I’ve just returned from our trip to London, which was wonderful, hectic, exhausting and packed full of sights, activities, events, places and people. But the overriding theme of the whole trip for me seemed to be, simply, that abstract notion of time. Literally, because we visited the Prime Meridian spot in Greenwich, which was a bit anticlimactic, because other than being a nice spot for a snapshot, wasn’t really all that exciting or moving. And there were some very confusing time issues—some due to simply traveling across time zones, and one due to Britain’s daylight-savings time change, which was October 29, a full week before the US time change Nov. 4th. Even my smartphone couldn’t keep up and I had to reset it manually.
But most importantly, this seemed precisely the right time to make this trip. Sometimes we visit places in the world at the wrong time in our lives, either when we’re too young and stupid to appreciate them, or too old to care. I had been wanting to visit London and England for years, but this year seemed just right (despite the increase in terrorist events and such) because I’ve done enough reading in my life to understand the significance of certain places. For example, Bloomsbury, which I got to stroll through briefly. I kept bumping up against a hundred such places, reminding me of hundreds of books I’ve read over the years referencing this corner or London, or another. It helped with my understanding of Thomas Merton, who did live in London briefly, and had a strong cultural connection to England in general. And though I was told Londoners can be cold and stuffy, I did not find this the case with typical residents I met with: They seemed curious, polite and friendly, starting with the customs officer right off the plane, who, when he heard we would be travelling to Portsmouth Harbour, proceeded to tell us all about it and what we’d find there.
My only regret is that I didn’t have more physical energy to really explore the city, so in a sense, it was perhaps not the best time for me personally to go. Unfortunately, right before the trip, I had gotten ill with a nasty bacterial infection, and was still taking antibiotics well into the trip. I couldn’t have done it without my husband beside me. I felt a bit woozy and perpetually tired throughout, but still managed to decipher the Tube and bus system, get through the Victoria & Albert, Natural History, British Museum and the entire museum complex at Portsmouth Harbor (including boarding two historic boats); took a millinery class and had tea in Lambeth with a charming transplant from Wales (and two California gals); took the water-bus to Greenwich and climbed that big old hill up to the Royal Observatory; attended a ultra-conservative (Catholic) benediction service at Brompton Oratory; and managed to get to infamous Oxford Road, which is like our 34th street in Manhattan: jammed with tourists and stores. And yes, I did get to Harrods, but was not impressed; was more so with Selfridges, whose façade seems to go on forever, and also John Lewis, where I could actually afford to buy things. Big Ben was encased in scaffolding, but I didn’t need to take a photograph of it in any case.
Toward the end of our trip, we were shocked to hear about the terrorist event back home in lower Manhattan—it got quite a bit of coverage in the British press. I kept hearing references to recent London terror events, but honestly, it was not a concern to me at all the whole time. Perhaps it is all a matter of being in a certain place at a certain time. But for the most part, my time in London was extraordinary.