July 15th, 2011

England Days 2-5: Dagenham, Romford, Windsor, Camden, and Oxford

One thing that has always marked me out as a Canadian with American roots is that I don’t care much about tea. I mean, I’m happy enough to drink tea, if you’re putting the kettle on anyway, but I don’t find delight or solace in it the way so many of my fellow Canadians and, I’m told, Britons do. I don’t even care what you put it in–I’ll drink tea with or without milk, sugar, or lemon. If I don’t feel like getting up, I’ll drink it black.

But it was kind of delightful to drink a “proper” pot of tea on our first morning at Charlie’s. Given the extremely basic level of the room, I was shocked by the quality and generosity of the morning feast. Eggs, bacon (very strange looking bacon), all the toast and jam you could handle, tomatoes, cheese, croissants, and lovely tea–it seemed *richer*, without being stronger, than the Canadian bag-in-cup kind. Thus fortified, we set for the heart of London.

Everyone I talked to who’d been to London said the best part was just walking around looking at stuff, so instead of going straight to Russell Square, we got off the tube at Covent Gardens and just wandered around. It was a bit early to see much action there, but the day was lovely and fresh, and the buildings and old markets really are gorgeous. We wandered somehow to Piccadilly Gardens, which was terrifying–the most traffic ever in the world. We went to the Waterstone’s, a nice giant bookstore, and I finally got an A-Z map–then we immediately got lost. Or perhaps we’d already been lost, but hadn’t known it until we looked at the map.

Finally we gained Russell Square–Bloomsbury!! I tried to imagine Vanessa and Virginia Stephens, Duncan Grant and Maynard Keynes and all the rest walking briskly among the old townhouses (less old, then), having brilliant conversations about the next great thing in art, literature, furniture, economics. I didn’t entirely succeed, but enjoyed myself. We found a bookstore devoted entirely to the works Swedenborg, sat on the grass in Russell Square and watched the pigeons, and finally went and got something to eat from a grocery.

We carried our food to the front yard (garden?) of the British Museum, which was an absolutely perfect place to picnic. See?

The inside of the museum was pretty great too. Mark had wanted to go, and since it was free (well, a 3 pound donation is recommended, which is still pretty reasonable) I had thought we could just drop in for a little bit. But both the space and the exhibits were pretty enthralling. What I couldn’t get over was the Enlightenment Exhibit–the British Museum actually *existed* during the Enlightenment, and took on some of their collection on an as-it-happens basis. I have never seen anything like that.

After another grocery-store meal (they have really nice prepared foods in English groceries–who knew?), we went to see *Rosencranz and Guildenstern Are Dead* at The Royal Haymarket Theatre. We had gotten the tickets from of the 8 bazillion discount ticket outlets in central London, after seeing a single tiny poster for the show on the subway. Apparently, most people want to see *Shrek the Musical* or *Legally Blond, the Musical*, but I loved this play when I read it/saw the film, and wanted to finally see it live.

Totally great! The film, with Gary Oldman and Tim Roth’s portrayls of the title characters, is pretty firmly entrenched in my mind and I think many others’ minds, and it was so delightful to another brilliant interpretation that was so *different*–bawdier, goofier, just as weird but differently so. If you’re in London this summer, I recommend.

The next morning, we had another generous breakfast, this time including Red Leicester cheese, which I wanted to try because I hadn’t had it before. Turns out, pretty much like cheddar.

Then we hit the tube and parted ways, as Mark was off to Oxford and I was headed east of London to Dagenham. Dagenham is technically in another county (Essex) but such is the size of London that it qualities as a suburb and the tube goes there. There’s also a movie made about Dagenham, but I haven’t seen it and so can’t comment. Mainly Dagenham is where my friend K. teaches grade one (“year one”, I believe they call it), bakes cupcakes and remains awesome.

I was pretty proud of myself of getting myself all the way out there solo (over an hour, and without incident). It was also great to be reunited with K., who had left Canada a year and a half before. We hung out, ate chicken at Nando’s, bought underwear at Marks and Spencer, and went to the bingo hall in Romford. All the typical daily life of the residents there, which I was delighted to try out. Here’s me goofing around in the bingo hall.

Then to bed, because early the next morning, Windsor Castle!! I don’t mind doing touristy things when they are awe-inspiring, as Windsor truly is. After taking a train reminiscent of the GO (but with only one level), surrounded by the gorgeous and the posh on their way to a horse race (I think) also in Windsor, we got to this magnificent…fortress. Seriously, if you declared war on Windsor, you’d have a hell of a time getting in there. We saw all the stuff you’d imagine–Queen Mary’s dollhouse (I am a dollhouse enthusiast), lots of art and lofty rooms, and the best part, the changing of the guard with a random little show from the marching band. Here they are:

They we wandered Windsor proper for a while, before getting back on the train and heading into the heart of London, to the very beautiful Regent’s Park. Not only did the open-air theatre in the park have the most wonderous public bathrooms I’ve ever seen:

They have an amazingly huge and commodious theatre–not that the High Park Amphitheatre isn’t wonderful, but this one had actual chairs!! We saw The Beggar’s Opera. The set was so amazing it was copyrighted, as a very polite usher informed me when he made me delete the picture I’d just taken of it. The show was well performed, but at times hard to follow and…unimaginably filthy. What were people *like* in 1728? Oversexed and amoral, apparently. I was particularly stunned by the mega-meta ending, but it was a wild performance and exciting to be there.

The next morning we got a late start, ate a tasty Canadian breakfast (maple syrup!), and tried to go into town to drop my luggage off at Paddington Station, then go explore Camden Market for a couple hours before I had to get back for my train. This was the plan but…it was Sunday. I had been feeling very bad about how much better London’s subway system is than Toronto’s, but the nice thing about ours is that it mainly works every day of the week, while London’s becomes half-inoperative and entirely slow and baffling on Sundays. What should (I think) have been an hour’s journey turned into 3, with many crowded transfers. So by the time I finally left my bags and got to Camden, I had spent 17 pounds to be free of my things for less than an hour. Camden is very nice, I think, but all I saw of it was the Doc Martens’ store (wowsers!!) and a Pret a Manger, before i had to head back. And then of course the subway station we’d come out of had closed, and we had to walk to another one. My advice is not to use the Paddington left luggage if you’ll only be gone a short time, as it is the same cost for anything under 24 hours, and it’s very expensive.

After all that hassle, it was great to get on a train and just not transfer for an hour. It was still very warm on the train, though, and I hate sitting backwards, so it was even better to get *off* the train and find Mark waiting for me at the station in Oxford. After our merry reunion, we lugged my luggage (which I had grown to loathe) into the centre of town and had a little tour, before a delightful dinner at a centuries old pub. I had the mussels, which were younger than that.

Then we got on the Oxford city bus and went out of town about half an hour, to a place called the which is basically a rest area off the highway, although more advanced than the north American version–this one had restaurants, a mini-park. a grocery store, and hotels. We stayed at the Days Inn, which was very plain and cheap, but clean and comfortable and, thrillingly, had a door on the bathroom. There was a tea/coffee centre in the room complete with biscuits, and Mark had thoughtfully placed a Dairy Milk on my pillow. Hello, Oxford!

2 Responses to “England Days 2-5: Dagenham, Romford, Windsor, Camden, and Oxford”

  • Geography Police says:

    Dagenham is in no way a part of Essex.
    Dagenham is in London, in the London Borough of Barking and Dagenham.


  • Rebecca says:

    Well, you’re right–I looked it up and Wikipedia says that Dagenham is “historically” a part of Essex but not since 1921–possibly my mistake was missing that “historically.”

    But I’m going to leave the piece as it stands because it is four years old and no one is reading it now. How on earth did you come upon it?


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