Trip to the UK, Day 7

Yesterday – my last full day in the UK – was another good day in spite of some stresses. I had decided to wait until Hever Castle opened, intending to then call them to see if I could bring my luggage with me and leave it somewhere. Fortunately, the man I was meeting there – Dan Taylor – knew someone and was able to arrange just that.

Breakfast at the Greyhound Inn was very nice but honestly I need to stop eating eggs for quite a long while now. After packing up I set out on foot to the castle. When I got to Hever village, I found that along with the “Henry VIII” pub there is a B&B right there. I wish I had discovered that when I was booking as it would have been even more convenient.

The castle itself annoyingly did not open on time, but as the grounds were open I took the time to tour the Italianate gardens, which are lovely, with stone walls, ancient statuary (they should be in a museum!), flowers and bushes.  It was easy to imagine a fancy dress party taking place there. It even had a loggia at the edge of the lake – a pretty large semi-circular stone area projecting out into the lake with a big fountain at its back, and stairs descending to either side of the fountain.  Fancy!

And not surprising once I learned that the house was bought up by ultra-rich William Astor, who restored it. The house was at its greatest importance during the life of Anne Boleyn, then declined and was nearly a ruin at the turn of the 20th century. It was an absolutely sumptuous and interesting place to visit with many 16th century portraits and artifacts.

Then I met Dan Taylor at the Kent & Sharpshooters Yeomanry Museum. By that point I’d already looked at the early history part so we could concentrate on the period from about 1920 onwards, and then we went to the cafe for a tea and coffee. Dan had brought with him two enormous photo albums full of fascinating glimpses into the unit’s history during WW2.  Unfortunately there was only time to look at one of them, and then it was time to head off.

Getting to my airport hotel had a couple of hiccups but I wasn’t worried because I had a lot of time to get there. It was only at this point that I discovered that there is a much more direct route, a bus apparently run by Southern Railway, but not from a stop on the line I had arrived on. Apparently the nearby town of Edenbridge has two stations which do not connect. If I had taken a taxi there and then the bus, it would have greatly reduced my travel time.

Still, I got there, and while my airport hotel was a bit dingy, it was fine, and since my flight was at 11 and I checked in the night before, I had an unhurried morning and got to the plane without any troubles. We then had to sit on the terminal for half an hour – ah! I know why! It was because I didn’t really want to leave, and I was holding the plane back!

Goodbye, UK, hope to see you again soon.

UK Trip, Day 6

Well! I seem to have fallen behind here. I ought to have written this during my train trip yesterday I suppose.

Southsea Castle in Portsmouth seemed to be completely unstaffed. I thought it might be possible to go up on the battlements but either that was wrong or everyone was late. I had a brief look around and moved on to the D-Day museum.

That was really good. I don’t know that I learned a great deal per se as I wasn’t ignorant before visiting, and I was turned off of the videos of actors pretending to be soldiers because the first one, giving a briefing about D-Day, was quite clearly giving a briefing to visitors rather than what would have been said at the time. Perhaps that’s unfair. However, there were a lot of items on display and those I found very interesting. That took about an hour, I had a cup of tea, and then looked at the D-Day tapestry. That is really impressive – it is something like 78 meters long and wraps all the way around the outside of a room, with information panels below. It is like a gigantic cinematic montage in embroidery form. There were also some video screens with clips of veterans talking briefly about an aspect of their experience.

I picked up a little lunch, went back to my B&B for my bags, and headed on to the train. The train trip was basically fine although I noticed when I switched to a Southern train to get to Hever how the overhead compartments were too small for my carry-on suitcase and there didn’t seem to be any quiet cars. So put me down as much more impressed with Southwest.

The walk from Hever to my inn (around 4 or 4:30, I think) was uneventful – blue sky, clouds, narrow country road, having to keep an eye out for cars. Some sheep and horses in fields, and daffodils in sight.

I found when I got to the inn that it is technically closed between 3 and 6. This was not indicated in the hotels.com information and they said that they haven’t been able to update it. That is really quite annoying although not because I couldn’t check in – they did give me a key and show me to my room, which I really nice. It was probably the second best room I had on my trip, and access was via glass double doors opening up onto the bricked area behind the building, and the garden and fields beyond.

The annoying element was that they wouldn’t let me leave my luggage there the next day past 3 – they said they would have to put it outside at that point. This really put a crimp in my plans for the next day and caused me some anxiety and I think some lost sleep. It all turned out well in the end, though.

Dinner at the inn was pretty good – I had a chicken stir fry for a change, and an apple tartlet which I really did not need.  The bed was very comfortable.  The only complaint I had is really more my own fault – the next morning when I took a shower it took far more time than it should have for me to figure out how to operate the hydrostatic shower controls!  Oh, and the doors had one of those “lift the handle and then turn the key” locks… sometimes it was fine and sometimes I just could not lock the door.

UK Trip, Day 5

I am writing this in the metaphorical shadow of one of King Henry VIII’s works! It is called Southsea Castle although “Fort” would be more appropriate. It is on the coast here in Plymouth – I guess this part used to be a separate town called Southsea.
I just walked from my B&B along the esplanade to here while an absolutely terrific wind was blowing.  I can’t imagine what it was like for the runners I saw moving along.  I should add that it is 9:50 right now.  There were various war memorials along the way, including an enormous one for WW1/2.  For once the sky has cleared up and it is sunny with some very fast moving clouds.
But I’m actually supposed to be writing about yesterday. I had a terrible night’s sleep – it turns out the place I was staying ought to be have been called a hostel, not a hotel, I mean not really. Not all the rooms had a bathroom – ok, you get that in B&Bs too. But from when I went to bed around 10, until midnight, there were students either taking showers or talking in the hall, and did I mention the communal bathroom was right next to my bedroom? I also had to take one of the provided towels to stop up the light coming in under my door.  Between that, the anger it created in me, and someone taking a shower at 6, honestly I think I only got about 4 hours of actual sleep.
So I called another place that morning, found she had a room for last night, packed up and left right away. I had breakfast at the new place (for just 5 pounds, that’s a steal at UK rates) and left my luggage there while I went out.
I was supposed to meet a couple of people at 11 I shall call A and B. A is an online vidoe game streamer, and B is a volunteer at the Tank Museum and honestly has far more stuffed into his head than I could imagine. Anyway, I had some time before 11 so I thought I would go to a model shop to see if they had anything I can’t get in Canada, but that turned out to be a small shop and it was a waste of time. Then A was late (she had had a mild case of food poisoning), and B didn’t have a phone and we failed to connect. However, A and I went and toured HMS Alliance, a submarine from just after WW2. The tour guide was an ex-submariner so we could ask him all sorts of questions.  Can you imagine what the air in a submarine would have been like with 47 men on board and them all smoking?  Ghastly.
We met up with B at a local microbrewery partly run by a friend of his, sat and had a drink and talked. The lager was incredibly good. Then we went over to HMS Victory and since A and B had both seen her many times, I went aboard to explore and they got a cup of tea.  We then wound up at a pub and talked some more. They were going to stay for some karaoke which promised to be “so bad that it is good” but I don’t see the appeal of that and I was tired so I went back to my B&B. Even though I would have liked to see the Mary Rose museum, I ended the day feeling like I had made two new friends and that was really great.
I got a proper 8 hours of sleep and am now going to look at Southsea Castle here and the D-Day Museum next door.  Then it’s on to Hever. I don’t want to be too late as I have to walk 15 minutes from the station along a tiny country road to get to my inn there, and I don’t want to do that after sunset.

UK Trip, Day 4

I suppose today was a slightly difficult transition day, or something…

After breakfast this morning I packed and went to the station. By checking the state of the trains online, I found that there was a disruption east of Bournemouth so I tried to visit a local museum that Freda mentioned last night. Unfortunately, it did not open until 10, and the next train was 10:13. So I got a coffee and sat.

The train ride was uneventful. I read through a chapter of the book I am proofreading, all about the hidebound institutions of the British army in the 20s and 30s. They effectively perpetuated a class and school based system, with different units having different levels of prestige, so they would look down on one another. Madness. It really was a very strange and awful culture, from my point of view. The book is about how this inhibited the ability of the British army in the early part of the war.

I stopped in a suburb of Portsmouth called Cosham, not for any sightseeing, but to BUY USED BOOKS! Hahaha! After combing through the collection, I found two, both of which I was very satisified to buy. One I had passed up on buying in Toronto and kicked myself for it. The other I had found in Toronto but only at a ridiculous price.

I took the train on into Portsmouth and found my “hotel” courtesy of the directions of my phone. The rooms are over a pub; they have a separate entrance that leads to the back and a tiny staff counter.

My room is almost too small to swing a dead cat. (Sorry for the phrase!) The bed is a reasonably sized single but there is only barely enough room on one side to open my suitcase, and not much more on the other. No desk, a shower stall that looks about 3 feet square, and a room for a toilet and TINY sink which is about the same. But for 55 pounds per night what can one expect?

I had dinner downstairs at the pub and decided to try the pheasant and pigeon dish. Now I know that I do not much like pheasant or pigeon.

Trip to the UK, Day 3

Taking a somewhat unexpected pause just before leaving Dorchester, so it seems a good time to type up the latest news. I was on the platform waiting for the 9:33 train and then discovered that there was a disruption further along the track (past Bournemouth) and decided to leave and see if the local museum was open.  Sadly, it was not, so I walked back up to the coffee shop near the station and got a cortado.

Yesterday was another really good day.  I didn’t spend much time in the archives but I wanted to try to get a copy of a scale drawing of the Archer so I went back, and selected a number of photographs to get photocopied too.  I also gathered up my courage and asked an older fellow at my table what he was researching. It turns out that he is writing a book about the British 8th Army in North Africa (due out next year), with an aspect I haven’t encountered yet. The North African campaign is one of great interest to me, and he has sent me what he sent the publisher to look over and proofread!  So I may end up being a proofreader for his whole book.

Continuing on the subject of writing, the British Army officer I met on Monday put me in touch with an author who I spoke with later in the day. He was able to communicate something of the sobering reality of publishing history books. One angle I had not thought of is that publishers want a certain number of photos in order to support a book of a certain length, e.g. 200 photographs for a 250 page book. I am not sure there are 200 photographs of Archers so I have started trying to make a list. This might actually be a solid barrier that would prevent me from getting my book published by a publishing house. But he did think of at least one publisher that might be interested, but I would really need to get my information together, such as how many pages I think the book would actually be.

I also met for tea with the officer’s son at lunch time, who works at the Tank Museum, and he introduced me to a retired academic having lunch there –  who co-wrote a book I have actually consulted as reference – and he offered to do a little looking into things for me.

So that is just to give you a picture of some of the contacts I have found myself unexpectedly developing!  It is really quite something.

Also, I took some photographs of tanks in the museum.

In the evening I met with Freda and Janet, who are friends of my parents I saw last June. I took them out for dinner at Côte Brasserie, which is a chain but a chain of reasonably nice French restaurants!  We had a really lovely time together over good food.

Today I only have planned travelling to Portsmouth (a little over 2 hours) and visiting a used bookstore. I might visit the local city museum, hunt down model shops, or just put my feet up in a cafe.

Trip to the UK, Day 2

“Second verse, same as the first. A little bit better and a little bit worse!”

That’s a line from a very silly children’s song. I guess it came to me because today was quite a bit like yesterday, although actually I got much less sleep last night than the night before. Tonight, I have to have lights out at my regular time and not 45 minutes later!

Had another nice breakfast (with smoked salmon and scrambled eggs!!), popped into a used book shop for charity (I think) on the way to the station, took the train to Wool and walked again to the museum. Along the way I discovered that somehow my phone account was back down to 0 pounds from 10.  At lunch I found out that because I hadn’t purchased a new “Rocket Pack” but had put money on another way, I had been charged 10p/megabyte and used 100 megabytes of data.  Yeesh.  Since Rocket Packs come with a new SIM card it seems like there is no way to really reuse the same SIM card if you’re a tourist and only occasionally in the country.  Lesson learned.  Fortunately the customer support person I chatted with over the Internet (when I had access at the Museum) gave me a 10 pound Rocket Pack and everything is fine there now.

I did not actually look at any tanks today at all! I spent the entire day (except for lunch) in the archives’ reading room, mostly poring over documents. I spent a lot of time looking at documents which did not, in fact, help me a great deal, but it was important to me to check them in case there was information there which I would otherwise overlook.  And I photographed some documents I had passed over yesterday which will yield unknown amounts of information.

After getting back to Dorchester – perhaps 45 minutes earlier than yesterday – I stopped for dinner at “Cow and Apple”, a burger place advertising many ciders for sale.  My enthusiasm dropped due to a very, very unhappy toddler, but to be honest the food was not all that I thought it might be.  After exiting the restaurant I decided to get some sandwiches, fruit, and snacks from a local grocery store as the cafeteria at the Tank Museum leaves a little to be desired. I’m not sure what I bought is all that much better – pre-made “ploughman’s” sandwiches, several apples, and a couple of granola/energy bar things – but I probably saved money and now I will have lunch for Thursday when I travel to Portsmouth.

Since returning to my room I have posted a bit of the information I found today on the ww2talk forum and am uploading a document for my UK research contact in case it has any little nuggets of information for him.  Then I’ll play video games and get some sleep.

Trip to the UK, Day 1

I had a very long day getting to Dorchester. I must say, of my flight, I did feel like the Westjet plane and service were not as good as Air Canada’s last year.  The plane’s seats were fine, but since there was no included meal I bought a sandwich and a container of chopped pineapple at the airport and I was very glad to have those. I also did end up eating most of the granola/energy bars I brought with me, on the flight and through the day after.
After staying up the whole time on the plane, I got a train in to Clapham Junction just fine, and got my train towards Dorchester. I knew there was construction and a shuttle bus would be required, but this ended up happening from Southhampton Centre and not the airport stop before it. The man doing the organizing did not really seem to know where everywhere was, and the driver of our bus did not seem to know the entire area either, with locals having to give directions a couple of times!  It took 2 hours to reach a point that would normally take 45 minutes by car or bus because they had to go to every single local train stop along the way. I got out at Bournemouth even though it meant waiting an hour. Some others from the bus boarded the same train later, so staying on the bus for longer was no help, as I had guessed.
After I finally arrived in Dorchester I walked to my B&B up a cobbled street.  I thought it was called Trinity but I think now it is Cornhill. Lots of nice little shops including some which are selling USED BOOKS so I might be tempted to stop in there.  This did not turn out to be a really direct route to my B&B but it got me to the high street and after that I could not go wrong (as I am staying at something like #29 High Street West).
The B&B is very nice.  The bed is huge and comfortable, the bathroom has a lovely shower, and since I am here until Thursday morning I unpacked.  I went to bed a little after 8pm last night and woke up at perhaps 6:30?  I think my CPAP machine said it had been going for 10 1/4 hours.  Super refreshing!
I had a nice breakfast this morning – some “make your own” muesli with each ingredient in a separate jar, then two poached eggs and a piece of smoked haddock which was heated up.
All fuelled up then, I headed out just after 8. I caught a bus to Tesco which is to the south of the town proper (although not really very far) and got a phone “top up” card.  I felt considerable consternation when I was still not able to access the Internet from my phone – which I was relying on for maps and directions – but when I was on the train I was able to sort out why it wasn’t connecting and then all was well.  I was very happy to get this all sorted out and still get the 9:33 train.
I then walked back (15 minutes) to the train station, got a coffee, and eventually the train.  The train from Dorchester to Wool is listed at 12 minutes and I assume it was on time. The much longer part of my trip then was the walk from Wool to the tank museum, which something like 35-40 minutes. I was pleased that there was a sidewalk I could walk on the entire way.  It was not raining and I saw some horses and an attractive old house.
After arriving I met with Jonathan Holt who has been my email contact with the museum library. I think he had already gotten out for me a box of vehicle manuals (which I didn’t need), a box of documents, and a big fat binder of photographs.  I looked through the photographs first and then the documents, with a break for lunch. Some time during the day another man came in, a Matthew Whitchurch who is a British Army officer (I think he said he organizes battlefield tours for people in the military), who chatted with me, was interested in my project, and suggested he could put me in touch with a “Colonel Mike” who knows all kinds of obscure things who is about 80 and living in Cyprus!  We have exchanged emails.
Also had a little brainwave about something that has been puzzling me in some photographs of my vehicle, but I will need to confirm it somehow.
I looked at some other documents which did not help me, then finally (at 3:30?) decided to take a break and look at some things in the museum.  Finally I walked back to Wool unfortunately with probably a half hour wait for the train back.
I ended up having dinner at a pub near the B&B where I actually had a reasonably nice roast chicken dinner.  I tried to go to a “burgers and cider” restaurant which apparently has 50 ciders, but it was closed.  Might try that tomorrow although I really should find SOME kind of healthy food to have.
Tomorrow I am going to head back to the museum but I suspect that by the end of the day tomorrow I will have looked at all the documents that might be relevant and all the tanks I would like to see, and I might spend Wednesday doing something else, possibly with a local friend of the family if they are free, or at local museums.

Walking with Felines

Just some random noodling today to be honest. I haven’t been taking my cats for a walk, but it seemed like a fun title.

I did get subjected to the full cat “charm offensive” this morning, though: one cat tucked up against my stomach and the other on the top half of my pillow, both purring and hoping I would get up and escort their royal highnesses to the kitchen. (If you don’t know it already, when I’m home my cats usually want to be in the same room and definitely want me to be in the kitchen with them while they eat.) And this morning they have been very enthusiastic about being petted. I was just giving Ella a scritch and she put her paw on my forehead which I think is a “bring your head closer” communique.

I have not watched Marie Kondo’s show and I don’t plan on it but my friend Daniel mentioned it on Thursday and I’m seeing it pop up on my twitter feed a lot.

To be honest, it seems kind of weird but it is also perhaps a good reminder to go through stuff I am not using and get rid of things. I could probably do a pass over paperback novels, some of which I have kept to read again and then never read again.

Coffee: the Grounding

Well. I woke up this morning 10 minutes early as it was just meant that I should make coffee for myself with my newly adjusted grinder.  Sadly the results were just about the same even though I THOUGHT I had used a coarser grind.

So today I really need to buy bottle brushes to make sure the interior stem of the pot is not crusted with old coffee (IT ALMOST CERTAINLY IS) and adjust the grinder one or two notches.

In brighter news as I walked down to the streetcar stop, the sky was definitely lighter!