Come Along with Me to England
by John C. Westervelt
My travels, after my children were grown, began with a trip to New York and Washington in 1985. My wife Nelda, my daughter Mary Kim, my widowed sister Harriette, and I saw five plays in three days in New York followed by seven days of historical sights in Washington. On the last day of our vacation, Mary Kim said, “Our next trip will be to England.”
With the untimely death of Nelda in August 1987, I assumed I had saved an airfare. Not so. Early in 1988, Mary Kim said, “Dad, it’s time to plan our trip to London.”
At the suggestion of a fellow engineer, who was on a year’s assignment at Tulsa Amoco Research Laboratories from the London office, I made reservations for the first two weeks of September 1988 for dorm rooms at Imperial College in central London.
Harriette, Mary Kim, her friend Randall, and I arrived at the Imperial College dorms after a train ride from the airport on the Gatwick Express to Victoria station and a cab ride to the college.
As we entered our rooms, Mary Kim said, “Just like church camp.” There were four single rooms in a suite that shared a shower and toilet. Kensington Park was two blocks north.
We learned that an all day pass for two pounds on the Underground let us crisscross London to our heart's content. Come along with me, and share my journey.
People filled the stairs, escalators, passageways and trains seemingly at all hours. I never thought much about one's space in Tulsa but I would guess it to be three feet. From Oxford Square at 5:45 p.m., people in the subway cars let their space shrink to less than an inch. Beside the many doors, it was body pressing body, and nobody minded. The London people stood in fast-moving cars with a carrying case over their shoulder, one hand on the overhead strap, and the other hand holding a book, reading on the way home from work.
Many of the women were attractive in their plainness of black dress, no color in their makeup, and hair blown if not by wind on the street, then by the turbulence of the oncoming subway. Most of the shoes appeared comfortable, which explained how these folks could quickly traverse the steps. While I stood at the right, some were bouncing down the escalator on the left with almost a dance step as they hurried to catch their subway.
Some of the men were in casual dress, but many were in suits. The latter all looked alike. The dark wool suits appeared a little ruffled beside the crisp white collars of their shirts. Their hair, too, was blown. Most mouths turned down soberly at the edge, much as I remember Churchill appearing. That same mouth would turn up when in conversation. I never felt anything but warm hospitality from these distant cousins.
The climate of England was made for flowers. You don't move for many minutes, whether by car or on foot, without seeing an array of color in the blossoms of flowers. There were large magnificent gardens at Stratford-upon-Avon, Windsor Castle, Kew Gardens, Hampton Court, and Hever Castle. Kensington and St. James parks were aglow with color. Oxstall Bed and Breakfast outside Stratford-upon-Avon had an expanse of roses with blooms the size of my hand.
Town centers were decorated with familiar and not so familiar flowers. The intersection of two roads meant a roundabout. The center of these circular drives in the country often contained flowers. Many row houses in the city had postage stamp flower plots, while the countryside homes would fill the small front yard with a flower garden.
Randall, with lightning quick reflexes, was our driver in the country, thinking left all the while. My navigating assignment was eased by detailed scaled maps; one inch equals three miles for the countryside and six inches equals a mile for London. Harriette was the social chairperson. She treated us to a fancy dinner our last night in England. Occasionally she and I would sneak off to the museum café for tea and scones. Mary Kim, the self-appointed tour guide, pressed us to our physical limits. She researched London and the nearby countryside. Once on the agenda, it became a must-see. A typical day was sightseeing until 6:00, eating when time permitted, and then enjoying a play in the evening.
While London has had great fires, the stone-constructed castles and cathedrals have survived. These speak of history through the centuries beginning in the 1100s. I observed a common thread among the construction of the castles: Warwick, Windsor, Hampton Court, and Heven, and the cathedrals: Westminster, Saint Paul, Salisbury, and Canterbury.
A model depicted the construction method. The masons of the day cut limestone to the shape required. The stone was placed on a wooden structure of the Gothic arch. When the keystone was driven in place, the wood could be removed and the arch would stand with compressive forces only. The arch was extended to near spherical sections to dome a roof.
London is to English countryside as night is to day. Three days in Stratford-upon-Avon and the Cotswolds early in our first week and our last two days in the southeast showed us rural England. The grain fields could have been those around Enid, Oklahoma, except rather than flatness, rolling hills predominate. The countryside roads were interrupted by hundreds of roundabouts. These secondary roads have only space for a small car traveling each way.
I’ll share a few entries from my daily journal -
Tuesday September 6 - Driving through Oxford to Stratford-upon-Avon we stopped at the Oxstall Bed and Breakfast. Nelda might have balked at the dorm facilities, but she would have relished this place. The hostess was very artistic and filled the rooms with pieces and items that make a house a home. Warwick castle nearby had a Royal Weekend House Party of 1898, all in wax by Madame Tussaud. Shakespeare’s “Much Ado About Nothing” was our entertainment for the evening. From our seats in the restaurant in the Shakespeare Theater complex, we looked out over the Avon River.
Friday September 9 - With warm weather holding, we elected a trip by British Rail to Windsor Castle. In St. George's Hall, I could visualize our president and first lady dining with the Queen. Back in London we stopped at the National Art Gallery. There were Rembrandts galore.
Monday September 12 - Back at Imperial College, a two block walk to Royal Albert Hall let us buy tickets for the evening concert by the Scottish National Orchestra. Four levels of boxes covered three sides of the hall. Hundreds of young music lovers stood for two hours on the flat floor between the stage and the crescent of boxes.
I likely would never have visited England, if it were not that my daughter thought I should go. My mind is stashed full of pleasant pictures of people and places from my mother country. These memories are a pleasure today and shall be for eternity.
Published in Tulsa Community Spirit
Return to Table of Contents