Herewith begins the account of England 2023, part 2. Oh what a treat I have for you.

At the moment I am in the gazebo, back, reeling from a 22 hour travel day in which I think I got two or three hours of thin sleep. Birch is by my side having adjusted in a trice to my return after an exultant welcome; Wife is asleep. After midnight local time; 6:12 AM by body time. I don't think I've ever had a day like today, with such fraught travel contrusions - but that's Friday. For now we rewind the clock and return to last Sunday, when this opportunity of a lifetime began. So:

Destination: Swiss Cottage! Wikipedia:

According to the Dictionary of London Place Names (2001), the district is named after an inn called The Swiss Tavern that was built in 1804 in the style of a Swiss chalet on the site of a former tollgate keeper's cottage, and later renamed Swiss Inn and in the early 20th century Swiss Cottage.

We are not there yet. We have not yet begun. We are in Minnesota, and I think this proves that assertion:

At present I am consulting with a marvelous thing, canned wine. It resets your expectations with crisp precision. As it happens I know this particular brand - notice I didn’t say vintage, because such terms ought not apply in the realm of things like canned wine - so I am neither deceived, surprised, or dismayed. It’s a dry solid red and that is all I asked of life right now.

The gate agent, reading the list of people whose passport needed to be checked, just called “Bradley Frankenstein.” As usual, the gate agent in charge of making announcements does not appear to be a native speaker of English, and is a timid woman. The idea that someone who staffs the PA should be able to be understood seems like a relic from a more sensible aide.

The wine should ease me into a sleep. That’s the hope. I rose early, had my last cup of coffee in the morn, walked the length of the airport. I had a hamburger at a fast casual restaurant, and asked for pepper.

“It’s around the corner.”

Me: “No, it’s not. There’s salt, and there’s sugar, but there isn’t any pepper.”

Counterperson: “We’re out of pepper.”

Me: “You’re out of pepper.”

Counter person to manager: “Are we out of pepper?”

Manager: “Yeah.”

Me: “A burger restaurant, and you’re out of pepper.”

Manager: “Don’t have any.”

This is not a completely accurate transcription; I’m making them sound more articulate and compassionate than they were.

Elsewhere, there were donuts. I don’t know about you, but I’m not entirely attracted to dripping donuts.

Anyway, I am at the gate and to my distress I could fall asleep now. This is not good. I have to power through supper before I slip off to Lethe. Oh - they just announced the plane will be landing early, which means less time to not-sleep, I guess. Six and a half magic hours!

5:55 PM On the plane, but that doesn’t quite mean what it used to. After sitting around for 15 minutes we are heading back to the gate for a minor maintenance check.

I wonder what that’s code for.

4:25 AM I think I got two hours. That might be enough. I certainly can’t go back to sleep now, tired as I am; nothing seems to work. Not deep breathing or white noise or getting up and punching the two ladies who are standing in the aisle jabbering about some nonsense, unaware that everyone else is trying to sleep. I am also between two toddlers, one in front and one to my right, and each seems to be alternating its pants-filling sequences, so the perfume back here in the 40s is just great.

I have just hit the FARG IT point, ordered coffee, switched off the chill and the ambient and fired up the Beethoven. The map on the back of the seat puts us halfway over the Atlantic.

Dinner, by the way, was very good; Butter Chicken. Alas, a confused salad - chunks of tomato and mozzarella with a few fronds. I’m sure it has a name. I think I fell asleep immediately afterwards, with just a few chin-on-sternum jolts.

Let us all agree that Monday will, indeed, bite the wax tadpole, but on the other hand, I’ll be in England.











9:44 AM And I am in England!

Exciting tales of Heathrow? I have no exciting tales except that I like being accustomed to it. The main area is nice and buzzy and cosmopolitan. The side terminals are, compared to the constant offerings of an American airport, dumpy and underutilized. After I had claimed my bag and recombobulated, I went down a big lift to the Elizabeth Line station. I used to sweep into town on the Heathrow Express, but those days are over because that was a needless expense. Yes, it delivers you to Paddington station in 15 minutes. The Elizabeth Line does the same in 30, for a third of the price. I had to take it one stop beyond anyway, to here:

Then the Jubilee Line to the oddly named Swiss Cottage stop, where my hotel is.

The hotel is on a nice street . . .

But the minute you take a close look you know you’re in for a rather careworn experience. The public rooms are nice enough and seem to exist for the sole reason of having something nice to put online and in the brochures. We'll get to that.

A coffin elevator took me to the third floor, after which - having minded the step about six times, these places are always cobbled together and have irregular floors everywhere - I had to drag my bag up the steps to the fourth floor, and then I saw my palatial retreat:

Well, it’ll do. It’s just so damned hot. I don’t think it’s been aired out since the Blitz.

Now what? Walk. I walked to the Regent’s Park.




The city is far away.

Hey, I bet no one ever noticed this before

This about a mile and a half, which is nothing, except when you’re on two hours of sleep. I made it back, bought a sandwich at M&S, inhaled it in my room, then said “30 minutes. Sleep. 30 minutes. That’s what they recommend. No more.”

Two hours later I had to pry myself from the bed as if slathered in epoxy, and took two cups of coffee to restore some semblance of order and presence. ( By the way, I brought a box of Folger's in teabag form, so I didn't have to deal with Nestle's Crystals, which in the case of my room are all decaf. Sigh) Once I was slightly back to normal, I went back to the Underground and had a swift if screechy trip to Baker Street. Where, of course, you have to do the things. Pay homage.

I decided to walk to the British Museum for a quick look at the plundered rubble, so I set off along a familiar street.

As many times as I'd been down the street, though, I'd never stepped into the church. Marylebone.

It was built to the designs of Thomas Hardwick in 1813–17. The present site is the third used by the parish for its church. The first was further south, near Oxford Street. The church there was demolished in 1400 and a new one erected further north. This was completely rebuilt in 1740–42, and converted into a chapel-of-ease when Hardwick's church was constructed.

Let's pay a visit.

Memorials of aching sadness.

This memorial was tucked in the back behind sound equipment. Seems disrespectful, somehow.

  We can find a few things. He looked like this, for example.

The stained glass window . . .

Says it’s made of fragments blasted out by the Blitz.

A lovely old place.


I decided to walk to the British Museum for a quick look at the plundered rubble, so I set off along a familiar street. This is where we first stayed when we came to London, the three of us, in . . . 2016? I think so. That was the grand trip, Iceland / Paris / England. The last of the big family vacations. Sigh. The last time I’d been on this street was last year’s trip with Natalie; we stayed at the old familiar hotel (which was a bit better than this, but had its issues) and drank at the Prince of Wales Feathers and had a pizza down the street and a Thai meal around the corner. The hotel was right next to the first Cafe Nero I ever visited, and it became my favorite coffee chain right on the spot. (Costa, no.)

So I got my walk and greenspace and museum and musty church. Boces ticked. Absolutely knackered.

TOMORROW: old rocks, and a familiar face staring across the centuries. Believe me, there's more. So much more.