England ’98

In May 1998, I went with my family for a two-week vacation to England and Ireland. Here are the photographs I brought back, accompanied by text from a journal my brother Ben kept during the trip.

This story was originally published on the web in August 1998, and ported to the new site format in April 2006.

Sunday 31 May · Stratford, Rollright & Oxford

We went to Stratford-Upon Avon and toured Anne Hathaway’s (Shakespeare’s wife) cottage. At Anne Hathaway’s they told us some neat little tidbits:

  • In the cities, people would hire young boys as chimney sweeps. Farmers couldn’t afford this, so they would take a chicken, tie it’s feet together, and throw it down the chimney. The chicken would flap its wings and clean the chimney. If they were lucky, it would land in the cooking-pot!
  • Taverns typically had stone floors. If someone passed out on the floor, the bartender would leave him there until morning, when he would wake up “stone cold sober.”
  • The four-poster beds had roofs because mice and other small animals would live in the thatched roofs of the cottages and occasionally fall on people.
  • Beds of Shakespeare’s time had a net of ropes holding the mattress up. If the ropes were loose, the sleeper would sink to the floor. Hence, “Sleep tight.”
  • People used to hang slabs of bacon in the kitchen. It was customary to cut off a bit of this and serve it to your guests. If you didn’t like them, you would cut them the fatty part. You would “save your bacon,” and they would have to “chew the fat.”
  • When they baked bread, the bottom was usually burnt, but they didn’t care. They gave the bottom to their servants and kept the “upper crust” for themselves. But, as we all know, “the upper crust is just a bunch of crumbs held together with dough.”
  • Salt was hard to come by, and sometimes workers were paid in salt instead of money. Hence, “He’s worth his salt.”
  • Farmers would put thresh (hay) on the floor because they would track mud in, or let animals in, etc. They could easily replace the thresh when it got too dirty. The thresh filled the floor to the doorstep, or “threshold.”
  • They used wooden boards for plates, thus a visitor would be given “room and board.”
  • The table was a loose board on a stand. If it got nicked, they could flip it over and “turn the tables.” Usually the head of the household was the only one who got a chair, so he was the “chairman of the board.”

Next we walked around town and went to “The Teddy Bear Museum” which featured such celebrity bears as: Vincent van Bear, William Shakesbear, Franz Schubear, George Bearnard Shaw, Humphrey Beargart and Lauren Bearcall, Yogi Bear, Winnie the Pooh and Piglet (but unfortunately not Eeyore), Paddington, Smokey the Bear, and Fozzie Bear (among many others).

Finally we went to Rollright, where they have a circle of stones from 1500 BC! There was a lone stone called The King Stone, a big circle called The King’s Men, and a few stones leaning together called “The Whispering Knights.” Dad said, “So, all of these together must be called the Kingstone Trio.”

Monday 1 June · Avebury, Stonehenge & Bath

We went to Avebury. The stone circles were about 5,000 years old! The stones were about 8ʹ high and the outer circle was huge! The small town was actually built inside the outer ring. There were two separate inner circles, with an obelisk in the center of one. It was cool to see something this old and wonder who built it and why.

Stonehenge was neat, but a bit disappointing. You couldn’t get very close to the stones, and the outer ring was long gone. The stones were about 20′ high, but the circle wasn’t as big as I had thought. We saw it from the street and said, “That’s it?” But they had an audio tour that was interesting.

The stones are surrounded by a trench with a mound just inside. The trench was dug using antlers and shoulder-blades, it must have been an extraordinary job! The stones came from a mountain over 300km away. There are two stones that mark where the sun rises on the solstices and there used to be two more that (presumably) marked the equinoxes. The four stones marked a perfect rectangle. In the exact center of the rectangle is an obelisk that is in the center of the rings. There are two ‘horseshoe’ rings, and there used to be an outer circle. The sun rises behind a different arch every month.

Next we went to Bath. It was pretty neat, but everything was closed by the time we got there. We managed to catch the last bus tour. Then we had dinner at Demuth’s (a vegetarian restaurant. After dinner, we went on the Bizarre Bath walking tour - “all hilarity and no history.” That was really good, and is highly recommended for anyone visiting Bath.

Tuesday 2 June · Oxford

Mom and Dad spent all morning doing laundry while I read and Chris went crazy with boredom. The first laundromat was closed, so they had to look all over to find another one. On the way back, they almost got into an accident. Dad made a right turn, and didn’t see a truck that was coming. Even when you are used to driving on the left, your reaction instincts don’t change. When he saw the truck coming, he went to the right. So they wound up in the grass on the right (wrong) side of the road.

We toured Oxford and ate at Pizza Hut (we had the same waitress as last time). Then we saw “the Oxford Story” – a little ride through time on an old-style school-desk. Then we walked around for most of the afternoon and went back to plan for London.

Wednesday 3 June · London

It took most of the day to get to London. I tried to look up Brian’s number (a friend from high school who now lives in London), but it was unlisted. I called directory assistance, but they couldn’t give it to me or even connect me to his line because it is “ex-directory.”

We went downtown and wandered around. The air downtown was awful. I felt sick to my stomach and could hardly breathe. As we crossed London Bridge I thought, “Well, if I get sick, at least I’ll have a story to tell - ‘I threw up off of London Bridge.’ ” But the air on the Thames was better. We had a great dinner at Nusa Dua and went back.

Thursday 4 June · London

We took a bus tour of London. The air was much better in the morning. Apparently it was just all the exhaust around rush hour that was bothering me… It was a nice tour, but it was an open top bus and it was a bit chilly. Then we saw Westminster Abbey. It was nice, but far too commercialized! They charged £5 for admission, another 2 for an audio tour or 3 for a guided tour, and then another pound for a museum they had made from part of the church. What really bugged me was when I turned down one hallway of the cathedral and saw it had been turned into a coffee shop/gift store! Right in the middle of the church! It reminded me of the scene from the Bible where Jesus shouted at the money-changers outside of the temple. Chris said it was the best cup of coffee he’d had in a long time… But the church was nice. They had the grave of Robert Browning inside. After that we went to the Tower of London, but it was closing. We wandered around for a while - Dad and I had sandwiches at Schrotsky’s. We wanted to see As You Like It which was playing at the Globe, but it was playing too late and we wouldn’t be able to catch our train back out of the city. So we saw The Reduced Shakespeare Company Presents the Complete Works of William Shakespeare (abridged) – “All 37 plays in 97 minutes.” It was hilarious!

Friday 5 June · Greenwich & London

We went to Greenwich and toured the Cutty Sark. We saw the Greenwich clock – the most accurate clock in the world – and told them it was two minutes fast. They got a good laugh out of that. Then we toured the Greenwich observatory, which was all right. They had an old wooden telescope through which you could see Pluto (they had a sticker of the dog on the end of the telescope) Then we took a boat tour of the Thames which ended at the Tower of London.

The Tower of London has twenty towers. One central tower, thirteen along the inner wall and six along the outer wall. There is a chapel inside. It used to be the queen’s residence as well as a prison, torture chamber, and place of execution. Now the Beefeaters (warders) live there and give tours.

Then we headed off for Harrod’s. We took the subway, but part of the line was closed “for security reasons.” So we walked. And walked… On the way, we passed Buckingham Palace and saw the changing of the guard (sort of). They told us on the bus tour that the changing of the guard is at 11:30 AM daily, which made me wonder if they had 24 hour shifts or what… Anyway, at 11:30 they change the guard with all the fanfare and so forth, they have more discreet changes periodically. After Buckingham, we came to a 6 lane highway with an underground pedestrian crossing that was closed. So we had to walk about a block in the wrong direction before we could cross. Then we walked forever (mostly in the right direction) and got to Harrod’s 12 minutes before they closed.

We only saw a few departments, but it looked like a nice place. It is at least seven stories and takes up an entire city block! After Harrod’s closed, we had drinks at a cafe across the street and tried to decide what to do. Chris decided to stay in town, but the rest of us decided to go back to the B&B and eat dinner in a nearby pub. Unfortunately, the pub didn’t serve dinner. They directed us to another place down the hill. We headed that way and found an Indian restaurant. Mom and I just wanted “starters,” but Dad ordered a meal. They said they had a £10 minimum per person, and even Dad’s meal wasn’t £10, so we left. We walked farther and found another pub which had just stopped serving meals… So, we took a bus back and called Domino’s. After we ate, Chris came back looking exhausted. At first I thought he was drunk, but he explained that he had accidentally gotten off the bus two stops early and had to walk.

Saturday 6 June · London

We went to Hamley’s, a five-story toy store! Chris decided to wander around London and meet us at Victoria Station (where we had arranged to meet Dad’s cousin). It was cool. They had en entire floor of stuffed animals, half a floor of Legos, and a whole D&D section! Unfortunately, an entire corner of one floor was dedicated to Spice Girls merchandise (shudder). They even have Spice Girls Barbie dolls… That was kind of a scary sight, but it was also funny since I had read in an Irish tabloid that the group broke up the week before. Anyway, it was a cool store. Mom and Dad had to leave to meet Dad’s cousin (Bill Martin) and his wife. I decided to stay longer. They told me how to get to Victoria Station and left. I soon realized that we were already at the top floor and I had seen everything. So I looked around a bit more and left. On the way to the underground station, I stopped at the WB store and looked around. They had a great Marvin the Martian hat. I almost bought it, but the line was too long. So I continued to the nearest underground and Mom and Dad were still there.

We went to Victoria Station and waited at the Burger King (where we had arranged to meet). After waiting a while, we looked around and realized that there are two Burger Kings at Victoria Station and Chris had already met Bill at the other one. After introductions, we went to Uno 1 for lunch. Then we went to the Hard Rock Cafe (the original) shop. After that, we went to a pub across the street for a few drinks. While we were there, a whole group of people came in wearing Monopoly T-shirts. We decided they must be doing some sort of Monopoly pub crawl - starting at the London version of Mediterranean Avenue and ending at the London version of Boardwalk.

After that, we walked around some more along the Thames. We crossed Tower Bridge (which is really cool, by the way) and ate at Kwan Thai (which was excellent).

— Ben League

©20022015 Christopher League