London with Family

 

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The family in front of our mews townhouse

On June 28, Linda, Dylan, Carson, and I hopped in a huge black Chevy Suburban to National Airport.  We were headed to London for a week, to meet Robin and introduce granddaughters to overseas travel.  Sitting in the “black car” made me a fish out of water – regular readers know I take the Metro to the airport, but 1) we had a ton of luggage, and 2) Robin was paying for the fancy ride.  We flew to JFK, then onto a big 777 to London Heathrow.  Carson (age 7) was seriously excited.  Dylan, older by two years, was both excited and a little scared.  We landed early, and hopped into another black car (thanks, Robin, again) into the city.

Enroute

We had rented an Airbnb house for six nights.  It looked posh in the website pictures, and it was: a totally modernized three-bedroom house on Atherstone Mews in Kensington (mews are the old stables and living quarters that were behind bigger homes), less than 300 feet from the Gloucester Road Underground Station, a supermarket, and more.  A perfect location in a neighbrohood I knew well from many years of American Airlines work in London.

Linda opted for a nap, but the little ones, Robin, and I headed for a walk in Hyde Park, bound for the bronze Peter Pan statue that has delighted me for years.  The kids were soaking up all the new and different things, admiring all the dogs, marveling at the feral parakeets.  We returned by way of the Princess Diana Memorial Playground and a ride on a rather speedy carousel.  It was nearly five, and time to introduce the kids to that famous British institution, the pub.  Into the Gloucester Arms we went.  Linda joined us five minutes later, and we toasted the start of the trip.  A quick dinner and we were all asleep by nine.

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We slept nearly 12 hours (it had been a long time since I snoozed half a day).  Coffee, breakfast out the door to nearby museums.  First stop was the Natural History Museum, to marvel at dinosaurs, fossils, and more.  I peeled off at noon to join a long friend for lunch, hopping on a bikeshare cycle and riding toward Piccadilly.  Alas, at the last minute my pal couldn’t make it, so I pedaled on, east on one of the new “Cycle Superhighways,” CS3, on a separated right-of-way, all the way to Tower Hill.  Grabbed a sandwich at a Pret a Manger, walked to a small park nearby, and had a picnic.  Got back on a red-and-silver bike, south across the Thames into Lambeth, then back west.

Museum-Diptych

At the Natural History Museum: serpent design in interior column and natural “sand sculpture”

Met the family outside Kensington Palace (less than a mile from our house), and headed in, for a look at a special exhibit of Princess Diana’s dresses and gowns (truly beautiful), then the King’s and Queen’s state apartments (King William and Queen Mary bought the palace in 1689).  Along the way, nice reminders of the succession of monarchs in the 17th to 20th Centuries.  Headed out into the gardens, then home.  A long day of touring, especially for the young girls.

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Gardens, Kensington Palace

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The King’s Staircase, Kensington Palace

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Gown sketch and fabric swatch

At 7:30, friends Scott and Caroline Sage (with whom I often stay when in London) joined us at the house for drinks and dinner.  Scott and Robin have been friends since Mohawk Elementary School in suburban Dallas.  We had a good yak and some laughs – Linda has been friends with Scott’s mom for nearly 30 years.

I slept fitfully on night two, too much sleep the night before.  Up before everyone at seven, washed up, brewed coffee, ate breakfast, and peeled out at eight.  Onto a shared bike, east to Grosvenor Square in Mayfair, saluting the bronze statue of General Eisenhower in front of the U.S. Embassy, then back through Hyde Park to Paddington Station.  Hopped on the 9:22 Great Western Train to Worcester, my second ride on that line in five weeks – and headed for the same place, the home of the Crabtrees, this time for Diana’s 50th birthday party.

There was something of a welcoming party on the platform of Worcester Shrub Hill station: Jamie, 17, newly licensed to operate a motor vehicle, plus his half-sister Jo (who I had not seen in years) and her husband Neil.  In no time we were at The White House, the Crabtrees’ wonderful house in the village of Crowle.  Though the party did not start for 30 minutes, the first revelers were already there, and I plunged in to meet all of them.  It was perfect afternoon, sunny and warm.  I met lots of villagers as well as family – Diana’s father up from Australia; John’s sister Jenny and husband Rob; and more.  Hopped in a taxi back to the railway, onto the 7:02 to London, and home by 10:45.  A nice day.

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My long pals John and Diana

Villagers-Diptych

Villagers: Jean, 94, a Member of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire, recognized for her work with poor children in Birmingham; Keith and Jason

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Sunday morning I was back in London-tourist mode, out the door with the girls to The Royal Mews, the stables adjacent to Buckingham Palace (the Queen was in residence, so the palace was closed to visitors).  I peeled off and headed back to the house for lunch, then a leisurely afternoon cycling about northwest London.  And a nap.  At five we hopped on the Tube to Piccadilly and a fancy dinner at The Wolseley.  We had a great table on a balcony overlooking the bustling restaurant, built in the former showroom of a company that made motorcars.  The girls enjoyed the people watching, and dinner lasted more than two hours.  A fun evening.

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At the Royal Mews

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Carson as Royal Horsewoman!

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Grenfell-Diptych

The Grenfell tragedy hung over the city; at a risk of seeming to be a disaster-voyeur, I rode a bike out to see the remains, and to pray for the victims. Having worked my whole life in a safety-focused business, the disregard for basic safety was shocking.

Monday morning, and the ladies headed for the Tower of London, while I cycled north to The Design Museum, in its new quarters in Kensington.  I had visited them early in 2015 when they were still in a cramped old warehouse on the Thames in Bermondsey.  The new digs were in the former Commonwealth Institute (1962), nicely repurposed.  Much more of the permanent collection was on view, as well as a cool special exhibit on the impact of California design and innovation on our lives.  It’s a way-cool place.

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The Design Museum in its new quarters; to fund building renovation, the museum sold off adjacent land for fancy apartments (left)

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Part of the museum’s permanent collection.  Below, examples from the UK’s 1960s redesign of road signs (I have long admired these, which are so much clearer than the awful, old signs in the U.S.)

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Cal-1-Diptych

California!  Barbie, the Frisbee, and the world’s first networked PC, actually developed by Xerox’s PARC Design Team, 1981

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More California design

Rode around a bit after lunch, and at 3:45 Dylan, Carson, and I hopped on the Tube west to Kew and met my Imperial College host Omar Merlo at his kids’ school, a place I’ve gotten to know from staying with them several times in the past two years.  Sophie Merlo is eight, and we organized a sort of “play date” with her and their new dog Mr. Waffles.  We had lots of fun.  Back to Kensington, dinner at the pub.

Playdate-Triptych

Tuesday was the last full day.  Robin, Carson, Dylan, and I hopped the Tube to another fave attraction, the Imperial War Museum in Lambeth, across the Thames from Westminster.  The museum had been completely redone in 2014, and was ever more impressive.  Most of the place is given over to the two World Wars, and the quality of exhibits and interpretation is outstanding.  The girls headed to meet Linda at the London Eye, and I peeled off.  Headed home, rode around, took a nap, and nipped in for a pint at a cool pub near our house.

IWM-Triptych

From the museum collection: soliciting cyclists during WW1; the famous Spitfire that saved Britain; and a children’s “Mickey Mouse” gas mask that was smelly and uncomfortable — but kids soon figured out if they breathed a certain way they could make a fart-like sound, which made them laugh even when scared.

QueensArms-Diptych

We were asleep by nine, because we rose way early Wednesday morning and flew home via Philadelphia.  Our granddaughters, ages nine and seven, already been overseas, and that’s a very cool thing.

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