Friday, September 28, 2012
Yearly trip to the UK: 14-24 Sep 2012
It’s Fall and I am off to London and Oxford: Theatre, friends and the bi-yearly TE Lawrence Symposium. Again,. stayed at a Bed-and-Breakfast Hotel near Russell Square in London - immaculate with facilities down the stairs. Computer services across the way. I really like London and could have spent more than the four allotted days there.
I did see four plays: three were excellent and one, despite outstanding reviews, was a bomb. There were two mucial performance: one was a combination of film and music (Planet Earth) and the other was a memorial to an academic/musician/author - ended with several Weill songs from The Happy End. I concluded with a San Francisco Ballet performance at Sadlers Wells - appropriate!
Visited with friends: a Hampstead walk and lunch with a colleague from the Iraq trip and then supper and a show with two women with whom I’ve shared several overseas excursions, people I will meet again in several months on a Copper Canyon holiday trip.
But the high point was rummaging about at the Palestine Exploration Fund, the group that sponsored Leonard Woolley and TE Lawrence in a pre WW1 trip into the Sinai, as the “beard” for Colonel Stewart Newcombe’s military survey. They had original correspondence from Woolley, the expedition’s senior member as well a notes from TE Lawrence, who did not want credit as co author on The Wilderness of Zin. Additionally, I was shown a survey sketch by the young Lt. H. E. Kitchener. Impressive! Surprisingly, only one of the plethora of Lawrence biographers had been to the PEF office to review their documents.
I missed out on the Imperial War Museum and the Special Forces Club but did catch the police security outside the Uruguayan Embassy - there just in case the Wikileaks guy came out. The weather was lovely and I ws able to walk all over - used by Oyster card only to come into town from Heathrow and to get to Marble Arch for the Oxford bus. Oh well, have to have something on the list for next year!
So off to Oxford to the Symposium. Housing was at St. Hilda’s, a bit out of the way from main town Oxford. Room was basic with a bit of a hike down the hall to the facilities. Weather was cool and overcast with some rain at the end. But Oxford, as Morse and Lewis fans know, is a lovely old town. Before, I’ve stayed in the town’s center at Christ Church or St. John’s, both a bit nicer than St. Hilda’s. The Symposium was held at the Jacqueline du Pré auditorium which featured a lovely photo of her in her heyday, so vital and alive.
There was a prequel to the Symposium on Friday for those of us who came early - this included several people I knew from the Great Arab Revolt Project, where I have been a participant for the past four? five? years. . We had time at the Codrington Library at All Souls and Ashmolean Museum, viewing Lawrence artifacts, in the morning. The afternoon began with a DVD slide show of Lawrence’s life and times. Then concluded with one of our GARP staff’s presentation of the Jordanian terrain, both from RFC photos of WW1 in comparison with own photos., some of which were quite spectacular. That evening, a lovely supper at a Middle Eastern Restaurant.
On to the two day main event; eight lectures in all, most power point presentations with slides. Some better than others. I had trouble focusing on papers read as opposed to those more spontaneously presented. Topics ranged from friends and contemporaries of Lawrence to his dress to Herbert Read (Aldington’s predecessor) to the Hejaz Railway to the 1920 Iraq Rebellion to Arab Spring.
Surprisingly, I found the talk showing TEL’s various costumes, both military and Arab, quite interesting as it showed his changing sense of identity. The slides of the Hejaz fascinated me, for I had seen some of the sites. The talks on W. F. Sterling and A. W.Wavell were superb - good speakers and exceptional subjects. While one of the questions re: Arab Spring was how TEL would have viewed the current events; my question was how TEL would have viewed an organization and a symposium devoted to his life and ideas.
There was a dinner at the college with an after dinner speaker, a quite affable book dealer with a fine sense of humor. And that was it. The strays met for breakfast the next morning before catching trains and flights to their next destination - for me, the bus to Heathrow where I, and the San Francisco Ballet company, headed home.
Food: In London, tended to pick up a bite at Pre a Manger except for two meals in a proper restaurant. One at The Wigmore Cafe and the other at Woodlands, an Indian place with some tied to a Omani restaurant of the same name. Both good. At Oxford, the food at the college was excellent as was the off campus restaurant. I also had a couple of bites at a nearbypub which were okay.
Accommodation: In London, it was my third stay at The Celtic Hotel, a very comfortable bed and breakfast. I paid £290 cash for the five nights.(they will take credit cards for an additional 3%.) Student room at St. Hilda’s, Oxford was. £42 a night. (suspect I was the only one left in this large building that last night. )
Transportation: United Air round trip SFO-LHR: $1220. Oyster card: £20. Bus fares: £30.
Sam care: $420.
I’m ready to return, like tomorrow! London was my first overseas trip and I keep repeating it, year after year.