Saturday, 18 August 2007

August 5, 2007: "Th-th-th-that's All Folks!"

Early Sunday morning, August 5, several buses left our dorm, at staggered intervals, to head to Gatwick Airport. After going through extra-vigilant security checks (and only one carry-on bag allowed), I boarded my Continental flight to Newark, where I had a layover for several hours. Then it was home to Fort Myers ... and time to close this Summer 2007 chapter of London Libby! What a terrific month of wonderful friends and professors, and a learning adventure par excellence. Woops -- that's French -- but I think it'll do, don't you?

Our Final Night Together ... 'Til We Meet Again!

Slugs and Lettuce and Mad Hatters

Hard to believe that Saturday, August 4, 2007, was our last full day in London! For a final celebration, all of the "mature" students (except we couldn't find "old-as-dirt Mike" to invite him) decided to go out to dinner. We (Edie, Mary, me, Nancy, and Kathy -- as shown in the photo above) walked down Stamford Street past one of the funniest-named pub chains on the planet -- "The Slug and Lettuce" ( -- to a lovely hotel/restaurant that we all wished we'd found earlier -- the Mad Hatter Hotel. ( It was a fitting place to toast a most successful London adventure!

Pssst! This Is One of the Best Bookshops in London!

On Friday morning, August 3, we visited the final library on our itinerary: the Guildhall Library, which is also part of the City of London Libraries. Its printed books offer an "unrivalled collection of books on London history, topography and genealogy;" and it also has a Prints and Maps section, and Manuscripts. Best of all, the Guildhall Library Bookshop has one of the finest selection of books on London history, geography, literature, and culture that I have ever seen anywhere! (


At that super bookshop, I treated myself to a pocket paperback titled What's in a Name? The origins of station names on the London Underground and Docklands Light Rail by Cyril M. Harris. Since I'm actually finishing the last couple of days of this blog back home in Florida, I have to note that I've already had such fun learning about the names of the myriad tube stops we used all month! (The author used 43 sources, some dating as far back as 1918. So if anyone wants to know the origin of any of your favorite tube stop names, and can't find it easily with search engines or in print, please email me at and I will tell you what Mr. Harris says!)


On Friday about 4:30 p.m., the entire University of Southern Mississippi British Studies Program participants trouped their way over to a King's College auditorium at the Strand campus, for our practicum and symposium. The two-hour "wrap-up" session included short presentations by the instructors and student(s), giving highlights of what each group did during the month abroad. Miss Wright and Dr. Welsh announced our class members and their individual projects. I felt honored to have been asked by my classmates to talk for a few minutes about mine, so I showed some of the many, many exhibit notices and handouts I've collected throughout England and Scotland during this big-deal 300th birthday summer for my buddy Linnaeus!

'Hop in to Barbican Children's Library'

The title above comes from a button (adorned with a kangaroo reading a book!) that we got as a gift from the Children's Library at the City of London Barbican Library, which we visited on Thursday morning, August 2. Library director John Lake and four colleagues graciously treated us to tea and biscuits, told us about the history of the libraries of the City of London Corporation, explained its use of RFID technology, and toured us through the general section, children's section, and the amazing Music Library (which has a practice piano!) I'm also very impressed by the changing public art exhibitions and the tremendous amount of free information available by the customer services desk in the entrance lobby. If I ever had a chance to live in London, I think I might want to choose to live in the City, especially because I am now so enamored of its library system! (The photo above shows our University of Southern Mississippi British Studies Summer Program instructors, Miss Wright and Dr. Welsh, in front of the entrance to the Barbican Library.)

Saturday, 4 August 2007

Grand Time in Greenwich!

Wednesday, Aug. 1 (Yikes! August already!), we sailed down the Thames on a comfortable commuter boat to Greenwich. Our tour of the Caird Library in the National Maritime Museum was far better than anyone expected, I think! It contains more than 100,000 sea charts and maps from medieval times onward. We also got to see several artificats from its priceless Titanic archives, which were bequeathed by author Walter Lord (He wrote A Night to Remember). This photo is from a Titanic memorial garden on the grounds of the museum. I visited the famous Painted Hall, which is ''one of the finest banqueting rooms in Europe.'' It took artist Sir James Thornhill 19 years to paint, and he was basically paid peanuts for it...


I hiked 10 minutes up the hill to the Royal Observatory to have this obligatory photo taken of me astride the Prime Meridian of the World! Then, in the Time Galleries, I saw John Harrison's famous marine chronometers, as chronicled in Dava Sobel's Longitude. An added bonus is that the view of London is absolutely superb from up there!

I Love London Libraries!

From Tuesday, July 31, to Friday, Aug. 3, we went on a whirlwind tour of London libraries! On Tuesday afternoon, we were treated to an itinerary addition: a very special behind-the-scenes look at the art library at the Victoria & Albert Museum. Two lively young librarians named Jen and Jenny took us under their wing, and we explored the magnificant old building (also undergoing renovations! Surprise! Surprise!) and also looked at selections from their unique book-art collection. This photo shows Mike, Meredith, Nancy, and Kathy looking at some of the custom-made books.

More Time to Play?

An update on going to some more plays in the best theater city in the world .... I've already written about seeing ''Macbeth'' with my class in Stratford-upon-Avon, and ''Gaslight'' at the nearby Old Vic. I also was fortunate to see one of my favorite actors, David Suchet, (''Hercule Poirot'' on PBS!) in ''The Last Confession.'' The Daily Telegraph says it's a ''brilliant tale of venom in the Vatican.'' Katrina, I wonder what everyone would think about it at your alma mater, Bishop Verot High School?!!! (It makes me want to do some research on Pope John Paul I.) I also saw Somerset Maugham's ''The Letter,'' with Jenny Seagrove and Anthony Andrews. Just a coincidence, but all four plays that I saw happened to be mysterious thriller types!

Back 'Home' to London

On Monday morning, July 30, I said goodbye to Pat and Bert after they drove me to the famous Roman city of Bath, which is about half an hour from their home. (What a great section of England they live in!) I finally got to take a self-guided tour of the remains of the marvelous baths, which is another excursion that my sister Ceci took in 1988 and I had never done. The audio tour is one of the best I've listened to anywhere, and there is now even a new alternative audio tour -- author Bill Bryson gives his ''take'' on this astounding place. (


I took the train at 4 p.m. from the Bath Spa station right to Waterloo in less than three hours. Hard to believe I was back for our final week! As usual, things are really hoppin' in the big city. This replica of the Taj Mahal has been erected in Trafalgar Square as part of an India Festival. (

Nearby is the much-talked-about statue of pregnant, disabled artist Alison Lapper. According to the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, the statue ''is meant to be a tribute to motherhood and people with disabilities. The 13-tonne statue was inspired by artist Alison Lapper who was born with no arms and shortened legs due to a congenital disorder. Lapper posed naked for sculptor Marc Quinn when she was eight months' pregnant.'' London will hold its 2007 Disability Rights Festival in the square on Sept. 1

Coddled in the Cotswolds

On Friday morning, July 27, I flew from Dublin to Bristol, England, and was met by my wonderful friends Pat and Bert Gough. (They spend winters staying next door to me in Florida.) It was so great to have my mini-break with friends in their beautifully restored cottage, and to wash my clothes, have home cooking, and even be treated to a birthday cake! (Yes, on Saturday, July 28, I turned 29 again ... well, maybe it is 39...) I just love the Cotswolds, which I have read about forever but had never seen. One evening I had delicious fish and chips with Pat and Bert and their son Simon, and his children Jessica and Nick. I also had a diet-busting Christmas pudding for dessert, which Pat and Bert happened to have in their cupboard! (It was a gift that I don't think anyone else had wanted to eat.)


Pat and Bert's little village has about 600 people and is near Chipping Sodbury (where J.K. Rowling was born. No blue plaque on any house there yet, however!) Pat and I walked down the street to see their ancient village church, called St. James the Elder. Every morning I woke up to the sound of people riding by on their horses! Much of it really takes one back in time... Pat and Bert (actually Bert was the extremely energetic chauffeur) also drove me all over the place and we saw some of the flooding which recently devastated much of Gloucestershire (though luckily not Horton). They sure have a nice retirement -- part of the time in Florida and the rest of the time in their Cotswolds cottage!

Dublin for a Day

Ultra-cheap airline RyanAir more than ''encouraged'' me to fly over to Dublin, even though my mini-break schedule allowed me to stay there for just a day. (I had already made plans to visit my friends in the Cotswolds.) On Thursday morning, July 26, Kathy, Edie, Nancy and I flew to a much rainier and colder city than we had experienced thus far! Kathy and I booked a room at the Tulip Inn near the airport, to be able to leave the next morning. (Edie and Nancy booked a room in a castle outside the city, as they were staying longer in Ireland.)


The four of us took the Dublin Sightseeing City Tour in the afternoon, and the 90-minute bus ride gave me a good feel for the city, even though I kept falling asleep! That evening, Kathy and I saw ''Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix'' and walked around the city a bit more. We stopped by the centrally located but still sort of controversial ''Spire of Dublin.'' (It is officially called the ''Monument of Light'' but apparently has lots of nicknames....) The stainless steel monument was supposed to have been finished for the millenium but was not completed until 2003, and is 120 meters (393 feet) high. Of course I got really dizzy looking up at it!

More Explorations Around Edinburgh

Edie and I continued our explorations around Edinburgh, including visiting the enormous National Museum of Scotland, which is embarking upon a 15-year renovation plan! (Most of the museums and libraries we visited throughout the U.K. seem to be undergoing refurbishment and/or expansion!) The Scottish museum currently has a world-class exhibit (through Oct. 28, 2007) called ''Weaving Words: The Art of Anna S. King.'' The talented fiber artist even experiments with handmade paper and tiny books, in addition to weaving with feathers and buttons.


Scotland is naturally proud of its recent devolution from England, and I really like the new Parliament building that is at the bottom of the Royal Mile across from Holyrood House. Some people might not find it to their taste, but architect Enric Miralles said he wanted it to ''sit in the land'' and have stones from the old brewery and other buildings previously on the site. (The photo above shows part of Parliament at right, across from the Queen's Gallery, which is connected to Holyrood House.)

Exploring Edinburgh


It is astonishing how much there is to do in Edinburgh, especially considering that it is the capital of a country with only 5 million inhabitants. During our free time, Edie and I went on a tour of the royal yacht Britannia, which was decommissioned in 1997 and is now set up as a charitable trust in Edinburgh's port of Leith. The Scotsman says it is ''Scotland's favorite day trip'' and I can see why -- it is fascinating for those with royalty and/or nautical interests. (This photo shows me by the bar in the royal family's sun lounge.)

National Library and Archives of Scotland


Monday, July 23, was an exciting day because our group attended fascinating lecture/tours at the National Library of Scotland in the morning, and at the National Archives in the afternoon. (Photo shows a hanging sculpture in the library lobby.) And both times we were treated with wonderful Scottish hospitality of tea and biscuits. The big news at the National Library (which takes in about 8,000 items per week!) is that the John Murray Archive has just opened. It features a changing line-up of ''the writers and thinkers of John Murray's publishing firm (who) shaped the modern world through their works of literature, science, exploration, and politics.'' Currently included are Byron, Isabella Bird Bishop, Darwin, Disraeli, David Livingstone, Robert Peel, and Sir Walter Scott. According to our personable guide, senior curator David McClay, one Darwin manuscript in the Murray collection is worth £100,000!


The National Archives of Scotland is undergoing a massive digitization project and is already up to 7 million documents. It is working with the Genealogical Society of Utah. The archives owns records dating back to the 12th century, and its holdings take up 70 km of space! Included are sasines (land registry), Church of Scotland records, Poor Relief registers, and wills and testaments. We saw some very interesting items, including a scroll from the 1400's that first mentions (in Latin) the sale of whisky. I also realized from a 19th century cookery book that a Cox's Orange Pippin refers to the apple variety.

Thursday, 2 August 2007

Literary Connections Throughout the City

In the city, it's a treat to come upon the Greyfriars Bobby statue, which was erected in 1981. Wikipedia says: ''Bobby belonged to night watchman John Gray, and they were inseparable for about two years. Gray died of TB in 1858 and was buried in Greyfriars Kirkyard. ... Bobby, who survived Gray by 14 years, spent the rest of his life sitting on his master's grave. A more realistic account has it that he spent a great deal of time at the grave, but left regularly for meals at a restaurant beside the graveyard, and may have spent colder winters in nearby houses.'' (

Several of us also stopped in at The Elephant House, which urges its patrons to ''experience the same atmosphere that J.K. Rowling did as she mulled over a coffee writing her first Harry Potter novel.'' I can't wait to see what future best-selling tomes my colleagues are penning, as you can see in this photo!

On Wednesday morning, July 25, our class went to the Writers' Museum (pictured above) on the historic Royal Mile. It has quite comprehensive exhibits on ''three of Scotland's best-known writers'': Robert Burns, Sir Walter Scott, and Robert Louis Stevenson. There is also space for temporary exhibits and I was thrilled to see that the current one is on mystery writer and Edinburgh native Ian Rankin. It is called ''Rankin & Rebus: Partners in Crime. Celebrating 20 Years of Inspector Rebus.'' (I have seen lots of the shows on PBS and now I realize there is only one problem: I have a whole new series of books that I'll just HAVE to read!)

Academic Activities and Adventures


We had three days and four nights in Edinburgh, and the days were made up of a combination of scheduled academic activities and free time and/or research time. My classmates and I explored Princes Street and much of the central city. Its skyline is, of course, dominated by the famous castle and the Walter Scott monument, which are shown above. And yes, the sound of bagpipes often wafts throughout the city! This photo of a bagpiper came out a little dark as it was a bit cloudy, but for the most part, the weather was just as lovely and sunny as it had been during our weeks in London.

Edifying Edinburgh: July 22-26


Edinburgh was a terrific choice for our group's out-of-London trip! I hadn't been there since January of 1975, and had sort of forgotten that it is definitely one of the most beautiful cities in Europe. We rode up in a brand-new, luxury coach and watched DVDs as the English countryside turned into Scotland. Our spacious dorms were at the University of Edinburgh, just a mile or so from the center of the city at the base of Arthur's Seat (a craig or mini-mountain). We were treated to delicious Scottish breakfasts each morning -- including salmon, baked beans, tomatoes, and porridge. (This photo shows Edie and Nancy at the border, where our bus driver kindly made a quick stop.)