Wednesday, 1 October 2014

The best of Britain

When I arrived at London Heathrow, the pilot jovially informed us that it was, “A clear day in London; 17 degrees.”

I looked out the window to overcast, grey skies. I realised that the English definition of clear, “not raining; no fog,” was more optimistic than the Australian definition of clear, which wouldn’t have allowed for anything other than azure blue skies.

Having left the Australian version of a clear, 24 degree day, I worried that I’d packed too lightly for England.  And my first impression of the weather confirmed a long held internal view that I hadn’t missed this place for good reason.

I posted on Facebook that I’d arrived in the UK to receive a flutter of messages from old friends welcoming me and asking to see me.  I began to reflect on how the English were a constant in my life.  My dad, who I came to see.  My best male friend, who I met only a year ago and who likes to wear tartan out of respect to Vivienne Westwood and the punks (not to the Scots).  Two best girlfriends. Several boyfriends over the years, all of whom hold a deep love of music and a sharp wit. Best of Britain mark #1.

The next day, I dragged my father and his partner into central London.  It was going to be a tussle between the V&A, for its art and design, which would appeal to me, and The Science Museum, which would appeal to my dad.  In the end, we spent most of our time at the pub with a pint and a ploughman’s lunch, which appealed to the both of us.  Best of Britain mark #2.

I didn’t take a picture of The Brittania, the pub we ended up in. But here is one of the pub we originally tried for, which was closed for minor renovations.  It is the wonderfully named Scarsdale Tavern in Edwardes Square.

The Scarsdale Tavern, Edwardes Square

Edwardes Square, a hatch of Georgian era terraces, surrounds one of London’s gorgeous private gardens, made famous by the film Notting Hill.  Best of Britain mark #3.

After the pub, we ended up in lower Hyde Park around the grounds of Kensington Palace, where Diana’s ghost reigns.  At that point, London really began to turn on the charm with weather even I would call “clear.”  It is approaching mid autumn but the afternoon had all the elements of an Indian summer, and it was wonderful to walk by the fading hydrangeas and many annual flowers, the names of which I don’t know.

As a dog owner, I was chuffed to see the many King Charles spaniels and pugs and beagles being led around Kensington Palace, an activity that would hardly be allowed in Sydney’s equivalent of the Domain or the Botanic Gardens.  Best of Britain mark #4.

By this point, it was nearing 4pm, which is the time I come alive but older parents start to fade, so I cast them free and set off on foot around South Kensington.

I came upon the South Kensington Bookstore, which I felt sure must have been the inspiration for the travel bookshop in the forenamed Notting Hill. It was full of Taschen design books and bestsellers on philosophy.  The fact that it seemed solvent in this age of online shopping, which has felled giants as large as Borders, gave me pause to reflect on the intellectual proclivities of the English.  Best of Britain mark #5.

I kept heading south, determined to bump into The Thames.  I ambled along the Kings Road, an old haunt of mine from when I’d worked at The Royal Marsden Hospital in my early 20s. There was browsing at Habitat and Heels, where I reminisced about times when another best friend and I used to drink too much gluwein on the special Heels Christmas sales night.  I hope they still run it.

It was a day of wonderful names: Kensington Gore, Cheyne Walk, Prince’s Consort Road, Tedworth Square, St Leonard’s Terrace. No one uses English as do the English.  Best of Britain mark #6.

I did run into The Thames.  And this was her pineapple, her gift of welcome.  The stunning Chelsea Bridge.  Best of Britain mark #7.

Chelsea Bridge, from Chelsea Embankment

I didn’t come to England for the weather, but for the people (and maybe the pubs).  And she’s reminded me of her rich history, her charming gardens, her diverse architecture, interests and culture; her politeness.

Best of Britain mark #8.


The Chance? said...

Wonderful! You will, of course, be visiting that Cathedral of Dreams - Stamford Bridge tomorrow?

Caroline Hendra said...

I'll go and practice my Russian with some big blokes over an Earl Grey just for you Mr Chance. :)