It's a bit disconcerting to encounter American customs and procedures carried out with a British twist. If you are a woman over 60, or a man over 65, Pub: Samuel Pepys you can get a pass and ride the buses free; we wondered whether women were considered to age faster (wrong) to need more help (wrong) or have a more powerful political lobby (wrong). Today, March 30, is Mother's Day here; even more bouquets than usual are for sale and the pubs advertise Mother's Day Brunch along with the rugby schedules. Also today (surely it is coincidence) we Spring Forward into British Summer Time. Even though we are far from summery (the magnolias are in bloom but most trees are still more bud than leaf) we will have daylight later in the evening. The name probably makes as much sense as Daylight Savings Time.
The British Pub is an identifying cultural feature: if you opened your eyes and saw one you'd immediately know you were in the U.K. They have heavily painted fronts, with inviting wooden beams and thick glass windows reminding you of firelight and good cheer inside and -- always -- an intriguing Pub: Running Footman name and a sign to match. Here's the Victory, there's the Shelly or the Pepys, there's the Queen's Head and Artichoke. We decided to collect some pub pictures, and are posting some with this report. As soon as we started photographing pubs, of course we happened to catch sight of one right out of a Martha Grimes' mystery novel: I Am The Only Running Footman.
Yesterday we visited relatives in Windsor, where the immense castle dominates the town, its walls reaching almost into the train station. We walked through this lovely town and soon were over the bridge into Eton, home of the oldest school in the U.K., and bound hard with centuries of tradition. With theatre and culture everywhere, Windsor is a great town in which to raise a family. The Thames makes its sleepy way past the castle. Swans can be found on Windsor Castle just about every stretch of English rivers, but so far we've seen herons only in Regent's Park, where they have nests built safely on an island. We photographed a red-beaked bird which we think might be a variety of coot.
We wondered why we prefer English country homes to their American cousins. We guess it's because the English country home is tied to the manor and its people, many of whom -- even today -- are subtenants of tenants of the owners who live in the manor house. By contrast, if an American urbanite succeeds in city business and then goes and plants a big new home out in the country, it sticks out like a sore thumb. In the nineteenth century, some of Pub: The Grapes the American country homes were equipped with a huge surrounding estate that became covered with gardens and parks and forests, which were not so obtrusive. But the latest big American country homes are being built right next to each other on one-acre lots chopped out of some surplus farmland. In England, the attractive image is to think that the country house is the home of someone who belongs to the nearby land and community.
Today we walked through a region of London containing lovely Georgian houses and fancy shops, foreign embassies and posh hotels. Blue plaques identify past residents -- Clive of India, the publisher of Jane Austen, Richard Sheridan - the playwright who created Mrs. Malaprop, and Sir George Cayley Fortnum & Mason clock who in 1804 built and flew the world's first flying machine. Hamley's is a four-level toy store almost identical to the Toys-R-Us in Times Square. Fortnum & Mason, the gourmet food store, occupies half a block. Above the entrance (you have to keep looking up in London if you want to see everything) was a huge clock, which chimed the hour of eleven just as we passed. Then two doors opened, and mannekins advanced and mechanically turned their heads to one another. They were dressed in eighteenth century outfits, one carrying a candle, the other a plate, and they faced each other and bowed and then turned back to their boxes.
We found specialized shopping districts. Old Bond Street is full of jewellers, Savile Row is the home of all the bespoke tailors, Albemarle street is full of art galleries, Audley Street has the Spy Store and the Counterspy Store. The embassies are often flanked by their national banks, and not too far from high-stakes gambling houses. Pub: The Gloucester Arms We liked the intensity of the Saville Row shops which take great pains to explain that their tailors take 20 years to become masters of their trade and describing all the steps in the making of a fine suit. But of course they also said that suits could be ready in a couple of days for overseas visitors! No doubt, no doubt at all, that all of this could happen only if the price is paid. And of course the royal coat of arms was proudly displayed whenever the store was honored to be a supplier to a member of the royal family.
On this beautiful Sunday the fancy cars were out, too; casually parked on the street were open convertibles, Rolls Royces and Bentleys. There were a number of P.C.s (that's police constables to you Yanks) in evidence, too, so we guess the cars didn't get stolen too often. By the early afternoon the streets were beginning to fill up with tourists, and we hopped the bus in Regent Street which dropped us off in front of our flat.