To England, and Back Again

March 28, 2015

Hi, remember me? Monica Ferris, World Traveler? I was off to see the momentous ceremonies surrounding the reinterment of the bones of King Richard III, found a couple of years ago under a parking lot in Leicester, England. I’ve been a fan of the King’s since 1967, when I read Daughter of Time, Josephine Tey’s marvelous defense of the King. So I immediately began to save for the trip. Two friends agreed to come along, though one had to back out because of knee surgery.

But on the plane trip over I got sick. Desperately, embarrassingly, horribly sick, with gastroenteritis. I think they later burned the rest room at the back of the plane. I thought it was a 24 hour bug, but it wasn’t, and by the time we got to Leicester, I was becoming scared. I ended up in the hospital and missed the whole moving ceremony – it was on TV, and I tried to watch but all I remember is the Duke of Gloucester doing a reading from Moses about wrapping up his bones to carry into the Holy Land; the rest I slept through.

I was in the hospital from Tuesday night until Sunday afternoon. I tottered out of the hospital on legs made of tissue paper and we went over to the Cathedral, where I saw the beautiful tomb, then to the Richard III museum – practically right across the street! – and saw the hole they dug to remove the bones. I bought some souvenirs and we came back to the hotel.


God bless Becky! Poor thing, this hasn’t been any fun for her. She’s not an enthusiastic traveler, and she’s not all that interested in medieval history, but she’s stuck by me, she ran errands, got on the Internet and told people what was going on, figured out the money, very tentatively tried the food, and prayed for my release so we could go to London.

We were supposed to join a bus tour – a new city every day – but when I asked a doctor if I should try to go, he hemmed and hawed a bit. I finally said, “If I were your daughter, would you let me go?” “No,” he said without hesitation. So we didn’t. Instead we’ll spend the rest of the week exploring London.

April 7, 2015

London was great! Becky found us a sweet little hotel in the prestigious Westminster area, not far from Paddington Underground Station. There I rested and got some strength back. We ate at a nice pub called The Pride of Paddington (their shepherd’s pie is delectable).


We shopped at Selfridge’s (founded in 1902 by an American) where I bought a beautiful sterling silver charm bracelet, went to the Changing of the Guard, the Tower of London (the Crown Jewels are astonishing), the National Gallery (their collection of Impressionists is wonderful), Portobello Road (lined on both sides with tiny antique and collectible shops), and took a day trip to Stonehenge (which was mostly the reason Becky decided to go to England).

The weather was mostly bad, cold and windy – there is a special kind of wind in England that pierces your clothing and flesh to lodge in your marrow. But there are daffodils in every park, great swaths of them, and flowering shrubs and trees everywhere. The schools were out and some businesses closed on Good Friday.

The streets were packed with tourists (it seemed like every little group of people we passed spoke a different language – lots of French and German, some Russian, some I couldn’t identify). I bought a pair of red trousers in Marks and Spenser (almost as famous as Selfridge’s, not as high end). Bought gifts, a fine ballpoint pen at the Tower with a big “diamond” on its head, t-shirts, a silver replica of the White Boar badge of Richard III found a few years ago at the site of the Bosworth Field battle where King Richard was killed, some coffee mugs, lots (and lots) of postcards, books. Had to buy a second suitcase to carry all the loot..

Because our plane tickets called for us to fly on Easter Sunday, we decided to go to Westminster Abbey for the Saturday evening Vigil of Easter service.


Oh, my, it was beautiful! We gathered in the dark just inside the door, something over 100 of us, seated on folding chairs. The church is old, old; the stained glass in the huge windows medieval, the pillars immense, the main aisle studded with flat markers of famous people buried under them. Meanwhile a large number of priests, deacons and others gathered by the door and suddenly there was a little fire leaping up out of a pale stone. A prayer was said, the Pascal candle lit and from it other candles. We the laity had been given a taper with a cardboard guard and the light was passed so everyone had a lit candle. Then we processed into the inner church, past the choir (their choir members wear red robes with little white ruffs around the neck and white whatchacallems over that). Gorgeous voices! I love it when the boy sopranos’ voices rise so high over the others, but there was a magnificent baritone in there, too. We stood and sat as the readings and collects began, from Genesis (The Sixth Day of creation) and on through Abraham about to sacrifice his son. The choir sang. Suddenly the organ burst out a peal and the lights came on, and it was Easter! Incense rose in clouds, chandeliers were lowered, lit, and raised (one spinning gently), and six children were baptized. We went on through the Eucharist, hymns were sung, old Latin chants were intoned, a priest came through us with a golden object he would dip into a basis and use to scatter holy water over us – Becky caught a drop in one eye, to her surprise and amusement. The gospel was the three women, Mary, Mary, and Salome, coming to anoint the Body and finding it gone. The bread and wine handed around (the wafer thick and chewy and the wine pale, sharp and strong), blessings were given, and we were dismissed. The service began at eight and was over about quarter to ten. We’d come on the Underground, but took a cab home. I was the only person present in a hat, but as we shook hands with the celebrants on our way out, I got lots of compliments on my “Easter bonnet.” As we stood outside waiting to signal a cab, right across the street, Big Ben chimed the hour and then, in its mighty deep voice, struck ten times – a very lovely farewell to our adventure.


Got a few hours of sleep before we were summoned to the lobby to catch a 4:30 am shuttle to Heathrow. And there began the longest day. The plane left around quarter to eight London time and landed in Chicago about quarter to one Chicago time (something over seven hours later). Then there was an enormously long trek to the gathering place to catch a plane to Minneapolis. We were met at the airport by Mimi and Tanya (poor Tanya, who had missed this adventure because of her knee). They dropped me off at my apartment and I managed to stay up until around 8 pm. Woke up at quarter to five on Monday, safe at home.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

My very good friend, Tanya, does scrapbooking. She’s not a fanatic, but she is insistent that after each travel adventure, we really should do a scrapbook. I now have a canvas bag full of bits and pieces of my recent trip to England. In a few days Becky and I will sit down with my friend and each put together a scrapbook. One of the good parts of doing this is that it very vividly brings back memories of the trip, and I’m sure we’ll be laughing and sighing and sharing stories as we do this important finalization of the adventure.

Several people have suggested I should send Betsy and some members of the Monday Bunch to England – and have someone fall ill and wind up in the hospital. Connor, maybe? Hmmmm . . . working . . .

Spring had sprung in England. Every park offered wide swaths of daffodils, every tree and shrub that could bloom was in bloom, a joy to the eyes. Now I’m back home and while the grass is greening, so far I haven’t seen so much as a crocus, much less a daffodil. But buds on trees are swelling and I did see the green tips of tulips pushing their way up into the sunlight in a flowerbed. So pretty soon, in the manner of the far north, spring will fairly explode. Everything will bloom at once, from crocus to tulips to crab apple trees to dandelions – I remember seeing a dandelion come up blooming through a late snowfall one harsh winter. This is Minnesota, where spring and fall are each about ten days long and you dare not put your potted plants out onto the patio until after Mother’s Day and you send your children out trick or treating wearing snowsuits under their costumes. Here are daffodils in Green Park.

One thing I’d remembering this morning is that the men in red coats and black-bear-fur hats are not mere ornaments at the Tower of London and outside Buckingham Palace. The weapons they carry are not antiques, but very modern automatic rifles. One tends to forget they are real soldiers.


Tuesday, April 28, 2015

King Edward I of England (17 June 1239 – 7 July 1307) married Eleanor of Castile in 1254, when he was fourteen and she twelve. It was an arranged marriage, but they came to love one another very much. She died in 1290 near Lincoln and her body was carried in a series of twelve stages to London. Edward commissioned a series of “crosses” to mark each place her body rested on the trip. Only three remain intact. The last one, still intact, was constructed in what was a small village, Charing, though today it is not far from central London. It is at a stop on the Underground called Charing Cross. (Another oddity: Her title, Infanta de Castile, became corrupted as the years went by and it is the name of numerous pubs – and also a stop on the Underground: Elephant and Castle.) Here’s a photo I took of Charing Cross; it’s on the edge of a hotel parking lot off an important shopping street called The Strand, near Trafalgar Square:

Suddenly, there are tulips everywhere here in Minneapolis, and daffodils and blooming trees and shrubs. Very pleasant to the eyes. Soon, lilacs.

It seems I am not completely recovered from whatever illness struck me down on the flight to London back on March 23. My lower stomach grumbles and misbehaves a lot, I have become lactose intolerant, and I may have developed an ulcer. My doctor has ordered more tests. Good thing my work requires me to sit quietly at my desk for hours every day with a bathroom just steps away.

I think I’m still coming down from my trip to England. Stepping outside St. George’s Church Hall after a vestry meeting Monday evening, I was pushed by a sharp, driving wind and dampened by a light rain – just like the weather at Stonehenge a few weeks ago. What a mysterious place Stonehenge is! Huge, flat-faced stones, cut from a miles-distant quarry and brought to the site, dressed and stood upright four thousand years ago, so far back that no amount of research can tell what these people were thinking when they built it. Okay, it appears to be some kind of calendar, marking the winter and summer solstice – and there is even new evidence that it also tracked the moon and could predict eclipses. Were the sun and moon gods to these people? Impossible to know at this remove in time.