Tuesday, Wimbledon Day 2. The travelers are weary, but spirited. Picadilly from Russell Square to District Line to Wimbledon transfer from Earl’s Court. The travelers are surrounded by even more spirited event-goers: faces painted, outfits coordinated, paraphernalia adorning the body.
Southfields Station. The masses alight here, briskly making their way toward the Way Out and down the road to the correct entrance. The one where those without tickets go.
Volunteers greet the newest queuers with a smile and a hand pointing then in the right direction. Crowds of people organized into an orderly line that moves slowly, steadily. Around a tent while a woman sells copies of The Guardian with a complimentary sample of sunscreen.
Suddenly the story becomes clearer. The crowds are Massive. Many thousands have already been queuing for hours.
The green flag marks the end of the line… way, way, way, way, way, way in the corner of the field. A volunteer hands out numbers to mark each arrival’s place in line, no matter how late. The time is 10:15. The situation does not look good.
40 minutes pass. The travelers decide to ditch the effort and return the next day. But, not ones to waste a journey, they walk back, all 9.1 miles, from Wimbledon to Russell Square — via Wandsworth, Battersea, the Chelsea Bridge, Pimlico, Westminster, Trafalgar Square, Covent Garden, and Holborn.
Ventured out to Brighton today to gather with some colleagues; this was the view from our Brighton colleague’s flat:
What must be the sensation of looking out and seeing the tide ebb and flow ad infinitum just steps away?
Upon my return back to micro-flat, I happened upon a reading list that somehow felt apropos — not only of the conversations I’d spent the day having, but of the academic culture here in the UK. It’s called “Best Summer Books And Their Corresponding Drinks” (special shoutout to E, who will also appreciate the tenor of this compilation).
And so another day has passed. My erratic sleep/insomnia remains. What lies ahead? A bit of work, a handful of meetings and conferencing, and, if weather and schedule cooperate, a bit of the local tennis scene.
Each year the solstice creeps up as if by surprise — or maybe that’s just in my case. Solstice traditions abound, yet I am familiar with none save at a superficial level. What I do know is that on this day (June 21st) in this location (London) with an early sunrise (4:43a) and late sunset (9:21p), we are set for 16 hours, 38 minutes, and 20 seconds of sunlight.
The only question: what to do with all that daylight? Especially when the weather forecast is London-perfect: in the mid-60s (F) and sunny with a few clouds expected to join the party (see below for what the sky looks like now, as seen from my micro-flat window).
Had I planned better, I would be on hour 5 of an eeeearly morning visit to Stonehenge rather than the sufferer of solstice insomnia (awake since just before sunrise) typing away on a chair. Ah well, no matter.
Today’s agenda then: stay outside as much as possible, wander to at least one new place, and sneak in a bit of work (but not so much that it tramples on outside wanderings), and not dwell on the “so close yet so far away” view that might have been…
When I emailed my aunt and uncle to let them know that I was once again back in Londontown, my aunt cheekily asked whether I had returned to the ‘spacious’ flat where I had stayed for several months last year. They had visited the flat once — and brought along some incredibly delicious alphonso mangoes, which M and I politely enjoyed while we all had tea together, and which we both simply devoured when left to our own devices — and, like me, marveled at the efficiency of the one room abode. Theirs is a modest home in the outskirts of the city, ample for a couple with one child and the occasional guest, whose centerpiece is really the garden that is carefully and thoughtfully attended to by my aunt with the incredibly green thumb (and garden gloves to match!).
As it turns out, given the odd amount of time we’re staying this time (3 weeks) and the time of year (Wimbledon), and the fact that the original ‘spacious’ flat was already occupied, this UK visit is split between two main London locations, with a bit of conference travel thrown in for good measure. In my reply to my aunt’s question then I said the following of our two-flat stay:
“this first one is even more ‘spacious’ than the last…”
Let it never be said that the Brits do not know how to economize space. New Yorkers, and NY tv programs, love to highlight what someone can do with a few hundred square feet of space. But what would they say of the equivalent of a small hotel room equipped with kitchenette? Because that is where we find ourselves. Truth be told, however, it’s really perfect on all the measures that matter: location, amenities (including electric kettle & wifi), and cleanliness.
According to the American census, the average square footage of a Northeast US home in 2010 was 2613 sq feet. That number seems unreal to me, having spent all of my adult life in city dwellings that equal a fraction of that space. I first think, “I can barely keep my few hundred square feet in order, what would I do with twice/thrice that much?!” and then I also, almost immediately, appreciate the times when I’ve visited friends’ homes that more truly spacious (no quotes necessary) than all of mine combined, and yet retain a feeling of coziness and while eschewing ostentatiousness.
With more people, pets, and possessions arises the need for more space, but how much do we really need? I ask this with the fullest appreciation for having grown up with an ample yard surrounding our house in which to play, explore, run around, and gather with friends. But what was once idyllic memory can become an instrument of oppression if allowed to become immovable blueprint rather than aesthetic guide.
For now, I will enjoy my latest ‘spacious’ sublet quarters (quotes necessary) which gives me access to a place that continues to feel like home…
Below, a few pics from the first 24 hours, which has already included a nice 5.7 mile walk…. ahhh…..
For Christmas, my ever-clever, thoughtful, and quirky mother-in-law gifted me with two beautifully painted egg cups as part of my stocking. I repacked them carefully for their transport back to the city when I returned here at the end of our winter break, and they have sat on the side of the cabinet above the sink ever since, not yet used. But each time I opened the doors, to retrieve a ceramic dish or dessert bowl or lemon juicer (reamer?), I would steal a glance at them. A longing glance… not because of any particular fondness for soft-boiled eggs, but because of the practice they signified — of having breakfast with my uncle and aunt in England, of a beautifully laid out table, of village life (with London close by).
Finally, last weekend, after reading an inordinate amount of information about the “perfect” timing and method for cooking these buggers just right, I attempted the process of preparing and consuming soft boiled eggs. My results:
Eggs and soldiers is one name for them, although I’ve never heard an actual Brit refer to them in that manner. The “soldiers” are traditionally slices of toast that have been cut into strips for easier dipping in the warm yolk (this pic makes that point). My version, as you can see, involved toasted pita strips instead of toast, but festive nonetheless. (Thank goodness I’ll be back in the land of proper tea and cress sandwiches in a few short weeks!)