So the French exodus bug got me. I went to England for 5 days. Several objectives. To see a friend in Brighton, to see a play, and to shop.
(The language was a problem. Seriously. My ear was not ready for their accents. I think I asked them to repeat what they said more than I do in France!)
Two years ago I visited one of my favorite memories from my childhood – the Royal Pavilion in Brighton. I recall seeing it in its splendor when I was 10 – all Chinese-y and exotic. It was also the setting for many a Regency novel by Georgette Heyer. I do NOT say Regency Romance as that has the flavor and connotation of the bodice-ripper novels. (Did you know that sales of such novels apparently skyrocketed when e-readers were created? The readers no longer had to hide a cover! Or so the thought goes…) Georgette Heyer was a respectable mystery writer also. And a quasi-historian. Her books are set very accurately in the Regency period. OK. Enough of my defense of my reading selections.
While on our self-guided tour of the pavilion, we asked a question of a … and I still don’t know the right title – more than docent but not guide… Pavilion Specialist, let’s say. The one question opened the flood gates of her knowledge. She was so excited about her subject and knew so much, we were entranced. This was in the dining room and when we finished with the kitchen and came up on the other side of the dining room, she met us and pulled the rope away to usher us to the center of the table so we could see what it looked like if you were seated at the head of the table. At that point, I invited her to join us for dinner but she declined, having children to go feed. But she gave me her Facebook contact. We have been friends since. And terribly exciting, she received a medal in the Queen’s Honors List – Medal of the British Empire, I believe. For her work in adult learning. Oh my.
So for three days she guided me about. We went to Preston Manor where a ghost reputes to inhabit. We saw nothing. But I must say, there is one spot on the first floor (second to the US readers) where it is incredibly cold. For no reason. This place as medieval roots and is more Georgian and Edwardian, but they did not have air conditioning or duct work or vents. The rest of the floor – the other 4 rooms – did NOT feel this cold. It was eerie.
Then she took me to the cemetery to tell me the dreadful story of Celia. I am not going to repeat it – google Celia Holloway and Brighton if you are interested.
Next to a better vibe place: Chichester and the Weald and Downland Living Museum. (http://www.wealddown.co.uk/ ) Let’s say you have an old building that is standing in the way of progress. They come out, inspect, take it apart and eventually put it back up here. Reassemble every timber. I guess the plaster is new. Shrug. They also figure out the best display – maybe it was built in 1505 but had undergone extensive changes. They can put it back to the 1505 version or maybe they decide the 1589 version is better. Pretty amazing.
And after, a quick drive past Arundel Castle and dinner at the Black Rabbit pub overlooking the river and castle.
The last day was a private tour of the Pavilion. Dang, the tunnels were closed due to emergency electrical work. I was looking forward to that- tunnels that the Regent had made so he could go visit his horses at the stables without walking outside through the public. (Victoria moved out because she felt too much in a fishbowl in that palace.) (BTW I did really say “dang” and my friend was amazed and repeated it several times…)
But we still had a great walkabout with so many interesting stories and details and peeks into little closets and servants’ hallways. Then a walk through medieval Brighton – of which pretty much nothing is left – big fire in the 1500s. Still we stopped at the Old Ship Hotel where she inveigled the staff to give us a tour of their rooms and cellars. Reminding me of Bath, there were two assembly rooms, pretty much as they would have been in the 1800s. And the cellars have a beam that is from one of the ships Elizabeth sent out against the Spanish Armada. Except two days later she posts on FB “allegedly came from…” I was utterly disappointed but apparently this is a word of mouth fact, not with evidence. Fine.
Back up to London where I shopped for shoes and clothes and saw a musical. Audra McDonald is a famous Broadway star who got her start in Fresno of all places in the Good Company Players junior group. So it felt right to see her in London since I am not going to be in NY soon. It was Lady Day – about Billie Holiday and it was marvelous.
Historically speaking, I did get to the Victoria and Albert Museum. This museum is my absolute favorite in London. This time there was a Balenciaga exhibition. Actually, the first clothing exhibit I attended was on him at the DeYoung in San Francisco. It was a history of my mom, actually. She sewed most of her clothes, but used Vogue patterns and bought expensive material. I saw so many dresses at that exhibit that reminded me of her. There is a Balenciaga expo in Paris right now, but all the dresses are black. Even Dior said Balenciaga was the one they all looked up to.
And there was a Pink Floyd exhibition. Last year I went to the V&A Revolution expo that was about how rock changed the world in the late 60’s and 70’s. Now, that was my life. Even to the photos of Altamont – I was there! But Pink Floyd? I was never a big fan. What everyone said would take almost two hours I did in 25 minutes. Shrug.
And before I hopped on the Eurostar, a quick visit to the British Library. I discovered this gem several years ago. No, not the British Museum. They have special exhibits but there is an ongoing exhibit of their gems. Documents. Magna Carta. Notes from John Lennon. Oscar Wilde. I recommend.