We went to Trinity yesterday for the Family Christmas Eve service. When it was time for the sermon, Father Mark called all the children to sit on the steps with him in the front of the church. We persuaded Link to go up there too.
Father Mark started out by asking the children about the meaning of Christmas. The first little girl said, “It’s about Jesus.” Then I noticed Link with his hand raised. A feeling of foreboding washed over me. Then Father Mark asked another child to answer and got an appropriate, church-worthy response. Link’s hand was still up. Another child, another wholesome response. Link was straining to be seen, his arm thrust skyward. Finally he called on Link, who said, “My daddy likes to open presents.” The whole place cracked up.
Then Father Mark called out, “Where is your daddy?” Alex reluctantly raised his hand. “Why don’t you come up here, too?”
So Alex and Link got to help with the props for the rest of the sermon. And now Link knows the true meaning of Christmas (and so does Alex).
We woke up early on Friday to catch our 9am train to London King’s Cross from Northallerton. We left Link with Granny (who was making him some oatmeal) and PopPop took us to the station. Link was indifferent to our departure, though I think we got hugs before we left.
I’ve tried to press Granny into service to write about their time with Link while Alex and I were in London. I have pictures to post in any case.
The train ride was 2 hours. We had assigned seats at a table, and the ride was uneventful. I watched the farmland give way to the more industrial areas as we got further south. We got to King’s Cross station right on time, and went inside. There was a huge line for oyster cards, so we waited in the shorter line for the machines. When we got to the front, we found that the machines didn’t sell the 3 day passes, so we ended up in the longer line anyway. Once we got to the window, the clerk recommended a pay as you go pass instead, since we were traveling off peak anyway*. We got our oyster cards and headed to the hotel.
The hotel was great. We stayed at the Royal Lancaster, which turned out to be in the same building as the Lancaster Gate tube station. It’s right across the street from Hyde Park. We were a bit early and our room wasn’t ready, so we dropped off the suitcase with the porter and headed into Hyde park. The weather was beautiful, so we walked through Hyde park and over to Harrods to get our souvenir shopping out of the way early.
While we were at Harrods we spent a while checking out the toy department. They had a fantastic model train selection, but Alex didn’t buy anything. We got Link a Corgi Police car though. Alex had fond memories of Corgis from his childhood. We didn’t buy him the obligatory double-decker bus, because he already had two.
We were pretty hungry by that time, but I didn’t really want to spend a pile of money to eat at a counter at Harrods, so we headed up Piccadilly to Fortnum and Mason. Joan had asked that we bring her some coffee back from there, also one of the guide books had recommended having tea at the St. James Restaurant inside. We passed on the champagne, but had tea, little sandwiches, scones and pastries. It was very fancy and a perfect touristy thing to do. While we ate and drank, we made our plans for the rest of the afternoon**. We picked up Granny’s coffee on the way out and I had trouble not picking up a bunch of other things for myself.
From there, we walked to the British Museum. On the way we walked through Leicester Square and Covent Garden. There were lots of fun shops, but we were on a mission, so we didn’t stop. On Fridays most of the exhibits at the Museum are open late. We spent a couple hours and saw the Rosetta Stone and the mummies, the Elgin Marbles and the reading room (lots of neat stuff in there).
When we finished up there, we headed to the Victoria and Albert Museum, since it also has late hours on Fridays. It was a little crowded, there was some weird performance art thing going on in one of the galleries. Some of the other galleries were closed, but we made the best of what was available. One statue of a mother and child made me a little teary, but I got over it pretty quickly. Alex was unimpressed with the fashion exhibit. I wouldn’t mind going back when some of the other exhibits are open. When we left we walked around the neighborhood a bit and saw the science museum. Next time we come we will bring Link to see that***.
From there we walked back to our hotel through Hyde park (it was late and Alex was a little nervous, but it was still light out, even though it was almost 10pm). We got to the hotel and got the key and the suitcase and went up to the room. By then it was very late and we were very hungry, so we just went to Island (the restaurant in the hotel) for dinner. Dinner was fine, but pricey.
Saturday morning we got up and headed to Westminster Abbey. On the way, we stopped at a Cafe Nero**** for coffee and breakfast. We got to the Abbey in perfect time to get in line for the opening. They have a good audio tour (narrated by Jeremy Irons), which was great. No pictures allowed though*****. We spent several hours there, lots of great things to see. At one point in the tour, Mr. Irons tells us that we deserve a break and that we should visit the snack bar. Who were we to argue? It was a little chilly, so a nice cup of tea hit the spot.
After Westminster, we walked along and saw parliament and Big Ben and 10 Downing Street******. Then we headed to the Churchill Museum and Cabinet War Rooms. This was pretty cool. Another audio tour, plus there was a great big room with lots of interactive exhibits about Churchill. We could have spent hours on just that.
From there, we walked around St. James park. We wandered around Queen Anne’s Gate looking for a pub that Alex went to when he was here with Jim 20 years ago. After a while we gave up and went to the first likely pub we saw and had a pint and some fish and chips.
After lunch we headed to take a peek at Buckingham Palace and walked up the Mall to Trafalgar Square.and then took the tube over to St. Paul’s Cathedral. At St. Paul’s there was some event going on, so we couldn’t get inside. Then we walked over the Millennium Bridge and to the Tate Modern. We weren’t terribly interested in it, so we just used the facilities and left. There’s a ferry between the Tate Modern and the Tate Britain, so we took that. Unfortunately, when we got to the Tate Britiain they were closing up. By then we were pretty tired, so we headed back to the Hotel for a rest.
At the hotel, I used the internet to find someplace fun to have dinner. Unfortunately, we couldn’t make online reservations for same night, and I wasn’t optimistic enough to call around. So I made reservations for Sunday night at Rules and we went back to the area around the Tate Modern and Globe Theater, which had seemed promising earlier. We wandered around for a while and finally settled on Fish! right across from the Southwark Cathedral. After dinner we walked back up to St. Paul’s and took the tube back to the hotel.
Sunday morning we visited the Tower of London. My guidebook had the opening time wrong and we got there about an hour earlier than we should have. There didn’t seem to be anywhere else nearby to go kill the hour so we went to an actual Starbucks and had breakfast, then walked around the outside of the Tower until it opened. They had another audio tour, and it was quite comprehensive (about 3 hours). We saw all there was to see, including the crown jewels, then had lunch at the cafeteria there. Alex and I both had steak pies and they were fantastic. I need to learn how to make that.
After that we crossed over the Tower Bridge (we skipped the tour), and walked along the river on the other side. We walked back down to London Bridge to catch the tube. During our walk, we went through a little shopping area and picked up a pair of tube map design boxers for Alex.
From there, we went to Apsley house and the Wellington Arch. It was Waterloo weekend and they had quite a few events there. Unfortunately, we got there about an hour prior to closing time and missed most of the festivities*******. We hurried up to the top of the Arch, took some pictures, then went back to the house. We caught the tail end of a presentation on the uniforms of the soldiers. The presentation included a re-enactor stripping down to his knickers, as they described each piece of clothing he removed. We took in the rest of the sights at the house, and left as they closed.
From there, we decided to just start walking up Piccadilly toward West End where we planned to see a movie before our 10:30 pm reservation at Rules. (Yes, I know. But Alex isn’t a big fan of theater and it was his vacation too.) We stopped along the way at a tea shop for a rest. At some point we went the wrong way and ended up in Soho. We got our bearings and headed for Leicester square. We’d planned to see Star Trek at the Odeon West End, but it wasn’t playing there (I suppose they hadn’t updated their web page), so we got tickets for The Hangover instead. We had a bit of time to kill before the movie started, so we walked over to the restaurant to scope out our route home. (Alex was a bit nervous about missing the last train after dinner.)
The movie was freaking hilarious, and I even enjoyed the pre-movie ads. (Also, it was nice to just sit for a couple hours. My feet were killing me.) We headed to the restaurant about an hour earlier than our reservation, and had a drink in the bar while waiting for our table. We were a little underdressed, and we got a seat in the very back (which didn’t offend us at all). The service was outstanding. There was a couple of older gentlemen sitting next to us who complained about the seat and were moved, they were replaced later by a younger couple. The food was amazing. We had roast beef and Yorkshire pudding. I ordered a gooseberry and elderflower fool for dessert, but Alex was getting antsy, so I only had a few bites and we raced for our train back to the hotel.
We had nothing to worry about. We made it with plenty of time to spare.
We slept in a little bit, then packed and headed for the train station. The British Library is right by the train station, so we rented a locker for our suitcase and looked around until it was time to head back to the station. They have a room of British treasures, including the Magna Carta, a Gutenberg Bible and some Beatles lyrics sketched on the back of en envelope.
This time there was no table at our seats on the train, but we still had a power outlet and wifi, so it was a nice trip. We got some toasted cheese sandwiches for lunch and enjoyed sitting. Unfortunately there was an issue with one of the trains in front of us and we ended up being delayed 2 hours.
When we got back to the station, Link, Granny and PopPop were waiting for us. Link had had a wonderful time watching the other trains go by during the wait. Because we were late, we just went back to the flat in Bedale and got fish and chips for dinner. Link got to tell us all about the fun he had without us.
Get the flash player here: http://www.adobe.com/flashplayer
*She was right. We ended up saving about 5 pounds, that was offset by having to stand in that long line again to get our deposits back at the end of the trip.
**I know anyone who has traveled with me before is now shocked that I didn’t have the trip planned to the minute. I did have Saturday and Sunday planned, but not Friday.
***I’m actually pretty excited to see it myself
****the British Starbucks
*****One American tourist flouted the rules when no one was looking and I was quite offended.
******Well, we saw Downing street. There’s lots of security, so you can’t actually get near the place.
*******Festivities included a re-enactment of the battle of Waterloo using vegetables, and I swear I’m not making that up.
After Bolton Castle, we stopped at the Black Sheep Brewery in Masham for lunch. It was a bit crowded, but Kit did an excellent job parallel parking the car. We played “I spy” while waiting for our food, and then Link refused a bowl of spaghetti and ate a few fries (we commented on the fact that they were called chips on one part of the menu, but fries on another). After lunch we visited the gift shop. Alex got a hat, and Link didn’t break anything (I almost had a heart attack when he started playing with the coffee mugs).
Then we headed to Middleham castle. It was still a bit drizzly, but it wasn’t too bad. We climbed around the ruins and saw what there was to see. Joan noted that the houses near the castle were made from stones carted off from the ruins.
Get the flash player here: http://www.adobe.com/flashplayer
Despite the chilly day and rainy weather we stopped at Brymor in Wensleydale on the way back. Unsurprisingly Link had no trouble eating a cone of chocolate ice cream. We picked up a couple of veal pies for dinner and some more ice cream for later. Then we went and said hello to the cows. Back in Bedale, we stopped at the co-op and got a mini pizza for Link (which shockingly he didn’t eat) and some other things to try to tempt him with on subsequent nights.
After dinner, Link got his bath/shower* and went to bed, and we spent a quiet evening in front of the telly.
Thursday morning we went to the Old Lead Mine. It’s near (possibly in) an army proving ground. As we were driving there we saw signs that they were doing some shooting that day, and we saw some soldiers carrying shooting targets. We parked by the side of the road and walked over the hill to the lead mine buildings. Link and I wore our wellies for the only time the whole trip. There were lots of sheep. They bleated a lot, but otherwise were unconcerned by our presence. In one of the buildings we saw an owl, but he flew away before I could take his picture. It was kind of chilly, so we didn’t stay long but Link had fun splashing in the puddles on the way back to the car.
Get the flash player here: http://www.adobe.com/flashplayer
After that we headed to Richmond Castle. The weather had improved quite a bit. It was windy and a little chilly, but not raining anymore. As a consequence there were a lot more people around. I think this was Link’s favorite castle. When you ask him about the trip he says, “I climbed all the way to the top of the castle, then I climbed a little bit more.” And that’s what we did. On the very top, there is a small lookout post that holds about 2-3 people. It’s very windy up there. Granny’s knee was bothering her, so she had a sit down, and the boys and I explored the rest of the ruins. There was a lovely garden in the back that we explored too.
Get the flash player here: http://www.adobe.com/flashplayer
After we’d seen the castle, we went looking for a painter in Richmond that Joan and Kit know, but it seems he had retired. We were planning on purchasing a painting from him for the dining room. We left word for him, and headed off in search of lunch.
We ended up in a nice tea shop. Alex got a pork and apple pie, and Link and I both got toasted cheese sandwiches. I ordered an extra scone just in case. Link wouldn’t eat his sandwich, but after I told him the scone was a muffin he ate that right up. Granny and Alex shared the extra cheese sandwich.
We stopped at a Tesco after we left Richmond. It was basically a super Walmart type place, and we got some diet coke and cereal bars and other snacks. I always love going to grocery stores.
On the way back to Bedale, we stopped to tour a chocolate factory in Leyburn. It wasn’t much of a tour, but it was a nice diversion. There was a 10 minute movie about how chocolate is made, and then we walked past the windows on the room where they mold the chocolate. Of course we bought some, and Link even scored a free piece. Next door was a cute teapot factory, which we visited. We left there empty handed, as I couldn’t figure out how to get one home (also, I really don’t need another teapot.)
After a rest at home for a while, we headed to Joan and Kit’s home pub in Well. That’s where they go to quiz night on Thursdays. Link was starving, and there was pizza on the menu. I had steak and ale pie and it was fantastic. Link, however, was not happy with his pizza. Luckily I had brought him a cereal bar, and he was happy enough with that. It was quiz night, so Alex and Joan stayed behind and Kit drove Link and me back to the flat. Kit returned later to participate in quiz.
On the way out of the pub, I commented to Link that it was late and that he needed to get to bed so he didn’t turn into a pumpkin, like what happened in Cinderella. A couple was walking out of the pub at the same time, and the woman commented that Link had a plenty of time left before he’d turn into a pumpkin**. On the way home, I told Link about my fondness for pumpkin pie.
When we got home it was both sunny and raining and we saw a beautiful rainbow. Then we went inside and Link went right to sleep. I stayed up and did laundry until the gang came home. They came in last at quiz, and Alex hadn’t answered a single question. Then we went right to bed, we had to get an early start on Friday to catch our train to London.
*The bathtubs in England don’t have mixer taps, so we couldn’t follow the usual bath routine. I used the shower head to rinse him off, and Link was a pretty good sport about it. Sometimes he asks me to do that at home now.
**Third party corroboration is the key to any successful con.
We went to England to visit Granny and PopPop in June. We left on the 15th at 7:30 pm, and arrived at 8:30 am on the 16th (Alex’s birthday*).
Right off the bat, I’d forgotten the travel pillows I’d purchased specifically for the trip, but I knew I’d need them, so I spent the exorbitant sums they were asking at the airport gift shop. When I went to buy them even the clerk asked if I realized how much they were.
Link did amazingly well on the flight. We watched part of a movie after they let us turn on our electronic devices in the air, but he got tired and asked to go to sleep. We tried to make him sleep with the seatbelt loosely around his lap, but eventually he got too cranky, and we let him take it off. He stretched out across our laps, and we all tried our best to get some shut eye.
When it was time to wake up because the plane was landing, Link was surprisingly chipper. He declined the Corn Pops he was offered for breakfast (Next time, I think I’ll order the child meal for myself too!), but ate his banana and soon we were on the ground.
We waited to get off the plane until everyone else had, and by the time we got to the Passport check area, it was emptied out. After about 4 unsuccessful attempts to fill out the entry forms (apparently the sleep deprivation got to us), we were allowed into the country.
Granny and PopPop were waiting, and off we went. The drive back to Bedale from Manchester was a couple hours. The countryside was beautiful. Granny entertained us with stories about the local areas as we drove through, but after a while I fell asleep. Link, however was unaffected.
When we got to Bedale, Alex and I took showers and got settled. Joan’s neighbor graciously offered to let us use their flat, as they weren’t home. It was great having the extra space. While we showered, Link ate two bites of a grilled cheese sandwich. It was an omen of things to come. Joan made the grown-ups wonderful grilled cheese and bacon sandwiches and we headed into Bedale proper.**
It was Tuesday, which is Market Day in Bedale. We walked by the stalls, and went by the butcher to get some meat for dinner, and the coop for other grocery type items. Link convinced Granny to get him some cherries, which were grown in the USA! We walked down to the town hall, but the museum was closed. The library, however, wasn’t. Granny and PopPop signed up for cards, and Link checked out some books.
For Alex’s special birthday dinner, we had Toad in the Hole and roasted parsnips. It was fantastic. Link, of course declined to eat that, or his left over grilled cheese. Alex had a fun Spiderman cake, and then we tried our best to stay awake until 9pm when we went to bed.
Wednesday morning it was a little drizzly, but we loaded up and headed to Castle Bolton.
Link was excited to be in a real castle, and we explored and took pictures. There was a hedge maze outside, but it was too rainy to explore. There were some school children there on what seemed like a class trip. They were in period costumes (peasants) and it seemed like the lesson was about life in medieval times. One adult had a stuffed rat, and she let Link pet it. On the way out (through the gift shop, of course), I got a nice antique print of the castle to hang in the dining room. Link wanted something, but I enticed him away with promises of cupcakes. Unfortunately, there wasn’t anyone working at the cafe, and we had to leave without one.
* It was his 40th, and I’ve been teaching Link to make jokes about his old age. Somehow I fear that’s going to come back and bite me in a few years.
** I didn’t bring my camera the first day, so I took these later in the trip.
Alex went to a QA training class on Saturday, so Link and I had a fun day together. We got his hair cut, went to the bookstore and I let Link pick a new book (All Aboard the Dinotrain How awesome is that?). Then we played and had lunch and played some more and went to a birthday party. Then we came home and played Mario Kart until dinner. Link was able to complete the races all by himself, even coming in 4th (of 12) once. I was very impressed.
Link was getting dressed this morning and he chose to wear white briefs instead of the character ones.
Link: Are these silly underwear?
Sarra: No, those are the kind of underwear that big boys wear. Big boys don’t have Thomas on their underwear. Does daddy have Thomas on his underwear?
Link: No, only Mario.
Avid readers of this blog will remember this post where I said I was working on a new layout. Well, I’ve made good on that promise. The idea was to make a semi-permanent layout that could handle two trains, and still go around a tree. So here’s what I did:
I took a 4×8 piece of plywood, cut it into two pieces with a big circle in the middle for the tree.
On top of that, two 1/2 inch sheets of fiberglass foam.
On top of that, Atlas True-Track
The layout will be permanently affixed to the segments, except for those pieces of track that go over the cut. Those will be attached during reconnection.
The images below show the track unboxing and the testing of the layout. The first is a diagram of the layout that I made using a simple CAD program called RTS. This is basically a copy of the layout at the bottom of this page.
So they I had to make the benchwork. After some suggestions from the kind folks at The Whistle Post, I found I couldn’t do a straight cut down the middle. I needed to make sure the cuts went through at least three inches of straight track. I’m not much for powertools, so I had Sarra actually make the cuts. The pictures below show the cut boards, the reinforcement boards, and my attempt at painting!
So now for the final results! These are the pictures of the layout all set up under the tree with running trains. I didn’t get around to painting the diesel engine to match the GSMRR pictures, but I’m happy with the steam engine. In this set you’ll see the final setup on the dining room table during which I took out a small gouge in the table. (Sorry, Sarra!) I also found some old plastic buildings that my father put together. I put some white felt on the roofs to simulate snow and put battery powered votives inside to light ‘em up. You’ll also see Benezia stealing a caboose.
And finally, a movie of the whole thing working. See you next year!