We met Ingrid in her favourite Portsmouth tea shop, All About Tea. What an abundance of brilliant teas! I made an excellent choice with my white tea called Snow Dragon, my new favourite.
It was a real sea-sidey sort of day so we had a lovely walk (and another cuppa!) along the waterfront. People were out in their shorts or summer frocks eating ice cream and sunning themselves. We enjoyed the pebble beach and seaside atmosphere. On the TV evening news there were huge reports about heatwaves and massive ice cream sales and interviews with happy vendors expecting a bumper summer. The temperature had reached 18 degrees!
We had a great night at the Still and West with Ingrid’s housemates and a group of my very old friends. I hadn’t seen them for over thirty years, such a lovely night! Somehow Steve Hatton was volunteered to give us a potted history tour of Portsmouth first thing next morning. It was totally fascinating and renewed my appreciation of the strategic significance of this southern English port city – thanks Steve!
Our drive to London detoured along the coast via Bognor Regis and past an old Butlins Holiday Camp (amazing that it still exists!) to Worthing where Gary and his family spent a year during the 1980s. Again, the seaside resorts looked little different from those I knew as a child. A pier, fortune teller, groins protecting the beach against erosion, ice cream shops and many Victorian hotels and guest houses along the esplanade.
The day was even hotter than before (we were super impressed when it reached 26 degrees!) and had a lovely leisurely pub lunch in the sun. The South Downs were as beautiful as I remembered them but the roads were busier than ever.
Our first major outing in London was to to see the Magna Carta 800th Anniversary exhibition at the British Library. As well as two original copies of the Magna Carta we saw original copies of the American Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Bill of Rights. I’d always known the importance of the Magna Carta but hadn’t fully appreciated the extent of its influence on the development of democracy around the world. One of the very best exhibitions I’ve ever seen! And in the library books, books, books!
The British Library itself was just as brilliant – I absolutely loved the exhibition of Treasures of the British Library including original copies of composers (Bach, Beethoven, Chopin….), songs by the Beatles and many others, a conceptual scene outline sketch for Madama Butterfly, authors including Thomas Hardy and Jane Austin, the Lindisfarne Gospel and ancient copies of the Koran, the list is endless and we only had time to look at a fraction of what was on display. To think we’d walked straight past there so many times!
Lunch was at Mabel’s, our favourite London pub and we spent the afternoon exploring Trafalgar Square and the Tate Gallery.
We also meandered past the Marquis, the Covent Garden pub where Tamsin and later Christian had worked and found great bookshops within narrow London lanes.
When we were in London 18 months ago I thought the posters I saw in the Tube for The Lion King were historical relics, so I was delighted this time to find it was still on in the West End. What a treat it was to see it at last!
On our very last day we decided to explore St Paul’s Cathedral, somewhere I remember going on junior school excursions. I even managed to climb up the 257 steps to the Whispering Gallery again! Everyone gets an audio tour as part of the ticket price and I’m now totally sold on guided tours even though it was very religion focused.
We walked in the sunshine along the Thames and found a nice patisserie for afternoon tea. And then it was time for a quick trip back to our lovely digs to fetch our bags and say our goodbyes….too sad for photos – I’ll miss Ingrid and also London and our wonderful English friends.