The Norman Conquest

The National Protrait Gallery
This is my fourth time in London. I have been to this metropolis twice as much as New York or DC. Coming to London is a comfort station, a hometown of sorts. John’s parents are from rural areas outside of the City, and so our experience is like the family coming to the fold. We did not intend to take in the tourist sights; however, the first day we went to the National Portrait Gallery. Primarily, we needed/wanted a clean bathroom, and why not see some greats! Cezanne, Renoir, and a favorite: “Sunflowers” by Van Gogh. 

The last time I was in NY, I had the fortune of seeing “The Starry Night.” I am a toss-up fan between Cezanne and Van Gogh. Regardless, I could see all and with space. The beautiful part of Covid travel is the lack of crowds, it was glorious to have The Gallery with more than enough breathing room to appreciate the art from a proper distance.

Just as we arrived, my daughter came down with a sinus infection. Living in the dorms, the Brits call it a “freshie” (as in freshman cold). She actually was really glad to have her momma there to help navigate her first cold in a foreign country. We knew it wasn’t Covid. (There was lots of testing going on.)

The Bell
Our hotel, My Bloomsbury, (the Hotel rooms look nothing like the photos on the website) was on top of Tottenham Court Road, an epicenter of sorts, near the Central and Northern line of The Tube station. It was a doable hotel. The price reflective of the carpet stains and lumpy bed. No daily service, short rolls of TP, no tissues, and all on a noisy road below and pigeons above. Our only source of fresh-air were three narrow, screenless windows. It wasn’t until day three that I discovered a fan system to mask the nightly cacophony and keep our room cool. The hotel stay included croissants and juice from the coffee shop next door, Gail’s Bakery (a chain), but not the coffee. It worked. It was enough so we could get going, and buy a stupidly small amount of coffee. Europeans consider “American” coffee diluted. Give me a big cup I can savor over a shot of espresso any day.

The Manager of The Bell
On the second day, we travelled by train to the County of Staffordshire. John’s father’s family lives nearby, and once farmed this region for generations. Gone are the Bennet farmers, and the farm sold. Renters now live in the old farmhouse on Marston Lane. Currently, it is owned by British Railways, while they extend a travel line. Because of the new rails, it will probably lose some value, but the community around is expanding exponentially. Evidently, Londoners don’t want to live in cities anymore, either.

Interned in a small church graveyard, we visited John’s grandparents. We had hoped to come back next year and renew our vows for our 25th Wedding Anniversary. Shamefully, this little parish has roof damage and black mold issues. As sweet as the idea, it is not suitable for something so contrived.

Marston Lane
From this trip down memory lane, we moved on to a Sunday brunch in Eccleshall, at The Bell Inn. This quaint British pub was once owned by John’s Grandparents; his octogenarian uncle was born on the third floor. Now, it is owned by a pub-chain. The manager was very accommodating, and the food was nearly a Thanksgiving feast. À propos for our breaking-bread with long-lost family, several distant cousins, and the next generation joined the gathering. John’s brother, our daughter and a twelve yo girl named Saffron, among them all — we were very thankful.

With full bellies needing a stretch, we walked the length of Stone Road to the Holy Trinity Church. A lovely gothic stone cathedral, with all the trimmings, stained glass and a pipe organ. This was where Grandpa Arnold was a choirboy. The church dates back later than the 13th Century, but the Doomsday book places this estate with St. Chad, and a 7th Century Bishop of Lichfield. Could be really cool to renew our vows in a Norman Church. Here’s the thing, my mother’s maiden name is Hibbard, John’s mother’s maiden name is Hebbard. Both are derivatives of Hildebert — they were the guardsman of William the Conqueror. Norman is in our blood!

Taking the train from London to Stafford and back is easy. It is very pleasant to take to the Countryside, and see sheep eating clover along the way. Wild hops and lavender dot the landscape along the rails, and across the train station in Stafford is a lovely English garden/park with an aviary. Little parks make the English countryside quaint. We ended with a cup o’ tea surrounded by family just prior to boarding our railcar and heading back to town. I might have fallen asleep on the way.