London 1999
revisiting visits of the past

18 March 1999

Today was mainly walking -- first we went into town and poked about in the little shops. They seem to be just as frumpy and funky as I remember them. A. wondered if the effect was deliberately created to make it seem quaint for the tourists, but I didn't think so. The impression I've always had is that they're mainly trying to be as smart and up-to-date as they can be, and that's just how it turns out. The same feeling of a slightly run down post-war aesthetic continued through the day (though much of the architecture is of course older, including the Aldeburgh moot hall, c. 1650), leading A. to remark that the idea of British style one gets in the US (great estates, Victoriana, London avante-garde) seems to leave out the actual predominant look.

After investigating the Aldeburgh shops and discovering that a lot of the things that might be considered "collectible" at home are still just used here (cheering), we headed up the beach. The weather progressed through a very English variety of moods, from dark and windy through drizzle to bright and warm. First we went along the beach itself, which was pretty rough going as the rocks slipped and shifted under our feet. I'm sure it was awful for my poor shoes, and not so great for our backs, either, but fun. the sea was very choppy and grey, and the houses on our other side were charming and archetypical, as were the fishing huts. At one point the beach was decorated with several skeletal heads and spines of some largeish fish. They were rather neat looking, more translucent and cartiledge-y than bony. We took a photo of Little with one. *photo*

Eventually the houses gave way to flat grassy land, turning to marshes as one went further inland. We walked along on a drier bit, which was a comfy mixture of short, springy greenery and flat pebbles. A sign cautioned us (among other things) to avoid trampling the "shingle plants," so at first we were a bit trepidatious about walking there, though later we decided that the name must refer to another type of plant -- less ubiquitous and spikier, hence much easier to avoid. On the other stuff we even stopped and flopped around, watching the clouds. I wish I'd brought In Memoriam with me; on the next walk, I will.

Thorpeness was a charming little town, though probably a lot less so in tourist season. We wandered around in search of a pub where we might find some lunch, but the only one we saw, the Dolphin Inn, was closed for building work. Instead we first had some soft serve, which we ate by the duck pond. All the birds -- plenty of ducks, some white doves, and some of a really freakish bird, black with a white flat patch on its head and truly odd bumpy mottled feet that seemed far too big and bulbous to be right -- headed our way instantly, aside from the blasé minority and one pair that were mating by swimming in mounted position as the male held the female's head down with his beak. They left us alone pretty quickly, however, when they realized we weren't planning to feed them, and we finished our Mr. Softy cones in relative peace.

After a bit more of a walk, we settled on the Meare Shop (or perhaps House?) for lunch. We'd been planning to get a plate of chips and some cider, maybe, but in the end we decided on the cream tea. It was an excellent choice -- raisin scones baked right there, local double cream, and local strawberry jam. The proprieter also was very nice. For most of the time we were there, she was talking with her dad about a new law stating that shops must post information about any genetically modified foods. Since she bakes it all herself, she was concerned about stuff in the flour and that kind of thing. "I can put 'to the best of my knowledge,'" she said, "but that's all I can do."

Once we were well stuffed, we walked to the local pair of attractions, a windmill and the House in the Clouds. The latter is a remarkable structure that looks like a house that was pushed up from its foundation by a several-story brick column (with windows). It was originally a water storage facility, filled by a pump powered by the windmill, which is by contrast, remarkably short. Now you can rent it for vacation accomodations. Someone seemed to be doing so, as we saw a family emerge and play around on the grounds, the mother holding her arms out so the son could shoot her with rubber arrows.

Sign by windmill: "Keep It Special." Included the recommendation to "make your next visit at a quieter time." Not easy!

We went also for a quick turn in the small nearby wood, which featured mounds of giant fuzzy clover and a matching giant fuzzy bumblebee.

As usual, our walk home seemed much shorter than the walk out. At the last minute, after a short sit-down by the "toy yacht" pond (nearby monument: a statue of a dog, dedicated to a married couple of physicians who served the town for several decades), we stopped into a shop called Orlando's. There A. bought some remarkable trim with hens and baskets of eggs. She plans to trim a petticoat with it. As she said, "I may have to trim some clothes with it, even if it does make me look like a cupboard," which it will, since it's meant to be shelf runner. I think as a petticoat it will work very well. For cute. I got an embroidered cotton bag for keeping my shawls safe, and we both decided for once and all that tax does indeed seem to be included in the price of things.

I'm afraid our vegetarianism is being fairly disconcerting to my grandparents, though they're being very sweet about it. We'll see how it all works out.

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