I'm not sure what to write about tonight. However, I feel like writing and so I shall ramble. I just watched the BBC version of Henry V with Kenneth Branagh and Emma Thompson. I wish they were still together. They are such wonderful people and I hate seeing such love go to waist. Well, what a movie that was. I liked it. Branagh never fails to bring clarity and confident understanding to Shakespeare's lines. He's brilliant at exposition and digging up all the clever wonderful nuggets of nuance. It’s also nice to see a play about a Henry end somewhat peacefully and happily. Henry’s tend to be ill-fated stars. I can’t remember my history well enough to remember what happened to this one. But with that time period I have to sadly agree with the pessimistic saying that goes: all happy endings are just stories that haven’t ended yet. I don’t always like living in this time, but at least I did not live in his. I enjoy reading about it, watching movies about it, and soaking myself in the myths and fantasies of those times, but the realities of them always come back into my mind and make me happy to be so far removed and at a safe distance with my rosy glasses firmly in place.
England is such a wet country. Having lived in California for so long, I forget that I can’t always just go outside whenever I want to. I forget too that I can’t always count on the sun to shine when it is day. I do like the romance of the rain and the fog, but I am still getting used to my own realities that this means I must also like walking the streets in a thunderstorm in order to bring some groceries home and that I can’t just wait for tomorrow because it will probably be raining then too. This makes it rather less romantic; especially when the wind is cold, and the man at the check out is cranky.
Talking about cranky clerks. I went into a McDonalds on Sunday, as I told myself I would never do here, because I desperately needed a cheap cup of plain coffee to wake myself up. The place was packed! Apparently McDonalds is still a novelty over here and not a word that makes any grown up grown. When I finally got up to the register the male clerk could not have been more rude. He made it abundantly clear with his incessant eye rolling, hurry it up hand gestures, and barking commands that my patronage was not appreciated, that my order was unworthy of his time, and would I just pay and go already. My resolution to not enter another McDonalds is more resolute than ever.
However, my attempts at trying the foreign foods here is at a standstill as well until my poor stomach has a chance to regroup. The final straw was a harmless looking little cup of “Goat Milk Yogurt.” I stood in the grocery isle staring at this and thought, well, I really like goat cheese. This is probably good. So, I brought it home, peeled back the lid, stuck my spoon in, and brought it to my mouth. The first bite seemed odd, so I put a second bite in. Then I proceeded to make such faces that surly have never been used in C. S. Lewis’ kitchen ever before! Think of the worst barn smell you’ve ever smelt, combine that with the smell of soured milk, and then imagine what that would taste like and you get close to the retched flavor of Goat Milk Yogurt! That was yesterday, but my poor stomach is still giving me grief over that one.
And now I must go because the biggest bee I have ever seen just flew by my head and is rapping at my lamp stand. Off to my next adventure!
Wednesday, March 24, 2010
Sunday, March 21, 2010
Maureen & Children’s Room (My Room Too!): Maureen was the sisters of Paddy Moore, C. S. Lewis’ friend in World War I. He and Paddy had made a packed together that if either of them were killed in battle, the other would take care of his family. Paddy had a mother and teenage sister who were estranged from their cruel father and didn’t have much to live on, and Jack, as C. S. Lewis liked to be called, had his father and dear brother. Sadly, Paddy did die in the war, and so, true to Jack’s word, he took Mrs. Moore and her daughter Maureen into his keeping and they in time became like the mother Jack lost as a child and the sister he never had.
Maureen lived at The Kilns with Jack, his brother Warnie, her mother Mrs. Moore, and a small host of help until she married. She had been incredibly fond of music and often annoyed Jack with her violin and piano practicing. She loved music so much that she married a music teacher.
However, through a strange serious of events and with just the right people dieing, and at just the right times, Maureen inherited a castle on the very northern shores of Scotland and the title of Lady Dunbar, Baronet. This happened just before Jack’s death.
When Jack was toward the end of his life, in the hospital, Maureen came to visit him. Walter Hooper, Jack’s secretary and friend, met her at the door and warned her that he hadn’t been recognizing anyone and to not be upset if he couldn’t remember who she was.
Maureen walked into his hospital room and put her hand into his. “Jack?” she said. “It’s Maureen.” Jack looked at her and said, “No it isn’t. It’s Lady Dunbar.” Maureen was astonished. “Jack! How could you remember that!” And Jack replied “On the contrary. How could I forget a fairy tale?”
Music Room: Toward the end of C. S. Lewis’ life, when he was dying from renal failure, they had a live in male nurse to take care of him at The Kilns during the nights. During the day, the nurse would sleep in the Music Room, where Jack actually eventually died. Now this nurse was quite the curmudgeon. He was constantly in a critical mood about the smallness of the house, the dirtiness, the filthiness, and the clutter of all the books. He had been used to tending wealthy patrons, but Jack was just famous.
One day, Jack decided to play a joke on his cranky nurse. He had sent Walter Hooper, his youngest stepson Douglas Gresham, and a few others to gather all of his books from his rooms at Cambridge University, as he had retired from teaching. They ended up bringing about fifteen hundred books back with them and Jack directed them to stack the books around his nurse’s bed, where he lay sleeping. They stacked the books several rows thick all around the nurse’s bed and all the way up to the ceiling and managed to do it all without waking up the nurse! Then they waited.
As soon as the nurse awoke, everyone in the house heard shouts of expletives and then a loud crash. Jack was in tears of mirth, and when the nurse finally cooled down from his shock of being quite literally buried alive in the books he had made such a fuss over, he found the humor of the joke and from then on was a dear and loved Jack just as much as everyone else.
The “Bathroom:” One day shortly after Walter Hooper had come from America to meet C. S. Lewis in person, him and Jack had been sitting in the Common Room at The Kilns drinking cup of tea after cup of tea, draining at least four kettles. Soon Walter started feeling the pressure of the massive amounts of liquid he had ingested and asked Jack if he could use his “bathroom.” Jack, with a serious air, took Walter into the room that contained a bathtub and a sink, gave him several towels, a bar of soap, and then asked with Walter thought he had everything he needed. Walter was so taken aback that he gave a non-committal “I suppose,” to which Jack left him and closed the door.
Walter stood dazed in the “bathroom” he had requested for a time, but the building pressure inside of him forced him into action. He came out of the “bathroom,” found Jack back in the Common Room and said, “Jack, I’m sorry, but I don’t want to take a bath. I need the lavatory!” Jack looked at him with a prankish gleam in his eye and told him, “Then let that be a lesson to you to stop using silly American euphemisms! Now, let’s start over.”
Friday, March 19, 2010
There is about to be a war and the enemy is a copious hoard of red, black, and buggy. Ladybirds! I’ve never in my entire life been infested by ladybirds! And did you know that some of them bight?! Well, they do! And there is something far more sadistic seeming when the enemy is something you used to think were cute, friendly, and nice. I feel so betrayed!
They are sneaking in through the windows and when I least expect it, dive-bombing my head. Ahh! They’re on to me! One just hit me in the mouth! Quick! I need reinforcements. What would that look like?
England is a strange land.
Thursday, March 18, 2010
A conversation about the length of my hair being in a constant state of change with Chelsea (one of the resident fellows here at The Kilns; and the only other girl besides myself here!) reminded me of a small moment I will treasure always. It was a moment of simple and blissful friendship.
I had just cut my hair again just above shoulder length and was crying and regretting my mistake, just like I always did when I cut my hair. Why I kept doing it, I’ll never know! I had locked myself in my room, drowning in my own self-pity and frustration at my infernal stupidness. My roommate (Angela) had come in and tried to comfort me, but to no avail. So unbeknownst to me, she went for reinforcements. Soon Colby and Kendal had joined her at the lobby door to try to coax me out. They called or sent Angela back in, I don’t remember specifically how, but finally I emerged and asked them how bad the cut really was. Like the good friends they were, they had so many reasons why it was a great hair cut and if I didn’t like it, it would only be a little while before it grew out again. I was softened by their compliments, but still not quite beyond the tragedy of regret. And so Kendal decided something more drastic was to be done. Right there in the lobby of the girls dorms he had us all lie down in a circle with our heads each resting on each other’s bellies. When we had formed this odd pretzel, he told us to start laughing. At first, it was nervous bits of laughter filled with uncomfortable bewilderment. But then, as our heads started to bob to the cadences of our laughing tummies, the laughter grew and became true robust giggles and guffaws. My horrid haircut was completely forgotten, thanks to the ingenuity and whimsy of my friends.
It is the memory of moments such as these that make me wonder if the best times of my life really are behind me. I hope not! How dreadful to have the best moments of your entire life over just as your adult life starts. I would rather believe in the saying that “the best is yet to come.” To always have this in my mind is a far more reassuring thought to live each day with than the idea that now I must just push through it all until old age forces me to stop and then either live off the drudgery of my life at work or the hopeful care of another’s income. This is what I absolutely must keep saying to myself to ward off those harrowing dark clouds of despair. However, I do love it when insignificant daily moments remind me of the significant memories of my past. It gives a certain texture to my life that enriches even the very dull moments of the present. And remembering these warm moments, my thoughts always turn to the goodness of my God who is never too big (although He is infinite and in charge of all things) to work these small tragedies of my life into memories of sunshine. And if He cares enough to work even these small things into good, how much more can I trust Him to work out the big things in my life?!
Wednesday, March 17, 2010
It is such a blessing that God has me here leading tours, living at The Kilns, and just being here in England! A couple from Tennessee who spend half the year here in a cottage they own in Morton-in-the-Marsh in the Cotswolds invited me out to see the sites yesterday. He is an author of more than 20 books, a professor of law, and a former DA for CO.! And they are such kindred spirits! I hope I didn't talk their ears off! You know how there are some people that you can't think what to say to them, and then there are others that you just can't find the time to say all that you want to say? Well, these were of the second class. However, I have a bad habit of talk combustion when I haven't really conversed with anyone in a while! It all gets pent up, and then when I have the chance, I kind of explode all over the place. Well, if they were overwhelmed, they were very gracious in not showing it.
The Cotswolds are sooooooooooooo beautiful! They could turn anyone into a poet. The trees alone were stuff that dreams are made of. There was a patch of forest in particular that kept drawing my gaze back to it. There was something so ethereal about them that I kept peaking back to try to catch sight of an elf or fairy. We drove all over and walked around in the different villages, but their names are so odd that I can't remember any of them unfortunately, except for words like Vale, Wull, and other lovely ancient Anglo-Saxon words. I did take lots and lots of pictures of bridges, water, fields, trees, sheep, and ducks! I just couldn't stop shooting. Everywhere I looked I saw a sight I wanted to keep in my mind forever. I was even able to look towards the horizon and see the mountains of Wales. Then they took me to their cottage where he writes for half the year. Sooooo wonderful! We had lunch and then walked all over their trails until I had major blisters from the "wellies" I had borrowed. They took me out for dinner that night to a wonderfully odd pub called The Fleece that apparently has been a pub for over 200 years! There was a fire in each room and they had painted three white circles in front of each of the fires to keep the witches away. I wonder how that tradition got started?! I ordered the sausages and mash (potatoes) with mustard and onion chutney. Oh my goodness! Soooooo good! I know they all cook over hear with decadent creams, and I am very worried about my figure! So much good food! I definitely need to find a time each day to keep up with my dancing!
Monday, March 8, 2010
St. Mary’s Church, ie. University Church, Oxford, England. This morning I had breakfast in the Castle and Gardens Café on the side of the church, then popped over to experience the Family Service. Next, the Holy Eucharist.
Breakfast was the most excellent sugary affair I’ve had! Espresso here is infinitely better than Starbucks. And the chocolate chip croissant was so “melty” and buttery. I could get really fat here with all these wonderful and interestingly foreign foods. I didn’t have enough courage, however, to try the traditional beans, bacon, and tomatoes. Perhaps next time. Yes, I really must buck up and be more adventurous!
The Family Service was adorable and heartwarming. I love hearing the British accent in little children’s voices. They sound like bells, pealing with cheer and mirth. And the hymns, so full of scripture and passionate desire for God are sung with humble voices. But humble as they are, they rise and reverberate against the ancient stone and wood of the cathedral until the music could not be more beautiful than the voices of angels.
Holy Eucharist was also moving. There is something very holy and humbling feeling about kneeling in church. (The fact that the priests do not does make one feel lower than them and less holy upon reflection, but after meeting them, I did not find they furthered that appearance.) I love the hymns and the beautiful sounds of the choir in those ancient vaulted cathedrals. The articulate details and ornate artistry of the architecture and the beautiful stained glass windows give a feast for my eyes. My senses were overwhelmed and I was often almost moved to tears with the beauty of it all. They might not all have the right desires or ways to go about drawing near to God, but some must to have devoted so much time and immaculate work into these places of worship.
I found Evensong that night at Christ Church gave me the same sensations. The boys choir there is wonderful. However, I did miss not being able to be more apart of the service. Their voices would have been marred by ours. I understand. But I missed joining in and giving my own praise. It must be very hard to be a child in a church like this. It makes my memories of church worship services as a child even dearer, where it was common for me to be before the altar with all the other little children, dancing with abandon and joy to Jesus. The structure of High Church is beautiful and does cause me to pray and reflect in wonder at my God, but it does not allow me to express it. I do not feel free. And I wonder what Jesus would do if He walked in as a man to one of these services.
Wednesday, March 3, 2010
Last night I went to the Eagle & Child pub for dinner with one of my resident fellows. We sat in the "Rabbit Room," which is where the "Inklings" all hung out and discussed the brilliant ideas they all had and generally had a good time. I did too!
The chicken curry pie I ordered was fantastic, but the side that came along with it has me puzzled about the English and their tastes. On the side of my dish was some lettuce, carrot sticks, and then brown gravy poured all over it. It wilted the lettuce and made it all taste sharper than the ale I had with it. Why in the world do the British substitute brown gravy for dressing? It might resemble a balsamic vinaigrette, but it certainly does not taste like one! Anyway, that's a side note of little or no importance. Sorry!
After dinner, I went to the C. S. Lewis Society's weekly meeting at St. Pucy's to hear a lecture by Alistair McGrath. It was on Lewis as an apologist by his use of personal experience and his use of the imagination. It was thoroughly engaging. I love that other more academic minds than mine also find Lewis so engaging because of his love for story, imagination, and whimsy. I've always been in love with stories, and it is so wonderful to feel validated for my yearnings by such a respected person as C. S. Lewis. He wasn't afraid to tell a children's story and still be a high academic mind. That's one of the things I have loved most about him and it's nice to be validated in that as well by other academics who have followed in Lewis' footsteps.
I do not see myself going for the higher halls of learning and becoming a teacher of great literature. I don't think I would be capable or that I would even like it. All I see is the pressure. Education has become a different monster than the one Lewis had to face, and I don't see myself as any kind of white knight. Frankly, I'm scared of the entire process. But I would love to learn more, read more, and write great things. I want to tell my own stories. I'm not sure how, and there are so many other distractions in life that keep me from it. But I simply must. No more leaving it for a quieter time! I'm afraid there won't be any of those until it is too late.
Well, Oxford is thrilling so far. I've been yelled at by a cranky bus driver, almost ran over in the street because I forgot to look the right (or arguably wrong) way, met an incredible amount of simply wonderful people in such a short amount of time, and have free reign over Lewis' bookshelves. And I'm keeping busy enough to almost not be homesick.