Sunday, January 31, 2016

Back from England

Sorry if my absence worried you, but all is well. I was in England for the holidays with the British side of my family. Then I flew to San Francisco for one last mother-daughter vacation before she starts college in February. I'll leave California and my daughter's gap term for future blog posts.

Even without snow, Christmas is special in my husband's hometown. On Christmas Eve villagers light torches at The Catherine Wheel's firepit, many grabbing a pint of ale before or after.

The cousins were happy to be reunited for the occasion with real flaming torches.

A bagpipe player in a kilt leads the procession of hundreds through the ancient village. I apologize for my grainy iPhone photos, but even with a full moon, it was quite dark.

We crossed the Thames River and gathered round a huge bonfire to sing Christmas carols, accompanied by a live brass band. Later at night there's a midnight mass in the Norman church. My father-in-law and his mates ring the bells for services at two churches.

On Christmas morning we go to church. After listening to the Queen's speech on TV, we open presents and go for a country walk in the rain. We warm up with a hot cup of tea and Christmas cake (fruit cake with a marzipan frosting).

Christmas dinner is always roast turkey with chestnut stuffing and brussel sprouts. We pull Christmas crackers and don crowns whilst the Christmas pudding flames. You need to chew carefully to avoid biting into the lucky sixpence.

On Boxing Day (the day after Christmas) we drove to Oxford since the trains weren't running. Not much was open. England shuts down for most of the holidays. The busy university town was blissfully free of crowds. I'd spent a year there with my family researching my work in progress, a young adult novel about an American girl at a British boarding school.

The holiday lights in Oxford are marvelous. I love the expression on the woman to the right.

When the trains were back on track, we traveled an hour to London. My daughter wanted to shop on Regent (at left) and Oxford streets, and I needed to check out the holiday lights for a new scene in my novel. I'll have to draw on older memories of clubbing in London. I love my job!

That night we went to Tate Modern, a favorite museum. Then we headed next door for a delicious pub dinner of roast pheasant and a candlelit performance at the Globe's new covered theatre. Pericles is not Shakespeare's best play - it was written with a collaborator, quite possibly a young apprentice - but it was thrilling to see his work staged in the traditional manner with no electricity and ancient instruments.

We walked back over the Millennial Bridge in a drizzle, admiring the view over the Thames. Is it my imagination or is St. Paul's Cathedral not as brightly illuminated as it used to be? I like matching my reading to my travels and have been enjoying Life After Life by Kate Atkinson, a gift from my mother-in-law (thanks!) From this historical novel, I learned that architects volunteered to keep St. Paul's flame-free during the blitz. The narrative is a series of alternate histories based on the protagonist's choices, giving it an existential resonance. I often wonder what my life would have been like if my husband hadn't quit his banking job in London to pursue an academic career in the USA. Three quarters through this 600 page book, I'm loving Life After Life and would recommend it to anyone.

Henry and I toasted the new year with Brakspear Special back at the Catherine Wheel with a blazing fire in the hearth. A belated Happy New Year! I look forward to catching up with you and your blogs. Cheers!