Dispatches from Maine

Just another person of little note writing about ordinary things. That I reside in Maine is icing on the cake.

30 March 2008

England, Day Four

Yesterday we left behind London and made our way to Witney to stay with Steve's family. As always the company and the food is delightful. For a late dinner yesterday we had a kind of shepherd's pie with spinach and seafood as a filling along with a delicious white Bordeaux. I ordinarily do not like white wine, but this was quite dry and very good.

In the morning I was on my own, so I made immediately for Oxford. There are no words to adequately describe Oxford. As an American I recognize that even our oldest history is quite young, barely four hundred years at the maximum. In Oxford there are pubs that old and all but a few of the college buildings are far older still. I went first to Blackwells bookshop, spending more than two hours purusing their second hand books collection. Last year I had the good fortune to find a copy of "Emulation: A Ritual to Remember" by Colin Dyer. This time, however, though there was only one Masonic title, there were several excellent Russian and Soviet history books. A bonanza for Tandy as it were.

I went right next door to the White Horse and had a ploughman's platter for lunch. Is there any better feeling than sitting in a small English pub reading a book by Dyer, his biography of William Preston? I doubt it. After a delicious lunch, and pint of bitter, I toured the Ashmolean Museum of Science and the Bodleian Library's Milton exhibit. The Milton exhibit rekindled my interest in his and Blake's work. The artistic elements, drawings, woodcuts and typefaces, were all out of the Art Deco and Arts and Crafts period. Very beautiful.

Having spent six hours touring museums and exhibits, Steve was due to meet me in town. I went over to the Kings Arms, very near the Bodlean, and had a pint of fine Cornish Bitter while waiting for him to arrive. Soon enough a huge table of American students appeared and it was momentarily hard to determine which country I was in. I read a bit more of the wonderful Dyer book on Preston, what an interesting man Preston was. I had long held the impression that Preston's dispute regarding the powers of immemorial lodges was based on some important, concrete topic (see Wikipedia), but it turned out to be a somewhat more personal dispute where, perhaps, he made the wrong decision and refused to own up to it. He took the 'passage to Ethiopia' as it were in Masonic terms.

Steve arrived in the midst of my reading about this controversy. Hungry as I could be we went to The Bear for fish and chips, delicious, and then to a few more pubs. We wound up at a pub called "The Cricketer's Arms" in Oxford. A large gray cat wandered in and went up to the patrons looking for a scratch behind the ear. We enjoyed out hand-drawn Old Speckled Hen and relaxed for the remainder of the evening. Then in the words of Pepys: so to bed.

(pictures are at Flickr)

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England, Day Six

Steve's parents were eager to show me a quaint English country village, which is how Witney appears to my eyes, so first thing today we were off to Burford. The village was truly beautiful as we sat around having tea at beside the stream running through the village.


Nick-nacks museum

lunch of roast beef and yorkshire pudding

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England, Day Five

The goal for today was to spend a few hours at the Ashmolean Museum. When I came to England last year the entire museum was closed for repairs and upgrading, so I never had the chance to tour the collection. I rose fairly early, just after seven thirty in the morning, and was due at Steve's parents for breakfast. Suddenly my problems resolved and I had access to work email. After more than an hour reading and responding to email, I suddenly realized it was Saturday. No one would care what I had to say about for several days! I packed up and headed off to meet Steve.

The bus ride was notable for the picture I took of the only toll along the road from Witney to Oxford. The pictures are on Flickr and show the toll being 1p ($0.02 US) per axel. The bridge is only thirty feet long, but that is a pretty inexpensive toll. Once in Oxford, Steve and I spent several hours touring the museum. My favorite household item is a set of six dinner plates with an almost Burma Shave expression on them:

What is A Merry Man

Set him do what he Can

To Entertain his Guests

With wine & Merry Jests

But if his Wife do frown

All merriment Goes Down.

The plates are dated 1738 and are obviously quite humorous. There was also a collection of Beadle's staves or rods. In old Lodge records from the founding in 1717 to the start of the nineteenth century the Tyler was also referred to, occasionally, as the Beadle. Americans best understand this position was the old colonial town crier. The beadle's staff was an important defensive item when walking through the town at all hours. These staves are far more beautiful than the normal painted wood version, and are likely to have been of a more ceremonial nature within Oxford.

For the second day a museum made me late for lunch and it was 2:00pm before we made our way to a pub. FIrst we tried Jude the Obscure in Jericho, but it had stopped serving a few minutes before we arrived. We turned toward St. Giles road and found ourselves at the door of The Royal Oak. It was the penultimate quiet English pub with comfortable chairs and great ale. I had a delicious hand drawn stout, making up or the complete lack of stout, other than Guinness "extra cold," thus far on my trip. Steve and I shared a ploughman's and fisherman' platter and resolved to return soon on Monday for lunch again.

From there we stopped in at the Lamb and Flag then returned to Jude the Obscure. We were both fairly tired, so we were soon back to Witney and to bed.

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27 March 2008

England, Day Two

Probably owing to our commitment not to sleep before 9pm, we actually managed to get a solid twelve hours of sleep. Both Steve and I feel like we are on local time already. We dragged out of bed to what has to be the finest hotel breakfast which could possibly meet our eyes. There were three buffets with cereal and fruit, eggs and accoutrements, and a selection of smoked fish. It was delightful and really filled us up. Furthermore, the Hilton staff were just wonderful keeping the buffet going even though we arrived three minutes before closing. I would certainly stay there again.

Today we spent a lot of time taking the Tube from place to place. Our mission today, from *******, was to drop off a geotag in a cache somewhere in London. We selected the Winchester Geese Cache primarily due to its proximity to a Tube stop and its fascinating history. The site was all it was billed to be. There were ribbons and poems hung on the gate by the hundreds, perhaps more numerous than that. We registered in the cache log and headed back into London to find a nice pub.

The Cloud...How I hate that company. Their web site offered a wonderful deal £9.99 per month with access from cafes and pubs all over England. Their coverage map looked great, so I signed up excitedly before leaving the US. The reality turned out to be quite different. Their coverage map is terribly out of date and once connected the network is dreadfully slow. I had made an appointment to video conference with my wife and daughters at 4:30pm, after their half-day at school. Steve and I wound up twice ordering pints while I settled in to make a connection. Then finding the coverage to be absent or too slow to use, we left our pints hardly half consumed as we headed for another location. I am particular irritated that I had to leave behind one of my favorite English ales: Bishop's Finger.

After finding a coffee shop with the Cloud operating, I had my text chat with the family as the connection was far too slow for video. We returned to our hotel to drop off our bags and seek dinner. After some discussion we elected to have dinner at a little Persian restaurant two blocks west from our hotel. The food was simple, but wonderful. We particularly enjoyed the viciously hot tea and nearly too sweet baklava.

Following dinner we quested for a fine pub to relax in for a few pints. Though we walked all over Kensington nothing suited our fancy until we returned to The Warwick Arms. The comfortable leather chairs and quiet conversation epitomizes the English pub and made our evening complete. It also might have been the hand drawn Fuller's ESB followed by a Bells, but who can tell!

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England, Day One

We arrived at 9:30am to a cool, gray skyline with a drip of rain here and there. It looks much like you would expect England to, although last year, thanks to global warming, the weather was gloriously warm and completely precipitation free. We grabbed our bags and made for the exit.

Lucky for me I was traveling with and real Englishman, Steve, who steered me away from the taxi stand, my preference, and onto the London Tube: mind the gap! We took the Tube from Heathrow to Earl's Court and then walked the remaining three blocks to our hotel. The walk was exhausting for me since I had brought toys, more on that later, leaving me in the larger bag with no wheels. The Hilton Olympia looks to be a 1960-1970s era hotel which has been mildly refitted, but is not particularly beautiful. After we dropped our bags off we wandered down Kensington High Street looking for Vodafone, SIM cards, and a pub, ale and lunch.

The young lady at Vodafone, Natalie, was helpful and had us up and running in no time. Steve was given an unlocked Nokia by a fellow at work while I was given a monster Sierra Wireless. My phone was a beast: slow, high power drain, bad cell reception and complicated. Steve lucked out in a a big way. In the end, however, we were able to call each other and numbers within the UK which was the critical goal.

Must of the rest of the day is a complete blur, owing to my being so tired. We had a lunch at a pub off of High Street on Kensington, wandered around a bit and then settled into the warm leather chairs at The Warwick Arms.

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22 March 2005

Ski Beer echoes

Last night a group from work went up to Shawnee Peak for the last Monday night ski of the season. The weather was so perfectly temperate while crisp and clear, a sullen reminder of winter yet with the promise of spring. Riding the chairlift up the side of Pleasant Mountain gave a view to the northwest of regal Mt. Washington backlit by a stunning sunset. As darkness fell the house lights in Bridgton sparkled, but since this section of Maine is so sparsely populated the stars were not obstructed by light polution. The skiing was nice though a little icy in spots. I did manage to ski my first black diamond, though by all accounts it was an easy one. We skied without interruption from 4:00pm until the lifts shut down at 9:00pm. Then made for supper at Bray's Brewpub.

Bray's has a great reputation for unusual, delicious beer. We arrived desparate for food and beverages only to find the kitchen closed. The staff made chili and chowder available to us, which we were every so glad to eat. I tried their imperial stout and oatmeal pale ale. The stout was sweet and rich, hiding away the texture of the chocolate malt. I enjoyed it perhaps too quickly, but it had been a long night of skiing. The oatmeal pale I ordered only because I had never heard of such a thing. It had the requisite hoppy aroma but there was just something about the oatmeal-induced sweetness that was a wee bit odd. My father-in-law and I have to find an excuse to go up there and try the imperial before it passes out of the seasonal selection. I finally returned home shortly before midnight and fell dead asleep immediately.

I was possibly less productive on Tuesday, but the endless meetings may have had something to do with it. After dinner with the ladies I went down to Hiram Lodge No. 180 in South Portland to watch a degree team of state legistlators work the Master Mason degree. Things got off to a late start, further delayed by introductions, so by 9:00pm the second section had not even begun. I was tired from the previous day, so I made my apologies and walked back home to get some sleep.

In the words of my favorite diarist: and so to bed...

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