Migrating, Moving and Mid-life Mayhem

Well, I have a updates for you.  Remember back, back, back in time when I warned you a website migration was coming?  This is the week it happens,  so if you log on to see if I’ve done anything productive this past week, you’ll be redirected to my new website.  Since this migration involves technology and a million moving parts, you can guarantee a few bumps in the road….broken links, bizarrely categorized posts and other weirdness.  I’m sorry and I promise it will all be sorted as soon as possible.

Beverly Hillbillies Moving Day

Beverly Hillbillies Moving Day

I’m moving to a new flat in London.  It’s a long story and starts with “You can’t fit seven people in a two bedroom flat the size of a closet even on a temporary basis.”  or  “As much as I love people-watching at the posh club across the street, the 3am drunken anthems under my window and late night cab vs. limo  wars are getting on my last damn nerve.”  More to follow.

It’s my birthday week and I’m looking forward to some Funfetti cake and a few cocktails to kick off a mid-life crisis.

Thanks so much for following me and I’ll see you on the other side.

Best,

Megan

 

 

Happy Birthday, Prince of Cambridge

After the new little Prince of Cambridge was born, photographers were ready to pack up their tents and cameras and head home. Even they are tired of standing around talking about nothing  20 hours a day.  The crowds have thinned a bit at St. Mary’s Hospital, but not at the Palace.  I walked through Green Park this morning and saw thousands of people crowding the gates, hoping to glimpse the Royal Birth Announcement (PS, it’s quite small a la the Mona Lisa effect).

London Eye/ Jordon Lee/Twitter

London Eye/ Jordon Lee/Twitter

It’s been a fabulous few days. Patriotic colors spun around the edge of the London Eye in celebration and the BT Tower proclaimed “It’s A Boy!”   It was a celebration all round the world.

Tip:  to avoid this, always stay North of the rope in Green Park

Tip: to avoid this, always stay North of the rope in Green Park 🙂

Today, crowds piled into Green Park and the Tower of London to witness two Royal Gun Salutes.  The  Green Park salute was a 41 gun salute, twenty more than the traditional celebratory 21 gun because it takes place in a Royal Park.  There are rules, you know.  The Tower was 62 guns…the standard 21, plus 20 for a Royal fortress and an additional 21 as a tribute from the City of London.  Got it? It is a spectacular thing to watch.  The band marched entertained the waiting crowd with a weird playlist that included the theme from Indiana Jones and a few Star Wars numbers, rounded out with Rule, Britannia.  Not sure what that all means, but it kept everyone quiet.  A few minutes before 2:00pm, The Kings Troop Royal Horse Artillery came barreling down  Green Park on horseback, caissons in tow , disengaged the guns and kept riding on.  If you’re wondering why I posted the YouTube video instead of my own, it’s because I had my camera on the wrong setting for the 45 seconds it took them to ride by.  Yes, I was sad/mad. Still am, but enjoy the concept.

Kings Troop Royal Horse Artillery

Kings Troop Royal Horse Artillery

Happy Birthday, Little Prince.

Following Anne Boleyn

I’m no expert on Anne Boleyn.  I’m more of an Anne Boleyn sympathizer.  I glean information about Anne from multiple questionable sources, ie  The Horrible History series I read to my kids, the epic and very racy television series,The Tudors and a song about Henry’s wives my kids learned in primary school. I can’t really remember how it goes…

Hever Castle

Lucky for me, my passionate retelling of the Horrible History books and a quick recap of The Tudors was enough to convince everyone to come with me to Hever Castle in Kent, the childhood home of Anne Boleyn.

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Anne Boleyn (2nd wife of Henry VIII) spent her childhood at Hever Castle before attending Court in the Netherlands and France. Her ambitious father, Thomas Bullen (Boleyn) pushed Ann into King Henry VIII’s Court when Henry tired of having Anne’s sister, Mary, as a mistress. Anne was in love with Sir Percy, however, and was heartbroken when her match to Percy was denied. Anne left Court and returned to Hever Castle to nurse her broken heart where Henry VIII, enamored with Anne’s charm, wit and intelligence, visited her there often. She rebuffed his romantic advances and refused to become his mistress, which clearly motivated Henry to redouble his efforts to annul his marriage to Catherine.  Eventually, as we all know, Henry VIII broke ties with the Catholic Church and married Anne. He fathered one living child with Anne before he tired of her.  She was tried and convicted on a number of questionable charges and beheaded in May of 1536 to make way for Henry VIII”s third wife, Jane Seymour.

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The house was eventually given to Henry’s fourth wife, Anne of Cleves, as compensation for the marital annulment after Henry decided Anne of Cleves was incredibly unattractive and refused to consummate the marriage.  Hever Castle passed through a number of families after Anne of Cleves’ death before falling into complete ruin, a sad state for a place that played a role in changing the course of English history.  John Jacob Astor, a wealthy American, purchased and restored the house and gardens n 1903.

It’s easy to imagine Anne wandering the grounds as a child or hiding from/with Henry in the hedgerows.  Supposedly, Anne’s ghost still wanders over the lovely wooden bridge and around the garden (without Henry) during Christmastime.

Photo via onthetudortrail.com

Photo via onthetudortrail.com

The house itself contains an extensive collection of artwork and antiques highlighting the Castle’s role in English history (no photos allowed, sadly).  I loved standing in Anne’s tiny bedroom, staring out the window and reading Anne’s prayer books, one of which she took to her execution. Love letters sent between Henry and Anne hang on the wall. They loved each other once-upon-a-time.

It seemed to me a bit insensitive to highlight Henry VIII so boldly throughout the property.  He did, after all, execute the woman who lived here.  Yet, his portraits and likenesses hang the Long Gallery and the Inner Hall and one of his gilded, personal locks hangs on the door of the Dining Room. Henry’s bedchamber has an original Tudor carved ceiling and a glorious, canopied bed.  If only walls could talk….

Le Temps Viendra   Anne Boleyn  "The Time Will Come"

Le Temps Viendra Anne Boleyn “The Time Will Come”

Things to Know

Hever Castle lies appx 35 miles from London, southeast of Edenbridge in West Kent. It was our first stop on a multi-day trip to the Southeast.  If you want to drive, consider taking the train/tube to the outskirts of London and picking up your car there. I didn’t follow my own advice, and it ended in a very long drive and  a few minor domestic disputes en route. If you’d rather go by train, check the link here to find out more.

Hever Castle is currently owned by a commercial venture, instead of a private family.  I was initially wary about having  a “faux” castle experience (you know what I mean) but was pleasantly surprised. The Castle was wonderfully presented.  The gardens are spectacular and the grounds have activities for children and grownups….archery, walking trails, camping (shudder) and mazes.  Beware the wet maze.  It’s called the WET maze for a reason.  The Mister was not amused.

The Castle opens later than the grounds, so time your visit accordingly. Check rates and times here  before you go. You can spend the night on the castle grounds by contacting the Hever Castle Bed and Breakfast.

If you have an interest in Anne Boleyn, you should also plan visits to Hampton Court Palace, the Tower of London and Blickling Hall.

If you have good reading recommendations about Anne, I’d love to hear them!    

Secret Tunnels and Covert Operations

The nice thing about having houseguests is the opportunity to play tourist in one’s own country. We took advantage of the odd day off last week and dragged our most recent visitor to Canterbury and Dover, a part of the country we hadn’t yet explored.

Dover Castle stands sentry over the White Cliffs of Dover, a strategically significant spot since before the Iron Age.  Duke William of Normandy built the first castle at Dover, but it was King Henry II that undertook the building of the Great Tower in 1179.  Henry supposedly built the tower to impress important visitors on their way to Canterbury Cathedral, although it’s position on the hill allowed Henry II to observe, impress or threaten anyone sailing across the Straits of Dover from the mainland, a mere 21 miles away. The darker historians imply King Henry built this castle to assuage his guilt about his role in the murder of Thomas Becket.  

Churchill At Dover Castle © Imperial War Museum

Churchill At Dover Castle © Imperial War Museum

In successive centuries, Dover Castle withstood Civil, Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars, expanding and modernizing after each conflict.  Dover Castle didn’t make its lasting mark on history until World War II, when its secret war tunnels buried into the hills beneath Dover Castle became the nerve center for an extraordinary event.

In May 1940, advancing German troops pushed British, French and Belgian soldiers onto the beaches at Dunkirk, France.  Over 400,000 soldiers were trapped on the beach with the sea in front of  them and the advancing German army behind them.  As this horrifying situation slowly unfolded, Admiral Sir Bertram Home Ramsay began planning troop evacuations… code-named Operation Dynamo.  Ramsay estimated 45,000 of the 400,000 trapped troops could be rescued. The unfortunate soldiers left behind faced certain capture or annihilation at the hands of German troops.

At 18:57 26 May 1940, Operation Dynamo commenced.  British military vessels were able to evacuate 7,669 men on the first day of the mission.  Day two, 11,874.  On day 3, the pace of rescue quickened as the “little ships”  joined British destroyers in the rescue effort.  Lifeboats, pleasure craft, tugboats and barges manned by old men and young boys sailed from ports throughout England, Scotland and Wales to help ferry troops from the beach to the rescue ships or back across the sea.  Other soldiers “held the line” against the advancing Germans at great cost, giving their fellow soldiers a chance at escape. By the end of Operation Dynamo on June 4th, 338, 226 men had been rescued.

Entrance to the secret tunnels at Dover Castle

Entrance to the secret tunnels at Dover Castle

The planning for Operation Dynamo took place in the subterranean tunnels dug into the hills at Dover Castle. Now open to the public after an extensive renovation, the tunnels offer a chance to explore the nerve center for Operation Dynamo.

Operations Room

Operations Room

Visitors begin their guided visit by walking down into an underground bunker room, where they must await “orders” before proceeding to a operational brief in an adjacent bunker.  Multimedia presentations, preservation and restoration of the underground tunnel system brings the experience to life.  A fabulous piece of history in a unusual location.

Things to Know

Current rules prohibit photography.  There are a privileged few that have English Heritage permission to photograph the site. You can view their photos of the War Tunnels here.

Dover Castle is an all-day outing.  In addition to the Wartime Tunnels, there are medieval tunnels, the restored Great Tower, the Regimental Museum, the underground hospital, an Anglo-Saxon church and the battlements.  The Castle is a 10 minute drive from the White Cliffs of Dover.

Admission was a bit steep (£44.20 for a family) , so we opted to purchase an English Heritage membership that day.  The cost of one day’s admission was half the cost of a full year membership and allows free admission to over 400 English Heritage properties.

The tours into the Secret Wartime Tunnels are guided to ensure no one gets lost in the winding maze of passageways down below.  The timing of the last tour varies, so check with the visitor’s desk when you purchase your tickets.

You can actually stay at the castle!  Peverell’s Tower offers self-catering accommodation for two.  The Sergeant Major’s House accommodates 6+ .  I’m a little bit sad we didn’t stay there….maybe next time.

Check times, dates and details before you go.

I Missed You, London (but not really)

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I knew it was going to be a perfect morning for my last walk with the dogs. The sun was streaming through the big front windows and a heavy mist hung low over the fields and wrapped around the church tower in the distance.  My week of housesitting in the country was coming to an end. I pulled on my wellies and tattered old Barbour, leashed the dogs and headed down to the fields. I thought about the past week, the serendipitous moments, the theraputic hours spent walking the fields and woods with two appreciative and affectionate dogs. I thought I would miss London.  I didn’t.

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I’m convinced my first English housesitting experience was unusual.  The location was spectacular… a small, country village on the outskirts of Salisbury, the lovely old vicarage that overlooked sheep-speckled fields and two beautiful labradors to keep me company. My job was to take care of the house and the two dogs, walk them daily and keep general order around the property.

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My mornings consisted of waking and feeding the dogs, chugging a cup of coffee and trying to choose which of the dozen scenic walks we would take that morning.  There is something to be said about crunching through the hoar-covered fields and ancient forests just as the sun hits the horizon.  Clears the head.  Accentuates the need for more coffee.  Afternoons were much the same…a long ramble, a quick walk through town for stops at the butcher or green grocer before heading home for dinner and a night snuggled up on the sofa in front of a fire.

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On the weekend, The Mister came to play the role of country gentleman and our daughter came to visit.  We piled the dogs into the car and explored the neighboring towns on Saturday and drove to the beach on a beautiful, sunny almost-spring day. Sound like heaven?  It gets better.

My  first morning in town, the doorbell rang.  I opened it to find a neighbor, who stopped by to see if I needed anything.  We shared a cup of tea and a chat before he was off with a promise to return if  anything came up while the owners were gone. The shopkeepers in town were lovely and helpful.  They called you “luv” and asked if I was”enjoying my time here.” Strangers on the street said “hello” and “you’re a long way from home.”   In my first three days of housesitting, I had two coffee dates, one tea afternoon, two lunches and an invitation to church on Sunday. I met an ex-Royal Navy pilot, numerous retired clergymembers, a woman who was in the midwifery corps that inspired the Call the Midwife series and someone who had, in addition to an amazingly interesting life, Hugh Bonneville as a student (just mentioned in passing).  Somehow I had landed in the Lake Wobegone of England. In addition to everyone in town being good-looking and above average, they were interesting, kind, generous and neighborly. It was unexpected, undeserved and much appreciated.

There were moments that weren’t perfect. I forgot the poo bags on my first walk and had to walk a half mile with a warm poo wrapped in a receipt I found in my pocket.  I managed to blow a fuse in the kitchen the first evening. I stood on the toilet with a flashlight in my teeth and yanked the fuse out with enough force that it ricocheted off the wall and cracked into two pieces.  I did get to meet the electrical supply people in town, though.  They were very nice. There was a trip to the vet and a silly issue with a car key (by silly, I mean I was being completely stupid).  Life is interesting, isn’t it?

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So, I’m back in the city, missing the country, needing a dog and a few friendly faces.  Maybe I can talk the owners into an extended vacation.