Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Odds and bobs, part 5

On our way to Greenwich yesterday, we noticed Lionel having some trepidation about the escalators.  With calm coaxing encouragement, he managed to ride 3 and psychologist Keith figures that with every non-eventful experience, the fear will decrease.  I don't know about Lionel, but it certainly started to diminish for me..  I've been nervous about outings by myself with both boys and just try not to imagine if I had been alone on that other day.
The day of conquering our escalator fears, the boys both had their cameras with them.  I often bring them when I know we will be on the train for a while because in addition to taking pictures, they can use them to play games which keeps them from getting too antsy.  On this day Owen was framing and taking pictures of the attractive woman seated across from him.  She looked at me and mouthed "so cute."  After she left, an elderly man took her place and Owen resumed portrait photography.  "Oh dear," he said.  "You should be taking pictures of pretty people, not a plain old man like me!"  Actually, he had a very interesting face and posed comically.  I can't wait to see the results.  In response to his statement though, Owen swiveled his camera to the woman next to him and took her picture, much to her delight. 

In general, Owen is quite the charmer.  He fancied a little girl out in our back garden and picked a flower to give her.  At another playground he got into a teasing game with another little girl who kept dropping her toy next to him in the sand and then waiting for him to give it back.  He looked at me and smiled, while rolling his eyes:  "girls!"  When we visited Keith's friends Peter and Heidi, Owen left Lionel, Keith, me, and Peter in the back garden to go into the kitchen where Heidi was finishing lunch.  "I'm keeping my eye on you," he told her.  He made eyes at Ilora Finlay, the Baroness of Llandaff, and she blushed, saying, "My word!  What a flirt!"

And in food news.....

I love it that all the cucumbers here are English cucumbers.  I never thought about it before, but in the U.S. you can buy 'regular' cucumbers, the fat, waxed ones, or 'English/hothouse' cucumbers.  The English cucumbers are always twice as expensive as the domestic but I so prefer them to the others.  I'm sure you have seen them.  They are wrapped in plastic, long and thin.  They are not waxed so you can eat the peel, and they are crisper than their American counterparts.  I like to slice them and eat with a little salt.  Of course I add them to salads.  I often give the boys a chunk as a part of their dinner veggie bowls and they love them.

And speaking of salads---a 'salad' here is a bowl of dressed greens.  If you add anything it's quite another thing.  When I cooked for Richard and Tracey, I remember her saying:  "Well, you just put anything in your salad!" and then I realized that every salad I'd been served was mixed greens, mixed with nothing else that is.  I tend to follow in Michael Stumpf school of salads.  Tomato, cucumber, mushroom, of course.  But why not also add olives, artichoke hearts, cheese, nuts, garbanzo beans, baby carrots, and other goodies?  While here, I have discovered the joy of fennel.  I don't know what they use it for here, but I've been adding it to my salad and it's like extra-flavorful celery.

I don't know what to say about pears.  I can find two kinds in the grocery.  One is simply called 'pears' and the other is called 'conference pears.'  I'm not much for fruit in general so I'm not a conniesseur of pears but still, I cannot tell the difference between these two kinds.  They are both shaped sort of like a bosc but are the color and texture of a d'anjou.  There are no big fat plump pears, no red ones.  The variety of apples is limited also.  Maybe those fruits are more North American than I realized.  Or maybe it's because I'm not here in the autumn.

 In Greenwich we visited the British Maritime Museum which was fun for the boys but too rushed for me to actually take anything in (the problem with visiting museums with the boys in general).  Then we had lunch with Griffith and Sue Edwards.  Keith has worked with Griffith for many years and several years ago we stayed in their 17 century home.  They are quintessentially British.  Griffith was hard to understand when I first met him, but now he's quite a bit older and has suffered a stroke.  After we left, Owen said:  "That old man was really hard to understand.  He just sounded like 'mwah, mwah mway wa.'"  True. 

Keith asked Sue how it was gardening with all this rain.  Her response, so British:  "Well one doesn't garden, does one?"  It puts the whole thing out of anyone's hands. 

Because we are so far north, the sun rose today at 4:43 and won't set until 9:19.  This makes it incredibly hard to get the boys to sleep at their usual time of 7:30 and to get them to stay in their beds until their usual time of 6 in the  morning.  We've put cardboard over the window but there's just no denying the birdsong and the light creeping through.  By the time we get them up in the morning, Lionel says:  "Did you know it's been morning for 2 hours already?"  And we haven't hit the longest day of the year yet:  June 21. 

Speaking of time--the last time I was in Greenwich was when I realized the true meaning of 'Greenwich Mean Time.'.  Duh, I know, but part way through a tour of the Greenwich observatory I did a mental forehead smack.  So, while we are in London, we are not + or - any hours.  We are ON Greenwich Mean Time.  I don't know why, but that's kind of cool.

And speaking of time again--we somehow have only 4 weeks left in England!  But that doesn't mean the action stops.  We look forward to a weekend in Somerset and nearly a week in Leicester. 

In addition, Keith and I will have a dinner date at 'his club':  The Anthenaeum, a gentlemen's club, now accepting ladies as well, that dates from 1824 and boasts as former members Thackeray, Dickens, 52 Nobel Prize Honorees, and others.  Keith has been a proud member for several years (put up for membership by Griffith Edwards and also Roger Bannister, the first man to run the 4-minute mile, and others) and when he goes to London, which is fairly frequently, he often stays there, uses the facilities to meet with people and goes to dinners and events.  I have heard so much about it and cannot wait to actually see inside the fabled doors.

AND, on our last Saturday in London, we will take the boys out to friends in northern London, take the train back into the city and see a matinee in the theater district and then train back out to have dinner with our friends and take the boys home. 

3 date nights in 4 months!  I'm dizzy!  (Although I suppose one is a date afternoon...)  AND, tomorrow I get to go back to the National Portrat Gallery for another visit with the incredible Lucian Freud portraits.  Date nights and dates with art.  But no date nights with Art (whoever he is).

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Parental instincts

When something happens suddenly, one learns about oneself by the instantaneous decisions undertaken  without consciousness. 

The other day, as we were returning from an afternoon in northern London, I was preparing to get on an escalator with Owen inside a tube station.  Suddenly I heard Lionel's fear cry from up the escalator.  Immediately I started running up the steps.  As I looked up I saw Lionel and Keith tumbling backwards, Keith's hat flying off.  I had to get to them.  Half-way up I realized that I had left Owen at the bottom in the middle of a busy tube station and I started trying to run down.  Turns out it is nigh on impossible to go down an up escalator and then I slipped and fell.  I turned quickly and saw that Keith and Lionel appeared to be upright so I stopped and urged Owen to climb on by himself.  A man came up behind and assisted and then I fell off the end of the escalator because I was looking down and didn't realize it had come to an end.  Finally we were all at the top, standing and whole.

My hands were shaking.  The adrenalin had complelely overwhelmed me.  All I had accomplished was getting myself banged up and stranding Owen but I could no more have stopped myself from leaping after Lionel than I could stop my heart beating.

When the man who escorted Owen up the escalator got to the top, he admonished me, "You really have to watch your footing on these." Um, yeah. Thanks.

What happened, I learned, is that Lionel lost his footing and started to fall.  Keith instictively threw himself under as he was falling so that Lionel essentially landed on Keith's arm and shoulder.  He had a small abrasion on his chin but that's all.  Keith, however, had wrenched his shoulder and knee and had landed so hard on the steps that both of his knees bore the bloody imprint of the treads--this through a pair of heavy jeans.

We  limped home, transforming into another parental mode:  spin control.  Keith said, "Boy, that wasn't very much fun.  Let's not do that again!" and the boys laughed.  Though we both felt somewhat traumatized we didn't want the boys to fixate on it and didn't want Lionel to feel guilty about it.  We examined Keith's wounds in private and he sat in the bedroom icing his swollen knees out of sight.

Reflecting later, I imagined with horror what it must be like to be a parent in a war zone where your children are constantly in danger and exposed to violence and death.  It's important to be grateful for the little things, but it's also important to be grateful for the very big things.