Travel as Metaphor

The blog of novelist Sue Swift.

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Sunday, October 1: I’ve put everything away in Berta’s house and am settling in nicely.
Monday: Talked with Mom last night. When I asked how she was doing, she launched into this lengthy monologue about how dangerous their neighborhood was becoming and didn’t tell me that Colin had been ill. Roberta got that out of her when she talked with Mom.
Though she wanted to know when I’m getting a job. (Doesn’t the woman know about work permits and how hard they are to get?)
Wednesday: While R was at an appointment, I visited the Museum of the City of London. In an hour I got about two-thirds of the way through the place. Amazing exhibits though there was a startling gap in the late Tudor period. Right after I looked at portraits of Henry VIII there was Cromwell, as though at least six monarchs, including Elizabeth I, hadn’t reigned. Weird, but worth a return visit to finish the place off. The exhibits about prehistoric and Roman London were excellent. Medieval London wasn’t handled quite as well, but given that it was an entire millennium, I suppose it would be difficult to show in just a few exhibits how people lived, which is my primary interest. The complexity of the time was evident, though. I didn’t know that the wearing of certain garb was restricted to particular classes or occupations. Fascinating.
I am gradually gathering info on living here. How to get a passport….more difficult that one can imagine. Details about working. Where I can take Bikram yoga and play hockey. Getting a mobile phone.
Roberta is going to Bournemouth to visit Ashley toward the end of the month and I will take the opportunity to check out Oxford.

13 Oct 06:
A deal has been made to sell the house in Fair Oaks.
I am making lists of places I want to visit but strangely have no energy for leaving. I like it here and am getting settled in.
We visit Claygate, where my cousin Tricia and her family live. It’s in Surrey. We take a walk in the woods and gather chestnuts…very pleasant and I think about writing a kids’ fantasy type book about a dryad living in a cleft at the base of a chestnut tree. As is common with me and my imagination, the story promptly turns erotic when the dryad falls for a satyr disguised as a faun.
So much for becoming the next Tolkien or Rowling.
I research trips to Egypt and Israel. Sadly, the political situation is still such that one can’t do both at the same time. Ridiculous. It is also difficult to get to Egypt while arriving at any sane time of the day…flights leave and arrive at odd hours.
I see a dentist, who refers me to an oral surgeon. He will charge me 95 pounds merely to look at one of my teeth and render an opinion. Ghastly.
It is gradually coming to my notice that I cannot afford so much as a broom closet or a lean-to in London.

I have played twice, once at the Alexandra Palace with the London Legion and once at the Sobell Center with the Westminster Statesmen. Both are nice groups of people but the trip to the Ali Pali, as it is called, is torturous from St Johns Wood and no one on the team lives close by.
So the Statesmen it is and I buy a stick.
Trouble in paradise: Berta is now saying she needs her painting studio (my room) back and implying strongly that I need to leave. Well, I guess it’s OK for her to change her mind, though coming to this conclusion after I have gotten a British mobile phone, a pass to a London yoga studio, bought a hockey stick, opened a British bank account and given five publishers and an agent this address for the payment of royalties is rather inconvenient.
21 October: Oxford: I arrived yesterday afternoon at about 2 p.m. Two hostels here and I mistakenly went to the wrong one first. Boy, am I glad I was wrong! Snippy desk clerk, noisy and smoky common room, grubby kitchen…generally quite unpleasant. The right one, on Park End Street, is clean and cozy. Even in a dorm with 5 other women I slept OK, until close to 9 a.m.
Last night I went to the local rink to watch the Oxford women’s hockey team lose to a much more experienced (non-student) London hockey team. They lost 5-1 but put up a good fight. Their captain, a chemistry grad student with the amazing name of Georgia Gale Grant, invited me out to drink with them at the Mitre, a High Street pub so old and historic that it’s in the guidebooks. She bought me a pint of Guinness, ate fish and chips, and a thoroughly British evening was had by all.
Oxford is overrun with tourists (like me) but is nevertheless a wonderful place. It is really Harry Potter town and quite inspiring to me as a writer. Turning every corner, story ideas occur to me right left and center.
Sunday: I start to do more intense sightseeing, hitting the Ashmolean, which is, Christo-like, covered in plastic as it is enduring renovation. Most of Europe is under renovation.
I took the advice of one of the hockey gals and ate lunch at Fisher’s in St. Clement’s, picking the fish and chips. The chalked board inside the restaurant advertised Hayes Ranch Pinot Grigio from California (2004) at a mere 17 pounds for the bottle—a mere $30. I order the haddock, which is crisp and gorgeous. The chips are golden and crunchy and the mushy peas—a dish which I’d supposed was made with leftovers—were bright lime green and fresh.
It is gray and rainy outside, warm and cozy inside Fisher’s. So full of fish and chips that I skip dessert, I linger over a pot of tea.
On the way back into central Oxford from Fisher’s I stop into Magdalen (pronounced Maudlin) College. First a walk down a ramp to photograph a canal with swans preening in the rain. Then I talked to the porter about attending Evensong at 6 after walking around the college, one of the few which allows visitors. He politely explained that I’d be safer if I explored earlier while it was still light rather than around 5:30 p.m. He was right—later it was dark, so say nothing of the clouds and rain shadowing the dusk.
After tea in the High Street I go to Evensong. I’m not religious but I’ve been told that the service, including a men’s choir, is lovely.
And it is.
Re: Potter, Oxford and Hogwarts: the hockey gals mentioned that Hogwarts, being composed of different locations around Oxford, is quite disorienting to someone familiar with the place. One minute you’re in the New College quad (where Draco was transformed into a ferret) and the next, you’re in the Christ Church great hall, where the mealtimes and sdtudy halls at Hogwarts are filmed.
On Oxford weather: exactly the opposite of London, where it is cloudy and rainy in the morning and sunny in the afternoon. Here there may be an hour or two of sun in the late morning, and then it rains.
The Swedish girls sharing the room turn out to be surprisingly sweet, considering that two of them talked until two my first night there when the rest of us wanted to sleep. On Sunday at about midnight they started to question me—wanted to know everything! Turned it around of course, and discovered they’re from Helsingborg. They told me a funny story—apparently their town is known for its great climbing, and whenever an ambulance drives through, it’s a Dane who’s fallen off the mountain. Not funny in retrospect, but it was cute when they told me about the clumsy Danes. One of them, Alexandra, is an au pair in nearby Fairford. She says it is not very interesting, and the other four girls came over from Sweden to visit her.
They recommended Prague—everyone does—and Berlin for Christmas and New Year’s.
That is probably not going to happen as I have decided to go to Thailand to get my teeth fixed.
Sounds crazy, I know, but Colin is there and says he got his entire mouth done for 2K, while it will probably cost me 2K to get one tooth done here in London.
12:30 Monday: I eat lunch at the top of Carfax Tower, which I climbed for the views of Oxford’s "dreaming spires," cellular towers and cranes. After a sunny morning it has clouded up again and I’m guessing it will rain in the afternoon—perfect museum weather.
I should do promo tonight—send out messages and electronic copies of Triangle to reviewers. It’s a great book that hasn’t received nearly the attention it deserves. I don’t know how it has sold but I haven’t heard of a 2d printing, unlike Walk. Mysterious since it is a much better book.
Then did two museums and Christ Church College, site of many HP scenes.
Future thinking: I will go to Thailand then back here, then maybe back to the states just before Mom comes over. Visit San Diego, stay in the Tahoe house in April and May before attending hockey camp.
Or not.
I can stay in Thailand where it’s cheap as long as I can handle the hot weather, and then maybe go to Alaska where it’s affordable and tolerable (weather wise).


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