genealogy and there is a room there which tells about him and his family, very interesting.  I love the story of how his children helped him in his studies as he got older.  They would do experiments on the property and report back their findings.

The back of Down House. It looks out to beautiful, well kept grounds

The garden here is very impressive.  I love gardens anyway, so to be able to walk the paths that Mr.Darwin walked almost daily for the forty years he lived here was pretty exciting.  The green house is outstanding.  There are rows of vegetables with flowers mixed in.  There are orchards and even a giant chess board for children to play with.

If only I knew how to play

If only I knew how to play

We walked around the garden for quite a while and it was every bit as interesting as the interior of the house.  What a wonderland for his children to grow up in and a special legacy for all of us to be able to visit. I love this display in the garden of a simple wooden wheel barrel holding clay pots.

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View of the massive grounds at Down House

View of the massive grounds at Down House

There is a restaurant here that uses the same kitchen that was used to prepare the Darwin’s meals.  It also has a great gift shop where you can get books on his theories and research.  There all a lot of really nice things here for children if you like something educational as well as entertaining.

Afterwards we headed to the village of Downe and to The George & Dragon Pub for lunch.  It was not crowded and since it was such a lovely day we ate out back at some picnic tables.  The menu was British pub food at it’s best, fish & chips, puff pastry pies, baguette sandwiches, lamb, stuffed jacket potatoes, curry and Ploughman’s.  I settled on The Dragon Burger and a lemon shandy.  It was cooked just right and so large that I couldn’t finish.

Across from the pub is St. Mary’s church and an ancient yew tree that is completely hollow in the middle, it’s a wonder it’s still living. I’m sure if Mr. Darwin were here he could explain it to me!

Neil in front of The George & Dragon Pub

Neil in front of The George & Dragon Pub

 

The Garden Museum-Lambeth

Finally, I made it to The Garden Museum.  I’ve tried on previous visits to London, but something always conspired to keep me away.  When it was first opened, it was only open for certain months of the year and I always went at the wrong time.  The museum is located on the south bank of the Thames, next to Lambeth Palace and opposite Tate Britain.  It’s about a half mile from The Imperial War Museum, so we walked.  We needed this after the utter horror and sadness of, not only all of the war machines of death, but the Holocaust exhibition there.

The garden is my therapy and it’s where I find myself after any very emotional state that I may find myself in, so I suggested this at the end of our visit to the war museum.  It’s a small museum and there is a fee here, £5.00 for adults and well worth the price if this is where your interests lie.

I will quote The Garden Museum’s website to tell you how the museum came about, “The Museum was set up in 1977 in order to rescue from demolition the abandoned ancient church of St Mary’s which is the burial place of John Tradescant (c1570 – 1638), the first great gardener and plant-hunter in British history. His magnificent and enigmatic tomb is the centrepiece of a knot garden planted with the flowers which grew in his London garden four centuries ago.”

It’s really a lovely church and when you first walk in you get the feeling that this is a very special place.  Compared to so many other museums I’ve visited in London, this is on a smaller scale, but it doesn’t feel small at all.  It’s light and airy and the displays are attractive and easy to see.  There is gorgeous artwork and drawings of garden design and old garden tools.  My favorite display was the actual antique garden tools.  They are hung in lighted cases that make it easy to see them, and there are many drawings and paintings  of the tools being used.

It has about 6000 objects covering about 400 years of British gardening.  It’s kind of amazing that this has been amassed only the last three decades and continues to grow.  I had to ask Neil why, in our vacation photos,  we have at least 20  from the war museum and none from the garden museum.  The answer to that is because he had possession of the camera!

There is also a great gift shop here and I got my friend a really nice pair of secuteurs for her upcoming birthday.  I bought myself a wooden dibble and a little device to make seedling pots from newpaper.  Very useful.  There were so many beautiful arty postcards that I bought about eight of them to either frame or give as gifts.

The Garden Cafe looked very good with lots of fresh produce and soups.  There is a lovely place to eat in the knot garden and the sign says freshly baked cakes and seasonal tarts.  We didn’t eat at the cafe because of timing, but on our next trip I will plan the better part of a day for the museum and of course lunch.

We both loved the garden and walked around in wonder at some of the plants on display there.  The climate is similar to ours here in the Pacific Northwest, yet they had blooming Oleanders!  This is a plant that is everywhere is Southern California, but I’ve never seen it up north.   This a churchyard after all and besides the tomb of John Tradescant, Captain Bligh, depicted in the famous film “Mutiny on the Bounty” is buried here.  Most American’s only know him from the movie and Charles Laughton’s version of a rather horrible ship’s captain.   His actual history is very different from what is portrayed in film.  Here is the text from his tomb:

It’s worth reading the history of this hero of the English navy.  Neil and I were sympathetic when we read not only his epitaph, but his wife, Elizabeth who died in 1812,  as well as their twin sons, William and Henry, aged one day.  Also, an inscription to William Bligh Barker, a grandson, who died in 1805.

Wandering through the church yard and garden you see a lot of normal signs of garden work.  There are volunteers here working to keep the garden in shape.

We noticed a layered device with a spout on it with the label “the wormery”.    Of course I had to know how it works.  The volunteer was very helpful and opened it up to show us the layers, where they put kitchen waste and the end result as the worms turn it into compost and liquid fertilizer to use in the garden.  My own composting process works pretty well, so I don’t think I will be buying one for my garden.  It’s a great idea and one that can be made many different ways to benefit your own garden.

This is what a museum should be: attractive, interesting, educating, historical, and this is exactly what The Garden Museum does.

The Imperial War Museum

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Rolling cannon

Our second day out, we headed to the Imperial War Museum.  As always we rely on the public transportation as London has one of the best systems in the world.  I have actually driven a rental car in London and it’s not something a normal person on vacation should attempt!  It’s nerve racking and I will venture to say impossible unless you buy the “London A to Z” guide and have someone else to read while you drive.  The street names will change in the middle of a long street.  The signs are not on street level, but up on the side of a building, so it’s not like they pop up and you know it’s changed.  Also, because of the crowds and traffic, it’s quite easy to spend hours driving in circles.  Then there is the past incident of me asking a distinguished looking gentleman how to get to the M25 and he scratched his head and said “you can’t get there from here.”  I felt like I was reading “Notes From A Small Island” by Bill Bryson again!

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Hawker Hurricane

Now I don’t like war, I don’t believe it is a solution to anything except heartache and horror.  I do however love history and support the men and women that fight for their countries. This is a really excellent museum and we both enjoyed it.  It has so many intact, full size pieces of equipment and amazing photos.  There are service men and women that are docents at the museum, willing to share their knowledge with you.  My husband, of course being a male, was enthralled with the planes, tanks, rockets and bombs.  Clearly his favorite item being a circa WWII mini-bike, the evidence of this in the twenty or so photos he took of it!

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Circa WWII mini-bike

I think my favorite item was a little safety hut, placed around the streets of London for the police and fireman to duck into to avoid debris that was falling.  I don’t think it would help at all if a bomb landed on it, but I’m sure they felt a little safer knowing they were protected from flying shrapnel.

Safety hut

Safety hut

 

My favorite exhibition here was the “home life” exhibition.  There were many wonderful photos from WWII and vignettes of what an average British home looked like during WWII.  Many food containers of things they could “buy” with their ration cards and cleaning items that were used.  What families and children at home and school did during a bomb raid.  There was music and clothing, furniture, and tools.  There was a really well done exhibition following one family, the Allpress family, throughout the war. Who lived, who died, what happened to them after the war.  I’m not sure if that is a permanent exhibition or not.  It’s definitely worth seeing.

A Family In Wartime Exhibition

On the top floor of the Imperial War Museum is a very well done Holocaust Museum.  It’s important not to forget what people are willing to do to other humans in the name of war.  It does an excellent job of bringing those horrors to the viewer.  By the time we made it through that amazing exhibition we were both drained.  I suggested we head over to the Garden Museum.  No matter how bad you are feeling, gardens will help you get through it!

Work by Morris Kestelman

 

London-I’m Back!

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Fox Hill B&B, Crystal Palace

 I’m back in London and looking forward to showing some of it to my husband Neil.  We’re staying at the only place I’ve ever stayed in London, The Fox Hill B&B in Crystal Palace.  It’s home for me after so much time spent here and Neil’s first time to visit our friends and the proprietors Sue and Tim Haigh.  This is such and interesting house and I always feel so comfortable and well taken care of.  A family home, so you can expect to encounter pets, grandchildren, newspapers and the general chaos of a family life.  I’ve read good and bad reviews of this and other B&Bs that I’ve stayed in, in many places that I’ve been.  I love B&Bs for this reason and I’m always surprised when I see a review that mentions that everything wasn’t perfect all the time or it wasn’t like such and such commercial hotel. People, get real, if you don’t like the homey feel of a B&B, don’t go to one.  Go to the Hilton where you can complain as much as you like online and it won’t make a bit of difference to them.  Don’t go to someone’s home where you’ll encounter everyday home life and expect that you’ll get anything else.  I try my hardest not to go to a chain hotel or a chain restaurant for that matter.  Unless you’re rolling in money, they’re all mediocre.  The one exception is when I’m driving from point a to point b and just want to get there.  If you’re going to a foreign country and want to learn something about the culture, go to a B&B.  Meet the people, see how they live, it’s really the only way to honestly get that experience.

Our first day in London was fun and exhausting, as it should be.  After taking the train to Victoria Station we started walking toward Buckingham Palace.  We walked past one of my favorite places for traditional tea, The Rubens Hotel, and then all around the palace.  We checked out the gate, the guards, the grounds, the Victoria Memorial, past St, James’ Park and all the way around the palace.  We then took off in the direction of the Parliament and Westminster Abbey, stopping at a small Italian store/deli for a delicious sandwich made with prosciutto and mozzarella at a sidewalk table.

 Just walking through any area of London you will see many iconic places that you’ve heard about all of your life, whether from books, movies, TV,  news or history class.   I always get a little thrill when I see the name of something that I’d heard mentioned sometime in my life.  Paddington, Wembley, Bond Street, Bloomsbury, Covent Gardens.  I love looking at the architecture, monuments, gardens, the different cars and road signs.  One thing that I noticed on my first trip there and subsequent visits is the lack of pick up trucks.  I’m from the West Coast and pretty much every man I’ve known, starting with my dad, had a pick up truck.  Of course I come from a long line of construction workers, which means most of the people I hang out with have something to do in that field.  My husband who, by the way, worked at a grocery store when I met him, also works in the construction business.  Neil asked a couple of workmen that he met on the train about how they go about doing business without a truck.  We were told that they either use the boot of their car or hire a van when they need to move bigger stuff.  You’re more apt to see Euro Vans about town instead of a pick up truck like we would use here.

After our lunch we headed down to look at the beautiful and historical Westminster Abbey and then waited in the long lines for the London Eye.  It’s a great way to see the city’s layout.  I feel it’s kind of expensive at £21 a person, but of course we paid because it’s something we wanted to do.  I’m not really complaining except as a reference for the reader.  I’m sure that it cost a fortune to build and maintain.  But it takes 800 passengers for each rotation,  32 cars with 25 people in each car.  It takes a half hour to go around and it doesn’t stop.  At last count, it takes more than 3.5 million visitors a year.  At the current cost of a ticket, and they have no discounts for seniors or children, that’s almost £74 million pounds a year. I just checked their website and the tickets have now gone up to £29.95!   I’m pretty sure they get an excellent profit from that and the corporation is very pleased.

I had only ever been at night, so I purchased the “360° Viewing Guide” for a couple of pounds and well worth it.  It shows the view of day on one side and night on the other.  In addition to showing many, many iconic buildings on the guide, it also shows the direction that you’re looking.  I found this very helpful because, as many times as I’ve visited, I have no sense of direction there, at all.  Unless it’s sunup or sundown, I haven’t a clue.

We left the eye and walked around a bit more, found a great bakery and picked up dessert, then headed back to Fox Hill B&B for dinner and a little TV with our friends.

Leaving Sussex for London

Sept 13th, 2014

We headed to the village after breakfast for one more look around.  When we got back, Lin had a video of the history of Billingshurst.  Of course she has lived here all of her life, so she could pick out a few errors in the more modern history.  It was interesting hearing about the village, built on the Roman Road of Stane Street. The oldest building is St. Mary’s Church where my ancestors worshiped, early documentary evidence begins in the 1100s!

 

St Mary’s Church

There are many timber framed buildings throughout the village dating from the Middle Ages to the 1700s.  There is a wonderful old pub there called “The Six Bells”, which I think I’ve visited on each of my holidays here.

The Six Bells-Billingshurst

It really is a fun and interesting village to check out.  It’s close to Horsham which is also worth the visit.  After a very nice home cooked lunch and visit with Lin’s daughter and grandson, Claire and Warren, we had to walk down to the station and say our goodbyes.

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Saying goodbye at the Billingshurst Station

The Billingshurst Train station is a great building in it’s own right.  Many of my predecessors worked for the railroad in Billingshurst so I’m very interested in the history.  The last time I visited,  2 years ago, the signal box was here.   The Grade II listed structure is thought to be one of the country’s oldest working signal boxes dating back to 1876.  The signal box was moved to Amberley Museum and can be seen as you come into the second station.

Billingshurst Signal Box

 

It’s time to get it all together and head north to London.  It’s been a great visit and I know when I’m home thinking about all of the things that we did and saw, the laughter, the hugs, I’ll again start longing to return.  This is always when my next plan starts to form.  Right now though, I’m anxious to get to London, as I love it as well.  London is the world in one place and I just like to be there.

It takes about an hour to get to the station where our friend Tim will pick us up.  This night we’ll be having dinner and catching up with our good friends and then planning our time here in London.