Notes from underground

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Archive for the category “UK”

Outcast (book review)

The OutcastThe Outcast by Sadie Jones
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The book follows Lewis Aldridge’s life from the age of 7, when his father returns from the Second World War, to the age of 19. He grows up in an upper-middle-class commuter village in Surrey, where the fathers commute to to work in London, and the mothers supervise the servants and occasionally visit each other.

The children of the neighbourhood play and fight with each other. They go out for bike rides. and walk in the woods together, but Lewis feels increasingly cut off from them and from the adult world as well. The only exception is youngest of the neighbouring children, Kit Carmichael, who is four years younger than Lewis, but is secretly in love with him.

While the novel focuses on Lewis as the protagonist, I felt most strongly for Kit, and my heart ached for her. Perhaps that was because she was the same age as me, and I could measure her life against mine, though I think I liked Elvis Presley more than she did, but I could forgive her that. If one can measure the success of a novel by the extent to which readers identify and empathise with the characters, then this one succeeds.

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The Tudors

The Tudors (British Monarchy)The Tudors by Geoffrey Christopher Morris
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

There is a chapter on each of the Tudor monarchs of England, a dynasty that lasted from 1485-1603. Each chapter deals with the character and relationships of the particular ruler, derived from contemporary sources.

One of the most interesting of these sources was Edward VI’s diary. He came to the throne at the age of 9, and died before he was 16, and was one of the earliest English diarists.

The biggest problem I had with the book is that it assumed the knowledge one expects to gain from such a book. It is not really a history, or even a series of biographies, but a series of character sketches of the reigning monarchs. It is therefore best to be familiar with the history before reading this book.

For example, it says that Henry VII, the first of the Tudor monarchs, came to the throne not so much because of a hereditary claim, because his claim was weaker than that of some other candidates, but because he won the Battle of Bosworth. It does not, however, explain what his hereditary claim was, not even in the genealogical tables at the end of the book, or who the other claimants were. Nor does it explain the Battle of Bosworth, who the combatants were, or what they were fighting for, other than the throne of England.

I knew some parts of the history, having studied Church History at an English university, though that was 50 years ago. The period was that of the English Reformation, and the character sketches of the monarchs throw some light upon that, but this book is best read after reading a more general history of the period. Or else be prepared to interrupt your reading by Googling such things as the Battle of Bosworth.

The Background section of the Wikipedia article is the kind of introduction that should have been included in this book, but wasn’t. The lack is all the more remarkable since, when the book was first published, neither Wikipedia, nor Google, nor the Internet itself would have been available.

And since Wikipedia is now available, I suggest reading the Wikipedia article on The House of Tudor before reading this book.

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A copy of this post may be found at my old blog here.

I originally intended to post it here, but could not find the functional WordPress editor, which had been hidden again, and only the new enhanced dysfunctional one was available. Eventually I did find the working editor, so was able to post it here too.

The Anatomy School (book review)

The Anatomy SchoolThe Anatomy School by Bernard MacLaverty
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I’m in two minds about this book. At one level it is a Bildungsroman, and at another it is a picture of a period. Martin Brennan is a teenager in his last year of high school. He attends a Catholic school in Protestant Belfast, where being Catholic is a badge of identity. Martin has two friends, Kavanagh, who is an athlete, and a new boy at the school, Blaise Foley, who rejects everything that the school stands for.

At home his pious mother regularly entertains three friends of her age, oen of them a priest, and Martin helps to serve them, hears their conversations, and is sometimes himself the subject of their conversations.

The book opens with Martin at a silent retreat with his contemporaries from the school, where the expectation is that he and the others will consider a possible vocation to the priesthood. Martin’s conscience is troubled by moral and venial sins of thought word and deed, throughout the retreat, and when he gets back to school, after deciding that the priesthood is not for him, he is severely tempted to mortal sins by his new friend Blaise Foley.

After leaving school he works as a technician in the anatomy school of the university, where his friend Kavanagh is a medical student.

It was a bit difficult to work out the period in which the book is set. One clue was a reference to the blowing up of Nelson’s statue in Dublin in earl;y 1966. It was clearly after that event, but close enough for it still to be a talking point, so as far as I could determine from such clues in the story, it took place in 1966-68. It was a time when I was in the UK as a student, though I was never in Belfast.

One feature of the book is the very detailed descriptions of everyday life — the composition and making of sandwiches for tea, noises and sounds like lift doors clanging. In that it reminded me of A touch of Daniel by Peter Tinniswood. That book was set somewhere in north-west England, and gave a very vivd picture of the place and period, and the foibles of the people, though with considerably more humour than The Anatomy School. But A Touch of Daniel was published closer to the time, and The Anatomy School was published in 2001, which makes some of the close detail suspect, and one of the anachronisms that stood out for me was when Martin tells someone that he had a job “at the Uni”. I never heard anyone call a university a uni during my time in the UK, and only learnt of it much later, via the internet. It may be that it was a peculiarly Irish term, that started in Belfast before reaching other parts of the UK, but for me it made much of the fine detail throughout the book rather suspect.

On the other hand, there were some things that reminded be very strongly of when I myself was Martin Brennan’s age. I went to a Methodist School, not a Catholic one, and in Johannesburg, not Belfast. But I hung out a lot with two or three friends, as Martin did, and our conversations were not all that dissimilar. I enjoyed reading it, but I think it might have been better if some of the superfluous (and suspect) detail had been dropped — it would have made the characters and their intreractions stand out better.

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The war drums beat louder and louder

The media — print, broadcast and social — seem to be filled with war propaganda these days, so much so that other things seem to be getting crowded out.

And I see more and more of my friends being sucked in to it and by it.

In the US election campaign, there seems to be a “more Russophobic than thou” contest, and some have been saying, apparently in all seriousness, that one of the things against Donald Trump as a US presidential candidate is that he isn’t as Russophobic as Hillary Clinton. I can think of plenty of reasons why Donald Trump would not be a good person to be president of the USA, but not being Russophobic enough isn’t one of them. Yet a lot of people do seem to think that is a serious obstacle.

Hillary Clinton has herself declared that her Number One Priority is to remove President Bashir al Assad of Syria. That calls to mind the fulminations of Alfred Lord Milner against President Paul Kruger of the ZAR, at the height of Jingoism in the 1890s. Jingoism seemed to go out of fashion briefly in the 1950s and 1960s, and for a few decades thereafter took the surreptitious form of neocolonialism, but now it is out of the closet with a vengeance.

A few of my friends on social media have been urging me, in all seriousness, to sign petitions calling for “no-fly zones” in Syria. They are people whom I have always regarded as being not without a degree of common sense, but the war drums seem to have driven the common sense right out of their heads. A few years ago a “no-fly zone” was declared over Libya, and the last state of that country is worse than the first.

My question to my friends who think “no-fly zones” are the answer is: why do those calling for a “no-fly zone in Syria not also call for one in Yemen too?

And secondly, who should enforce such a “no-fly zone”? Preferably a neutral party that doesn’t have a dog in that fight, like Uruguay, say, or Botswana. Do you think Russia, or the USA, or France, or the UK, or ISIS or any of the other groups muscling in on the Syrian civil war and the Yemen civil war would pay the slightest attention to even the combined air forces of Uruguay and Botswana?

Bashir al-Assad is not my idea of an admirable ruler, but in the last 20 years or so we have had a lot of propaganda about the need to remove people like Saddam Hussein in Iraq and Muammar Gaddafi in Libya, and those attempts turned out pretty disastrously, because even if they were villains, those who replaced them were worse villains. And still people like Hillary Clinton are promising to apply the same quack remedy to yet another country. It seems to be the policy of “The West” in general to replace secular rulers in the Middle East with militant Islamist groups, one of whose aims is to drive out all Christians and those who don’t adhere to their own peculiar brand of Islam.

Syrian Civil War. Syria - Red. Countries that support Syrian Government, Bluue. Countries that support Syrian rebels - Green.

Syrian Civil War. Syria – Red. Countries that support Syrian Government, Bluue. Countries that support Syrian rebels – Green.

Russia for a while acted with some restraint in Syria, but is now bombing with as much abandon as the rest of the belligerents, so has come down from the high moral ground and entered pot-and-kettle territory.

Half the countries of Western Europe are bombing and shelling Syria (or supporting those who do), and yet get all uptight when Syrian refugees arrive at their borders trying to get away from their bombs.

And then, as if all this wasn’t enough, along comes this exceptionally nasty piece of war-mongering journalism Queen in row over Putin ally’s visit | News | The Times & The Sunday Times:

The Queen is to host an audience for one of Vladimir Putin’s closest allies and a key supporter of Russia’s actions in Syria, prompting protests from MPs.

The royal reception is for Patriarch Kirill, head of the Russian Orthodox church, who arrives for his first UK visit next Saturday. MPs and a former senior government adviser have called it a “propaganda” trip from a churchman who has described Putin’s presidency as a “miracle of God”.

In July Kirill, 69, an alleged former KGB agent, also described Russia’s operations in Syria as “noble and honest”. Last month Britain’s UN representative accused…

Not that this is not one of those fake news sits. It’s not even The Sun. This is The Times, part of the “mainstream” media, one of the self-styled “quality” papers. And here they are trying to turn the church into a political football, wanting to treat the Patriarch of Moscow as badly, if not worse than President Zuma and the South African government treated the Dalai Lama.

What they don’t mention (but I learned from a priest who receuived an invitation to the event) is that the Patriarch was going to celebrate the anniversary of the Russian Church in London. The article seems calculated to stir up hatred against the church. I think there are laws in Britain against “hate speech”, and wonder if this kind or article is perhaps in breach of such laws. But whether or not that is the case, ity does seem that it is being used to beat the war drums louder.

My concern in all this is that people seem to be increasingly sucked into to war propaganda, and to swallow it quite uncritically. I’m not a fundi on Mioddle Eastern affairs, and I’ve never been to Syria, but in my no-doubt over simplifiend and even simplistic understanding, one thing stands out: the Western media, the Russian media and the Middle Eastern media all have vested interests in the conflict, and everything they say needs to be taken with a pinch of salt, and if possible verified independently.

But it seems to be that there are two main scenarios, and perhaps both are operating at the same time.

  1. There is a Sunni Shia conflict
  2. There is a conflict over gas and petroleum products.

President Bashir al Assad of Syria has the support of Shia groups in Syria, and those who support him, both locally and internationally, are either supporting Shia interests, or are perceived by otghers as doing so. These include such groups as Russia, Iran, and Hezbollah in Lebanon.

The West, Saudi Arabia and most of the Gulf states support Sunni Islam, and and so the conflict can be described, simplistically, as a Sunni-Shia conflict, with the West o9n  the Sunni side and Russia on the Shia side, and if the conflict keeps escalating there is a danger that it could end up as World War 3.

Tjhere are also economic interests involved, especially as they relate to gas pipelines between the Middle East and Europe, which pass, or are planned to pass, through Syria. Those opposed to Bashir al Assad may have mixed motives, but among them could be that he leans towards Shia and he may oppose their favourite pipeline project. And those who prop him up may have motives that include his support for their pipeline project, and oppiosition to rival projects that may threaten theirs. For more on this, see here: Syrian war explainer: Is it all about a gas pipeline?. And no, I din’t believe it’s all about the pipelines, but I do believe that some of it may be. Take this article with just as big a pinch of salt as any other.

And as a reminder, here’s a kind of timeline of the conflict: Syria: The story of the conflict – BBC News:

More than 250,000 Syrians have lost their lives in four-and-a-half years of armed conflict, which began with anti-government protests before escalating into a full-scale civil war. More than 11 million others have been forced from their homes as forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad and those opposed to his rule battle each other – as well as jihadist militants from so-called Islamic State.

And it too needs to be filtered for bias.

Expecting the unexpected: UK leaving the EU

For the past few weeks I’ve been reading stuff people have written about the pros and cons of the UK staying in the EU, but I get the impression that few people thought about the real meaning of leaving until it suddenly became a real possibility after the referendum.

I don’t have a dog in this fight, so if I were a Brit voter I would have been undecided, at least on the merits of the question.

On factors quite unrelated to the merits of the question, however, the poisonous rhetoric of the advocates of leaving might have inclined me to the “remain” side. The “leave” advocates seemed to appeal to the worst motives and impulses in human nature.

Not only that, but the “leave” campaign turned out to the thoroughly dishonest, and did their best to mislead the voters with lies, and making promises they had no intention of keeping — this, for example:

A campaign promise that was repudiated the following day as a"mistake"

A campaign promise that was repudiated the following day as a “mistake”

Now that it’s over, I see there might be a possibility for the reunification of Ireland, and for Scotland to apply to rejoin the EU on its own. Perhaps that would mean that the English would need passports to
cross the Tweed. I don’t think anyone expected those as possibilities, but they’ve suddenly appeared, like new islands after a volcanic eruption.

And it seems to me that they are quite positive possibilities.  I suppose that is the result of reading a book about 15 years ago that pointed out that it would make little difference whether Scotland or Wales became independent or remained members of the United Kingdom, because being members of the EU would give them just as many, if not more advantages than belonging to the UK. I can’t remember whether the author envisaged England as not belonging to the EU, but if you are interested, the book is The Isles: a history by Norman Davies.

But that is rather academic and detached; looking at this from 10 000 kilometres away is being hopelessly out of touch. Fifty years ago I went to the UK to study theology at St Chad’s College in Durham. I’m still in touch with some of my friends from there, and I asked some of them for their thoughts on the topic. This is what some of them had to say:

What dark place does Britain for the British take us to?

Catastrophe. Britain has broken apart. An uprising of resentment by the left-behind has torn us in two, a country wrecked by a yawning class divide stretched wider by recession and austerity. Anger against a London establishment was deftly diverted by the Tory right and Ukip towards foreigners – enemies in Brussels and aliens in our midst. Wherever we went, the Guardian reported that same fury among those without education and opportunity, a country served right for its gross inequality. Day after day the Sun, Mail, Express, Sunday Times and Telegraph injected poison into the nation’s bloodstream with tales of foreign criminals, jihadists and scroungers. How Murdoch and Dacre will revel in their power. What of the false hopes raised for poorly paid, insecure, badly housed Brexit voters? Expecting something better, they will get much worse. “Controlling our borders”, they will expect immigrants, new and old, to be gone. They were told more housing, GP appointments and school places would be freed up from migrants. But as treasury receipts fall, there will be less of everything. Will the next call be to expel foreigners already here? What dark place does Britain for the British take us to?

Farage’s victory speech about the decent ordinary people taking back control “without a bullet fired” was unthinkably crass with an MP shot and stabbed to death in the heat of the campaign. Cameron  will no doubt be replaced by worse as the country is taken over by Tory extremists and fantasists, wild free-marketeer romantics experimenting with other people’s lives, alongside Ukip’s pernicious racism.

Ahead lie years of fractious negotiation, turning the EU into Britain’s number one enemy. The more these populist leaders need to prove this wasn’t a fatal error, the more they will blame all home-grown woes on our close neighbours. Britain has turned its back on the world. ~ Polly Toynbee

That from my friend Bob Gallagher, now a retired Anglican priest in Liverpool.

Another college friend, Frank Cranmer, who has spent most of his life in the fields of law and politics, writes:

Whatever the defects of the EU – and they are many – to leave just strikes us as barmy. Apart from anything else, London is the biggest financial centre in Europe, we depend on exporting financial services to balance our visible trade deficit and, once we leave, it’ll be much, much harder for our financial institutions to trade in Europe.

We both think that the vote went the way it did for three reasons. The first is that people outside London (and Scotland, which has its own agenda) simply haven’t experienced much in the way of the perceived economic benefits of EU membership. The second is a desire to kick politicians generally – of whatever party – in the teeth: even dedicated, lifelong Conservative and Labour voters tend increasingly to regard politicians at Westminster of whatever party as a bunch of spoilt, self-interested brats. Thirdly, as was pointed out in a very good editorial in, of all places, the Jewish Chronicle, the EU commissariat is perceived as impossibly arrogant and remote, merely telling people to shut up and take what Brussels reckons is good for them – and we’re afraid that there’s more than a grain of truth in that perception. And it wasn’t helped by a disastrous campaign on both sides. Jeremy Corbyn was particularly useless; and the level of debate rarely rose above the level of a school playground spat.

So here we are, on the way out. The likelihood is that we’ll end up as members of the EEA, still bound by almost all of the existing and future EU Directives but without any influence on their content. Alternatively, we go it alone – doing precisely what, God knows. As to passports on the Tweed, who knows? A much more serious issue is border controls in Ireland, where the border passes through people’s farms in some places.

And for a third view, here’s one from someone born in England but living in another EU country. I’ve never met her face to face, but we’ve been online friends for more than 25 years, half her lifetime and a third of mine. And I strongly recommend that you read it to the end, especially if you’re not in the UK: This is Cyprus…: Cyprus, the EU and Brexit

Well, that’s what some of my English friends think of it. As for me, I’m old enough to remember when the British wanted to join the EU (or the Common Market, as it was in those days), and President Charles de Gaulle of France blackballed them with a resounding “Non!”. This inspired the composition of the song All Gall, which is perhaps particularly poignant right now.

Eyetie, Benelux Germany and me
That’s my market recipe.

As I said, I don’t have a dog in this fight; what the Brits do is their business. Perhaps we might even gain from it, if the British are looking for new markets once Europe is closed to them, they might reinstate the system of Commonwealth preferences, and that could benefit South Africa — our wines could be much more competitive than French or German or Portuguese or Bulgarian ones. We might even be able to sell our sparking wines as champagne and our dessert wines as sherry.

That is, of course, if England doesn’t decide to hold another referendum and leave the Commonwealth as well.

And I’m not sure that Britain has much to market anywhere else since Maggie Thatcher killed their manufacturing industry and turned them into a nation of hairdressers.

 

Geopolitics in a nutshell

I think this graphic is one of the best and most succinct summaries of current world politics that I’ve ever seen.

Stupid

Of course this is nothing new. As Billy Joel sings:

We didn’t start the fire
It was always burning since the world was turning

But stupid is as stupid does.

The new Cold War

This morning a friend asked on Facebook what I thought of this article, and I will try to reply here. BREAKING NEWS – PUTIN EXPOSES OBAMA’S PAID ISIS MERCENARIES IN MIDDLE EAST AND SYRIA! | THE MARSHALL REPORT:

(Putin speaking): First point. I never said that I view the US as a threat to our national security. President Obama, as you said, views Russia as a threat, but I don’t feel the same way about the US. What I do feel is that the politics of those in the circles of power, if I may use those terms, the politics of those in power is erroneous. It not only contradicts our national interests, it undermines any trust we had in the United States. And in that way it actually harms the United states as well.

But I can’t reply to this in isolation. It is part of a whole string of media reports and media reporting that goes back two years or more.

Concerning the Middle East in general, and Syria in particular, we are bombarded by  increasingly shrill and decreasingly credible media propaganda from all sides that I’ve simply stopped paying attention to most of it. If there is any truth wrapped up in the all-too-obvious lies, I have no means of sifting and discerning it.

I have tended to interpret all in the light of Samuel Huntington’s “clash of civilizations” thesis, as expounded in his book The clash of civilizations and the remaking of the world order. I’ve already written about that here, so I won’t repeat much of it now, except to say that things are now much worse.

I have tended to attibute the growing American Russophobia, which strikes me as loony and entirely irrational, to Putin’s blocking of Obama’ s plans to bomb Syria. But now the Russian air force is bombing Syria.

The world... is going to hell in a hand cart

The world… is going to hell in a hand cart

Two years ago, I regarded Russia Today as  a more reliable news source than most of the Western media, especially on events in the Middle East. Now it is blatantly filled with anti-American propaganda, so I don’t watch it any more. It’s clearly playing tit-for-tat to the Russophobic line of the BBC, Sky News, CNN, and Fox news. As a result the truth suffers.

Can Al Jazeera be trusted? When reporting on other parts of the world, perhaps. But Syria? I’m not so sure. Al Jazeera’s base is Sunni, the Syrian government tends to be Shia. There could be some bias there that would be difficult for non-Muslims to discern.

Also, since I’m inclined to be pacifist, I find the increasing belligerence of warmongering politicians distressing. Obama promised “change you can believe in” but he is just as belligerent and bloodthirsty as his predecessor George Bush and the only difference is that he is more articulate about it. David Cameron is just as belligerent and bloodthirsty as Tony Blair, but I didn’t expect him to be any better. I did, at one time, and probably foolishly, hope that Obama would be better than Bush and Clinton. But it’s always naive to believe in politicians’ promises, and Obama proved to be no exception.

Jeremy Corbyn

Jeremy Corbyn

If the Labour Party, under Jermy Corbyn’s leadership, manages to win the next UK general election, will it be any better? Will this, at last, be “change you can believe in”?

Not if the British media have anything to do with it. They have slammed him left, right and center, dismissed him as insane because he has qualms of conscience about annihilating millians of people in a nuclear holocaust.

And my mind goes back more than 50 years to Jeremy Taylor, a Johannesburg school teacher who sang this song:

Well one fine day
I’ll make my way
to 10 Downing Street.
“Good day,” I’ll say
“I’ve come a long way
Excuse my naked feet.
“But I lack, you see
the energy
to buy a pair of shoes
I lose my zest
to look my best
when I read the daily news
’cause it appears you’ve got an atom bomb
that’ll blow us all to hell and gone.
If I’ve gotta die
then why should I
give a damn if my boots aren’t on?

Three cheers for the army and all the boys in blue
three cheers for the scientists and politicians too
three cheers for the future years when we shall surely reap
all the joys of living on a nuclear rubbish heap.

I would fight quite willingly
In the forces of Her Majesty
but not at the price of sacrificing
all of humanity.

That expressed my sentiments when I was 21, and still does, now that I’m 74.

And, since the politicians of the world seem to be determined to restart the Cold War, and threaten to make it hot, another Cold War hymn seems appropriate.

The day God gave thee, man, is ending
the darkness falls at thy behest
who spent thy little life defending
from conquest by the East, the West.

The sun that bids us live is waking
behind the cloud that bids us die
and in the murk fresh minds are making
new plans to blow us all sky high.

UK trip 20 May 2005: London, and going home

Continued from UK trip 19 May 2015: London | Notes from underground

We took a bus to Twickenham station, and got a fast train to Waterloo, which got there in 20 minutes, Just outside the station was a bust of Nelson Mandela. It didn’t look much like him though.

Bust of Nelson Mamndela near Waterloo station

Bust of Nelson Mamndela near Waterloo station

We walked across the Hungerford footbridge, which was new since I was last here, and gave views of the Thames downriver.

Hungerford footbridge

Hungerford footbridge

It seemed worth recording the London skyline, which had changed quite a bit over the last 40 years, and would probably have changed more if we ever came here again.

City of London skyline, from Hungerford footbriddge

City of London skyline, from Hungerford footbriddge

The bridge crossed the Embankment, which I had driven along many times in 1966, when I had worked for London Transport and driven the 109 bus both ways between the Embankment and Purley.

The Embankment from Hungerford Bridge.

The Embankment from Hungerford Bridge.

From ground level it looked much the same as it had in 1966, except for the London Eye in the background, and the push chairs in the foreground. In 1966 they would have been Victorian-style prams, with boat-shaped bodies and enormous wheels, with back wheels bigger than, and overlapping, the front ones. And they weren’t called prams back then either, they were called baby carriages, at least in the advertisements.

The Embankment from ground level, with push chairs rather than the "baby carriages" of the 1960s.

The Embankment from ground level, with push chairs rather than the “baby carriages” of the 1960s.

It began to rain, so we didn’t hang around there, but took the underground to Blackfriars, and took a couple of photos of St Paul’s Cathedral.

St Paul's Cathedral, London.

St Paul’s Cathedral, London.

When I had been here in 1966 the dome of St Paul’s had been covered with scaffolding, so I wanted a picture with the uncluttered dome.

By this time we were feeling hungry, and wandered down Ludgate Hill looking for somewhere to eat. We passed a Starbucks place, which I had heard of from conversations on mailng lists and newsgroups on the Internet. People mentioned Starbucks as if everyone knew what they were talking about, so I was tempted to try it just to experience it first hand. But the descriptions had also made me think that their coffee was similar to that of the Seattle Coffee Company back home in Pretoria — bitter and overroasted. The Seattle Coffee Company shops were always attached to the bookshops formerly known as Exclusive Books, now Exclus1ve Books. It was a good idea, as one could browse through books drinking coffee, except that the coffee was undrinkable. So we chickened out and instead had an enormous breakfast at Ossies Cafe on Ludgate Hill.

After breakfast we took the No 11 bus to Victoria station, and looked for book and record shops, but couldn’t find any.

Near Victoria Station

Near Victoria Station

We took the Victoria line tube train to Oxford Circus. The Victoria line had been under construction in the 1960s, so that was something else that was new. Val got me a Che Guevara shirt from a street vendor — one item from the sixties that remained current. We returned via the Embankment and Hungerford bridge again; the rain had stopped and so we crossed on the upstream side, and saw the view of the Westminster skyline.

Westminster skyline from Hungerford footbridge

Westminster skyline from Hungerford footbridge

Back to Waterloo Station, where the innovation since the sixties was the post-1984 Big Brother cameras, to remind us that we were living in a surveillance society.

Waterloo Station, with post-1984 Big Brother cameras.

Waterloo Station, with post-1984 Big Brother cameras.

We took the South West Trains train to Strawberry Hill, and I wrote a last minute postcard to our daughter Bridget who was in Greece, and posted it as we walked back to Frank Cranmer’s cottage.

Strawberry Hill station

Strawberry Hill station

Frank came home from work at 4:00, and took us to the airport, though we would have been quite happy to catch the train. He dropped us at the Terminal 1 building about 5:00 pm. Val bought a couple of books to read on the plane, which were being offered at 2 for £9, one a new Robert Goddard novel, Sight unseen. We checked in and boarded flight SA 235 for Johannesburg (well, actually Ekurhuleni, but they don’t tell travellers that) which left at 7:30. I remembered seeing England dropping away below when I left for Amsterdam after I finshed studying at St Chad’s 37 years before, and wondering if I would ever see it again, and now I felt the same, but this time I was sorrier to leave. Our time had been all too short, and it was good to meet old friends, and the relatives we met had all been nice ones.

On the plane I read The great Gilly Hopkins, which we had bought the day before, and when I finished it tried to watch a film, but the sound in my seat wasn’t working properly — not that it mattered much, as the films were the same as when we had come over, and I had watched all the ones I wanted to watch. So I replayed our trip in my head, trying to remember the places we had been and the people we had seen.

That’s it.

Index to all posts on our UK trip here UK Holiday May 2005

UK trip 19 May 2015: London

Continued from UK trip 18 May 2005: a day in Oxford | Notes from underground

We took the R73 bus to Richmond Station, and got the District Line train to Monument station, and then changed to the Docklands Light Railway, and rode to Lewisham. It seemed to be the best way to see some of the parts of London that had changed most since I had last been there in the 1960s.

Some of the changes in London -- the docklands had become a business distict

Some of the changes in London — the docklands had become a business distict

The railway had not been here for one thing, and as parts of it were on elevated track there were good views over the rebuilt docks area, with tall office blocks, which looked a bit like the financial district of Johannesburg or central Sandton. It was a lot cleaner and smarter, but also was a reminder that Britain was no longer a country whose products were exported all over the world. Manufacturing industry in Britain seemed to be dead. The streets were full of French, Italian and German cars, and even the Vauxhalls were simply rebadged Opels.

Lewisham was much changed from when I had last seen it too. Buildings seemed to have been demolished to make way for a bus station, and just about every route seemed to be run be a different bus company.

Leisham bus station.

Leisham bus station.

We went to have breakfast in a place called Maggie’s, which had an all-in breakfast of as much as one could eat for £4-50, which Val had, and I had a Spanish omelet and chips, which was a bit cheaper, though they refilled my tea cup three times, speedily and efficiently. At one point a bloke nicked my rucksack, then gave it back, saying I should be more careful.

Maggies Cafe in Lewisham, where we had breakfast.

Maggies Cafe in Lewisham, where we had breakfast.

Afterwards we wandered about a bit, and saw the church having a market. It seemed to be a fairly high church, advertising Mass.

Church in Lewisham

Church in Lewisham

We rode back to Bank on the Docklands Light Railway. The trains were driverless, and seemed to sway and shake a lot.

 

Docklands light railway, but no docks in sight.

Docklands light railway, but no docks in sight. Driver’s-eye view, but no driver in sight either.

We walked down to London Bridge past the monument to the great fire of London, and there was not a bowler hat in sight. In 1966 London Bridge had been a sea of bowler hats and umbrellas, crossing to the north bank at 9:00 am and back again at 6:00 pm, when I was driving the 133 bus. Back then they had seemed horribly old fashioned, like something out of the 1920s, and I thought that if such a tradition had persisted so long, it might have persisted longer, but it has not.

The Bank of England, the famed old lady of Threadneedle Street. n 1966 the streets in the vicinity used to be a sea of bowler hats, but in 2005 there wasn't one to be seen.

The Bank of England, the famed Old Lady of Threadneedle Street. In 1966 the streets in the vicinity used to be a sea of bowler hats, but 40 years later there wasn’t one to be seen.

We looked for a loo, but there hardly seemed to be any on London Bridge station at all, and those that there were were small prefab plastic structures sitting on the platforms and required 20p coins, and some of them needed pound coins. Another change, and a major one this time, as it seems to involve a genetic mutation. Brits no longer need to piss, or at least they must have evolved larger bladders so they only need to do it before they leave home in the morning and after they get home at night. When I was here in the 1960s you could buy a review of public loos called The Good Loo Guide, but it would be of purely historic interest now, as the loos are no longer there.

GillyHopWhile we were crossing London Bridge it began to rain, though not very hard, so we cut our sightseeing, and made our way to Foyles Bookshop on the Underground. We had at first decideed not to buy any books, lest we get overweight on the plane going home, but decided to chance it anyway, and stow them in pockets. Val got a book for our son Simon on his computer program XSI, and one for Jethro on Formula I racing. I found Katherine Paterson’s The Great Gilly Hopkins, which I had never seen in South Africa, either in bookshops or libraries. I’d read another book by Katherine Paterson, called A bridge to Terabithia, and had quite liked it, except for the fact that it had a boy with a girl’s name and a girl with a boy’s name, so I kept confusing the characters when they were referenced by pronouns. Perhaps it was trying to make some weird feminist point. I looked for Charles Williams books, of which Frank Cranmer had a complete set, but did not see any.

We walked down to Leicester Square Underground station, and then to Waterloo to get the 15:57 train to Strawberry Hill via Teddington, and walked back to Frank Cranmer’s cottage through the drizzle.

The walk from Strawberry Hill station to Twickenham

The walk from Strawberry Hill station to Twickenham

Frank and Helen came about 7:30 pm, and we took them to supper at Arthur’s restaurant, across the green. The restaurant was a converted public loo, which Frank said had been closed because it was too expensive to run. Perhaps that explained what had happened to the other’s too. There was a noisy party next to us, and so after our meal we returned to Frank’s cottage for coffee.

Concluded at UK trip 20 May 2005: London, and going home | Notes from underground.

Index to all posts on our UK trip here UK Holiday May 2005

UK trip 18 May 2005: a day in Oxford

Continued from UK trip 17 May 2005 London: Newspapers and Books | Notes from underground

We took the train from Strawberry Hill to Waterloo again, and this time it took a more northerly route, which was a bit shorter. We took the Bakerloo line on the underground to Paddington station, and then a train to Oxford, which we had to pay for, as it was not on the visitors travel passes we had. The “cheap” day return was a little over £17 each, which was pretty expensive, I thought. The journey lasted a little over an hour, and the train stopped at Slough and Reading, and was going on to Great Malvern.

By train to Oxford 18 May 2005

By train to Oxford 18 May 2005

We got a bus into the centre of Oxford, and took a walk round the town, up Cornmarket, where we looked at record shops as Val was trying to find a Mother Earth record that our son Simon had wanted for Christmas, but we weren’t successful in that.

Cornmarket, Oxford

Cornmarket, Oxford

We passed Balliol College, where Jan Hofmeyr had been, and Trinity, where Stephen Gawe had been, and looked in at the Bodleian Library.

Balliol College, Oxford

Balliol College, Oxford

We took some photos of the Radcliffe Camera, something that I associated with the essence of Oxford. There is a small round building behind the old Reserve Bank building in Church Square, Pretoria, that always reminded me of Oxford, because it looked like a miniature of the Radcliffe Camera.

Radcliffe Camera, Oxford.

Radcliffe Camera, Oxford.

We walked down the High to Magdalen Bridge, where there were punts and rowing boats, and took photos of Magdalen College where C.S. Lewis had taught, and where I had once been with Stephen Gawe to visit another South African student back in 1967, Harold Mogona.

Magdalen College, Oxford

Magdalen College, Oxford. C.S. Lewis's College.

Magdalen College, Oxford. C.S. Lewis’s College.

We walked round Merton around the edge of Christ Church meadow, and up past Christ Church, and then had lunch at a pub in the High, and wrote postcards to the children, and went to the post
office to post them. I had thought of visiting John Fenton, the former principal of St Chad’s College, and retired as a Canon of Christ Church, but he seemed to live further out of town, and we did not know how to get there.

Christ Church Meadow, Oxford

Christ Church Meadow, Oxford

We took a bus up to Banbury Road, where we had a look at the House of St Gregory and Macrina, at the corner of Canterbury Road, but though we rang the bell, no one answered. It was a kind of Orthodox Centre in Oxford, which I had visited in 1967, during a patristics conference, and met Dr Nicolas Zernov, who had written several books about the Orthodox Church, which I had read before becoming Orthodox.

Oxford, 18 May 2005

Oxford, 18 May 2005

We went back into town on the bus, and looked at a few more record shops, and then walked back to the station, and got the 4:33 pm train back to Paddington, and retraced our journey this morning,
down the Bakerloo line to Waterloo, and the South West Trains to Strawberry Hill, arriving back at Frank Cranmer’s Cottage at 7:00 pm.

Bakerloo line train in the London rush hour.

Bakerloo line train in the London rush hour.

There was a cricket match in progress on the green over the road, as there had been the previous day, though this time there were younger children playing. We went out looking for supper, and tried some of
the other pubs in the neighbourhood. The Sussex Arms did not do evening meals, and the other one around the corner only had a Thai Restaurant, so we went back to The Prince Blucher, and had pie with
mash and vegetables, and were served by a South African girl from the Free State.

To be continued.

Index to all posts on our UK trip here UK Holiday May 2005

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