Monday, October 24, 2016

England, 2016, Part 18: Tomes, Holmes and Home

Thursday. Thursday? Thursday. 

The last full day before we head on back to California. I had been in England for 9 days by this point, Karen had been overseas for 17, so we were totally acclimated to Greenwich Mean Time. Just before we flew home to good ‘ol Pacific Standard Time. yay.

We had used our time in London well, seeing the BRITISH museum on Monday, the NATIONAL MARITIME museum on Tuesday, and the VICTORIA & ALBERT museum on Wednesday. Now what? 

Well she is a reader and I am a writer so we tubed it out to the Saint Pancras part of London and were in line (Queue) at 9:30am when the British Library opened its doors for the day. 

I saw another Yankee baseball cap in line, bringing my grand total of the trip up
Fortress Library
to 12. Caps belonging to the other 29 MLB teams: Zero. And you could tell these Yankee fans were American by their guns - no! Kidding! By their tattoos. Body ink hasn’t really caught on with the Brits yet, unless you are a metal musician or a Viking reenactor - or both! 

But neither of these were present with me and Karen in line for the British Library. I was prepared to be overwhelmed. There are 14 million books here, plus manuscripts, maps, musical scores and other paraphernalia, plus traveling exhibits. 170 Million items in total. And all housed in the largest public British building constructed in the 20th century, the design of which belongs to the ‘Brutalist’ school of architecture.

Excerpt from Bach's "Well Tempered Clavier"
At this late stage of the trip I could relate to that. So I prayed to St. Pancras, who is the patron Saint of headaches and cramps, both of which were entirely possible today.

But the Brits have a work-around for this. The Library is a serious place, full of serious people doing serious research in serious books. But it is also full of dull-witted, camera-toting clods like us who just want to see the Good Stuff.

So right behind the reception desk is the room of Good Stuff. One-stop shopping for the Oldest, rarest, breakthroughiest, significantiest - and the Beatles lyrics. Boom: See the Biggies, here’s your bathroom, gift shop, cuppa tea stand and the tube back to wherever you lesser people came from. Have a pleasant day and mind the gap.
There! At the bottom - Halleujah!

The Right Sir John Ritblat (And yes, you DO want to hear that name spoken in London accent) Gallery is a chilly place with low light levels and a black ceiling. A ‘Dark and Stormy’ room one is tempted to say. The first items you encounter are not books though - but music. 

An entirely asleep part of my brain woke up and then melted when I saw actual hand-written sheet music from Bach, Beethoven, and Stravinsky. Seeing the end of Handel’s Messiah, with the words ‘Alleujia” hand written over and over again by George Frideric himself made me want to sigh, pee my pants and explode.

Jane Austen's writing desk. Holy camoley.
Jane Austen’s writing desk. Sigh, whiz, BOOM.

The lyrics to “A Hard Days Night” were scribbled down by John Lennon on the first piece of paper he could lay hand to - a 1st birthday card to his son, Julian. Sigh, whiz, BOOM.

John Lennon scribbles out 'A Hard Days Night'
It was ‘round about here that a roving Security Guard admonished me for taking pictures of these treasures, even though I wasn’t using a flash. So, like any good human, I waited until he was across the room with his back to me before continuing to photograph. Message was sent though, so please DO NOT LOOK AT ANY OF THE BRITISH LIBRARY PHOTOS ON THIS POST. Thank you.

Browning's Sonnet #43 takes shape
The first, hand-written draft of Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s “How do I love thee? Let me count the ways”. Sigh, whiz, BOOM.

The Magna Carta is the document that King John signed in 1215 granting individual rights to the common people and instructing the Crown to give 3 hour piggyback rides to any member of Parliament who asks for one.

Right? Not in the least. The original charter, one huge glot of a paragraph written in abbreviated medieval latin (making it considerably less catchy than the lyrics to “Ticket to Ride” across the room”, maintains the Church’s rights and exempts Barons from illegal imprisonment. The common folk can go piss in their pants.

The Magna Carta - not exactly......stylish
It was signed by John on June 15th, 1215 at Runnymede (Surely the most English of place names) and completely ignored by all parties on June 16th, leading to unrest, Papal annulments and war. 

But as a symbol of the balance of Power the Magna Carta has gained increasing import over the centuries, even though it was written by the Nobility about the Church and signed by the Monarchy. 1%ers, each and all.

Codex Sinaiticus, C. 330-360 A.D.
For other political works of impenetrably dense Latin that-say-one-thing-and-yet-everybody-does-the-opposite-of-it-in-the-original-works-name - they have the Lindisfarne Gospels and The Gutenberg Bible.

They also have the Codex Sinaiticus, the earliest instance of the New Testament with parts of the Old plus a-whole-lot-of-other-contemporary-works-that-The-Church-doesn’t-like-and-so-they-don’t-count. Scholars have shown that this earliest Codex had four different scribes, which they can tell apart by the monumental, and yet characteristic, errors that each made. Truly the Glorious Word of GOD handed down in complete perfection.
Gutenberg Bible. PrettyPrettyPretty.

We also saw the only extant copy of Beowulf, written down about 1,000AD. This oldest of Old English epics features the scariest monster of all time. No, not Grendel - that measly troll runs away when Beowulf does nothing more than rip his arm off. Merely a flesh wound. The terrifying part is the next day when our hero has to face Grendel’s Mother

Anyhoo, Beowulf: Sigh, whizz, BOOM.

One of Leonardo DaVinci’s sketch books. Sigh, whizz, BOOM.

Kick-ass Speech hand written
by Elizabeth I, in which she
refuses to get married.
I didn’t get any pictures of these because the Security Guard, Grendel’s Father, was hovering nearby. And you shouldn’t be looking at these pictures ANYWAY.

We spent hours in The Right Sir John Ritblat’s Gallery, exercising our excretory and explosive powers. Afterwards we had to excrete in earnest so we took off for the bathrooms (Loos). These were on the far side of the exhibit on punk rock, which made a kind of symbolic sense. One had to trespass on those who didn’t give a shit in order to take a shit.

St. Pancras Train Station, done in
"extra stuff brickular"
Then we stumbled through an exhibition on the 10 wildest Shakespeare performances - including having actual GIRLS on stage - and then we were in dire need of a cuppa and a sugar encrusted sugar tart sugar.

Fortified and restocked we still had our last afternoon to kill. And we had had enough of Medieval Abbreviated Latin (Med/Abb/Lat) for one day, so we used our sugar high to set out on foot across London.

Past the Pancras Train Station; the biggest pile of bricks I’ve ever seen. One wonders how many workers were injured constructing this secular monument to the Saint of Health.

Regents Park
Past Regents Park, home to a million strolling locals, an equal number of Ugly Americans, and an equal number of waterfowl, the latter of whom were not using the loos to dispense with their excretions.

FROM LITERATURE TO BOOKS

From the Outer Circle Drive of the park you simply make a left onto Baker Street and right there on the second block you will find 221B.

Or rather, you will find the eternal crowd packed in around 221B, all eager, as we were, to visit the Sherlock Holmes Museum. We hopped in line.
Squeeeee!!

A line that was at least 75% Japanese people. Now we had seen plenty of people from all over the world on this trip, the consequence of the British invading every single country within cannon range of their ships, bringing some of the populace back with them, and also leaving room in their holds for every single priceless relic and artifact from the new subjected province. 

Colonial tourism: Y’all come to England to visit your relatives (that we kidnapped) and your culture (that we liberated), Have a pleasant day and mind the gap.

The Study!
I had seen Peruvians in the park in Lambeth, Algerians in the Grand Union pub, Sikhs on the London Eye, Greeks at the British Museum (“Oh, that’s where our stuff went.”), Chinese at the Maritime Museum, Indians at the National Observatory (India IS a continent of Engineers), and the French at the V&A (“Oh, that’s where our stuff went. Merde.”) 

So seeing a crowd of delirious Japanese Sherlock fans outside his house shouldn’t have been a surprise. Except that Conan-Doyle’s stories are so thoroughly ENGLISH that you could squeeze any of his manuscripts and get tartar sauce out of it. Maybe its just one of those unique fascinations with our friends in the Far East, like Christmas, tentacles, giant robots, little girls panties and taking pictures of fruit in grocery stores.
The Details were spot on.

I didn’t mind because even though the museum was packed, I could see over everybody’s heads.

The violin!
The Sherlock Holmes museum is so cheesy you could slice off pieces of it and spread them on crackers. But it is nevertheless ground zero for Conan-Doyle’s rabid and enduring fan base, of which I have always counted myself one. I was 8 years old when I first stumbled upon the worlds first consulting detective, and I have read and re-read the Memoirs and Adventures many times since then.

So seeing the Study, with the Pipes! And the Hats! And the Victoria Regina initials carved out in bullet holes on the back wall……! Heaven. Sheer heaven.
Delirious Author beneath the V.R.

I am thoroughly embarrassed to note that I was way more excited about seeing Sherlock Holmes’ violin than I was in seeing Gutenberg’s bible. 

It was all there. Mrs. Hudson’s kitchen, Watson’s doctor bag, the revolver hidden in the book. The third level was all mannequins recreating famous scenes from the stories and from here the cheese factor moved from Stilton all the way up to Cheddar. I was giggling uncontrollably by the time Admiral Karen drug me out of there.

The Red-Headed League!
And then the day - and the trip - seriously caught up with both of us, and our energy and intellect just got squeezed right out of us. We only had to get back across the Thames to Lambeth, but in our London fog we somehow we ended up walking most of the way back across town to Saint Pancras. When we realized our (series of) errors we then had monumental difficulties in getting on the proper train down in the tubes. All of our accumulated expertise of the past week just washed down the street like the run-off from an afternoon rain shower.

Not really sure what is going on here.
Our wheels were definitely coming off. We were tourist husks. I don’t remember the rest of our journey back to to Lambeth and I think maybe we had dinner in a pub across the street from the hotel. After that we just happily sat in our hotel room and happily didn’t experience anything for a time. 

OH, THERE GO ALL OF THOSE TIME ZONES

This absence of feeling continued the next day, Friday. Our flight didn’t leave until 4pm local time, but we weren’t taking any chances. Also we had no brains left, so we couldn’t think of any chances to take in the first place.

The photos in Holmes' room were all of murderers.
In this case, Hawley Crippen and Lizzie Borden.
We packed like audio-animatronic mannequins, ingested semi-nutritious sustenances, and splurged on a taxi to the Waterloo Train Station. On the way we stared at the seatback in front of us.

We boarded the train to Gatwick and stared at the seatback in front of us. At the airport we sat because our flight to Los Angeles was delayed due to L.A. traffic or something. I was halfway hallucinating by this point, brought on by a cloud of over-zealous perfume salespeople in the ‘duty-free’ serpentine path that lead to the sitting spaces. 

I heard a strange announcement over the airport loudspeaker, and when it was repeated I copied it into my phone:
The Hound of the Baskervilles!

“Passengers headed to Turkey, please board TK airlines, flight 1350 at gate 7. Those of you traveling to Constantinople will have to change Time Periods, as it is now Istanbul - not Constantinople. Information as to why Constantinople 'Got the Works' is available from native personnel at Turkish Airways - and no one else.”

Activities at this time included buying the favorite candies of our housesitter as a 'thank you', and staring at nothing.

Another inadvertent walking Selfie
Our flight was called at some point and we boarded and then we stared at the seatbacks in front of us. I don’t think I slept on the 10 hour flight west. I just stared. We landed in Los Angeles and we gathered our bags and walked 18 miles from International to Domestic. 

We were delayed here too and even our waiting space was overbooked. We took turns staring at nothing while the other would also stare at nothing. 

Eventually we boarded the hopper up to San Jose, and I was asleep the moment after I clicked the seatbelt closed.

14 hours in personal standard time after we flew away from Gatwick we landed at SJO at 10pm, which was 6am in our empty heads. 

I am guessing Prizm picked us up at the airport, and I guess I didn’t say anything too offensive on the drive home as we are still friends, but to be honest the last clear memory I have of our trip is being hit by long range atomizers in the duty-free mall at Gatwick. 
A Greenman Pub

All of the memories before that though - those will last a lifetime.

RECAPPING THE RECAP

So. To recap the 37,000 word recap of my vacation: This 2016 trip to England was spectacular. 

It truly counts as one of the “6’s”: 
  • 1966 = I turned 1 (and Revolver was released), 
  • 1976 = Bicentennial, 
  • 1986 = the Great Peace March, 
  • 1996 = Canal trip across Southern England, 
  • 2006 = The Pirate Handfasting, 
  • Farewell England - We'll be back!
  • 2016 = Glastonbury and London

I spent 2 days by myself acclimating (and staring at tanks), 3 days in the West Country with Karen, and then we had 4 days in London. If I had done either the long weekend in Glastonbury OR the tourist days in London I would have counted it as a great vacation. 
Each of the Urinals in Gatwick has
its own personal sink.

But if I had to choose between the Country and the City, I would instantly choose the former. Nothing, not even seeing the greatest material goods of all mankind (Thank you, English arrogance and superior cannon), could come close to equaling the personal connection with the Divine and the Infinite which runs down the streets of Glastonbury like a pair of Sacred Springs.

And along the way to and fro we got to see the Sacred Geometry (and perfect place setting) of Stonehenge and the still-reverberating Neolithic echoes of Avebury and the West Kennet Long Barrow.  

Coming into San Jose
And that palpable Spirit is, as they say, the Pearl beyond price.

Even if we had to drive to get there. Oy.

Angus McMahan
angusmcmahan@gmail.com
@AngusMcMahan

P.S. If you have enjoyed this series about my goofy vacation, please go to the first post below and share it with your online community. And do leave a comment somwehre - those things are the lifeblood that keeps us scribblers going. 

P.P.S. Here’s the whole 18 part series:
Part 1: TUESDAY - the unexpected odyssey of finding a flight to L.A.
Part 2: TUESDAY - Invoking David Niven to make my connecting flight.
Part 3: WEDNESDAY - the joy of International Flight
Part 4: WEDNESDAY - learning the train system on the fly when my brain is stuck 8 hours in the past
Part 5: WEDNESDAY - Visiting a pub in a fever dream
Part 6: THURSDAY - the Imperial War Museum and the London Eye
Part 7: FRIDAY - Failing at the train, again!
Part 8: FRIDAY - Driving to Stonehenge
Part 9: FRIDAY - The Covenstead in Glastonbury
Part 10: SATURDAY - Breakfast and Glastonbury Tor
Part 11: SATURDAY - Glastonbury Abbey
Part 12: SATURDAY - The Chalice Well
Part 13: SATURDAY - The White Spring and climbing the Tor in the dead of night
Part 14: SUNDAY - Driving to Avebury
Part 15: MONDAY - The British Museum
Part 16: TUESDAY - The National Maritime Museum and Observatory
Part 17: WEDNESDAY - The Victoria and Albert Museum
Part 18: THURSDAY / FRIDAY - The British Library, Sherlock Holmes Museum and return journey.

And now, I am going to take a vacation from writing about my vacation. Thank you for reading.


4 comments:

  1. I'm sorry; I'm just so social media a-literate that I don't speak comment-ese very well, nor share, nor many other of those interwebz things. But I bookmark your blog, and wait with baited breath for every new entry. I also verbally recommend and occasionally (and avidly) forward a link.

    Your rest is truly well deserved, but could you please wrap up the one little teaser you dropped early on about how the Chalice Well water got home with you?

    BB, Anith

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