One thing we might mention is the schools, or rather the schoolchildren. We walked from Kensington to Holland Park in London's West End. First we saw a group of about 25 small boys, perhaps 3 years old. They were all in uniform: short blue pants, blue socks, black shoes, blue and red beanies; about half of them had red slickers with blue linings, part of the uniform. No fewer than five adults guided their progress down the sidewalk. All very dutifully the children held hands, two by two. A few blocks later we saw secondary school boys in grey blazers, white shirts, school ties, evidently returning to school from lunch. Then a group of girl students in plaid skirts. Another school had elementary students playing in a small yard. They, too were in uniform. In Truro today we saw the students after school, this time girls in blue miniskirts and black tights. We've talked to a number of English people and mentioned schools in passing. All of them mention that the schools are expensive. From all of this we gather that a great many English people prefer to put their children in (what we would call) private schools, and that the culture of England is such that wearing uniforms to school is common. It's not universal, though, as we have seen some London students in more casual and non-uniform clothes. The tabloid newspapers are happily carrying a story about a girl who was suspended from school for having a fake diamond glued to one of her incisors.
The southwestern part of England abuts the ocean. The coast is hilly in spots, with a number of nice harbors. Truro, the county seat of Cornwall, is inland, and to our great surprise, the lady at the tourist information office told us there were no flats to let in the city. We asked her about a bungalow we'd seen on the Internet, associated with one of the hotels, and she phoned up right away. It turned out that the cottage is up for sale, but Truro shopping street this being the winter, it's not moving, so the owner of the Hotel was happy to let it to us. So now we have a house in Truro for 3 weeks followed by a London flat for 6 weeks, and then (if we can negotiate it) a flat in York for 6 weeks, followed by a visit to Hartlepool in county Durham. We figure we can take day trips to visit other parts of the country, and have purchased Senior Railcards, which entitle us to a 1/3 discount on rail fares.
The train ride to Truro was just about 4 hours, and quite comfortable. We have seen a statue to Richard Lander, the discoverer of the Niger River who came from Truro and died in 1834 at age 30. We've also located the Cornish Family History Society, and the Cornish Record Office. We partook of a Cornish Cream Tea, consisting of a pot of lovely red tea, a smaller pot of hot water, a third pot of milk, and two large scones with clotted cream and jam. Yummy!
From the train we saw lots of swans, one herd of domesticated looking deer in a field, and -- once we got far enough west -- lots of fields separated by hedgerows. Most of the fields were empty, a few had small flocks of sheep. We saw a few cattle in fields and a few dairy barns. All was green and wet.
As we had begun to learn from our Internet research, Cornwall is long on charm and short on telephones and Internet connections. We expect to send these letters less frequently, and perhaps in batches. We're keeping our Earthlink connection, at least until we get settled in London, and perhaps even then.
The center of Truro is in a hollow surrounded by hills. The train station is perhaps at midpoint, and our guesthouse is one of a row of guest houses on a road which runs along the hilltop. After leaving our suitcases we walked down the steep road into town for our first exploration. The streets of Truro are a wonderful jumble, heading off at odd angles. The maps of Truro have a large blank space at the bottom left, where there are nonetheless plenty of streets and houses. Noone has given a good explanation for this, but these maps are universally scorned by the residents.
Having found our "permanent" home on one of the major side roads, and locating the Internet cafe in a tiny alley, not far from another curving road where the Cornwall Family History Center stands, we had our Cornish tea and decided not to tackle the uphill walk. It was getting dark and the temperature was dropping and we wanted a taxi.
The taxi rank is in the middle of the cobbled square. We queued up behind one gentleman and before long another man had appeared behind us. He was an East Indian, slight of build, in a long overcoat. He asked us if we were staying in Truro and if so, where. Yes, we said. We were staying in a bed and breakfast, called The Fieldings. Did they have rooms? and What do they charge?
We told him that our guest house has no vacancies, but that there are others on the same road which might have a room. Just then our cab pulled up.
Can I come with you? asked the Indian gentleman.
Bob told him, politely but firmly, that it would be best if he asked his own taxi driver for advice on finding a guest house for the night, and we were off.
Back at The Fieldings, we were deep into a conversation with the owners, Mike and Averil, about selling on eBay when there was a knock at the door. The Indian gentleman had arrived.
There are no vacancies here, Mike told him. We only have three rooms and they are all taken.
There ensued some discussion about higher prices for single people and one-night stays, the Indian gentleman reluctantly turned to leave, first asking for a card so that he could call ahead on his next visit to Truro. Mike was not overjoyed at the prospect.
We considered his situation, as he forlornly walked back to the road. Treow Road is not a commercial street. Except for the three or four additional guest houses, the buildings appear to be private property. Only the long walk back down the hill, to a hotel, lay ahead of him.