Springs has come to England, and so have I. The sun must be shining in my honor, my host Chris suggested. He’s at the wheel of his new Toyota now, probably wishing he was driving his Camry, a big car by British standards, but he had to get rid of it because, “The price of petrol is getting too high.” 79p a litre or 5 dollars per gallon is a lot. “And Americans complain about the cost of gas!”
His wife Jan is sitting up front next to him in what should be the driver’s seat but isn’t because the Brits are backwards. It’s a lot less unnerving sitting here in the back, not having to worry about making left hand turns into the left lane with cars whizzing toward me or looking at the rearview mirror and realizing, yet again, that it isn’t aimed at me and that I’m not responsible for driving, even though it feels like I should be, sitting there where the wheel should be but isn’t.
Jan is not a naturally enthusiastic person, and as soon as I realized that, we got along great. She hates the phone perhaps more than I do. I was a little worried when I told her the flowers in front of their small, 2 story row house were lovely. “It’s spring,” she shrugged. But then I realised (British spelling) that I probably would have said the same thing, or something like it. She showed me around the area where they live, informing me of several things Chris already had, but each story is told a different way everytime someone tells it.
We’re on our way out of Kent today, traveling west along southern England. Kent is considered the garden of England because of the milder climate and the amount of agricultural goods it produces. Great Britain is largely agricultural, producing more of that than any other industry. Kent itself is littered with little round buildings topped with tall, cone-shaped roofs capped with lop-sided white, wooden cones open on one side. They used to be used to dry hopes, but most have been turned into cottages and B&B’s (Bed and Breakfasts). “All the hops growing is controlled by Belgium now,” Chris complained. The EU (European Unification) doesn’t have all Brits thrilled.
Chris took us along back roads before getting on the main highway. We drove past Chartwell, Winston Churchill’s home, where he made many broadcasts during the war. It’s surrounded by a brick wall “he built for relaxation,” said Chris.
“Do you see that funny little building over there?” Jan pointed to a low brick structure beneath an old tree in somebody’s field, “Those where to fight against Hitler when he invaded.”
We just stopped at a “Welcome Break” off the highway which had restrooms, restaurants, and shops. Jan bought some chocolate marzipan, which Chris deemed “not very good” as he popped another square into his mouth. It looked like regular chocolate but had a whitish layer of marzipan in the middle and tasted okay.
The highway has several foot bridges that cross it from time to time with not much of anything to connect from either side. These are, I’m sure, for footpaths. Chris explains, “One of the things about this country is that e have very old laws. If you stay on one of these footpaths, then no one can stop you. You may walk through farmer’s fields or through private property, and as long as you stay on the footpath, no one can stop you.” Even if a farmer plows his field he must level the footpath within so many days.
The predominate speed along these roads seems to be 80 mph or 130 km–at least that’s how fast we’re going now. That’s the speed Chris went yesterday when the traffic allowed it, on our way to Oxford. He dropped me off outside Christ Church at about 10 am, agreeing to meet me back there at 4.
I started my tour of the city by asking a man, wearing a derby and holding a walkie talkie while he blocked the gate into the college, where I should go. He suggested touring Christ Church and then climbing aboard one of the tour buses circling the city. Admittance into Christ Church, which is both a school and a cathedral, cost 2 Pounds. I watched a 15 minute video on the college’s history, sitting in a cold, dark enclave then followed the brochure around the grounds. The tower over the gate, where I talked to the man in the derby, was designed by Sir Christopher Wren! I was pretty excited about that, having a read a biography of him. I’m afraid I only took one photograph… the whole day.
I also got to see Wren’s Sheldonion Theatre, which I had to pay to enter. It’s pretty ornate inside, though the “marble” and “cast iron” is all painted wood. I got to climb up to the top to the cupula, where I could look out on the spires of the different Colleges on all sides. It was nice to be up there all by myself. I needed some nose-picking time, time all by myself, not necessarily picking my nose.
To get to the top, I had to climb about four flights of winding, narrow stairs. After 3 floors, the stairway emptied into the attic. Huge beams crisscrossed and Y-ed into the pitched ceiling, all of them cut to fit into each other. I touched one of the rough-cut raters, wandering if Wren had done the same once his project was completed. I remembered reading about the King’s oaks Wren was able to secure for the construction of this building. Then Wren was no longer in the room with me but the author of the book. I laughed at him and said, “You did the same thing I did! You climbed these stairs and fingered these beams the same way I am now. I wonder, did you have to pay to get in as well?”