Friday, September 26, 2008

Britain, oh, and Victoria, British Columbia

Okay, so you've seen all our Alaska pictures. Well, I'm still hoping to get a hold of Hub 1.0's Mendenhall Glacier photos, but they're not on this computer, and so that will have to wait.

In real life, we're just back from the U.K. We had a nice, if whirlwind visit: we attended a dinner celebrating the 4000th puzzle in the weekly series that, for many years, Starman used to edit. That was a bit of a quirky event -- a great many cryptic crossword fanatics in a smallish hotel banquet room trying, with varying degrees of success, to make conversation. Noise levels were up, and we were at a Quiet Table. As a result, we were mostly unable to get talking to the others at our table -- there were ten people in a circle: two were elderly enough that hearing and being heard were nearly impossible, four were dead quiet folks who just didn't converse even amongst themselves, two were fairly chatty until the wine overcame them, and two were Starman and me. As the one American, I was torn between my mother's staunch conviction that a dinner table HAS to have a dinner table conversation at all times, and my reluctance to reinforce the Chatty Yank caricature. So I chatted, and then (particularly when the wine drinkers to my left succumbed to inebriation) fell silent too.

Our hotel room was certainly memorable. We couldn't make the television work when we checked in. British wiring includes those massive plugs and even has on-off switches on the outlets, but nothing seemed to be amiss. Finally, on a separate wall, I saw a small metal box on the wall that instructed me to insert my key card. Suddenly, all the lights (and the TV) came on! Amazing. Well, if you're a commercial traveler (Britspeak for salesman), this makes sense -- you only need the lights on when you are in the room, plus you always know where your key card is. But they'd only given us the one card, so we couldn't split up. (We were in the F Cell Block, so there was an outer door that needed unlocking before you got to the room. If it's all sounding a bit like a penitentiary, it was.) We did learn that any plastic card would work; we ended up using the card that logs our attendance at a Binghamton, NY movie theater!

The next day, we drove to Ruislip, which is west of London and north of Heathrow. Starman's sister lives there, and we were part of a reunion of all the sibs & offspring. Thirteen people at the table, ranging from 4 to 52. Yup, that would be me as the eldest, which after a lifetime of being the youngest is quite weird. I still worry that these people -- who have been nothing but kind, friendly, open and trusting since they all first met me -- will judge me and find me wildly inadequate for their wonderful older brother/uncle. In other words, I still think like a youngest. [On the other hand, it makes me feel particular kinship with Starman's brother; we bumped knuckles on the subject of baby pictures, lamenting the dearth of photos of the fourth child to come along.] But really, I have no reason to worry, and I know that. If they don't like me, they're far too polite and self-contained to say or do anything. Theirs is a "don't ask, don't tell" family; it may well have not even occurred to any of them that they were allowed an opinion on who their brother/uncle married! And anyway, what's not to like, right?

On then to Wimbledon, and Starman's aunt, now into her 80s: Lady P., whom the family calls Pip. She's the widow of the someteenth baronet Hyphen-Surname, which explained the dark oil portraits of preceding baronets lining the walls. I gather the title died with her husband; they'd had all daughters and the one male cousin died childless. (Which would also explain the portraits; you would assume that they'd have been shipped along to the (x+1)th baronet if the title had traveled.) As an American, I had lots of questions, which I did rather understand wouldn't be polite to ask. (Asking about the transfer of the title was the one rudeness I allowed myself.) What happened to the ancestral home? How anachronistic was it to be Lady P.? Did anyone use her honorific anymore, and did she care?

Mind you, I like Pip -- she's of an era I know a bit about, as my aunts are all in the same age range. Also, being Starman's mother's older sister, Pip is the best indication I'll ever get of what my mother-in-law was like before the combination of Parkinson's and a bad fall started her current gentle slide into senility. I would love to see more of Pip, but she too feels the need to gather the family when Starman is on the doorstep. Only one of Pip's daughters was close at hand, but it was clear she'd invited all three. Not, I think, to see if the American has two heads, but rather to evidence the family connections. I like that impulse, just as I like Pip.

From Wimbledon, which is south London, to Oxford to see Starman's mother, and then on to York. Starman, bless his furry heart, did all the driving on this trip! We do feel particularly comfortable visiting his brother's family -- I know them the best, and planning a wedding in North Yorkshire cemented our relationship. We're hoping they are able to come to the U.S. next summer so that we can return the hospitality.

Okay, so that was the most recent English trip -- back to earlier in the month, and British Columbia. After Alaska, we docked in Vancouver, rented a car, took a ferry, and went right back over to Vancouver Island (where Campbell River is) to spend a couple nights in Victoria. There'll be more photos tomorrow, but for now, we'll share the ones from our tea party at the Empress Hotel.

Those are the Saluki-dog trees at the entrance of the hotel. Tea there is expensive, but yummy. Our bed-and-breakfast host advised us that you're allowed to request seconds, even if the waiter frowns (literally) when you do it!

Us, and the tea. Note that Hub 1.0's default expression is a bit, uh, dour. Remember that for when I get his photos of the glacier trek up -- he's grinning from ear-to-ear, which is not to suggest he was wasn't happy at the Empress Hotel, but that he was euphoric finally to walk on a glacier!

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