As self-proclaimed family genealogist, I have come to skeptically sanction DNA testing and its merits in verifying heritage and patterns of genetic and ethnic characteristics in family lineage. From a recent DNA saliva test, my husband Ernest was deemed to be of 99% British lineage. Aware of some of the Scottish and Irish ancestry from both of his parents, we acknowledged the over-all British characteristics and attitudes in Ernest…serious, determined, proper, on-time, and studiously informed. The man does not wear an ascot or drink tea in large quantities, but he has a mastery of British satire, inherent in his humor and a sober and fastidious approach to work, commitment and loyalty–seeing events in a very concise manner. When one of his former students, Doyle Springfield, learned that Mr. Wise was 99% British in DNA make-up, he shared, That explains so very much. I had that man as an instructor in Biology and his humor was most decisively British. Now I understand, quipped Doyle. So in this frame-of-mind, I enjoyed several days in London, experiencing the British culture and meticulously observing Brits, along with my 99% spouse of British lineage.
Mornings in London provided remarkable opportunities for people-watching. Our hotel was across the street from Westminster Abbey, so business people, government officials, and tourists from inside and outside of Great Britain were hustling everywhere. An early riser, I snatched my notebook and pen, tip-toed quietly out of our cozy hotel room and made my way to the cafe on the main thoroughfare, sometimes spending up to two hours each morning, making notes, listening and watching. With scenic windows to the sky at my vantage point on the stylish bench with the counter transformed to work surface at 21 Tothill Street, folks trod hurriedly to appointments, meetings, work, and iconic tourist locations. A few characters for future stories and books were incubated in my watchfulness while I sipped the most delicious of teas and sampled an array of sausages, bacon, fried bread, and muffins. By the time Ernest joined me at the cafe, I had all nature of observations to report to him, as we planned our adventures for the day.
Being in London during a ‘bank holiday weekend’ accentuated the tourism. A bank holiday was really a public holiday…duh! Apparently the name originated with Sir John Lubbock in 1871, when he introduced holidays for the bank as days off with pay. Indicative of terminology nuances among English-speaking people, this and other monikers yearned for exploration.
Brits seemed unique from Americans yet similar. A sampling of generalizations and stereotypes appeared to hold up, and others were obsolete or non-existent. I did not feel as much a part of the English culture as I expected, although I liked the no-nonsense attitude. Just after the royal wedding, folks were keen on impressions and reactions about the Harry and Meagan couple, but we heard very little about them. Our cab driver was a lively Brit who had lived and worked in the US in Texas for several years previously, and was quick to remind us that the royal wedding had occurred in Windsor, which did not much impact London.
The experience of travel to London from Paris by Chunnel was a multi-cultural experience. We admired the countryside of France as we traveled by Chunnel from Paris and then passed under the English Channel in a kind of swoosh. Voila, the English countryside came to life as we viewed peaceful sheep grazing on lush green hills, small villages, and miles of rural area. The train was unique from American institutions. Passengers seemed to know instinctively when it was arriving and where to board. In the US, an announcer might have given three or more notices by the public address system, while in Paris, we needed to verify a few times over that we were in the correct waiting area and then in London, we had to be vigilant to disembark at the assigned station.
Maneuvering the Underground (subway) was convenient in London, particularly after careful analysis of the schedules and charts. We walked to many places in London. Buckingham Palace was pleasant, but paled in comparison to the surrounding gardens, paths, and parks that encased the grounds. All about on the warm spring day, we witnessed children playing and folks lounging on the grounds, savoring the beauty of nature. The natural grasses that were not mowed on many of the park grounds were refreshing to see and seemed to give the observer a glimpse of London throughout time.
Big Ben was in a state of repair but even with the heavy buttresses of the scaffolding that encased the old guy, Big Ben’s prowess was evident. Westminster Abby did not disappoint and a walk along the Thames, a tour of the Churchill War Rooms, and high tea in the afternoon added to the ambiance.
Later we took a cruise down the Thames to Greenwich Pier and enjoyed additional sites. The crazy London Eye annoyed us in the seeming commercial enterprises’ apparent attempt to duplicate the iconic emblematic focus of something like Paris’s Eiffel Tower or New York’s Statue of Liberty. The London Eye was an over-sized Ferris wheel with a thirty-five minute excursion ride that exposed an aerial view of London. It seemed out-of-place near the antique buildings that mocked it by significance, yet the Eye provided a focal grounding of location (a here you are) for sites along the Thames. The golden eagle statue of World War I and II reminded us of the shared heritages and values of our two countries. The Cleopatra Needle, a stone column of 3,500 years of age, was standing the test of time. Ernest was fascinated with the Waterloo Bridge that had been built by four hundred women during one of the World Wars…the guide quipped in usual British chime that it was the only bridge built on schedule and within budget. The Tower of London, museums at Greenwich, and landmarks called to us to visit.
A trip to the Kew Gardens was a lovely Sunday afternoon. Still spinning from the NACAA tour with Extension Agents and Master Gardeners from the throughout the USA in Europe, we wanted passionately to add the Kew Gardens to our repertoire of learning and experiencing of horticulture. (At that point in time, we believed that sharing the learning opportunities with our fellow Master Gardeners back home was going to be a shear welcomed joy of our year, so we trudged off with notebooks and cameras and attempted to experience the 300 acres that made up the largest and most diverse botanical and mycological collections in the world. To our heartache and disappointment, this plan was axed so we will share our learning and experiences with the members of our NACAA group and in our community groups who have lined up.) Elsewhere on the blog, I have detailed a few of our discoveries and learning experiences at KEW with the tours we undertook there, and the many notes we gathered, and research we explored soon after.
A further adventurous day was spent at the Victoria & Albert Museum in London. There we visited remnants and treasures of so much of not only England’s vast history but achievements and landmarks of human history throughout the world.
Great to have the British perspective at home and in London!