Monday, 17 September 2012

Sheffield to London

Sue & Nessy at
Anne Hathaway's cottage
After 15 days, we returned to London after flipping through Wales, Ireland, Scotland and England, mostly for one night stands and early starts. It would be easy to find the things wrong with touring life, if only for the fact we are so attuned in the modern life to whinge. Several people on the tour had succumbed to this mode during the tour and seemed numb to the places and people around them. I guess it's hard to step outside your comfort zone and sustain your happiness.

Nothing's perfect. Fact. I had a few days myself when I was in doldrums land but then, I have a few more peccadilloes than most to tame. In the end, those including son Chris and mate Baz who encouraged me to look out the window, probably had it right.

We engaged with this tour to gain an overview of the UK, not to see everything and sit opposite Eddie Maguire as the resident expert. That's what we got. Into the bargain, we met some nice people, some of which were on the tour, some serving in pubs and shops. I took lots of photos and gathered one or two stories which will end  as poems in print. We laughed a lot, had a memorable birthday banquet in a medieval castle, listened to glorious Welsh singing, watched remarkable Irish dancing and listened to pipers in Ireland and Scotland ... and then there was the scenery. We feel we have had the best of all of the nation states which make up the UK and that includes the weather (even the rain and wind in the Scottish Highlands).

You make your own luck but given the past fifteen years and it's constant coastline of hidden rocks which has tried to sink us numerous times, being here is the achievement.

Shakespeare's birthplace
The last day of the tour was lots of driving separated by two hours at Stratford-on-Avon, the birthplace but hardly the home of William Shakespeare, a writer of some note. Will was born here and is buried here but in adult life, spent most of his time in London (from 1585), acting and writing. His plays are widely considered the best of all time, many of them lampooning the carrying on of royalty and the infamous treachery associated with power and position. Despite this, he became a darling of the well to do, the Lords and Ladies. Meanwhile, his wife Anne Hathaway, lived a simple and largely ignored life in Stratford, raising their three children and it wasn't until 1613 that he returned to live in Statford at the age of 49. He died three years later a few days short of his 53rd birthday.

There has been much written and said about his life and lifestyle and even the authorship of his writing. Many good cases have been put that perhaps others such as Francis Bacon may have penned some of the work but as it will never be proven either way, its hardly worth worrying about. The more likely conjecture is that Shakespeare was bisexual and entered into same sex relationships with high profile admirers who effectively cuckolded Anne. His burial in Holy Trinity Church, Statford and not in Poet's Corner, Westminster Abbey, is said to further suggest a dissfavour with Crown and Church. His grave features a warning, written by the bard himself, that the removal of his bones from their gravesite will incur a curse. Perhaps that put them off?

The markers for Shakespeare's links in Stratford are obvious. Apart from his grave inside the Holy Trinity Church, in the chancel before the alter (2 quid to see it), his birthplace is right in the heart of town (12 quid to see it) and Anne Hathaway's cottage (15 quid to see it, even though the original was burnt down by an arsonist in the 1960's). Everywhere else, tudor style buildings abound and just about every shop has worked the bard into their name. The theatre for the Royal Shakespeare Company is by the Avon (previously noted as meaning "river") and not far from that, the Black Swan/Dirty Duck pub is on the shores of the River River.

The Dirty Duck
We stopped at the pub for lunch. One bar (The Dirty Duck) contained signed photos of actors who have spoken Bill's words down the road at the RSC headquarters. Dame Judy Dench was at the door to meet us ... well, she had just stepped out for an M & M (the Broccoli's pay well), so her portrait did the welcome instead. The other bar (The Black Swan) was decorated in the same early dingy, low ceilined, stained wall style that you come to expect from British pubs. Rather fetching really. We ordered lunch and a few drinks (me a Guinness, Sue a Pims and lemonade) but lunch was distressingly slow, despite ordering it 55 minutes before we had to be back at the coach.

Someone else ended up eating it, as we couldn't be late again.

The afternoon was a long few hours into London and the ultimate break up of the touring party. We had previously thanked both director and driver but did so again with a genuine warmth, grateful for their experience adding to ours.

Tower Bridge
We had only a two hour turn around, before heading out to dinner and a cruise of the Thames. The dinner was pleasant, with Kevin and Amanda from our tour and the cruise of the Thames which followed, was spectacular. Big Ben, the parliament buildings, The London Eye, The Globe Theatre and especially the Tower Bridge, we very impressive on this autumn evening where the rain waited until we were back in our transport before smearing the windscreen. It was an awesome way to end the tour, especially with new friends. We are determined to look them up when we are back in Oz.

 Despite confusing the cabby (don't call them taxis), we managed to get home to our digs, a very nice three room serviced apartment just below Kensington Gardens in the inner west of London. Both cab driver's we struck last night were brilliant.

We intend to be bums on the first day in London. So sick of being on the go! Sightseeing day off.

Tomorrow night, Phoenix Theatre on Charring Cross Rd for "Blood Brothers", a West End production and a chance to see how bloody talented our Christopher really is.

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