09 Jul Report from London

You are probably aware that the late Michael Jackson was supposed to do a series of concerts in England this summer. Posters for that concert are gone, replaced now by posters for a MJ tribute with an MJ look-alike. Jackson’s popularity here seems part of a growing popularity for the 1980s, particularly eighties’ fashions. We see a lot of tight jeans and hi-top sneakers, black tights and big hair. If you live long enough, Jill observes, you see everything recycled. It’s been 30 years since the pinnacle of Jackson’s popularity.

As for age: we see a lot of young people in London and very few oldsters. Also: no dogs. Where are all the dogs? Manhattan has dog parks. We’ve seen none here. Jill, who insists on petting an animal a day (not including yours truly), imagines that the dogs and cats are in the suburbs. I tell her that London’s animal life can be found in the gardens (back yards), which we don’t have access to. Stray cats in London are called Moggies and are so interbred that most have evolved into singular black-and-white appearance. But we haven’t seen a one. By the way, it’s illegal to de-claw cats in England.

We’re staying at Shepherd’s Bush, adjacent to Kensington. “Shepherd’s Bush” sounds like something from a Monty Python skit. I picture–among other things—a wooly shepherd guarding a small bush in the middle of a meadow. From Shepherd’s Bush, we take the Tube into the city, about a 15-minute trip. The Tube is often packed and very hot, though air-conditioning is promised for late this summer. On both the underground and the overground, you hear the announcement, “Mind the gap!” The gap is the space between the train car and the platform. Jill and I keep saying to each other, “Mind the gap!” All day long. Americans wouldn’t tolerate having to step up or off–they’d trip and sue the transit authority. Nobody in London falls into the gap.

Jill was disappointed to discover that a heath is no more than an open field. She was thinking of the moors, perhaps, of something misty and boggy and hillocky. We hiked across the heath to get to Black Heath train station, which took us to the Red House, William Morris’s first home. BTW:if you’re coming to London, get the Travel Pass for all six travel regions. It pays for itself in short order.

Speaking of short order, food is great in London, thanks to the continental influence, which gives you tiny cafes, bistros, delis, and bakeries with a stunning array of delectables. American cuisine is more about quantity than quality. The only thing we do well in the States is barbecue, especially the Southern variety. The thing we do worst is pastry. When I first moved to Iowa from Berkeley (back in the 1980s), I made the mistake of ordering cinnamon roles at a coffee shop. I got two fist-sized mounds of dough slathered in white frosting. It could have been a practical joke. To get really good bread –that crusty wondrous bread you can get on nearly every block in London–we Yanks have to make a special trip to a special bakery. One of the things we should borrow from the Brits are the salad shops, where you can get a box of mixed salad–not handfuls of lettuce with toppings but, rather, finely shredded, pickled, bean, and mixed sprout salads that show a lot of middle-eastern influence. Falafel shops too. Really good falafel. As mutli-cultural as we are in the States, we don’t quite have the multi-cultural food thing down the way they do here. But nothing’s cheap in London. A slice of pizza, on average, goes for 3.50 – that’s about $5. I don’t know how young people (and poor folk) manage. I suspect that London is pricier than Manhattan. The houses Jill and I prefer in London start at 1.5 million (pounds).

My mission here is to locate the long-gone Capt. John Marshall–through the British Library and the National Maritime Museum and the National Archives. I have learned that Marshall’s legacy was eclipsed by four other John Marshalls of higher profile, all of them in the Royal Navy. I’ve also learned that he left his dog in Australia on his first journey to Botany Bay. Upon his return, two years later, his dog swam out to meet his boat and then would not leave his side. Apparently my Mr. Marshall was a nice guy, perhaps too lenient with his crew (lashings of ill-behaved crew were often “forgiven”) and given to much entertainment.

Jill and I have been asked for directions twice, which we take as a compliment. And, in fact, we have been able to help because we’re armed with maps. I’ve been scolded more than once for taking photos of the Queen’s possessions. The Queen is generous in loaning her stuff, like Prince’s Edward’s gilded barge (1732), but she will not tolerate infringement on the royal copyright. Tomorrow Jill and I go to an antiques flea market that starts before dawn. Which means it’s the real thing.