On the plane home from Alaska and Lady Baby, I read nearly all of V.S. Pritchett’s “London Perceived.” It’s an old book, first published in 1962 – a few years before I attended a university in the north of England for a year. I wish I’d read it then (I went in 1965) because with the myopia of youth, I thought the war was forever earlier. Now I realize it was only 20 years earlier.
Pritchett does describe the London I found then – full of burned and bombed blocks turned magenta by rosebay willow herb – the flower we call fireweed, the Thames dirty, and the air so polluted it grimed buildings and one’s face after a day in the city.
I often went to London for the weekend in that university year. I’d hitchhike down the motorway with another student, accepting rides in huge lorries (do not tell this to Lady Baby – times have changed so much). It was the 60s, and on top of its history London was “happening.” I loved it. And have loved it ever since on trips with my family.
Late last fall the mother of my young friend in Anchorage (my friend is 12 now), my good-natured husband, and I hatched a plan to visit London during school spring break. An adventure so rare and unlikely, it has cheered our thinking all winter.
I wondered how to talk about this trip on “Her spirits rose…” so rather than waiting till home to absorb and write, I decided to keep a London diary on the iPad – a record day-by-day of the highlights of our trip.
A few days into the trip (unrecorded days), on a day-trip to Oxford, we saw a fence protecting a construction site for the Bodleian Library. On the fence’s blank surfaces, the Library had enlarged images of treasures from its holdings in an alphabet list. Our young friend posed in front of “T is for Tolkien.”
A trip to England is much about language and literature. Already thinking about the pleasures of words – seeing the fence planted a seed, and the next morning I woke up thinking – aah! A London alphabet – an organizing principle for a travel tale!