Saturday, October 8, 2016
Running off to Runnymede with Roz and Playing Catch Up at Home
Preparing for a Day Trip:
I was glad to spend most of the day with a friend as Chriselle's departure has left me aching for her and for company in general. My friend Rosemary (Roz) and I had made these plans ages ago--that we would spend this Saturday on a day trip somewhere--preferably to a National Trust property as she is a member. Only even as the day dawned, the two of us had been so busy (she at work) and me with my move and Chriselle's departure, that we were simply at a loss as to where we should go. She suggested Grey's House near Henley (but I had been to Henley very recently), I suggested Ely Cathedral (she said it was too hard to fight traffic through the north of London before getting on the motorway), I also suggested Bateman's, Home of Rudyard Kipling (she said it was also too far for the limited time we had)--as she needed to get back home by 4. 00 pm. In the end, she suggested Runnymede and since neither one of us had been there, well...that was where we went.
Accordingly, I awoke before 6.00 am to catch up with my blog and travelogue on my travels in Eastern Europe and had my breakfast (fruit and nut muesli with yogurt plus a croissant with peanut butter and coffee). By the time we spoke, it was already 9. 00 and I had not yet showered. We made plans to meet outside Sloan Square at 10.00 am but when I got to Ealing Broadway Tube station, there was no train for about 10 minutes--and when I got to Notting Hill Gate, there were no trains running towards the city. I needed to take a train going backwards to Earl's Court and change there--long story short, the London Tube service is horribly aggravating on weekends and one must factor in far more time than usual to get anywhere. Live and learn. I called Roz, told her I was running dreadfully late and by the time I did reach her, it was almost 10. 45. What a dreadful journey!
Still, once we got together, time flew as we chattered on non-stop and she expertly negotiated her car out of the city and towards Heathrow airport because Runnymede (as I discovered) is not very far from there. Throughout the journey, I wondered if we were on a wild goose chase as I recalled what my friend Sue had told me. She had made the journey to Runnymede by public transport with her English friend and was put down by a bus in the middle of a roundabout. She said that all they could see was this endless field stretching out before them along which they had to trudge on a horridly hot day. In the end, she said, there was simply nothing to see there. I reported this to Roz--who had expected a palace or a house on the premises. She became less optimistic as we neared the venue--but, in the end, our excursion was far from fruitless.
Arriving and Exploring Runnymede:
As everyone knows. Runnymede, on the banks of the Thames, near Maidenhead and in the county of Surrey, was the venue where perhaps the greatest historical event in British history and one of the greatest events in World History occurred in 1215. King John, who had overstepped his position, was forced by his barons to sign a charter that limited his powers and placed more decision-making in the hands of his people. The King, it appears, signed it, but hoped to get it annulled by the Pope--something that never happened. The barons grew from strength to strength and British monarchy has since that time had its powers heavily curtailed. For the rest of the world, the Magna Carta, a single sheet of parchment written in Latin and sealed with the King's seal at the bottom, became the definitive document on which all important legal and constitutional edicts have been modeled--including the Constitution of countries as varied as the US and India. Copies of the Magna Carta are on permanent display in several parts of the UK (the British Library in London and in Salisbury Cathedral, for instance, where I have seen them on many occasions) and last year (in 2015) when it faced its 800th anniversary, a great number of celebrations and commemoration services were held. It would have been nice to have visited Runnymede last year--but Sue was right. Getting there by public transport is a bear. Having a friend with a car drive you there is really the only way to go.
Not much has changed at the venue in 800 years--the River Thames still flows placidly only steps from the vast meadow in which the signing was done. It is a wide green field filled with placid brown cows who act as natural lawn mowers. The property is maintained by the National Trust, but there is no entrance fee as it is simply an open-air venue (there is no palace or house to visit, although there is a small Tea Room).
What there really is to see at Runnymede is a series of Memorial Monuments that signify various important unions between countries. For instance, there is a gazebo or canopy that was constructed by the American Bar Association in 1957. From time to time, its members return to mark their allegiance to the document upon which America's legal system is based. There are plaques around the monument stating the dates on which these re-commemorations have occurred--the last one being last year. Six oak trees were planted around the property with two more added by the current Queen and the Prime Minister of India in 1994.
There is also a Kennedy Memorial that Roz and I found very interesting. After President Kennedy was assassinated, the UK thought it would be fitting to create a memorial to mark his sterling Presidency. Runnymede was chosen as the spot because of his great devotion to the principles of freedom and liberty for all men. Hence, the Kennedy Memorial is a series of beautifully crafted Portuguese stone steps that lead to a massive Portland stone slab on which a dedication to the President has been engraved. A hawthorn tree was planted nearby to signify his religion--Roman Catholicism. The entire area--from the time one passes through the wooden stile to the slab--is land gifted to the USA. So when you pass the stile, you are technically on American soil. It was good to return home again (even if briefly). We had a few raindrops that appeared from out of nowhere while we were in this venue. Perhaps President Kennedy was weeping at the mockery that the American elections have become on the day that the damning tapes recording Trump's deplorable attitudes towards women were revealed to the world.
Visiting the Air Forces Memorial:
Not too far away, although one needs to climb a hill called Cooper's Hill (steps are well embedded in the slope) is the rather forbidding edifice of the Air Forces Memorial. Although it is easily accessible from Runnymede Meadow, it is technically in Englefield Green in Egham, Surrey. Roz and I crossed the meadow with difficulty as the cattle that eat the grass are heavy and in slushy soil their hooves make very deep indentations on which there is the great risk of twisting an ankle. The climb up Cooper's Hill is not so challenging as the gradient is gentle and you have the occasional pleasure of picking and eating wild blackberries--now mostly dried up on the bushes. But it did take up almost 45 minutes to reach the venue from the field.
The Air Forces Memorial, designed by Edward Maufe, commemorates the lives of over 20,000 British and Commonwealth soldiers who died for King and Country in the two World Wars. It is a substantial, solid monument designed around a green quadrangle in the fashion of medieval cloisters--there are arched corridors through which one walks while passing through walls on which the names of every single one of these 20,000 odd soldiers in engraved. That task alone was a mammoth one and it is amazing that such a place exists. On the roof of the cloisters are seals and crests of the various regiments--I even caught an Indian one featuring the Ashoka Pillar with three lions on it and the names of several Indian air force personnel who gave their lives for the cause of freedom from Fascism and the Nazi scourge. There is also the crescent moon and star crest signifying the contribution of Pakistanis and I did see the engraved name of Inayat Khan as well. At several spots, we found tributes of flowers, poppies, poems, photographs, left behind by recent visitors who still affectionately remember a relative long gone on his birthday or death anniversary.
One of these tributes reduced both Roz and me to tears--it was left by the great grandson of an airman who died just before the D-Day Landings at Normandy in 1944--his son was born four months after he passed away. More than sixty years later, his memory is being kept alive by the great-grandson who never even knew him. The story was so poignant because the airman was the son of a British convict who had been sent to Australia for which he never forgave his country. He was so upset when his son left Australia to join the British air force that he never even shook his hand when he left Australia for training in the UK. He was sent to the battlefields with just three weeks of training. When his aircraft was hit by an enemy shell, he had to abandon it over water and was drowned at sea.
There are steps that lead up to the terraced roof of this memorial at its highest point. Roz and I climbed them to receive stirring views of the Barking and Surrey countryside. In the distance, we could see the Control Tower of Heathrow airport on one side as planes came in to land every half a minute. On the other side, we could see the grand soaring silhouette of Windsor Castle and the roofs of Eton College, the famed boy's school on the banks of the Thames. Just for the views alone, it is worth visiting this monument. On a clear day, they are probably far better--but although it was cloudy, we had fairly decent ones ourselves. We took many pictures and commented on the fact that not much might have changed in 800 years since Magna Carta was signed--as there are no buildings or skyscrapers anywhere in the surrounding areas.
More recently, there was a dedication of the spot and the building by Queen Elizabeth who arrived there with her husband and her late mother, Their signatures in the Visitor's Book are proudly displayed as is the key that she was given by the architect. We, more humble visitors, could also sign a Visitors' Book. It is amazing how many people come to this little-known spot (I would imagine that the kin of those who died and are immortalized here would be aware of this place, but few others would even know it exists). There is a peace and quiet to the area (as is fitting) and beautiful manicured lawns that lead to its entrance. Both Roz and I found this monument far more engaging than Runnymede itself. If my friend Sue had discovered it, she would probably not have found her excursion to be so much in vain.
Lunch in Windsor:
By this time it was well past 1.00 pm and both of us turned our thoughts to lunch. No doubt the little Tea Room run by the National Trust would have served a sandwich, but we decided to get to Windsor to find something to eat. And it was there, in the Three Tuns Pub close to Old Windsor that we settled down for pretty light lunches--a BLT sandwich for Roz, a sausage and onion marmalade sandwich for me with chips and salad. I also had a half pint of Guinness as it is rarely that I get the opportunity to get to a pub and find draft stout. About an hour later, we returned to Roz's car and started our drive home. Roz dropped me off at Earl's Court where I hopped into a Tube that took me back home. Fortunately, this time round, it was a much less stressful journey.
A Relaxing Evening at Home:
As I was almost falling asleep in the car on the way back, I decided to take a little nap as soon as I got home--which I did. I am really thriving on the energy of Ealing and lapping it up. It is firing me up in ways I had well imagined--and seeing the way it has affected my psyche for the better is simply marvelous.
I spent the rest of the evening, catching up on my blog as I brewed myself a pot of tea and ate a chocolate éclair. I also settled all my papers which had faced great disarray during my move. Now that I have everything well sorted, I feel much more at ease. I also drafted several blog posts and managed to upload a few--all of which had to do with our travels in Eastern Europe. I still have several to go, but at 9. 30, I stopped to have dinner. I boiled water for some ravioli that I bought from Morrisons and together with a bottled tomato and herb sauce, it made a splendid dinner that I ate as I watched a TV show called Still Game--about a bunch of old codgers in Glasgow. Just their accents and intonation alone make me laugh (and the plots are just as wild). I am still awaiting the installation of a TV set which is imminent--but for the moment, my laptop will suffice.
It was about 11.00 pm that I settled down to do some reading before turning out the light. From Roz, I have borrowed On Chesil Beach by Ian McEwan to re-read and it was the sheer beauty of his writing that saw me off to bed.
Until tomorrow, cheerio...