Trip to England (1996)

Following my decision to spend a couple of months with Maureen in the UK, (July 12th to September 8th) I found it unwise to sign up for golf this season. The summer was a bit late, and the golfing season is quite short here in Canada. So I chose not to sign up at my club. In any case, I realize that at my age, one cannot play his best golf My golf buddies were quite disappointed, even though they are 15-20 years younger than I.

So on July 12th 1996, I flew over to London and Ron and Maureen met me at Heathrow airport the following morning. The flight was uneventful, and took all of seven and a half hours. This was now July 13th 1996.

As usual, I took about 2-3 days to adjust to the jet-lag. On Sunday 14th July, we went to collect some plants from a nearby Garden Centre and what we selected would certainly help to brighten up our garden. We followed this with a visit to Lensbury Club, where Maureen is a member, and enjoyed a barbecue lunch there on the extensive grounds. There was quite a lot of people present, as well as a steel band playing Caribbean tunes.

800px Lensbury clubhouse 2007 by Stephen Parnell

Since this was the last day of the famous Hampton Court flower show, we took off there to enjoy this rare display of floral culture. It took us just over two yours of steady walking around to see the exhibits and, even then, we didn't see it all. These gardens surround the Hampton Court Palace, the one time home of king Henry 8th, and this place, along with miles of superb hunting grounds stretching along the Thames River, is now preserved as a tourist attraction.

Hampton Court F

Expecting Gordon and Arna to join us from California, the first week was spent tidying up, and putting the front and back gardens in shape.

Both Ron and Maureen had pre-arranged to attend an Amway conference in Cardiff, Wales, the coming weekend, and it was planned that I should spend it at Sonny and Joyce Barrow's home in Lincoln until they returned. However, Joyce came down with a runny nose and it was decided that rather than risk becoming infected, I would take a "rain-check". Paul did come over to keep me company, while his parents were away, rather than staying at home alone. Paul is quite a "chef', and he prepared quite an excellent dinner for us both. Before he returned to his home in Milton Keynes, I took him to a nearby Indian restaurant where we had a typical Oriental meal which we both enjoyed.

Got in touch with my grand-daughter Cathy and her family. Her mother Joan, is now in England spending three weeks before she returns to St. Lucia via Barbados next month.

I keep helping with the gardens, mowing the grass, clipping the hedge and watering the plants. I plan to visit the City (downtown London) this week, taking Maureen with me. I really want to see what changed there are since my last visit to the UK. To be truly honest, I was quite disappointed with the trip. The weather was hot, and the subway system was poor with delays all the way. However, we had purchased one-day travel cards at £3.50 each ($7.00 Can.), which allowed us to use either bus or subway. At one point, when the underground train had stopped due to some delay on the line, we decided to surface and take a bus instead so as to get to Madam Tussauds Wax Museum, but we lost our way somewhere in Maida Vale.

While sitting on the upper deck of the bus, we met an Englishman who offered to direct us to our destination. He even escorted us there, chatting all the way and very friendly indeed. His name was Peter, and he said he worked for government security, and had been all over the world. Served in the Army, Navy and Airforce and was on his way to Rio de Janeiro next week. He may have been bragging, but I tested him by asking some pertinent questions like, 'Have you seen Brasilia?' To which he replied, 'Even though it is the capital, Rio is much more important and very interesting.' In reality, he was in the secret service and chatted quite sensibly, and was indeed a great help to up in finding our way around in that confusing area.

After examining the pros and cons of visiting Madam Tussaud's Wax Works and the Planetarium and taking the sight-seeing bus tour around London, we abandoned the whole idea. The queue lines were interminable and the weather was hot and the charges quite exorbitant. Also, Maureen was never one to enjoy baking in the sun of the open-top deck of the tour buses. So instead we purchased a couple of packages of nicely put up lunches and some cold drinks and did a ten minute walk to Regents Park. We found a shaded bench on the side of a large lake which runs through the park. Here we could see lots of holiday-makers in little canoes paddling along the lack with swans and ducks swimming about, and there were lots of pigeons which took care of the crumbs and scraps from our lunches. We finally took to the underground trains and wended our way home quite tired.

On Sunday 30th July, we visited Cathy and family who now five in Tottenham in north London. It was a car ride of about 45 minutes, using quite a bit of the North Circular Road. Her home is in a newly built-up area called Bream Close'. The homes are small but quite practical, and ideally suited for her family of four, two boys aged 5 and 3. We met Joan, her mother, who is now on holiday from St Lucia, and it was a pleasant get-together after a long absence. We had a nice supper there, and before leaving, invited the family to have supper with us the following Thursday. Joan will be leaving for her home in Barbados in a few days.

It is quite remarkable how prices have soared in England since my last visit here. As an example a small ice-cream cone costs $2.72 (Canadian).

On Saturday 3rd September I decided to ride into the City and compare how London looked today, with how I remembered it a few years ago. I took Maureen along to act as a guide and helper, as she knows the busy areas better than I, having worked in many places in this huge metropolis.

So we purchased travel cards as usual, which as I said are good for one day and you have a choice of either underground rail or bus. We changed trains and buses several times just showing our tickets and did our best to get our money's worth.

On one of the subway trains we met and chatted with a nice little lady who promised to give Maureen some information about ballroom dances near to where we live. We spent a lot of time looking through shops in Oxford Street. 'Debenhams' was particularly interesting, and we did have lunch there.

We found a souvenir shop in Oxford Street called 'Churchill Gifts', and hope to go back there some time to select souvenirs for family and friends back in Canada. We also visited Westminster Abbey, which as usual, was crowded.

West Side of Westminster Abbey London geograph org uk 1406999

We got home late in the afternoon and had Fish and Chips for supper - just delightful- as only the English could make it.

On Tuesday, August 6th Daphne, my niece, and her husband John Wright visited us, and I entertained them to an Indian "Tandoori" supper at a nearby restaurant. On the following day, Wednesday 7th August, Maureen and I attended what is described as a "Tea Dance" at the Brent Town Hall in Wembley - a truly grand little affair. We made friends with a group and certainly enjoyed the afternoon. The dance music was recorded but delightful. Both "Ballroom" and "Latin" music was played, and the dance floor was not only large, but very smooth. The weather was just perfect, and the dress very casual and comfortable. We danced from 12.30 to 3.30 p.m. What fun we had trying the 'Latins' and 'Cha-Cha-Chas’!  Just confirmed that I’ll be going to Joyce and Sonny Barrow in Lincoln on Saturday 10th August until Tuesday 13th. The train ride to Lincoln takes three hours.

Leaving King’s Cross railway station at 9.a.m. I was met by my life-long friend, Sonny,-whose real first name is Eugene- and taken to his home in a hired chauffeur-driven car to St. David’s Close, where, many years ago he purchased a delightful bungalow-type home. It is in a very select area, each of the surrounding houses has ample garden space both back and front, and they are all very well and beautifully kept. I enjoyed a room all to myself, overlooking the garden in the back. It was delightfully comfortable, a real home away from home. On the following day I was driven to a pub nearby, where we had a fine dinner.

What long chats Sonny and I had! Our friendship went back to when we were teenagers, and we certainly enjoyed recounting and almost reliving all those glorious days between the ages of 14 and 19 years, when we were young rebels. I was certainly brought up-to-date on things relating to Guyana, and who better to discuss this than with one who was Minister of Housing in the land where we were both born and lived for so many wonderful years.

Unfortunately, Sonny has a spinal problem, and is unable to stand erect in an upright position. Apart from that, however, he is very sound in mind and limb, and rides a bicycle with ease.

He takes a keen interest in Guyanese affairs, and is also very busy compiling a family tree, which absorbs a lot of his time. He and I have a number of similar views covering things like, the ageing body, religion, euthanasia, creation and evolution, the presence of life in outer space, etc. etc. It was certainly one of the nicest weekends I have ever spent, and was sorry he lives so far away.

Promptly, at midday on Tuesday 13th August 1996 he engaged a car and saw me down to the rail station on my way back to London and Maureen’s home. Leaving Lincoln, I had to change trains at a half-way point back to London. I was unaware there were two trains going in the same direction and both to ‘Kings Cross. I took the first one that came, and that one, an express, got into ‘Kings Cross’ one hour before the expected time. I was hoping to contact Maureen to tell her of this as soon as I reached Kings Cross, but unfortunately, there was a security alarm at Kings Cross station when I got there, and the authorities had shut down the entire subway station there, as they suspected a strange package left unattended had contained a bomb. However, no bomb was discovered, but there was so much confusion as a result, that I failed to get in touch with Maureen, who was also affected by the emergency.

As a result, I bought myself a ticket for the underground tube system, and wended my way home, arriving there about hour later. Maureen, who had already left home to meet me at Kings Cross, telephoned home and was assured I had arrived there without further mishap.  On the following afternoon after resting up a bit, Maureen and I took off for the ‘Tea Dance’ at the Brent Town Hall in Wembley. She and I danced quite a lot, doing some of those unusual bits like the Rumba, Samba, and Tango as well as the regular Fox-trots, Waltzes etc. What a glorious dance hall this place is!

On Friday, August 16th I walked from our home to “Barham Park”, which is just a ten minute stroll, and really enjoyed the scenery there. It is quite a large park and the flower display is really delightful. I just could not resist taking a few shots of the flowering banks, and the general surroundings. I also visited the library, which is really a part of the park. It was a truly gratifying walk, and I spent a good two hours absorbing it all and enjoying it as well.

Barham Park geograph org uk 307843

Today, Saturday, August 17th we are having a Cantonese supper. It is amazing what a variety of food I have eaten while in England. Tomorrow, we will have British Fish and Chips, while on the next day it will be an Indian supper, followed by a Chinese meal later in the week – and so on ….

On Sunday 18th August I made several telephone calls. First, I called the Barrows, thanking them for their hospitality. We chatted quite a bit, as old friends will do after a long absence. Then I called Cathy, my grand-daughter in Tottenham and was also able to speak to her brother Kai, who had just returned from the U.S.A. where he attended a convention.  We also confirmed that Cathy and family would be joining us next Monday at ‘Elveden Forest in Suffolk for just one day. Following that, I got in touch with Marsha in Canada. She was having breakfast and was preparing to go to church, where she had to sing at the morning service. She and Aubrey had just returned from carrying out some of the duties of ‘Hardinge Enterprises’. They are certainly developing quite a business of their own. Finally, I telephoned Gordon in California and was lucky to be answered by him personally, since it was his week off from his workplace in Susanville.

This morning Monday 19th August, I am writing this in a barber’s shop, quite close to Maureen’s home. Incidentally, the barber remembered me, having cut my hair almost five years ago, when I was in England on a visit.

With the impending approach of my return trip to Canada, I have decided to spend today, Thursday 22nd August roaming through Oxford Street in search of souvenirs to take back home. As Maureen is off work today, she is coming to help me in my search and choice. We did pick up quite a few things from ‘Churchill’s Gift Shop’, but are these little things pricey!! But we do manage.  Using our one-day travel cards, we push on to Cathy, who lives in Tottenham. She and her family have quite a neat little home, and her two lovely sons are growing fast. The older is five years, and his brother is three. As to be expected, we arrived home rather tired after a long day. Maureen and I are now in the throes of preparing for our next week, the real high point of my visit to the UK.

So on Monday 26th August, we set off for the holiday villa in Elveden Forest where we will spend the next four days, along with Paul, Maureen’s son. We will have Cathy and family for a short while, then away we go driving into Wales to spend another few days with Daphne and her husband whose home is there. The plan is to pick up Paul at Milton Keynes where he lives and works, and go on to Elveden Forest – one of the Center Parc Holiday locations. Cathy’s group will meet us there. After the four day sojourn at Elveden, the four of us, Paul, Ron, Maureen and I will drive to Wales, a good five to six hour car-ride.

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