Much has happened since London. Many sights have been seen. Epiphanies have been reached. Upon hearing about the Great London Hotel Challenge at dinner (Ethiopian-yum!), a student offered to let me stay in her much nicer hotel room, to which I said a huge thank you. No men lurking in the hallway. No turds swimming in the shared toilet. Thank you, Kind Student! From her sweet digs, I found the Natural History Museum, but not until after stumbling into a BDSM convention in the hotel lobby which featured interesting vendors, like Narcissus Rising. I took photos of some half-naked, chained- and leathered-up mannequins (of course!) and was then kindly asked by a deaf man (speaking sort of in sign language) to delete the photos. All this while students and a British colleague were looking on. Perhaps not my most professorial moment… but I did delete the images while the man looked on, and he said thanks, and the colleague informed me on the subway later that, legally, I probably didn’t need to delete the photos, but that it was the polite thing to do. Somehow, being told I’d done the “polite” thing by a British professor felt like the highest compliment possible in what was (almost) a very tricky situation.
Was a lesson learned? Read on. The following weekend, I encountered a couple in Lincoln taking part in a Steam Punk Convention, only she was a little more scantily-clad than most. They were standing at the bar, in all their regalia (or some?), and I asked if I could take their photo. The man answered yes, put on a face mask, and they proceeded to pose. Yeow. Yes, a lesson was learned.
Dress-up seems to be a big thing here in UK. After visiting Lincoln, the next day I visited Cambridge, and who(m) should I see but Queen Elizabeth! And a gang of courtiers, a herald, and musicians. Very, very lovely. Soon after, I was “punted” on the River Cam. Actually, you don’t get “punted,” you go “punting” in a “punt” with a “punter,” which means a handsome young college fellow guides a shallow, wooden craft down a canal-like river with a long pole as he tells you and your companions stories about the surrounding colleges, places where the likes of Isaac Newton and AA Milne went to school, and Watson and Crick drank a pint or several and contemplated the nature of DNA molecules. Genius abounds in Cambridge, as do handsome punters.
In the two weeks since London, in addition to visiting Lincoln and Cambridge, I’ve also been to London (again) to hear writer Hilary Mantel in conversation with actress Harriet Walker. Hilary described the process of working with actors to bring to the stage the (historical) characters of her books Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies, a process I also got to witness with the help of several grad students back at my alma mater, MU. Minus the historical characters, of course. I felt like Hilary was speaking directly to me. Her description of how the characters originally came to her – that she heard their voices – sounded much like what Joseph Boyden said at the Edinburgh International Book Festival when asked by a facilitator how stories come to him. And that’s how stories come to me, too–I hear the characters before I see them. When I teach, I use these examples with my students because many textbooks tell students to “see” the scenes they want to create in a story, but some of us “hear” the scenes first.
After London (the first time) and before Lincoln, I got to tour Beverly Minster with a good friend who was visiting the UK. She introduced me to local friends, who introduced me to the white hare, which is touted as the inspiration for the illustrations of the rabbit in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. Very cool. After London, Beverly, London, Lincoln, and Cambridge, I was bopped on the head (with a bladder on a stick) by a Morris Dancer, so apparently I’ll be pregnant by year’s end. I don’t know how to explain that one to my sweetie. The evening after the bopping, I went to Doncaster, got lost several times after the pub, and finally found the Rover stadium with the help of a colleague and her teenage son, watched a “football” game with a score of 0-0, and was very kindly escorted back (this time along pedestrian paths, not the motorway) to the train station by a local named James. He walked with us no less than 30 minutes. Very kind. And he didn’t ask for money or try to scare us in any way. The next evening, I saw the film Pride in Grantham with colleagues while enjoying a gin and tonic in a can and a free bag of crisps. Highly recommended. I took a nap the next day. And the next. Then on Saturday, I went on a class trip to York where I had a Yorkshire Fat Rascal (yum!) and a slice of blueberry lemon cake (more yum!) and saw a fossilized human turd, also known as a coprolite, (not yum!) at the Jorvik Viking Centre.
Tomorrow, I’m going to Woolsthorpe Manor, home of Isaac Newton, a local celebrity. This week’s festival, Gravity Fields, is in honor of him. Today, I got to see sapling apple trees in a real secret garden at Harlaxton Manor planted from cuttings of Newton’s famous apple tree. I’ll leave you, though, with a taste of home… even though I’m having more fun than any one person ought to, I do miss home. My sweetie is going to Roots n Blues n BBQ back in CoMo this weekend, and my favorite singer-songwriter will be there. Here’s “In Spite of Ourselves” from John Prine, just to tickle your fancy.