ENGLAND DIARY, PART II
Thursday night 2/28/08
We settled at Lodmoor House B&B in Weymouth, which so far is my favorite B&B of the trip. The owner is incredibly nice, and seems genuinely happy to have our business. She served us tea and cookies while Ian filled out our register info, and she chatted to us about the time she spent living in America in the late seventies. She worked in Cape Canaveral Florida and did a bit of traveling around the U.S.---Florida to California on a Greyhound bus. She lived in FL for two years and considered settling there, but said she missed English food too much. She has a ton of Native American memorabilia in her place; dream catchers and paintings of famous (and non-famous) Indians.
Ian and I ate at a little place in town just about two blocks away from the B&B (it was too cold to walk, and we were both tired!) I had a cheese plate and mushrooms with a white wine sauce. We had more excellent British beer with our food (I'll never be able to go back to watery American beer now). I am getting a bit melancholy about my trip winding down. I know I won't want to leave England when it's time to go.
Made an appointment to visit Othona in Burton Bradstock (the hippie farm I where I had applied to volunteer a few years back). Found the farm and met with Mandy (assistant) and Tony (the main dude). They were both very nice. Tony was laid back, funny and friendly. Had a chat with him and then he sent Ian and me to have a look around the grounds. We looked at the little vegetable greenhouse and talked to the little old lady and old man who were tending the gardens. She was complaining about rabbits. The garden was outside the house where the core members lived. Then we found a paddock where we could see the ocean. It was a cold day and the waves were rough. Ian was pointing out which direction South America is from where we were (it's the closest land mass from that point if you're facing the right direction--not that you can see it from England, of course). The air was chilly and the paddock was soft and squishy (I still have Othona mud on the boots I purchased in Canterbury!) Ian being Ian, he wanted to go through a part of the gate that said PRIVATE--NO ADMITTANCE. I hesitated but he maintained that it was still Othona property (it wasn't). We ended up in the back yard of a private house, so we picked our way back (I love Ian) to the paddock, then through another entrance where there was some sort of pool apparatus with pipes running through it. Ian called it "the cess pit." We made our way back and up the hill to the Othona art building and chatted to the lady volunteer who was cleaning it. Ian was interested in all the art projects that were around--mostly made by children who had visited the farm. He told me he had done a lot of work in clay. The woman there told us that art was not her "thing," and that music was her passion. She and Ian discussed piano and organ (he plays both). Ian spied a postcard of the huge naked giant carved into the hillside on Cerne Abbas. "They drew Y-fronts on him!" he said (Y-fronts is Brit for jockey shorts). The woman said "Oh, I dont' mind the naked giant on the hillside, because it's just an ancient fertility symbol. People shouldn't get all uptight about it. If it wasn't a fertility symbol though," she added, "believe me, I'd be the first one to object." (!) Ian and I were too busy laughing at the Y-fronts. He remarked "When I was a kid, I didn't realize that the giant was naked, I just thought (the penis) was just some sort of funny design drawn on him!" Ian was probably a very interesting child. :-) Sp we left the little art hut and checked out the gazebo that was built entirely out of wagon wheels and wagon parts. We wanted to find Tony's house, because he had mentioned he had a little place in the woods out behind the bigger buildings. After searching several minutes through the woods (it was in a dense part) we found it. There was a little black and white cat lurking about (who I learned later is Tony's cat, Otto) and we peered in the kitchen window of the cabin where we spied another cat (Bella, Otto's mother) lying on the counter with the dirty dishes. Tony had warned us that his place was all broken down and that the next big project was tearing his old house down and building a new one. We went back to the main house so that we could have a look at the chapel and the library that was connected. (We had to pull off our mud-caked boots before going in). The chapel was small but cute, Christian-hippie style, with a mural painted on one wall. Ian and I went up some stairs that led to a little storage area where you could look down over the chapel. We poked around but there wasn't much up there, just boxes of old books and churchy-type decorations and stuff. I found a book titled something like "Planning church services for young people in the 80's." It looked straight out of MHA religion class! We went back downstairs and into the little library connected to the chapel. Among the books I saw were The Da Vinci Code, something by Maeve Binchy, and The Gospel According to Peanuts. All the books were carefully organized and cataloged like an actual library. Ian found a book by Bill Oddie, the environmentalist mentioned in "I'm Alan Partridge." The library was filled with cushy chairs and had windows with wooded views. It was very peaceful and serene; the type of room I could imagine disappearing in for hours.
We headed back inside so I could have a chat with Tony. I asked a few questions about openings for volunteers--he said they would likely have some coming up in the next few months, perhaps for the amount of time I was looking for (3-6 months). Tony suggested a preliminary week-long visit to "try on" Othona and see if it was the right place for me (and, presumably, to screen me a bit and make sure I'm not some anti-social psychotic). There is also a question of getting a work permit for me so they'd be able to pay me a (very modest) stipend if I volunteer there for any length of time. We then broke for lunch with some of the other (very friendly) volunteers that included cous cous, pita bread, hummus, spinach and tomatoes, and feta cheese, most of which was homemade and/or from the (organic) garden. Tony sat next to me and we chatted some more and explained what every day life is like for the Othona volunteers, how the routine goes, who cooks, who cleans, and how the chores are divided. The most important tasks are devoted to looking after the guests who come for retreats and seminars. After lunch Ian and I helped clear up the dishes (I noticed a sign in the dining room detailing "Compostable" items and "Non-compostable" items). We both had a look upstairs at the bedrooms where the Othona guests stay, then we went downstairs to bid Tony and Mandy goodbye. I mentioned to Tony that I would like to come visit this summer and possibly stay for a weeklong workshop at Othona to try it on, and he took down my email to put me on their monthly newsletter list.
On our way to Cerne Abbas to see the naked giant on the hill we stopped to look at a tiny little village--the tiniest that we had come across--called Nether Cerne. All it had besides a church and maybe three houses was a dirt road that had turned to mud. I marveled at the fact that it had a name and a chuch; it was little more than a rural cul-de-sac.
We found Cerne Abbas and the naked giant. Ian said that he didn't think that we could walk along the hill by the carving like he did as a child because it seemed to be all blocked off now. We had to stand near the base of the hill and admire the ancient naked man from a distance. The information board stated that (like Stonehenge), no one knew for sure who had done the carving and what purpose it was supposed to serve, but a popular theory was that it had been there since Druidian times and that (as the lady at Othona said) it was meant to be a fertility symbol. We didn't stay long--it was so cold and windy--so we got back in the car and drove to Salisbury so we could check out Stonehenge. We arrived there about 3:45 (it closed at 4:00). I had to pee so badly, so Ian and I (literally) ran to the restrooms. The women's loo at Stonehenge turned out to be the nastiest I'd encountered in all of England. After availing myself of the facilities I met Ian and we crossed the street and stood outside of the fence that enclosed Stonehenge. We didn't want to pay the fee to get inside since we would only have about five minutes to spend before the chased us out for closing time, so we watched some crazy French and Italian tourists take photos. I bemoaned the fact that--yet again--my digital camera was out of battery juice and I couldn't even take photos from outside of the fence. Ian walked around with me and helped me find some chalky rocks to take back to my friend Ellie, reasoning that they were probably part of some of the same minerals that made up the "real" Stonehenge rocks. We tried to go inside the gift shop so I could at least pick up some Stonehenge postcards, but it was closed by that time as well.
Ian and I debated whether to check out Oxford or to go on back to London. Ian theorized that I could see Oxford and more of the countryside during my next visit, when the weather would be warmer; whereas you don't really need nice weather for London. Ian rang his office to see if someone could look up the "Alan Partrige petrol station" on the internet (the BP where Michael the Geordie worked in the second series of I'm Alan Partridge.) Graham found an address on the net for us and Ian entered it onto his Tom Tom. It turned out to be not far from Staines (home of Ali G!). We passed it once, then turned around so I could use the bathroom and buy some batteries to take photos of (what we think) is the Alan Partridge petrol station. Ian was very precise about the picture taking and tried to get a photo from the exact angle where the exterior shots were filmed in the show.
We then drove into London and then went to Harrod's, parking on a little sidestreet in Knightsbridge--very rich area of London, although it didn't look that extravagent from the outside--and then raced into Harrod's because of the cold! Harrod's was truly amazing, like a palace. It was packed with very well-heeled tourists, mostly French and Muslim. We browsed in the fancy deli areas, looking at the cheeses and the specialty counters: Indian food, sushi, etc. Ian showed me a very posh little cafe where they present your food stacked on tiered trays on the table. Everything was so ornate and detailed--SO much money in there.
We just randomly picked an area because we knew we didn't have much time (Harrod's closed at 8:00). We looked in the china department. It had some amazing works of art--colored glass vases and sculptures from artists, some weren't for sale and were just on display. I actually contemplated buying a little orange glass votive holder priced at about 10 pounds, but instead decided to pick up a mug designed by David Bowie (it cost 11 pounds--roughly $22), a much better choice. Ian and I wandered through the electronics section, where we encountered a crazy dark-haired, fifty-ish woman laughing maniacally at images on a flat-screen, high-def TV. We sidled away from her as quickly as possible. (Ian later proclaimed the woman NFN--"Normal For Norfolk"--an expression the Brits use to describe anyone who seems a bit simple or slightly touched in the head. Norfolk is apparently where the simple folk live, a reason why Ian finds Alan Partridge so funny). The TVs were outrageously expensive, some around 4,500 pounds. We checked out the toy department, where cute, twenty-ish sales guys were zooming around on little wheels attached to the heels of their shoes. "Very cool," I murmured, and the salesman goes, "Ah, the American says 'very cool,' that's how I can tell you're Americans!" I protested that Ian was actually English, and he said "A British person would say 'Wicked!" I was like, whatevs, dude. As we were leaving (Harrod's was starting to close for the night), we checked out a creepy looking wax sculpture of the owner of Harrod's--that al-Fayed guy who was the father of Princess Diana's late boyfriend (Dodi al Fayed.)
Outside, I got a good shot of one of Harrod's very elaborate display windows.
We ran back to the car and Ian drove me around so I could see some more of London that we didn't have time for when we were there on Sunday. We drove by Buckingham Palace, then around the perimeter of Hyde Park. I told Ian that I wanted to see the dodgy areas, so he proceded to drive me around the cockney district, including Commercial Street, which he told me was probably the worst road in London. We drove by a seedy looking building with laundry draped over the balcony railings and hanging on clothes lines. Ian said "That's where the dole people live." (I thought at first he said "dull people"). We gave up on finding the vegetarian restaurant Ian had heard about (as well as the idea of staying in London for the night), since it was a Friday evening and everything would be packed. We decided to make our way back to Cambridge and stop at an Indian restaurant along the way. We hit Loughton, a London suburb and found an intimate little Indian place where I proceeded to pig out...we hadn't had anything to eat since our light lunch at Othona. When we were leaving, we somehow got roped into a conversation with two drunk, paunchy middle-aged guys who were waiting for their takeaway order. One of them was a piano tuner ("music is close to my heart", he said) and I shifted from foot to foot as he and Ian discussed pianos and organs and then engineering and science--I didn't mean to be so impatient but I was suffering from fatigue and very sore legs. After about ten minutes I nudged Ian, since it looked as if the guy was not going to shut up, but it took a while for Ian to get the hint and excuse himself from the conversation so we could go. When we finally tore ourselves away and were walking back to the car, Ian had this to say about the guy: "He was interesting and had some good ideas, but just when he would start to make a solid point he would veer off into something totally off the wall that made no sense. Typical hippie!" I had not a clue what they had been discussing, as I tend to automatically zone out when the talk turns to logical, left-brainy sort of topics. It's a bad habit of mine.
TO BE CONTINUED NEXT POST...