Years and months in the planning, we set off for our 10-day trip to London, Cambridge, and Paris in the evening of Dec 20, stayed overnight near the Seattle airport, and arose early the next morning to fly across the U.S. and then across the Atlantic to Heathrow airport in London.
Heathrow is the world’s busiest international airport, so we were prepared for nerve-jangling bustle and long lines, but both our arrival and departure from Heathrow were simple, straightforward, and no trouble at all. The attitude of the security staff is a good example of the fact that that mode is message: Right, we have to do this, and I’m here to help.
When my carry-on was diverted to the thorough-check line, the baggage check officer said, “Please just step over here; I’m going to check your bag. (1 minute elapsed) Yep, all done. Cheers.”
Of course my favorite part of Westminster Abbey is the poets’ corner inside (no pics allowed). For my students’ sake, I saw (among others) the names of Matthew Arnold, W.H. Auden, Jane Austen, William Blake, Charlotte Brontë, Elizabeth Browning, Robert Burns, George Gordon Byron, Lewis Carroll, Geoffrey Chaucer, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Robert Browning, Charles Dickens, John Dryden, George Eliot, T.S. Eliot, Elizabeth Gaskell, Thomas Hardy, Gerard Manley Hopkins, A.E.Housman, Ted Hughes, Henry James, John Keats, D.H. Lawrence, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, John Milton, Alexander Pope, John Ruskin, William Shakespeare, Percy Bysshe Shelley, Alfred Tennyson, Dylan Thomas, Anthony Trollope, Oscar Wilde, and William Wordsworth.
As I was reading Tess of the d’Urbervilles during this trip, I was especially keen to see Hardy’s stone. There’s a terrific story behind it, told by tour guide Verger Roberts in the Chicago Tribune:
Back in his late 19th Century literary heyday, Queen Victoria declared that Hardy should, whenever he died, be buried in Westminster Abbey. This was a huge disappointment to the village of Stinsford where Hardy lived, and to Hardy. He wanted to be buried at home in his beloved garden. One does not, however, argue with a queen. So, a compromise was struck. Hardy agreed to have his body interred at the abbey, and his heart buried in his garden. So, when he died at home in 1928, the local surgeon was called in to remove his heart. In the confusion and grief attending Hardy’s death, the heart was carelessly left unattended on a plate on the kitchen table.
Sometime later, the family cat was discovered gorging itself on what it considered a feline delicacy. Very little remained of Mr. Hardy’s quintessence. But again, a compromise was reached. Mr. Hardy’s body was buried in Westminster Abbey and the family cat was buried in the garden behind the Hardy family home. Was the cat buried soon after the episode on the kitchen table?
Yes. Very soon.
Writers of the English literary canon, literally set in stone–my own response is divided; I happily indulge in revering, especially in such a setting where my own footsteps disappear into the majestic stone architecture, and yet there are so many names not included.
The All-Soul’s Church at the top of Regent Street was one of our landmarks as we walked to or from our hostel in central London. In the belief that contrast is a central component of happiness, pleasure, and gratitude, we booked lodgings in an upscale-downscale-upscale-downscale pattern, and it worked beautifully (e.g. After two nights in our London hostel, the upscale lodgings in Cambridge where they met our arrival with warm cookies [never have cookies tasted so good!] and downy duvets [never have duvets been so downy!] struck us as wonderful).
Overheard at this corner as the horses clip-clopped to the sound of camera clicks: “How serendipitous is that, mate?”