Final of 3 posts about our recent adventure in England
If we’d been treated like royalty back at Peckforton Castle, we were treated even better in East Finchley: like old friends. We relaxed with our hosts, Hank & Kelle, in their lovely home in East Finchley, and took off our tourist cap for our last day and a half in London.
I first met Hank way back in 1973 when I visited a friend from high school, Tracy, at Northwestern University. That week, I met a number of Tracy’s friends, and over the next couple of years, several of these folks would come visit Austin during spring break. Later, I crashed on Hank’s couch as I resettled back into the 20th Century after my brief sojourn at the Texas Renaissance Faire. We lost touch for years, but had re-connected in recent years (again through Tracy) when Hank & Kelle would visit her family in central Texas. In fact, I had stayed with Hank when I visited London for work in 2012.
We also needed to slow down, because Sara had started feeling a little sick the day after the wedding. A day of travel and a half-day at the Tower had further exhausted her, and she began to worry about getting worse. Well, Kelle’s inner “Dr. Mom” kicked in or something, as she quizzed Sara about symptoms and offered remedies and made tea. A restful evening with incredible home-made pizza helped restore her as well.
Still, rather than rush out to chase the sights the next day, we decided instead to enjoy the sunny afternoon and wander their very walkable neighborhood. We headed over to a local public woods sanctuary for a leisurely stroll. Wandering through the quiet woods, we saw about a dozen other folks, walking, running, and strolling dogs on the pathways criss-crossing the woods.
Hank & Kelle had also recommended wandering past an almost hidden break in the fence into an old cemetery. At first, we encountered mostly long neglected and rarely visited, vine-covered tombstones in the back part of the cemetery. But as we walked further in along the footpaths and then widening named lanes, we came into the contemporary section, with its properly manicured grass and greenery, as well as recent and recently visited graves.
Now, personally, neither Sara and I feel much connection to graveyards — we both believe the body is but a receptacle for the spirit, and once that leaves an earthly body, the spirit or soul or person flies away free from all our worldly constraints.
Still, cemeteries serve as reminders to appreciate our loved ones while we can, and to remember them always. We wandered through quietly, reading some of the tombstones and memorials and reverently admiring some of the incredible sculpture work.
Eventually, we wound our way out to the front gate, and emerged back onto the streets of East Finchley, pleasantly tuckered out from our meanderings.
We headed back to the house and enjoyed a pleasant late afternoon visiting on their back patio in their small but well-appointed garden. Kelle was headed out of town on a previously scheduled visit overnight (we would see her again the next day before we left), so Hank and their son, Cole, were our hosts for our final evening in London.
Again, we took advantage of the walkable neighborhood to stroll a few blocks over to the Clissold Arms, where we enjoyed excellent food and drink sitting out on their open patio — a real treat for Texans who had fled the summer heat!
And there is nothing like visiting with an old friend, swapping true stories and tall tales with little regard for which is which.
Hank reminded me of one spring break visit back in the 70’s when we all headed out to Soap Creek Saloon on Tequila Night. At 40 cents a shot (or was it 50?), two bucks could get you pretty well tanked on tequila. I don’t really remember the music much, but I do remember some pretty wild dancing involving a table or two knocked over or at least askew. I also recall a brief roadside stop we made to let someone throw up and the cop who stopped to see what we were doing. As we started to explain, Dave demonstrated why we had stopped by puking on the police car’s fender. “Get him out of here,” the disgusted officer said, urging us homeward.
Our pleasant “sunny afternoon” presaged the pub visit here, as the Clissold Arms hosted the first (and last) show from the Kinks. That’s none too surprising, given that Ray and Dave Davies grew up directly across the street, where their family regularly hosted musical get-togethers in their living room.
The pioneering rockers’ musical journey serves now as the basis for a new musical, “A Sunny Afternoon.” If we’d had enough time during our visit, that might’ve been a fun excursion.
As it was, I got to visit the dedicated Kinks tribute the Clissold Arms hosts in their back room — where you can look out the door and see the old Davies house. Plaques quote both “Lola” (seen in the photo) and Dave Davies’ song “Fortis Green,” which specifically mentions the Clissold Arms.
Photos and album covers and fan art cover all the walls, really heightening the sense of place that the pub itself, and especially this back room, wraps you in until you could almost feel the Davies brothers themselves standing by and soaking it in.
Though we had to leave the next day to start our homeward journey, spending our final evening with friends, made me realize and revel in the bonds of friendship and kinship.
When we remember the deep roots of a longtime relationship, we restore the bonds that helped grow that friendship into the towering tree it can become, sheltering and shading us, our family and our friends.
I can’t close this travel commentary without mentioning the British train system, from the national network to the Tube. Even lugging around our luggage — including one large rolling suitcase — we found navigating the trains to be remarkably simple.
Sure, we screwed it up a time or two and very nearly missed a change of trains that would’ve sent us off in the wrong direction through London, but in the end, we made it everywhere we needed to go.
Our last day before a morning flight stateside, we pulled our biggest train goof. Since we had come down to London via the slower local train (as opposed to the bullet train that was available), we wanted to go back that same way. Hank had recommended the bullet train, but we worried about having to change trains in unfamiliar Manchester Piccadilly Station and insisted we’d be fine simply returning via the route we came. Having made only one train transfer in Crewe on the way down, we wanted our only transfer to happen where we already knew the station a bit.
Except that the connecting train we were counting on — direct from Crewe to Manchester International Airport — did not run on Sunday, despite the printed schedule posted in the station.
Fortunately,we figured that out in time to get directions to catch a different train that we could use to transfer to another town and catch the one we needed. We had to rush over to get on that train and then we had to wait nearly an hour for the train to the airport.
Note to self: when you ask an internationally renowned transportation expert for directions on how to get somewhere — take them!
In the end, though, it didn’t matter to us. Even that hour we spent sitting on a bench at the station platform in Wilmslo felt so wonderfully English and relaxing that we savored even that delay and re-direction, hoping we had tracked down the right train to get us to the Manchester airport — and yes, we did!