I was slow getting out the door this morning as I waited on the rain to lighten — and because I was unaware of the time change that cost me an hour. I should invest in a bright yellow rain coat, colorful cowboy boot galoshes, and an umbrella for three so I can keep dry at any angle when the wind changes direction — or at least some waterproof pants to go with my coat so the rain doesn’t drip onto my absorbent leg coverings. Though the only two things I want to keep dry is my camera because it’s pricy and my feet so they don’t blister.
The rain actually stopped for a bit and the sun was so damn bright as it shined in the sky and reflected off the wet pavement. I hadn’t bothered to bring sunglasses again because they end up taking up valuable pocket space and don’t fit on my head with my hood on. The precursors to modern sunglasses were made out of smoky quartz by the Chinese, out of walrus ivory by the Inuit, and tinted lenses by a French chemist to correct for vision impairments and light sensitivity in the 1770s.
Sam Foster would find a market for his celluloid and cerium creations on the beaches of Atlantic City, New Jersey in the 1930s, which has roughly 56% of its days filled with sun while London just 11 degrees north averages 62 days a year. For such limited use, the UK has UV transmission categories so that some sunglasses can be worn inside or on a cloudy day, others while driving to help block reflections from the pavement and ones made to block out the sun on a snowy mountaintop. I love how much science and history is behind something I use daily and take for granted. I would appreciate though if the UK sold rain-x with their sunnies or glecks just as the Middle East should sell defog with their cooling glasses.
I didn’t get to “Soak Up the Sun” (Sheryl Crow) too much before my path brought shade and the weather gifted me more rain. I thought about taking the bus but that would defeat the purpose of walking and I knew there’d still be rain at the other end of the ride. My southeast journey would bring me through Ashburton Park, roughly 1km in diameter, where I will see my first female squirrel and first fartlek (Swedish for speed play) fitness trail to improve strength and endurance by varying between jogging and sprints.
I walk for at least a mile past houses before I turn onto a path leading through Coombe Wood or Addington Hills looking for an observation deck that will offer me a view above the trees of the city in the distance. The trail narrows and widens at seemingly random intersections and links with the London Loop for a while, but many photo opportunities will be missed as the rain decides to join me and the few other people I can hear through the trees on our daily outing. I’m not sure which direction to go so I wander a bit in each before I start the going-west portion of my walk.
This decision will have me entering Coombe Wood Gardens where I would love to picnic and brush up on some botany on the verdant grass amongst the rainbow of surrounding foliage but the falling water has toddlers finding the smallest puddles to make use of all their wet weather attire. There’s a busy cafe and an empty bench; a couple inside a booth and a path that leads to a dead end; short fenced territories and tall tree canopies complete the look of this garden haven.
I took the sidewalk between road and trees and am not sure how I figured out I was not going the way I intended. Perhaps it was the tram crossing and the path ending that turned me around to see the white ball of fire in its field of blue in the sky with no rainbow accompaniment… this time. I take the tram (that can reach a top speed of 50mph) to E. Croydon (the only place in London to have trams) from Lloyd Park. The bathrooms are either locked, require me to scan my Oyster card (which I suppose if you don’t travel doesn’t charge you), or to register on an app (as if I don’t have enough on my phone already).
The E. Croydon Station is the busiest in London outside Zone 1 where a majority of the tourist attractions are located and where different lines intersect to connect you to the rest of the country. Croydon is known for having the first international airport that was open from 1920-1959, giving it the oldest air traffic control tower, and coining the “Mayday” call in the 20s as most flights were to Paris and the word was close to their word m’aider, meaning, help me.
Lunch is had at Oatopia where I stand around the corner from their counter to block the wind while I eat a vegan burger patty of chickpea, pistachio, and mango. I use a ledge to hold my first turmeric latte with cinnamon. The last documented times I had this golden spice, a relative of ginger, was in the early months of 2018 — on cauliflower and in a probiotic drink. I write a lot about food on here, and sometimes it doesn’t seem to stand out, but being able to look back collectively on the moments surrounding what I was eating at that point in my life makes them more memorable.
I’ll enjoy a nice walk along the same streets where composer, Samuel Coleridge-Taylor lived from 1875-1912 and author, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle lived from 1891-1894. Croydon is where Dubstep was born in the 1990s and is known for having the movies 28 Days Later and The DaVinci Code filmed here, as well as an episode from Black Mirror: Bandersnatch. I pass by murals, couples, businesses, and birds on my way to the Croydon Minster, the most prominent Anglican Church of the more than 35 in the borough. I talk with the Father as he unlocks the gate to get his car inside before continuing my lop-sided loop around the Old Town area and seeing a snail, a flip-flop, a striped spider, a teapot, and laundry from balcony to sidewalk.
There’s a commemorative tablet (British for plaque) that lets passersby know that in the year MDCCCXCVI = 1896 the High Street was widened from 29 feet to its current 50. Bridges come with the year of their completion engraved in them but it’s rare to see roads celebrated in their growth as they’re usually remembered for what they were once made of, who or what they once carried, or for being the first of their kind. I appreciate the little celebration, the reminder of history, and the artsy touch the sign adds by being built into the wall.
Another smile gets me another coffee, this time by Radu the Romanian, a professional gardener, who has been living in London for 12 years. I’d have to earn my Americano by following him the quarter mile to Triple Two Coffee where we’d sip and chat a while. I walked with Radu to the tram station and watched him give a homeless woman his chicken dinner before we parted ways. I would take the rail back to Portland Rd to wash laundry (not knowing how long the machine might take) and it turns out I had to hang my clothes and let them take turns on the heater to dry.
I would use this time to talk with Caleb and do some writing, by hand, which feels so cathartic and brings me back to the days before technology became such a force in my life (and I don’t even use it as much as I used to). I grew up using ink, encyclopedias, and paper calendars and understand the eco-friendliness of using less of the Earth’s limited resources but know that the electricity, constant upgrade releases, server systems, and proper recycling come with their own issues that need to be addressed. I was nowhere near this thought process though while I let the pen express some of the electrical impulses firing from my neurons.
The bed, with its thin European-style spring mattress, felt super cozy under the surprisingly warm blanket that I hadn’t bothered to turn on the gas wall heater. Being up before the sun means that I get to see the sky in its multi-colored glory before it turns a shade of gray or white for the remainder of the day — typical England weather, where you’re lucky when you can differentiate the clouds as it adds depth to such an unfathomable distance… except for hot air balloons, planes, and space shuttles that give us context to measure the layers of atmosphere.
The sun rises lazily before 8am, when little shops on the way to the train aren’t open yet to sell me a morning beverage. I’m not sure of the logic used to create the trains’ schedules as last night I had planned to go to the corner of Greenwich Park, close to Queens Bath, with a train and bus ride that would total 40 minutes versus the 31 it will take me to get to Blackheath via two trains and then walking the difference, which is my main agenda of the trip, so I’m not complaining at all and am grateful for all the help available to maintain such an efficient system.
I wait for the train to arrive and appreciate having a moment to ensure I’m getting on the right train, as when there’s one about to leave the station and I seem to have a minute till the next one that I’m supposed to be on I get so anxious to climb aboard and wave adieu to my family as I’ve seen and read about many times, so I should remember that most of those people met with tragic ends, unless they’re a bunny in an animated story going to prove themselves in the big city to the Zootopia police chief. But unlike the movies and biographies of pre-1950s, when fares were pennies, I’ll top-up my card with 20 quid to avoid the $1,300 fine.
On today’s trains are three women in tights with their waterproof hiking bags, a man with his Brompton folding bike (which sells for $1,500 and is handmade in London with $300+ brands online), and a beggar. My first encounter was the other day with a white woman selling tissues, to everyone. Today, this black man walks through the cabin and only asks for change from people with the same skin color. I heard growing up that, “beggars can’t be choosers” but this world is full of options and ways of seeing and doing things that go beyond my limited childhood and cultural views.
I get that no one likes to be left out — games on the playground, voting in politics, using the same bathroom, getting room temp water like the other patrons, and having laws passed so people can’t sell each other across state lines (this one amended in 1986 for gender neutrality). This is like the broke asking the poor for money in the US — ask someone who might’ve shared a similar situation in hopes for more empathy than a person getting out of a car with monthly payments that would take you five months to make without eating or paying bills.
I get on the wrong train at London Bridge where there is an ad: Tired of being tired, try Floradix (like a floor of dicks… wouldn’t that wear out anyone?) Had I grown up in a country with such liberal use of language, I might’ve gotten into advertising. My five minutes that I didn’t wait turns into a ten-minute ride near Eltham Palace, which is on my list, but not on today’s agenda. I pride myself at being able to stand where the doors will open on the platform, which changes with train length. I had planned on coming to London for the buses and parks and am definitely getting my fill of trains and walking. Two hours on the trains will cost me 2.6 quid.
I had looked up food near the station so I’d know what my options were when I arrived hungry. I wandered down a random street to let the crowd disperse from Gail’s Bakery so that I may get an egg slider and sour cherry scone to escort me to their bathroom (a limited amenity in the public of covid). It’s then that I realize my camera’s clock is set three hours ahead, to Bahrain time, and that I better take note lest I think I was able to wait until the afternoon to eat breakfast.
Blackheath Park is the open space south of Charlton Way that separates it from the famous Greenwich Park with the Royal Observatory and the Prime Meridian that divides the Earth’s eastern and western hemispheres. Blackheath Park was the private property of Humphrey, Duke of Gloucester in the 1400s, and son, brother, and uncle of kings: Henry IV, Henry V, and Henry VI respectively. Standing out, and looking upon the fields of soccer practice and sword play is the All Saints’ Church that was opened in the autumn of 1858. A small house was built nearby in 1883 for a Heath Keeper to help keep the order should there be any trouble.
I enter the famous park via the Chesterfield Gate and make my way to un-crowned (barred by the king from coronation) Queen Caroline’s Bath to take a peek at the steps that led to good health and an entertainment space in the Georgian era (1714-1830, so named for the Hanoverian kings George I-IV who ruled Great Britain and Ireland until their union in 1801 under King George III, who ruled from 1760-1820). Caroline married George IV in 1795 and was barred from seeing her daughter from 10 to 21, when she died in childbirth. Caroline was the Princess of Wales until George was crowned and she was queen for less than two years before her death, never giving the king the divorce he so badly tried to initiate.
Up next is the tenderly maintained rose garden that asks guests to avoid balls, fires, and radios in the area, and to keep dogs away from the rose beds. Some of the bushes seem to be hibernating, but those that aren’t allow you to see their gentle reds, pinks, and yellows amongst a soft blue sky with billowy clouds changing shape as they move across the tree tops. There is tennis practice on the courts, dog walkers and runners on the path, a group stretching nearby and some beautiful buildings hidden in the trees that have started to drop their dry yellow leaves en masse.
I pass a statue of William IV, the third son of George III, who would rule after his older brother George IV, from 1830 until his death in 1837. The view between the Maritime Museum and Greenwich Park is great (giant ship in a bottle), but I had planned on seeing it after a trip to the Fan Museum, temporarily closed to avoid getting flu all over their absorbent history, that was opened in 1991 to showcase hand fans from around the world. In their place, I get to compare styles of varying anchor types to their enormous ships that are shown to scale with the double-decker London bus on the description signs.
The admiralty-pattern anchor at it’s shortest measurement is more than three meters, weighs over 2,000 kg, and was made in about 1750 before improvements in iron strength for forging in 1800 and the steam hammer for welding around 1830. The original oak stock lasted until 1990 and was studded with nails to protect it from shipworm (a wood boring saltwater clam that can live without air for up to six weeks on its glycogen stores). The modern wood is protected by a request: Please do not climb on these anchors.
Next to this is another impressive piece of historical technology, an eleven-tonne steel cutterhead that is used to remove materials from seabeds for land reclamation and construction projects in the Far East. This model became obsolete in 1995 when the dredger switched to a left-hand rotation, though both revolve between 20-35 times per minute. The teeth in sand may last days, while digging in rocks may need to be renewed every half hour. This is why the teeth were made to be quick and easy to change. I’m not sure I’d agree with whatever destruction they caused, but we humans have a way of choosing naïveté when it comes to the consequences of our decisions.
To finish my visit to the mini outdoor display is recognition of the balance and fitness of sailors who had to climb aloft to fix rigging. Today, even people in wheelchairs can ‘climb’ via harnesses and winches. That’s why in the Anchor Challenge (a side-plank position) where you’re asked to line up to mirror the anchors on display, wheelchairs and buggies can use a helper to balance on two wheels, which I think is more of a challenge and a trust exercise. I appreciate the consideration for those that get around differently to not feel left out.
I will zig-zag my way to the Thames, passing in front of the Maritime Museum, then east on College Way, before walking west along the river towards the Cutty Sark. Caleb and I visited inside in 2015, so I’m more interested in the little Halloween market taking place between ship and gardens. I talk with Susan about her business, her family, and the city she calls home. She sells me a hot gingerbread drink and then I spend most of my time there talking with the two women at Pasta Boss about food, travel, and marriage, while holding my Mac-n-cheese scotch egg, until they get a customer.
Also in the market is a candy bin section, with candied eggs that remind me of candied cigarettes (neither of which taste like their inspiration). There’s Illegally Delicious with a table full of cheesecakes, gateaux (layered cakes), other cakes, tarts, and various sweets; The Sausage selling pork, beef, and seitan options; and Don Jamón serving seafood, chicken, and veggie paella. All the owners are so happy to be there and I’m not sure if this is their regular demeanor or what can be expected after months of shutdown and others going out of business. They’re grateful to be here and I’m glad they are too.
Through the Greenwich Foot Tunnel and easily distanced from the other ten people using this quarter-mile walkway under the river as only one of them is coming my direction. The tunnel narrows by a couple feet and the dirty white bricks are covered by a 1940 patch job from WWII to repair leaking from bomb damage on the first night of the Blitz. A few months later the fix was finished and the housing in the south was again connected to the industries and docks of the north; an essential part of the war effort that remains a popular mode of transportation today, so much so that it has been regularly shutdown during the pandemic to limit crowds.
I walk along Millwall Park, where the narrow strip of land forming the northern border was the former site of the Globe Rope Works from 1881 until 1971 when they moved to Sussex and became Marlow Ropes, still in operation today. A traveller machine was used to twist ropes of all strengths and sizes made from hemp and manilla fibers for hauling, packaging, binding, etc., until WWII when these products became scarce and they developed the nylon rope and the Hercules, two braided ropes combined.
In the 1880s and 90s, the Island boys were crazy for soccer and every club, pub, church, and factory had its own team. The Millwall “Football” Club would clear the cows from the field and steam roll the water-logged grass to create a decent playing pitch. Games were held here until 1910 when the team moved south to New Cross. I skip the Mudchute Park & Farm and get on the train instead to Shadwell station, not the least violent district in London — according to crime stats from 2018 that also claim Croydon is in the top five most dangerous boroughs (where I’m staying now) and that Kingston upon Thames (where I will be staying) to be the safest.
Some of these neighborhoods make me wonder which came first — the religious buildings and restaurants or the people bringing a piece of home with them to new lands. Here, in Shadwell, it’s the mosques, halal butchers, and women in burqas that give this community a very Muslim presence. A 17 x 18 meter mural detracts from that scene and depicts the Battle of Cable Street that took place in 1936 when 250,000 East Londoners took to the street so that the thousands of Mosley’s Blackshirts, the British Union of Fascists, “Shall Not Pass.” They didn’t, but The Public Order Act of 1936, banning the wearing of political uniforms in public, did.
The mural was started in 1976 by Dave who struggled through multiple acts of vandalism and left the project unfinished until three more artists came and finished it in 1983. Paul Butler, one of the three, was appointed for necessary repairs in 2011 so that the reminder of what communities of varied political parties, workers’ unions, and religious groups can do when they come together against those trying to divide them. If this is what it took for more peace in the world, I’d hire street painters and muralists to cover every manmade structure as a reminder that species get more done working together than they do tearing each other apart.
I found a Street Art Tour online and am attempting to follow it even though some of the art must be eluding me or the map is available to throw people off from the actual course the tour guide takes. Either way, I’m having fun and as I finish taking a picture of a building, I smile at another passing stranger and Michael, a 60ish year old Irish man, invites me inside the Pret A Manger for a coffee. He makes sure I’m situated at the table before going to the counter and getting nothing for himself because he’d just finished lunch. He writes down his address on a betting slip and offers his sister’s bed in Ireland for a night in exchange for a postcard.
I sip on the coffee while we talk and Michael is glad that I’m enjoying my vacation, even with its limits. He doesn’t realize it’s also because of people like him taking the time to make my trip more pleasant and memorable and that it stands out from just another gray day in the city because I’m not commuting or struggling to make ends meet. The kindness of strangers encourages my superfluous burdens to melt away when I am in the spoils of nature and newness.
I continue to follow the art as it weaves back and forth across Brick Lane and come across a group of people fly posting. The lookout asks that I don’t capture their faces in my pictures as what they’re doing is illegal. The city has laws on where leaflets may be distributed and fees assessed by volume. The Clean Neighbourhoods and Environment Act of 2005 was introduced to reduce the litter this form of advertising creates and to hold those responsible accountable — whether they’re the ones pasting or the person or product being shown. It’s ridiculous how much tax money is spent annually to remove these guerrilla marketing tactics to present a clean and safe place, so some cities are working with legit fly posters to keep the dirty rogues away.
Perhaps if instead of just rental cars and SIM card stations at the airport there was a booth where you could download a traveler app that contains the top ten apps that are of most use to your destination — local maps, restaurant reviews, trail finders, recycling centers, public transportation, and reporting crimes etc. I suppose people prefer to post their witnessed atrocities to Facebook Live instead of via an app where you could send picture proof and other supporting details via text without worrying about phone minutes, reception, language barrier, or the offender overhearing you.
Since this isn’t a thing, I take a picture of Stacy, in the You Are Enough series (portraits of women friends bettering society) by Dreph, a London-based visual artist and continue my walk in the patter of rain. I approach another large portrait, this one on Hanbury St by Ant Carver, who uses oil and spray paint as his mediums for expression. This piece was just finished ten weeks ago as a tribute to a friend with the idea of living in harmony with grief. Another artist to sign his name legibly is SubDude, who speaks out about politics, cell phone culture, and equality via satirical slogans.
Adrian Boswell, the Broccoli Man, turned a 2017 vegetable shortage into an art idea that started out with the cruciferous plant becoming a collage on local walls. Soon, the member of the Brassica oleracea species was turning up red and gold and can now be found in a rainbow variety or imprisoned in a clear cage. You can find this artist in his studio, The Broccoli Factory, next to a painted scroll with the message, “In a room full of art I’d still stare at you.”
The cool thing about the color of the sky, besides the temperature it maintains, is the loss of time available to me as I wander with the only purpose of looking at my surroundings; following the art and not the street names and wanting to meet the people displayed so grandly, such as the musician Natasha Awuku, painted in David Speed’s neon style at Powerleague Shoreditch, just a month ago, where I watched a guy lacing up his cleats for a late afternoon practice with his team already on the field.
If my afternoon had been a homemade film (before editing software became a household item) than my ‘goldfish lost in a fishtank’ meandering would have foretold how my evening on the trains would go. Walking into Liverpool Street Station did feel like a holiday romance flick when the happy ending verges on the two main characters coming together before the credits to let the audience know how it ends. Well, my story wasn’t over yet. The transportation app suggested I walk to Moorgate Station for a more efficient trip or perhaps it felt I could use some more color against the grey wetness falling innocently enough for a half mile.
I missed the train because my phone told me mine was in five minutes (arriving or leaving) I’m still not sure. I need to read the platform signs instead since they give a more detailed answer as to when the next three trains are arriving and where they’re stopping at. I ride to London Bridge for something to eat and a direct ride home only to have my train canceled so that I can listen to a guy laugh hysterically and look like a gnome running in place while talking about a girl he knows somewhere and his roundtrip to Brighton.
I could’ve moved amongst the crowd while I waited but I wasn’t the only one watching this man tell his story so I figured I would take in this moment for what it was and let him feel heard, even if not fully understood. I get to East Croydon and meet a German woman who just finished a marathon, and though tired and hungry, is more willing to hoof it to Norwood Junction than I am. We decide to wait the 20 minutes together until the delayed train arrives.
I’m on the lookout for snacks and settle for a cheese onion sandwich (not as good as egg and cress) and get charged twice at Sainsbury’s because the receipt asks for a signature. Luckily, the cashier had canceled the first transaction before asking someone else to help ring me up. I climb in bed with pen and snacks in hand and rain skittering faintly at the window. After my notes are finished, I’ll read about transitions (not sure if referring to green energy in The Wisest One in the Room or something online) before listening to a podcast (keyword: brain) for half an hour.
As I lay down, there was pure silence for a moment and I didn’t want to move for fear of disrupting the peace, which was fleeting.
I had planned on an easy and short day, even though I had also planned on taking day trips with train rides up to two hours, each way, if I traveled in the dark to make the most of the light at my destination. Today worked out as a non-plan plan to see things on my list, wander around, and somehow head north towards the Thames, descending nearly 300 feet in elevation. I’d walk about 13 miles and travel just as far on the trains.
I stopped at The Guava Kitchen for a vegan no-eggs Benedict (should’ve tried the charcoal toast) and got my order to-go because I didn’t want to sit in what felt like a clinic and then feel guilty when I remove my mandatory-indoors mask, shoving food and flu into my face, when I wasn’t even hungry yet. Not far from their entrance is a wall with a Theatrical Transformation by Artmongers that encourages those passing by to have their picture taken in a painted Egyptian sarcophagus or blowing into Horniman’s horn. I’ll do neither without remote and tripod or bothering a stranger for a picture that I won’t like anyway — either the way they took it or the way I look in it.
The Horniman Museum has been built and extended multiple times. The original home was opened to the public in 1891, replaced with the 1901 building with a Doulting Stone facade. The 1911 extension used the same stone and similar design features to compliment the first. The 1996 eco-building used wood from sustainably managed forests with no mention if the grass roof was fair trade. The last addition in 2002, with a new designer, was able to use the same stone quarry from Somerset — one with a history built into the Roman times.
I would normally go inside to see the treasures within, but the year of covid has also been the year of smelly sanitizer for hands, seats, surfaces, and such along with having thermometer guns pointed at my forehead and hands. I’ve been offered more gloves and plastic bags and containers than I can stand (pre-covid as well). Caleb and I have been using cloth bags for a decade now or trying to carry it all in our hands when we used to forget our bags in the car. This year has been terrible for the over production of plastic wrap to cover the plastic containers with the plastic cutlery and the disposable menus for fear of germs, but what about phones, toilets, and doors, etc.
Anyway, that is one of the many reasons I chose to remain outdoors for a majority of this trip and make the most of my time amongst nature before it is again off limits with the possibility of a fine if caught. Will this be the way for the wealthy to enjoy the serenity without the throngs of mediocre onlookers clogging the view if you only have to pay for close contact with rangers, guards, police, or other staff that still have a job in a decreasing workforce or will they soon too be limited to their four walls, bandwidth, bookshelves, and fenced yards.
The gardens are a dizzying array of packed planting and simplicity, of spring growth and autumn death, with pops of color and animals sprinkled throughout. As the rain starts, I find a tiny overhead ledge to hide under while I unpack my paper bag and appreciate the thin, small wooden fork inside so that I may eat my yellow tofu on bread (as exciting as it sounds) and know that some things just can’t be substituted, like non-pork bacon, sugar-free chocolate syrup, and yolk-less eggs (unless baking).
I get to see my first Racka Sheep, with black appendages and a gray body, a variation bred by Hungarians for centuries that’s now exported to the UK, US, and France for wool, meat, and milk. His friends seem to be of the un-horned beige variety. On the other side of his fence is an animal of a different sort — a little girl exploring paths of all types as her slightly older brother tries to capture her and bring her back to dad. I’m grateful for both our paces, as we find ways to experience joy at contrasting speeds. I’ll watch a dog crap behind a tree, so the owner can pretend she didn’t see it, before I exit the park and follow the Green Chain Walk.
Part of Section 11, now to my south is the Sydenham Hill Wood that is a piece of the remaining Great North Wood, home to over 200 species of plants, rare fungi, and a bat roost. The railway was closed in 1954 following the Palace fire and villas were demolished so the woods could grow and become the Trust’s first nature reserve in 1982. The Walk is one of many footways the city has established to get people out amongst the greenery and history of the surrounding boroughs; this one covering 50 miles south of the river and east of downtown.
Neighborhoods here have more dog walking rules than just, “no dog fouling” such as how many one walker can have at a time and what percentage of them must be on a lead. There’s also a special designated mini-curb area that shows drivers where they’re allowed to park up on the sidewalk, still giving plenty of room for cars on the street and mums with prams, short for perambulator (a formal British version of ‘one who walks’).
I walk through Camberwell Old Cemetery, as do mourners, joggers, elderly couples, and dog owners. I think it’s a great use of the space, though no matter how wealthy these people were when they passed some have since been forgotten in the passing of time but you wouldn’t know it. There’s a nice contrast of the old gray, moss-covered stones, some crumbling, next to the modern shiny black stones with gold engravings. The graves make me think of fish tanks with their layer of colored chippings that offer a more pleasing design with less maintenance.
There are plenty of graves with fake flowers which help to add a touch of color to the crosses, hearts, and angels overlooking the remains of loved ones; if the headstone hasn’t fallen over. Something new, for me, was the fresh flowers placed in letter-shaped floral foam to spell out nicknames, relationship status, etc. as a longer lasting way to stand out, but no grave does this better than Veronica Josephine O’ Brien’s, who must’ve been an awesome person who passed in ’97 and is now remembered amongst her stones of white with gold engravings in a sea of blue chippings.
I find One Tree Hill, with way more trees, that has nothing to do with the nine-season drama series based on half-brothers in North Carolina. The Oak of Honor at the summit is the third to hold this title for rumors of Queen Elizabeth I, last of the Tudors, resting under the original in 1602, the second having been stricken down by lightning in 1888, and the current tree planted to commemorate the opening of the park to the public in 1905 after passing through royal ownership, having a history with the Napoleonic Wars and the East India Company, and almost being turned into a golf course which would’ve denied the public from the modern panoramic view of downtown as seen through the woods from 90 meters above sea level.
Also seen through the trees is St. Augustine’s Church which stands out on the park map but wasn’t designated a number like the Stag Beetle Stump and Owl Boxes that encourage wildlife to thrive in the overgrown park that was designated a Local Nature Reserve in 2007. The windows come with three stages of protection — fitted bars for carrier pigeons to work through, but with wire over them fit for a clew (a group of worms resembling a ball of yarn — don’t see the likeness), with medieval bars over that for impaling chickens and rabbits.
There’s a bit of rain that follows me to the Camberwell New Cemetery with a royal imposing entrance that keeps me walking through a neighborhood as the skies clear. I take a peek at a townhouse under construction before arriving at Nunhead Station where I will walk up to the platform twice, after exiting the station, in hopes that its lack of connections will have changed. If I’d have known sooner, I’d have gone to Nunhead Cemetery, one of the Magnificent Seven in London, originally known as All Saints’ Cemetery that was consecrated in 1840.
Without this knowledge, I decide to trek to Brockley Station with more direct route options. I cross the street and this man who had just come out of an off-license store asks if the film in my camera is too fancy for him. I tell him it’s not so he asks me to take his picture and I offer to open his cider after hearing him struggle with the tab. He thanks me and offers kind advice in return, “Before you cuss at someone think about the ways you could improve. Don’t think you’re better than them. It’ll help you keep your teeth.”
Approaching the entrance to what sounds like a mispronunciation of broccoli I notice a sign — humped zebra crossing. In British English, it means the crosswalk also contains a speed hump for cars. In American English, it means this is where zebras cross the road after sex. I love the similarities and disconnects in our languages and it helps highlight the disparities in the historic Sanskrit, Aramaic, Latin, etc. based ways to express ourselves in written and spoken manners that have continued to branch and merge as this large world continues to trade with some and destroy other ethnicities.
Heavy clouds linger above the train to London Bridge Station but it’s all white skies upon arrival and a screen that warns: Customer Information — Please be aware that mobile phone thieves operate in this area. This leaves me wondering how many banks have been robbed this year, especially with masks now being compulsory. The FBI keeps some interesting stats, such as type of bank, day and time, bank location (main office, rural, in-store), robbery location (counter, armored vehicle, safe), weapons involved, hostages taken/injured, and security devices used. Their daily average for 2018 was eight per day, down from the 10.5 per day in 2017.
I don’t know about you but that seems like a lot, and that’s not all. The ASU Center for Problem-Oriented Policing says that only two out of 100 robberies in the US are of banks, which means there were 392 other cases of theft in some form in 2018. In England, their lowest count since 2002 was 144 per day, so given that they appear more peaceful in many country indexes for crime and safety, their robbers must be more polite and less violent. I can understand the logic in that as I’m more willing to part with things and my time when people use manners.
Into Borough Market to look for Scotchtails, a restaurant that serves a veggie version of the popular Scotch egg. I’ll give the not finding them up to multiple reasons: the market is twice the size I thought; the food truck, according to their last review written in February, is hard to find; and with covid their days and hours have been changing so they might not have been at the market that day. I’ll gladly settle for a mushroom pate sample from one stand and donuts: pumpkin spice cinnamon and sea-salted caramel honeycomb from Bread Ahead bakery and baking school.
I’ll walk a short loop of the city to include a nice view from Southwark Bridge before coming upon the ruins of Winchester Palace with a door that led to the buttery (wine cellar), pantry, and kitchen. It was built in the 12th century with two courtyards, a prison, brewhouse, butchery, tennis court, bowling alley, and pleasure gardens. The palace was divided into tenements and warehouses in the 17th century and the ruins discovered 200 years later following a fire, but wouldn’t be revealed until the 1980s when the area was redeveloped.
At some point on my smooshed circular route I had passed the Southwark Cathedral, a 900-year old landmark, that was a church until 1905 and retains some of its Gothic structure with a 19th century nave reconstruction. History is great, which is why I bring this up. It’s been almost five years now since I walked this same street with Caleb and we paused to take in this beauty, of which I seemed not to take one photo of on this day and the older ones have been retired to a hard drive that is currently in storage. I felt like he was with me in that moment and appreciate our time together and look forward to a million more seconds of the extraordinary amid the mundane.
I walk through the Borough Market again but am not feeling hungry enough to buy anything. The train ride back to my room was simple and quick. It bothers me that it took days for me to notice, but I scrape someone’s dried boogie off the wall that I could’ve leaned against while sitting in bed. I’ll also sweep to reduce the amount of dirt and hair that gets stuck to my feet so I don’t bring them to bed with me.
I’m excited to be in England on an odd holiday as it is with restaurants having limited capacities and menus, and museums wanting pre-booked tickets to ensure those who show up can be allowed in. This is why my itineraries are all lists of outside and things that can be seen or done while being in the outdoors because I don’t want to deal with the hassle of knowing exactly what time I’ll be where. There would be guilt if I was late, missed my window, and then caused someone to miss out because I’m not experienced yet with London’s public transportation.
Add to this the excitement that I’m going on a trip within a trip and getting out of the boroughs today, of which there are 32, and the City of London that comprise the districts of Greater London. There are 12 inner boroughs, 20 outer, and three that have achieved royal status — Kensington and Chelsea: in memory of Queen Victoria born in Kensington Palace in 1901, Kingston upon Thames: declared by George V in 1927 confirming the coronation of and description by King Æthelstan in 925, and Greenwich: to mark the Diamond Jubilee of Elizabeth II in 2012.
Queen Victoria reigned for 63 years, 1837-1901, four years longer than any of her predecessors during a period of political, military, industrial, and scientific changes with an expanding British Empire. King Æthelstan is regarded as the first Anglo-Saxon king of England, one who never married or had kids. Greenwich is also the location of the Palace of Placentia that is the birthplace of Henry VIII, king 1509-1547; Mary I, first queen regnant of England; and Elizabeth I, queen of England and Ireland for 44 years. The current record holder is Elizabeth II, still going strong after 68 years, and getting a gate, tower, and park named after her that will outlast the parades and displays.
Today’s plan is to go south and see the beach (with whatever rules are in place). I run my fingers through my hair and put on a clean outfit, especially since there’s a washing machine available for free use. I pack my pockets for a day in Lewes and Brighton on this crisp and clear morning. I enjoy that each day has been different in weather and am grateful for my coat today and that I shouldn’t get too hot as the temperature is cooler at 60*F.
I’m in coach 3 of 12 and Cooksbridge Station only has enough platform to accommodate six of the cars. This is announced giving off-going passengers enough time to get nearer to the correct door to continue their journey, otherwise they’ll be pushing the open button to get a better view of the wall, fence, ivy, and graffiti that is commonly along the tracks. Caleb calls and I switch between the train’s wifi and local signal trying to stay connected on the overground train, which still goes through some deep tunnels that make my ears pop. I’d rather talk now so I can focus on my surroundings off the train, but he’ll be underway soon and then I’ll miss his voice, so I’ll take his calls when he’s available regardless of what I’m doing.
I get to Lewes and was going to walk directly to the castle, then the ruins, and get back on the train but this town is intoxicating on the eyeballs and now I want to walk every street. I hear this lovely voice singing an upbeat tune and don’t know if I’m wandering onto an abandoned driveway or into a littered alleyway but inside a room is a woman leading a morning mum and baby group. Close by, I learn of a group called Subud, which is an acronym for the Indonesian founder of the movement in the 1920s. The local group was formed here in 1978. The members practice latihan kejiwaan (an inner teaching and spontaneous insight from God) that can be shared with others in the proximity of those who have been ‘opened’.
I see a paint shop that names their colors Reginald, Prosthetic Limb, I Think That Ship Has Sailed, etc., and while looking up Cuttlefish Eco Salons (because who doesn’t like a hairdresser who offers vegan refillable products) come across a post about fibular hemimelia (fibula leg bone deformity) that can lead to amputation to gain better use of the affected limb and occurs in 1 of 40,000 births. This occurrence reminds me of those crossword puzzles where you’re asked to highlight the first word that catches your eye. I can’t ever return for my first time, but I wonder what will stick out to my senses then.
Another shop has driftwood key-rings, recycled pub wax candles, and vintage bottles with the original labels still on. I love things with age and history. I appreciate those willing to preserve buildings, sites, and their health so that they may share their lessons with us and show us ways of repurposing places and things to be used again in a way that ties the past to the present, without destroying the future. As much as I enjoy these knick-knack shops, I don’t seem to be in the mood for tire sandals or a seatbelt purse while perusing but I can still be grateful they exist.
I see beautiful Cliffe Hill to my right that overlooks the golf course as I’m headed to The Old Needlemakers thinking I can pick up a craft to partially finish. The building is where Broad’s Candle Factory was founded in 1821, enlarged and rebuilt in 1866 for using tallow and later used for the manufacture of hypodermic needles. The name makes more sense now. The place was converted into a retail shopping center in 1984 that today sells mostly paintings, books, and plant seeds with a restaurant too.
I start to get hungry and wander into a cafe. The guys who work there were “loitering outside” and asked if I prefer meat or veg before suggesting an egg-mushroom muffin, one of today’s specials. I thought I was getting something like a breakfast cupcake but the ciabatta bun sandwich wrapped and sealed with a “hand made with love” sticker did not disappoint. I was also there while a t-shirt from Girls Who Grind Coffee was delivered and they’re all about empowering other women growers, roasters, drinkers, and all things coffee.
In some store and office windows I notice these historical black and white photos of men with guns in 1907 (guarding Princess Victoria outside Town Hall), men on motor bikes in 1911 (as a hobby for the rich), and private houses from 1885 (converted to a list of businesses throughout the years before being returned to residential purposes). They are part of a collection “Stories Seen Through A Glass Plate” throughout Lewes as a tribute to their creator Edward Reeves and the generations that followed in his steps, as his great grandson now runs the world’s longest established photographic studio.
There are over 250,000 negatives preserved along with lighting equipment, furniture, and props. In 2013, Brigitte Lardinois undertook a project to make the images from the first three generations more accessible and to digitize the business documents that go with them to create a database to showcase the importance of commercial photography and its role in society over the last century and a half. Besides being curious about the lives of others, perhaps part of my intrigue in this great project is the hope that just one of my pictures will make a difference to someone a hundred years from now.
The Lewes Castle and Museum is closed. I walk by the first time and notice the sign saying to use another entrance that I can’t find and after standing outside St Michael in Lewes Church to not disturb inside while on the phone I come up to a locked clear door — a covid barrier so that prayers get in and coughs do not. I’m ok appreciating the 13 & 14th-century remnants amongst the 18th-century remodel and modern fixes that keeps this 800 year old church still standing. It’s here that Thomas Paine, the ‘father of the American revolution’ married his second wife in 1771.
Back to the castle gate and this time the sign says the days to visit have been reduced and it’s not open today. West on High Street (England’s version of Main St in the US) is the Bull House where Thomas Paine, writer and revolutionary, lived from 1768-74. I approach the thick door and ring the long-handled bell to the left. The man who answered was kind enough to invite me in, but I didn’t stay long to look at his office as this was no museum and there was no shrine in a corner to the author of “Common Sense,” who argued to create a democratic republic independent of England and quoted the Bible to reinforce his arguments.
Another Thomas, this one a woolen draper, donated his house to the poor of St Michael in Lewes Church in 1688. This and other almshouses were closed in 1960. Going down Keere St offers a cloudy view of the land in the distance, and also a chance for George IV, when Prince Regent between 1811-20, to wager his coach and four horses could safely descend the max 15.8% gradient that has now been closed to through traffic, but allows the work truck access for the crew on the scaffolding, which is a constant in a country needing to keep its history standing elegantly.
A stroll through Southover Grange Gardens fills: my camera with squirrel pictures, my eyes with varying shades of green and yellow, and my heart with joy and peace as the calmness of the people, animals, plants, and weather surrounding me give appreciation for all the history and technology that delivered me to this moment and to my health and station in life that made this trip possible during the year of a global pandemic, violent protests, mass pauperdom, the death of 2.6 million Americans (below the annual increasing trend), and billions of animals burned to death in the Amazon, Australia, and American West Coast, and trillions more killed for human consumption.
The Anne of Cleves House is a 15th-century timber-framed Wealden hall medieval-Tudor house, which consists of four bays forming the main hall that can vary in room distribution and cross passage location. There are less than 800 of these homes left, most commonly found in Kent and Sussex. This one was an annulment gift to Queen Anne from King Henry VIII in 1541 after just six months of marriage to his fourth wife without consummation. He married Katherine of Aragon for love and alliance, divorced her for Anne Boleyn who he had killed hoping to please the gods into giving him a male heir, and Jane Seymour died during child birth.
Queen Anne was replaced with Catherine Howard who was killed for having an affair and the king’s sixth and final wife, Katherine Parr, outlived him by almost two years. It was Anne of Cleves who got to live like a queen with all the gifts (manors, jewels, annual income) King Henry VIII gave her, but she also lived past the king, his son Edward who reigned for six years, his other two surviving wives, and witnessed the coronation of Queen Mary I, the daughter from his first marriage, before Anne died at 41 years old and was given a royal funeral at Westminster Abbey.
The doors might be locked, but the history remains behind this beautiful mixed-materials facade. I’ll take a right on Cockshut (British for twilight) Road and think of Cockfosters and giggle because as a kid cocks could also be roosters and as an adult cocks can also be made of silicone, glass, wood, and porcelain. Perhaps we could change street names to words in the dictionary so that we can learn more vocabulary, have a laugh sometimes, allow businesses to get more creative names, and let citizens live on Fur Pie Boulevard.
I walk through a short tunnel and it’s one of many different systems in place where cars, buses, cyclists, and pedestrians are required to give the right-of-way to each other or oncoming traffic. This seems to instill a set of manners and builds patience amongst all travelers as there’s a sense of equality and kindness without requiring one to constantly wait on the other. People also apologize as they pass you on foot as perhaps a way to say sorry for going faster, encroaching on your personal space, or somehow offending you in their rush to get to the bus stop in time or out of the rain and into the grocery store. A culture that was once ok killing to gain world domination is now inspiring others to insult with a sweet tongue if the need arises.
On the other side is the site of the Priory of St Pancras (saint of keeping promises), built in the 11th and 12th centuries and known for being the first Cluniac monastery in Britain, it stood until King Henry VIII felt in 1538 that it should not survive the Reformation and had the monks’, and twice as many servants’, home destroyed. Afterwards, other buildings throughout Lewes took advantage of the free materials and scavenged them for reuse. The founder and his wife were found in their lead caskets among hundreds of bodies in 1845 by men digging the railway still in use today. William and Gundrada de Warenne also built Lewes Castle.
This priory became the wealthiest in Sussex through benefactors who wanted to get into heaven. The monks were given farmland, estates, and vineyards in exchange for prayer and would sell the produce and products their servants tended year-round. The rule of St Benedict required that a lamp be kept burning through the night in the dormitory but fires were only allowed in the kitchen, infirmary, and the warming house, so to help keep warm they would change into fur shoes to sleep and remain in their clothes to pad against the straw mattress and be ready for attending night services as part of their eight masses and processions done daily.
The toilet block, consisting of 59 toilet cubicles to reduce queue times, is the largest surviving structure of the priory, as it was converted into a malt house. I’m not sure if both floors were used but the hole in the top floor was sandwiched between two walls that led to the sewer below, so I’m confident that one of the four main ingredients to go into their beer would’ve been safe from contamination from digested pottage, a stew of garden vegetables and grains with onions, leeks, and garlic added for flavor. Out of the ruins and behind a large tree stands this Helmet Sculpture erected by Enzo Plazzotta in 1964 to mark the 700th anniversary of the Battle of Lewes.
The statue is almost 15 feet tall and has a frieze in bas-relief by the lost wax process that consists of eight scenes depicting the story of the fight. There’s an inscription too and I like, “the law is like fire, for it lights as truth, warms as charity, burns as zeal” as it’s part of a poem taken from ‘The Song of Lewes.’ The battle was fought between King Henry III and barons led by Simon de Montfort in which the treaty restricted the authority of the king. This led to a division among the monks and some went back to Cluny while others were punished at Lewes.
I see a father and daughter on the playground, him in his aviators and business casual attire with the little one in a puffy dress and comfy velcro shoes. I watch a dog as he runs along and then looks back to make sure his person is keeping up. There are plenty of dogs off their leads finding new acquaintances at the park to run around with until it’s time to go. There’s a mound with a circular dirt path around it and I will climb it for a view that goes over the houses and trees.
Caleb and I learned the hard way last time about the scan-in and scan-out system for the Oyster card or you’ll be charged the daily max and quickly use up more of your transportation dollars than anticipated. When I got to Lewes, my card didn’t work so I pressed the help button and the little gate was opened for me. Perhaps I took a less used exit and was given consideration, but upon return to take the train to Brighton I learn that I was let out because my trip here is paid for, but in order to continue I must buy a specific ticket as I’m out of the gray zone of the Oyster coverage area.
When I arrive in Brighton I buy a ticket that will get me back to Norwood Junction, asking if I could just go part of the way to save some money, but certain routes don’t work like that. I’m given a phone number to call if I want to sort the situation the next day, but the amount charged was fair and I still have money on my card, so there will be no need. I just need to pay more attention so that I could’ve planned ahead better. I call Caleb to let him know about my faux pas and he thinks it’s cute how I worry over $7, but I like to save our money so he can buy me nice things — dive gear, shoes, bike parts, and vacations.
Exit the station and the beach is about a 20 minutes walk ahead, but I detour left. The zebra crossings (an area of road painted with broad white stripes) are anything but that still give pedestrians the right-of-way but increase the joy as they go about their day. I’m standing in the parking lot of Travis Perkins Timber & Building Supplies when this guy in a van says something about me waiting to take his picture and then offers to get out of my way so I can continue with my photographing. He was nice and already gone, but that wouldn’t be the last of him. I continue down the street where he and his friend are picking up supplies.
It’s here that these construction workers tell me about a street full of beautiful graffiti near an Aldi, so I thank them and let them get back to work as I let myself get lost for a bit of exploring the art and shops that they adorn — mostly books, secondhand clothes, cafes, antiques, and a sex shop with cunt coffee cups, a bondage section, nipple-less models on the lingerie, and lesbians on a fetish set… which gives me the same feeling when reading more female pronouns or being able to play with an African-American Contemporary Barbie growing up. It feels empowering to have other women noticed.
There’s this giant green cross in a window that belongs to a pharmacy and then I see butt cheeks in the corner of my eye, the same ones that the guy at the bus stop is watching pass him in heels and a coat. Then I’m back to noticing how many places sell books or at least display them before returning a percentage to the publisher. I get the same feeling walking into someone’s house and seeing books, regardless if they actually read them or not, the idea is pleasing, even if more people are making the switch to an e-reader (with the environmental impact of 23 books over its lifetime) to save trees, water, fuel, and electricity.
I’m walking towards the pebbled beach and notice less racial diversity in the restaurants that are at half-capacity or less and the little groups distancing themselves in front of the small waves crashing onshore. As those people are distracted by coffee and beers, I get free access to the Brighton Fishing Museum, just one of many attractions in the stall market that extends from the famous Palace Pier, finished in 1896, to the now derelict West Pier that opened in 1866 and closed in 1975. These piers stood watch over the day-trippers, bathing machines, pleasure boats, and fishing boats and nets.
The piers allowed visitors to take in panoramic views while listening to music on deck chairs and eventually in a concert hall. Palace Pier has continued to upgrade its entertainment to keep it suitable for guests of the 21st century. The piers were also a place where the Swimming Club could dive from when they weren’t busy spearfishing, surf lifesaving (think Baywatch), playing water polo, and having aquatic tea parties.. fancy that. In the club’s 1860s beginning, the town bylaws allowed them two hours in the morning for swimming without a bathing machine or costume in the open sea in a designated area. In 1980, more beach was assigned for this purpose as well and took the lead in nudist beaches now located throughout England.
On my way east, I pass Doughnut Groyne, a low wall built into the sea from the beach to check for erosion and drifting — and a spot to take selfies next to a giant bagel. On the other side of the pier is a tall white tower with a spiral staircase that leads up to a zip line on the beach that claims to be the longest and fastest (not always worth the brag) on the South Coast. I’ll go to the left side to partake in their one-way system and continue people watching — standing, sitting, eating, talking, reading, and taking family photos against the beautiful backdrop — all the same things I’m doing but different.
There are carnival games and candy booths but I’m more interested in the people and architecture that have been on this pier throughout its history and the different weather and wars it endured to maintain its grandiose stature in this location. One mural, off the pier, is in remembrance of Anne Campbell, the only British woman to die fighting for the Women’s Protection Units in the Rojava Conflict of the Syrian civil war. She was in her mid-twenties and survived by her father, a multi-instrumentalist who formed the progressive rock band Egg in 1968 and then became a composer who is still active and turning 70 this year.
I walk along Old Steine Gardens taking pictures of people, bikes, buildings, and murals. In front of Dutch Pot, the owner and artist, stops me while stirring something in a giant dish to tell me he’d appreciate a hello and that I ask permission before capturing his art and face. I tell him it’s not often that a photographer gets to meet the artist, unless in a studio or an art-walk or market, but when you paint on a large public wall you should assume people will copy its likeness without asking who has the rights to it. Most countries agree that it’s illegal to take pictures of nudes (beaches, red-light district, children), certain structures — military, palaces, bridges, embassies, churches, and private property.
Some countries that deem women as property forbid their photo from being taken without the permission of a man of their house. You need consent in both Koreas for everything. Commercial shooting in Trafalgar Square and Parliament Square in the UK requires permission from the mayor. Photographing accidents is ok in the US as long as you’re not in the way of emergency personnel and of individuals as long as the photos aren’t discrediting — though that’s how thieves are caught on camera, but that’s private property which comes with its own laws. The owner tells me that his brother leaves the camera around his neck and uses the hand remote to do street photography without getting caught, so he’d rather me be sneaky about it instead of own what I do.
I finish my day visit in Brighton by visiting an outdoor covered plaza with produce stands, restaurants, and craft shops. I talk with an artist about the rough life his skeleton piece has lived being moved around town for parties and other social events. I walk through HISBE Food — supermarket rebels, and enjoy seeing less plastic and more reusable, less toxic and more biodegradable, less packaging and more bulk — all things I like to purchase in the same store. Outside I see a pizzaboobs sticker, a definite eye-catcher to get your attention for the artist and illustrator, Gabriel Hollington.
I got to the station at sunset, figuring I might not want to walk the streets at night, but I can sit on a well-lit and mostly empty train. I got on, heading north to East Croydon, a 50-minute ride, where I was supposed to switch trains for a five-minute ride to Norwood Junction, except that I got on the train taking me to London Victoria which is a 20-minute ride one-way. I get there, wait on the return train, and hope this is why the system gives you hours to travel to account for accidents like this, trains parking on the tracks to let others pass, and stopping for a meal in the station before carrying on with your journey.
I snack so that I can have the energy to write and feed my tired muscles. Caleb calls and that distraction is enough to make me debate posting a picture to Instagram or reaching my arm through the bed to turn off the light so I don’t have to dust my feet off again as I climb the little ladder over the multiple outlet cord at the top. I’m glad for the cabinet that is at the same height as the bed railing so I can set everything there and be careful lying down that I don’t hit my head on the light that hangs inches from the ceiling.
I kept waking up but with no hand to hold and no car to jump into to drive a bit I let the darkness and sound of rain put me back to sleep. I forget my mask amongst the list of things I’ve shoved into my waterproof coat and am reminded by a sign in a hardware store. I’ll bring my camera, phone, keys (one for the outside door, one for the flat, one for my room, and one for the broken lock), credit card, and Oyster card; leaving my coffee cup, umbrella, and tiny shopping bag behind.
I made a few lists before my flight — National Parks, World Heritage Sites, English Heritage, Natural Trust, hiking trails, tour routes, restaurants, things to do, foods to try, and a few parks I could spend the day in. On one of those was the idea to see Dinosaur Park at Crystal Palace, so I decided to walk the two miles there and was sure to grab my mask but this time out the door I forgot today’s itinerary that I went through the trouble of making.
I pass two restaurants that seem to have good offerings on their menu and I’m thinking I’ll get a sandwich of sorts for takeaway, but it’s not till I reach Arin Cafe and decide to sit at one of the distancing tables that I feel hungry enough to order. The owner brings me a menu from another table and suggests a coffee with my meal. We have a hiccup when I go to the counter to pay because he takes cash and tells me there’s an ATM at the Tesco Express on the corner. I was going to leave my coat as collateral but he trusts me and tells me to take it since it’s raining out. I put my credit card in the machine, thinking about how this will be my first cash advance, but no luck. I go inside hoping to pay for someone’s groceries if they’ll give me the cash I need.
This guy has the cash but isn’t willing to take the deal so the cashier suggests I go to the post office store next door where another guy has the money too but this place takes debit only. I go back to the grocery store and this guy isn’t willing to part with his coins, as I’m still trying to pay for his milk, because it only covers part of my cost. These people make me feel like a beggar instead of a trader and perhaps that’s the local mindset. I return to the restaurant and he can tell by my demeanor that I didn’t have luck, so he simply suggests I come back tomorrow, no problem; maybe not for him but it’s going to bug me.
I walk to the train station, debate looking around the park first because I’m so close but ride back to get my debit card as I think about how I let the covid situation change my travel usual — always bring some cash for moments like this, even if you assume everywhere will be contactless or chip payment. These guys say hi to me as they smoke hand-rolled cigarettes outside a barbershop and after a short conversation I’m on my way to remove the inner lining of my coat because of the heat but realize doing so would leave me wet during the quick-dry process. I’d have talked longer if they weren’t smoking as I remind myself this trip is like no other. My only goal is to be outside after having outside locked away for a seemingly long time.
I’m on my way back to the train station with determination when one of the guys from earlier, Daniel, who is British-Jamaican, is getting his dog Boskoe (possibly named after the LA rapper of same name fame) from an alley and putting him in the boot of his car. I understand the trunk is open to the rest of the interior but I’m burning up outside and can’t imagine the sauna that dog is about to encounter… that is, until I experience it when Daniel is impressed with my story and offers to take me to the cafe because he believes that 70% of people in my position just wouldn’t go back.
The owner is glad I returned to pay for my discounted breakfast and offers me a coffee. I can’t decline and before I leave ask if he makes Turkish coffee, but that’s a treat for his home as he offers the British what they prefer, for the last 15 years, of which the last dozen have been in this location. Daniel’s car is still there 30 minutes later. Don’t worry, I did come out and ask if he wanted anything but he was fine playing on his phone. I thanked my driver who decided it was a good idea if him and his dog join me on a walk. I’m not averse to the company, especially when they’re willing to do what I want. We parked in a puddle on Crystal Palace Park Rd and Caleb called as we made our way left over muddy path and under wet trees.
My husband gets interrupted by work calls but each time Daniel gives me space while pointing things out and asking for directions. He would see the dinosaurs with me and wanted to show me the maze — deal. We walk by Bowl Lake, past a dog that doesn’t listen (most are off their leads and behave) so I carry it back to the walker via its vest harness so she can re-leash him. To our right is what the 1936 fire left of the palace built for the 1851 Great London Exhibition of the technology and arts of England’s empire that was moved to its current location three years later to be the centerpiece of attractions that went bankrupt before they burned.
We continue past a sports center that we return to so I can use the loo (an informal British term for toilet that originated in the 1940s), and by part of Lower Lake before realizing the dinosaurs are hidden among the trees of this oddly-shaped body of water. The most accurate model is of the extinct Irish Elk, having roamed Europe and Central Asia just 8,000 years ago. The male shed his antlers annually and an original pair sat on the sculpture but were removed because the body was too weak to support the massive fossilized bone. Antlers are found in the deer (elk, moose, chital, muntjac) family, are an extension of the skull, and grow from the tip. Horns are found in the bovine (bison, sheep, antelope) family, are composed of keratin on the outside and bone at the core, and grow from the base.
We happen upon a statue, listed Grade II (worthy of every effort of preservation), that was erected in 1961 to honor Guy the Gorilla who arrived to the London Zoo on Guy Fawkes Night in 1947. He was a gentle giant, known for his kindness towards birds that flew into his cage, and preferred the attention of people and their sweets to the company of Lomie, who he met at 25 years old. It was the abundance of treats that would lead to a tooth infection and his death in 1978. His story is the epitome of how people should strive to be — considerate till death and then set free, but we choose our sins over dignity. (The guy is Sir Joseph Paxton M.P. who created the palace.)
The maze will be harder to find, as it’s on the opposite side of the small lake we passed first, and once we do it’s a closed gate we arrive at. This maze dates back to 1870 and in 1909 a group of girls formed Girl Guides, which now has over ten million members. They worked with Brook and Black, and others, to refurbish the maze for the girls’ centenary celebration, but to create something for the local community that would also attract international visitors — and it worked.
On our way out of the park, Daniel throws some crisps at a duckling but attracts all the pigeons within sight who commence fighting over chip crumbs. We managed to spend the afternoon at the park and I get dropped off around 5p. I’ll talk with Caleb again as I explore what’s down the street to the right — historic home of William Walker (the deep sea diver who saved Winchester Cathedral), fish markets, Caribbean food restaurants, a Polish grocery, and mini grocers among other shops that may be closed for now or forever.
I’ll buy an egg and cress sandwich for dinner. They don’t seem like much but they’re an England staple, just as lentil soup is in the Middle East (at least for vegetarians). I tried using self checkout and ended up in queue for the cashier so I could insert my contactless card. Doing so requires a signature and this bewilders the man enough to ask his coworker for help who tells me to sign the receipt. Sometimes banks use the insert and enter PIN for verification between transactions and some cards come with limits for fast spending on cheap items to keep the line moving in the morning.
I get to enjoy a 100-104°F shower, in the hot tub heat range, and want one with a temperature knob for winter and summer settings. I walked 12 miles today and gained about 200 feet in elevation. Yesterday I walked half as far but more than double in stairs climbing out of the underground. With the on and off rain I don’t have as many pictures as I would if the weather were drier and appreciate that my camera fits perfectly inside my coat with me.