Friday, January 9, 2015

Warwick Castle and Shakespeare

I had the day off from school today so with only one full day to be a tourist I decided to make the most of it. When I get back home, I fully expect Gary to ask me if I had seen a real castle. I didn't want to disappoint him with a no, so I set out bright an early this morning - skipping breakfast so as to catch a  train before 9:00 - to Warwick Castle. The castle spent last year celebrating its 1100 birthday and it is one of the best preserved castles in England.  I arrived in Warwick an hour before the castle opened which enabled me to wander around and get acquainted with the town. I stopped into a coffee shop for a pastry and my daily dose of caffeine - why does coffee taste better in Europe?  I stopped in to a post office buy stamps so that I could sent Gary a couple of postcards.  And many of you know how much Gary loves his postcards.  By the time I circled down to the castle the ticket window was opening. The beautiful thing about being a tourist in the winter is that you get to avoid the crushing and suffocating crowds that swarm places like castles all through the warmer months. The bonus today was that it was pleasantly warm and felt more like early spring than mid-winter. Alone - I had the place to myself for at least fifteen minutes - I entered the castle grounds. The stone towers rose up into the rising sun and passing through the gate I felt like I stumbled back in time.  I strolled around the grounds, thrilled to be taking pictures in a foreign city. I wandered out to the Avon river and up to the conservatory where I saw lots of peacocks.  At 11:00 I joined a tour of the castle and twenty minutes into the tour my peace was shattered when about four dozen school children - ages seven or eight - invaded the castle screaming at each other and their teachers.  The tour guide, obviously used to the distraction simply raised her voice to compete with the miniature army. After the tour, I wandered up one of the towers and got stuck in the middle of a class.  The teachers were even louder than the kids but the kids were much more steady on the windy, narrow stairs which nearly caused one teacher to plummet to her death.

By the time I had walked and viewed every inch of the castle my stomach was rumbling. Since I'm in England, I felt compelled to get some fish and chips. Normally, my body rebels against fried food but I'm not in England long enough to worry about it. I washed down the food with  ginger beer and then rounded off my extremely healthy meal with a Cadbury bar. In one meal I easily consumed more calories and fat than I generally do on a daily basis but before the day ended I would walk at least ten kilometres so I'm fairly certain my output was greater than my input.

From Warwick, I caught a train to Stratford-Upon-Avon. I am here in England for a writing course, and since Stratford is so close I felt it would be sinful not to pay homage to one of the great English language literary gods.  I could have spent an entire day happily wandering aimlessly around the Stratford.  A half a day wasn't nearly enough, but it was better than not getting there at all.  I sprinted off the train and down to the house in which Shakespeare was born - or so they tell the tourists. There is no historical evidence that the house I went to was the house in which William drew his first breath.  The wonderful thing about England is that there are student discounts everywhere. I purchased a discounted ticket that would allow me access to three historical houses. I didn't have much time until they closed, but there was no way I was paying for something and not using it. Luckily all the houses were close enough that I was able to quickly move from one to the other, shooting entirely too many photos as I went.  Even if Shakespeare wasn't born there, I still enjoyed walking through the old houses.

After the houses, I drifted down to Holy Trinity Church which is on the banks of the Avon River. The church is surrounded by an old cemetery with headstones in serious disrepair. As I walked through it the sun started to set which lent the cemetery and eerie feel. I kept expecting the ghost of Shakespeare or someone else to tap me on the shoulder.  I ended my day with a walk along the river before turning back into town and doing a bit of souvenir shopping.

The day flew by entirely too quickly but I enjoyed every moment of it.  Now, I need to find a job so I don't have to wait another five and a half years before I can set off and explore another foreign city.

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

The Me Size Tree

The scent of pine permeated the air.  Passed the wide gateway, tall trees lined the makeshift wooden walls, columns of green categorized according to species – Douglas, Frasier, and Balsam.  Beyond the clutter of classic Christmas trees were a row of tiny trees no taller than three feet. Their trunks were wedged and bolted into a red metal stand which someone had recently filled with a splash of water.  Listening, one could almost hear the chatter of the tiny trees. One sharp shrill voice echoed slightly louder than the others, an enthusiastic pitch saturated with optimism and hope.  ‘Oh, won’t it be wonderful if a little boy or girl wished to take me home.  I so long to be decorated and loved,’ this tree announced to her companions.  ‘Someone will certainly want me, my needles are so perfectly green and my shape is terrifically triangular.’

                Yes, this little tree was certain that she was irresistible, that someone would wish to bring her home.  But as the season wore on and she watched her friends chosen instead of her, she began to lose hope and to despair.  Cars continuously pulled up to the gate. Men tied big trees to the ski racks. Women opened doors and ushered the smaller trees into to the back beside the children. And during it all, the one little optimistic tree eagerly scanned the endless crowd in search of that one special child who would love her.  Time and again she was overlooked. When the weekend before Christmas arrived tears glistened on the tips of her needles.  Would no one love her for the holidays?

                Standing sullenly, hope draining out of her, she suddenly heard short rapid steps, the pitter-patter of toddler feet tumbling towards her. A tiny hand clothed in a light grey mitten reached out and tapped her top.

                ‘Mommy, Mama,’ a little boy’s voice pierced the air. ‘A me size tree.’ His smiled filled his face and spilled into his eyes.

                ‘Yes Little Man, you and the tree are the same height.’ His mother answered cautiously, already sensing the plea presented by his smile.

                ‘Home! My tree!’ His arms encircled it, his cheek pressed against the semi-frozen branches.

                ‘Don’t you want a big tree?’ His other mother asked.

                He shook his head, ‘No, me size tree.’

                A brief consultation between his mothers yielded a compromise – a smaller big tree for the house and a me size tree for the Little Man.  Neither one wanted to disappoint the boy. Excitedly, he followed his moms to the man in the orange apron. Money changed hands and the little boy climbed into his car seat while his mom tucked the tree in beside him. During the twenty minute drive home, the boy’s pink fingers caressed the tender braches that spilled onto his lap.

                At home, as his mothers scrambled to take the larger tree off the car and into the house. The little boy scurried to drag his tree inside.  His mothers gently scolded him. They told him to wait just a moment then they would help him but excitement displaced reason.  He tugged. He pulled. He left behind him a trail of water. But proudly, he propped the tree up in the centre of the already cramped living room.  While his moms set the bigger tree up in the stand, he waited restlessly beside the bin of Christmas tree ornament s.  A subtle nod from his moms and he tore off the lid. Carelessly eager hands rummaged through the bin, fingers tossing aside tissue paper. Searching for his favourite decorations, he hung them on his me size tree, dressing her up with bright reds and yellows, ornaments collected and cherished over his two, almost three years of existence.  Brushing aside help from both of his mothers, he decorated – rather unsymmetrically - his entire tree.  He saved a yellow star, which he had made for last, and he placed it on her crown. Then he leaned into her and gave her a big hug as if she were a good friend, a confident who would hold secret all of his stories.

                The little tree was happy. The love she felt was fierce and the warmth that filtered through her branches made her needles shine more brightly than they ever had in the store. The little boy was happy, also.  And in the remaining days leading up to Christmas he lavished her with his attention.  Removing ornaments, he shuffled them around and refreshed her appearance daily. He remembered to water her each evening.  And on Christmas morning, even Santa paid homage to the tree, leaving beside her one small present for the little man. 

                Yes, the tree was happy and the boy loved her. But Christmas trees are only for Christmas. In late January, long after the bigger tree had been taken down, the little boy spent a weekend with his grandparents. While he was gone, his mother took down his me size tree and set it out back with the trash. The me size tree stood outside alone in the cold and cried for she loved the little boy and would certainly miss him.  Days later, when the little boy returned, he immediately noticed the empty space where his friend had stood. His eyes filled with tears, his tiny hands balled into fists and he struck the air.  His mother pulled him into her arms and tried to kiss away his tears but the sadness was heavy. It broke the little boy’s heart.  

Saturday, January 3, 2015


Leaving Gary, even though it is only for ten days, was the hardest thing I ever did. Yesterday, when Cyndy came to pick me up to drive me to the airport, Gary clung to my neck and would not let go. 'Take me with you!' he begged. 'Don't leave without me,' he pleaded. I fought to hold back the tears that were threatening to spill out of my eyes. I didn't want to tear myself away. I didn't want him to think I was being mean or cruel. A part of me just wanted to stay home but I knew that would not really be good for either of us. 'I'm going to miss you,' I told him. 'I'm going to think of you all day every day,' I promised.  And when he still wouldn't let go, 'It is only for ten days.' But ten days at that moment felt like an eternity to me, how could it possibly seem better to him. I resorted to bribery. 'If you let me go, Mommy will let you watch a movie,' I offered. 'No, I want you to stay with me,' he insisted, squeezing me tighter. 'If you let me go, Mommy will let you have a big piece of birthday cake, right now before dinner.'  My son loves me, but he loves treats more. He released his choke hold, smiled broadly and said 'Yum.' In that moment, I slipped out the door, pulled it behind me and the damn broke as tears poured out of my eyes.

My flight was delayed three hours which gave me way too much time to sit - and you all know how much I enjoy being sedentary to begin with. Despite being sick and very tired, I could not fall asleep. Usually, I do not sleep well on planes, but I can generally catch a short nap - at least an hour or two. Last night, sleep failed me. I turned to Steinbeck for comfort and read until my eyes became to heavy and refused to stay open. Closing the book I could feel myself falling into oblivion, but just as I reached the edge I sprung back wide awake. Opening East of Eden, I began the cycle again, all night for nearly six hours.

Alas, when I arrived I was exhausted. However, I grabbed my bag, sprinted through the airport, raced through security, exchanged some money and located the FDU meeting point.  There already were some friends I had made over the summer, so with speech slurred by sleeplessness and eyes barely hanging open we caught up with each other while waiting for the bus that would carry us to the college.

The bus ride was just under two hours and the Abbey is beautiful.  My room is bigger than my condo and it has a beautiful view.  Sadly, between eating, socializing and getting acquainted with the rules of the residency, I have not yet had time to explore the grounds. Weather permitting, that is on my agenda for tomorrow.

As for now, I must be getting to bed.  I have been up for over 30 hours and I just can't keep my eyes open any longer. I apologize for any grammatical or spelling errors but in all honesty I'm too tired to even proof read. Hopefully tomorrow, after some sleep, I will be slightly more coherent.

Fun facts for Gary:

1- There is a knight's armor here at the college that dates back to the 1400s.
2- Even though Beowulf was a viking and his story took place in Scandinavia, the story was written here in England.