UK Vacation


On Friday I flew from Shannon to London for a short vacation. There wasn’t an immigration officer in sight when we walked off the plane – so much for a UK stamp on my passport. However, there was a sign in the immigration area requesting that people please not assault the customs officers. In the US, I would be worried about getting sent to Guantanamo for doing something like that.

It was nice to get a sense of the landscape on the ride into London on the train. I immediately felt at home. After a couple months in metric Ireland (though fairly recently converted), it was nice to see cars driving in miles per hour, street signs in yards and 193,000 sq ft for lease (actually for “let”, of course). 17,039.2867 square meters I can’t picture, but 193,000 square feet, that’s a different story. My UK misconception #39 (I think this goes back to elementary school): even the British use metric units. It appears from some metric propaganda (and Wikipedia) that officially the UK uses metric units, but that doesn’t stop them from using English units everywhere visible. I checked into my hotel and immediately went back out in search of Sushi. I had only seen one sushi place in Ireland over the previous two months. Of course when I found china-town I was overwhelmed with sushi choices.

The next morning, I headed to the BBC Television Centre for a tour I had set up. My interest was mostly because I had grown up watching Doctor Who, which unfortunately is filmed in Cardiff. The tour was interesting, although there were no programs being filmed. There were a couple “actual” Daleks [pic] and a TARDIS [pic], and really cheesy tourist junk in the gift shop. I decided to circumnavigate the television center after I left which turned out to be a bit of a challenge, but brought me through interesting neighborhoods. I then headed for the Portobello Road Market to find lunch. The market was overwhelming. I wandered for what seemed like miles (though it was a little less than a mile) and saw everything from antiques to massive binoculars [pic] to toy soldiers [pic] to Ghanaian food to tourist kitsch. In looking over some of the kitsch, I noticed Princess Diana commemorative plates and assorted ash trays, like Big Ben. I though, “What better gift than a Princess Diana commemorative ash tray?” I found one. After Portobello Road, I walked through Hyde Park. I stopped at Kensington Palace, where Princess Dianna lived. Partly because it reminded me of a huge elementary school [pic] from the outside and because I dislike paying rich people to see their houses, I decided not to fork over the 12 pounds ($24) to see the palace. As I continued my walk through Hyde Park, I happened across the Princess Diana Memorial Fountain. I thought the fountain looked fun, because people can dip their feet in the water. As I watched people enjoying the fountain, I realized that one is not allowed to enjoy it too much by standing in the water or one of six “wardens” [pic] will politely ask you to sit down when your feet are in the water. It all seemed a bit unDiana-like (not that I knew her well). I continued my walk by Buckingham Palace [pic], Westminster Abbey, Big Ben [pic], Houses of Parliament, and finally the London Eye. I had been seeing the eye all day, or is it the other way around? Regardless, I paid the exorbitant fee for a 45 minute wait in line and a ride. It was a great way to see London [pic]. That night I saw Spamalot which I didn’t realize was so ”lovingly ripped off” from “The Holy Grail”, but it was still enjoyable.

Wow, that was one day. On Sunday, I headed for Greenwich. I couldn’t resist the temptation to stand in both the western and eastern hemisphere (arbitrary as they may be) and to see 0.00 longitude on my GPS. I decided to take the tourist boat rather than the commuter boat, and we had a clever and humorous “guide”, though they claim to be part of the crew only adding entertainment for tips. The guide had appropriate commentary on the Tate Modern museum which is a bit ugly [pic] and the rather pricey Millennium Bridge. Of course we saw most of the bridges over the River Thames, including the current London Bridge (pretty boring, in a great location) [pic] not to be confused with a Lake Havasu City, Arizona landmark, the previous London Bridge (has some character, located in a horrible place) [pic]. In Greenwich, the Prime Meridian is at the Royal Observatory which has a free (finally) museum on time and navigation. The collection included the progression of clock designs that were invented to work accurately on a moving ship in order to aid in navigation. I was in a bit of a rush to get back up-river, for an organ recital at Westminster Abbey, or I would have spent more time in Greenwich and definitely checked out the free National Maritime Museum. But at least I got the “Honest Sausage” experience [pic] before I left.

On the way back upriver [funny pic], I got off the tourist ferry at the Tower of London figuring I had to take a look, as an ancestor, Edward Gove, was held there. By the time I got to The Tower, I realized it was not just one tower, but I had not realized how extensive it was. Of the whole Tower experience, I appreciated the Beauchamp Tower the most, where you can see the actual inscriptions carved in the walls by some of the prisoners. As I was wandering around I noticed a ridiculous line stretching 100 yards or more out of a building and realized it was a line to view the Crown Jewels. I certainly didn’t have that much interest in seeing some rich people’s jewelery, but a bit later, the line was no longer out of the building. The joke was on me, however as the line zigzagged through at least four rooms with some pretty bad informational videos playing. The jewels were impressive, but there were so many, and the moving sidewalk went so fast that it was hard to keep track of them as they whizzed by. From The Tower, I headed off to Westminster Abbey for the Sunday evening organ recital. It was a great way to experience the Abbey for free.

After the Abbey, I took a walk quite a ways down the south side of the Thames almost to the Battersea Power Station [pic]. It seemed to be a popular place to walk for lone travelers. After I turned around, I walked back past the London Eye and as it got dark, ate at Wagamama, an Asian Noodle restaurant which started in London (I recently ate at the branch in Boston.). I kept walking East on the Thames footpath past the OXO tower and the Tate Modern to the London Bridge. As it got later, people got a bit stranger [pic]. One young guy (Australian, I think) saw me look at my map, asked me what I was looking for and told me he could tell me anything I needed to know. He showed me a deck over the river where he was going to sleep. I assumed he was going to ask for money, though he never did, which is good, because he didn’t even know the answer to a simple question that I felt compelled to ask. A bit later the river path ended, and I walked some narrow old streets for a couple of blocks to the London Bridge. As I crossed the London Bridge on the way back to my hotel, the moon was just rising over the Tower Bridge. I pushed my point and shoot camera hard, snapping over 20 pictures, trying to get a decent shot [pic]. There were a number of people on the bridge trying to capture it.

On Monday I went to the Imperial War Museum [pic] before leaving town. It was interesting to see all of the war machinery. The thing that stuck in my mind was a shell [pic] that had to be 10 ft tall (long?) from the biggest gun ever made, a 80 CM German Schwerer Gustav that was so huge it travelled only by railway. The lower levels of the museum contained an overwhelming maze of exhibits dedicated in large part to the two world wars, including features like a replica of a World War I trench. From the museum I picked up my luggage and took a train from Paddington Station to Heathrow to pick up a rental car. Of course I was going backwards into one of the busiest airports in the world, trying to get to rental cars from departures. I tried to guess the closest terminal, since I didn’t care which one I ended up in, but I think I made a bad guess, as I went up and down many escalators and walked through many corridors before I was outside at last.


From London, I headed to Yorkshire to see where my ancestors came from. My grandfather wrote a genealogy of our family and traced back to two Hazelton borthers who came from Yorkshire in 1637. With a couple of hours on the web, I was able to track down where the brothers came from originally and references to books by the Yorkshire Archaeological Society (YAS) in Leeds. I gave the society a call before I left, and they took my name and told me family history experts were there on Tuesday afternoons.

Before Leeds, my first stop was the city of York, and my first need was a hotel. It was neither as easy as finding a bed and breakfast in Ireland nor as relatively inexpensive. Low to medium end hotels were 70 or 80 pounds. I just couldn’t see spending $150 for a hotel in York when I had gotten one on Priceline in London for $90. One place I walked into was more than 150 pounds. I tried not to choke when the woman at the counter told me that she could give me a deal and include breakfast for that price. Thanks. I finally found a B&B for 45 pounds. I had dinner and walked around the narrow windy streets for a while in the dark. I was surprised at how many people were falling over drunk by 10.

The next morning I walked into town and along the city wall, parts of which were originally built by the Romans. The city wall still surrounds much of the city and is a great way to see the city from a little bit of elevation [pic]. When I found out that one can climb to the top of the central tower of York Minster, I gladly paid admission. They make a big deal of the 275 steps, narrow, confined spaces, etc. [pic] Of course I ignore these things, but climbing up to the top of the tower, I could see why they have to warn people. They have actually had a fatality on top of the tower and have had to airlift others. The view of the surrounding area from the tower is spectacular [pic]. There is a cage around the top to keep people from doing anything stupid, but I stuck my hand out of some openings and snapped some shots of the gargoyles adorning the tower [pic]. It’s obvious there is some serious deterioration, one reason the east side of the building is currently being renovated. From the minster, I drove through Howden and on to Leeds, where I visited the YAS.

I had printed a Google map for 23 Claremont Road in Leeds and was proud of myself for not making any wrong turns. I zigzagged back and forth through Leeds like I knew the place. Unfortunately, I had failed myself with google maps, 23 Claremont Road was someone’s house. Looking at some of the info I had printed out, I realized the address was Clarendon Road. What to do? I started looking for something useful like an internet café, and found a library. The guy at the desk was helpful and got me on my way. At the YAS, I looked in the books that had been transcribed from original documents on baptisms and deaths and found the references I had found online. One of the family history volunteers helped me by looking for any other information that might mention the ancestors. In the end, I didn’t gather any more information than what I had found online, but it was a good experience. If I had had more time, I would have been able to go look at county records for probate and deeds and maybe found something more.

I drove to Howden, the ancestor’s parish, from Leeds, with the goal of spending the night where my ancestors lived. I found “The Wellington Hotel”, which wasn’t much to look at, but Howden isn’t a big tourist town. I had to ask the woman at the desk if she knew any Hazeltons, or Haseltines, Hesletynes, Hessletines, Heyseltines, Hezeltines or Esseltines. She didn’t, but it was quiz night that night, and she thought the quizmaster, who was a local, might be a good person to ask. I went off for a walk through Knedlington, the actual “hamlet” of the ancestors which consists of a sign [pic], some houses on a road and fields [pic].

Quiz Night

When I returned, I ordered some Indian food for take away and started mentally preparing for quiz night (a pint of bitter). I have to admit, I was having a lot of trouble picturing quiz night in this small town surrounded by fields; it just didn’t seem to have the population or activity to support a quiz night. Sure enough, as quiz time approached, the empty bar filled up with quite a selection of people, a number were older, with an appearance of being on their “night out”, many were middle-aged, and there were even some young folks in their 20’s. I spotted the quizmaster fairly easily – the serious looking guy carrying a sheaf of papers and a coffee can full of writing utensils. He seemed quite busy and not to interested in being bothered by my genealogical queries. I asked if there was a team in need of another person; he said he would check, but I still had to eat my dinner. As I ate my dinner in the “beer garden”, I listened to quiz questions wafting out the back door of the pub. “America … Gulf of Mexico … land purchased from the French …” Well of course I could have gotten that one. I finished my dinner and headed back inside to check out the quiz in up close.

The quizmaster, John, was quite a character; conjecture has it that he was probably a school teacher in his previous occupation. He certainly had the demeanor for it. He was a classic quizmaster, at once cranky, irritated, serious and silly (OK, no silliness from him). He had a well-rehearsed routine – I found out later he has been running the pub quiz at this pub for over thirteen years. At the beginning of the quiz he tipped his coffee can of writing utensils back and forth clinking for attention. He explained the rules, and started quizzing. After a question and time to discuss was up when the crowd had become a bit rowdy, he would start with “Next question…” If that if he didn’t get the attention he deserved he would continue, “listen to John,” still failing to get the attention, he would draw out “s-s-i-m-m-m-e-r-r”. The quiz scene was more entertainment than I had been expecting in this little town, and I ended up having a couple more pints and absorbing the atmosphere. When the quiz was over a guy from one of the teams near me started a conversation with me. After asking if I was working locally, and my explaining I was just wandering through (American accent in hand), the first question my new acquaintance, Paul, asked was: “Isn’t it guaranteed that Obama is going to win?” The rest of Paul’s quiz team (the “Cracked Eggs”, I think) perked up when they heard this question. The only answer I could give them was that I didn’t know, “we never thought George Bush would be elected a second time,” I told them. One of Paul’s team members told me she was going on “holi-ah-VACATION” in America in the “autu-ah-FALL”. “See, I know the right words,” she told me. She was “RENTING” (hiring) a car to drive down the east coast from New York to Florida. We talked a bit about her other trips to the US and such, and some of the differences, like “the price of gas-ah-PETROL, see I know the right words,” I said.

The conversation with Paul mostly centered on politics and certainly more centered on Paul, but not one-sided. At one point he said he wished the United States had annexed the UK when we admitted Hawaii to the Union. His theory went something like we had most things right like taxes and social programs, etc. and that the UK tried to fit into the rest of mainland Europe, but just wasn’t socialist enough at heart. Somehow we got to the war in Iraq. I asked if he supported the war, and he answered “Yes, I am a sinner.” He was not being sarcastic; he felt he had made the wrong choice at the beginning. This is probably what led to the conversation about decisions politicians make. My friend claimed to be in the camp that we elected them and we take full responsibility for their actions. There should be no “whinging and whining” about what the officials we elected do. Paul’s teammates laughed when they heard this, as it seems he has participated in a little whinging and whining about politicians. It was interesting, to me, this guy was fairly conservative, but there was no question he was all for Obama (I know foreigners aren’t allowed to have opinions on these matters, but I found it interesting none the less).

It came time for the next round, and Paul asked me what I wanted. I really enjoy saying (and drinking), “a pint of bitter”, so I had another bitter. He brought it over, and said, “How can you drink that stuff?” My UK misconception #432: Brits like their beer warm (well, room temperature, anyway). Granted, it wasn’t a scientific survey, but I believe the entire group was drinking Fosters “Super Chilled”, according to the website, a “truly blinding lip numbingly cold beer”. This little pub had the Fosters, Guiness “Extra Cold” and Carling “Premier Extra Cold”.

The next morning I chatted with a couple fellow guests and who were also observers of quiz night. The conversation centered on the crazy quizmaster. After breakfast I wandered to the Manchester airport for my flight to Shannon.

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