The last three weeks have absolutely flown by. I know I say this a lot, but it really does seem like I just wrote an update for this blog. The theme of this summer has definitely been that of constant engagement – academically, professionally, socially. There have not been many days where I have not had something planned or waiting for me. And that is exactly how I wanted it to be. I did not come to London to saunter around and waste time. I came to conquer, metaphorically speaking. Truth be told, I have been on a mission for the last year and a half. I wasted time in school before the war, and I couldn’t see the endgame. I sought out temporary and fleeting pleasure instead of doing the tough work that is required to excel. That is not to say I didn’t try, or succeed, but simply a recognition that I could have done better if I had cared a little more. I suspect this is the lesson of college for me any many others – including my father, whose advice followed those contours exactly. Since returning from the war I have applied myself in every way possible, though I still fall into the same patterns of study every once in a while (especially when studying Russian). It took a while for me to recharge after the war and take academics seriously again. To do so I took a couple of trips, including Australia and Peru, which helped me re-engage with the world on civilian terms. That trip to Peru was the seed and driving force behind my time in London. It was there that I was truly inspired, and it was there that I found the program I am currently studying on. I decided it was for me, and once I returned to the UW, I pursued it. And I am happy I did.
I want to write a bit about this summer as a whole, but first I will write about the last three weeks, or what I remember of them, in order to bring the narrative to a close. I no longer remember the specifics of each day – my journaling has also fallen behind – but there are a few events of importance.
The first was a concert I took in at Hyde Park – Mumford and Sons and Arcade Fire, two of my favorite groups, played to an estimated 40,000 people in a sold-out show that lasted until 11ish (strict end times courtesy of the surrounding neighborhoods). As many of you will know, Mumford is a folk rock group from the UK who have absolutely exploded on scene in American in the last year. I’ve been into them ever since. Arcade Fire is an alternative group who span across a couple of genres. They won a Grammy last year. I won’t lie, I hadn’t heard of them prior to the Grammy, but I’ve been an avid fan since I first listened. Both groups played fantastic shows, with Mumford and Sons playing a few new tunes, and Arcade Fire playing all of my favorites. It was the perfect distraction to break the cycle of school-work-school.
The next week, one of my Professors from UW and his family came to London. I was happy to be able to give them a private tour of the Parliamentary Estate, including a few things that the average tourist would not see, such as Suffragette Emily XXX’s broom closet, where she stayed for two days until the government carried out a census, thereby recording her as the first woman to stay overnight in Westminster. The tour was a success, the kids were moderately interested, and I was happy to be able to give back to a Professor who has given so much time to me. Later that week I traveled to Oxford to hear him as the keynote speaker to an American history conference and socialize with the group afterwards. What a night!
It was after my second Oxford visit that I began to sense the summer was coming to a close, though I still had a lot to do. With only two weeks left in the office, it was time to being wrapping up my summer projects. The summer recess was approaching quickly, which usually means the Parliamentary agenda slows down, but fortunately for me the muckraking press found a story of value – the phone hacking scandal. This scandal has absolutely embroiled the British Government and provided for an added level of excitement for me. As the story first broke, I was able to visit the House of Lords, courtesy of my Plaid Cymru friends, and sit “below the bar,” or in the chamber, during a debate. I don’t remember what the debate was about, but I do remember being struck by the average age of the participants, and their collective inability to raise their voices to an audible level or construct a lucid argument. My opinion on Lords Reform is all for reform.
I was surprised on Wednesday the 13th with a ticket to view the House of Commons in session – which meant I was finally going to get to go to Prime Minister’s Questions! And, though it is extremely rare to get a ticket in the first place, I was fortunate to sit below the bar, in the House of Commons, behind MPs as they questioned the Prime Minster. I was doubly fortunate to be in the Commons on this particular Wednesday, as the PM made a statement following Questions, and then stood for debate for another couple of hours. Normally the PM answers questions for a half hour before moving on. By the time the PM left the chamber, it was three hours later. What a show!
As if that wasn’t enough, this particular Wednesday was also the day Plaid was planning a party to celebrate a successful term, to which the interns were invited. We had originally planned on taking a boat down the Thames to Greenwich, but had to change the plans for our MPs to be at the House in case there was a vote called on the phone hacking business. We made up for it by having drinks on Westminster terrace, overlooking the Thames, and this time with decent weather. From there we went to dinner and drinks at a French restaurant in Covent Garden – Le Deuxieme – that was absolutely fantastic. There were a few sappy moments as we reminisced about the summer, the presented me with Parliamentary cuff links, and I gave a short speech thanking the group for the experience they have shown me. From there we went for a few drinks, though we called it an early night in order to not be useless at work the next day. All in all, a very good day.
That Wednesday was the highlight of the next two weeks. I finished my internship to teary goodbyes and see-ya-laters on Thursday the 21st. Honestly speaking, it was hard to say goodbye and see my time with Plaid come to a close. I learned so much from this group of people and drew quite a bit of inspiration as well. I became accustomed to working in Parliament and came to truly enjoy what I was doing there, despite how limited my work could be at times. I guess I was not ready to leave. I came away with what I wanted, though, in terms of inspiration and knowledge, so I guess one could say I got what I came for.
I cheered myself up the next day by going falconing with a girl in the program. I was especially happy because we were excused from class that day as we had made plans for the trip prior. It was quite the experience getting out to Doddington Place Gardens in Kent for our two-hour falconry lesson. We managed to miss three trains in the process, but by the time we arrived in Faversham, everything had worked itself out. We spent some time wandering around the city and found a fantastic antique store, which I will return to some day if possible. There were some truly unique items in the store, and there wasn’t an item over £20. I didn’t get anything this time around.
We took a 20 minute cab ride through the countryside to the gardens. The country was quite the sight – it was hard to believe it was real at times. Narrow tree-lined roads are broken by hilly pastures where sheep lazily graze; occasionally there is herd of horses or a cherry orchard. Quite the fantastic scene.
I had no idea to expect from our falconry lessons. I wasn’t sure whether we would be taking the birds out and hunting live prey, or something less exciting. It turned out to be so much more that I could imagine. We started in a bird house, with several different trained species. Our guide gave us the down and dirty on how falconry works and how they train the birds to be so docile, yet so fierce. From the time the chicks hatch they are cared for by humans, so the birds necessarily imprint their handler as ‘mother’. The birds are so tame and well behaved that the handlers will often take the birds home for the night – imagine falcons, hawks, owls, and eagles snuggled up with kittens and puppies – that is a normal night for these birds. Yet, when released, primal instinct takes over and they actively search for prey as any other comparable wild bird would. The difference is that these birds are quite lazy – after a few minutes of looking they fly back to your arm and the small piece of food waiting for them. In this respect it isn’t much different from giving dogs a treat for performing tricks.
We spent two hours tromping through the woods with an owl and a hawk, and it was absolute and pure fun. Unfortunately our time with the birds had to come to an end. As we walked towards the main road to call a taxi, we decided to check out the church that was on site. It was a good thing we did, too. This particular church is over eight hundred years old, though it has been constantly changing and evolving in form. There were wall paintings from the 13th century, graves from all the centuries in between, as well as mosaics and stained glass that date from the 14th and 15th centuries.
When we reached the main road, neither of our cell phones had reception. Great! We were at least ten miles out of town. We hoped that we would pick up reception somewhere a long the road and began walking. At one point we went through a small village with a telephone booth, but this particular booth only took phone cards. On with the march!
We finally did get some reception, somewhere after the half-way point in our trek. We called a cab and tried to explain as best we could that the driver should look for two lost Americans wandering a country road. After a bit more walking and a half-hour, the cab finally found us and took up back to town. We were more than grateful. The cab driver suggested a little café to us. We took him up on his suggestion and were quite happy we did. The food was great, the weather pleasant, and the day rewarding. After dinner we wandered around Faversham, finding the oldest brewery in England in the process, as well as other historic sites such as the local graveyard. I’m always fascinated by graveyards – mostly I wonder who the people were and what they did in their lives. I tend to map their lives onto bigger events in world history – for example, when we passes two markers that were placed in 1776, I couldn’t help but to place both lives in the context of the Revolution. Something along the lines of ‘hey! These people are older than my country! I wonder what they could tell me about the Declaration of Independence?’
After a couple hours of wandering, we found ourselves back on the train and on our way to London. What a rewarding day! With the adventures over and classes coming to an end, it was time to switch back to student mode.
To be continued…