Saturday, June 27, 2009

I Heart the British Library, but the Evil Kid at Kew Not So Much

British Library = Literary Heaven

Having been advised by a colleague that reading rooms fill up quickly, I made the short walk from my residence to the library arriving promptly at 9:25 (library opens at 9:30). Much to my surprise I encountered an already buzzing queue of tweed-clad folks outside the door.

Academics line up to enter the British Library like Tweens waiting for Hannah Montana: The Movie.

I think it's one of the best things I've ever seen.

While not so enticing from the outside, the interior of the library is astounding. Spacious, lightfilled and full of readings rooms, which are equally full of researchers, it is the perfect place to read and write.

The highlight of my day was purusing the library's "treasured collections." I think I was the most excited to view the original manuscript of Alice in Wonderland. Though Jane Austen's writing desk, an Illuminated Christine de Pizan manuscript, and Da Vinci's notebooks were humbling as well. Oh, and they have the Magna Carta.

In the afternoon I took the tube out to Kew so I could register at the National Archives. With that task complete I headed over to Kew Gardens. The Royal Botanic Gardens are beyond impressive, acres and acres of grounds filled with wonderful trees and flora. I spent some time communing with a 300 year old chestnut tree and particularly loved the way the glasshouses have spiral staircases that enable viewing of the tops of giants ferns and succulents as well as walking alongside them. They also have a tree-top walkway that provides views of the entire garden and all the way to London.

It was all just perfect and lovely (it is still unbelievably sunny here) until I ran into the little mean boy. I was walking across a lawn, just having passed three mums pushing strollers when I heard a horrible screech. Making a beeline towards me was a little boy (I'd guess he was about 3 or 4) red faced and crying, behind him was another little boy of the same age with wide gleaming eyes, a wicked grin, and...a stick.

Mum one: Ben, what's the matter? Ben?
Me (thinks): Uh, that other kid is hitting your kid with a stick.
Mum two: A.C. what are you doing with that stick?
Me (thinks): Obviously hitting other kids with his stick. No one brandishes a stick like that unless they are delighting in acts of violence. Note: I say this from lots of observation and storytelling, not personal penchant for stick violence.

In the next moment, A.C. catches up to fleeing child, cackles, and (of course) hits him with stick.

Mum Two (in shock that sounds a little not-too-shocked for comfort): A.C. no! Put down that stick.

I walk on, grasping at a slim idea that A.C. might be adequately chastised and hope not to see Mums and children for rest of time at garden.

Alas, when I took a break to have afternoon tea replete with scone and clotted cream (if you have never had scone and clotted cream, you are missing out). Three mums with 3 boys and strollers take places at next table.

A.C. immediately begins to terrorize pigeons on the cafe terrace.

Mum two (in a lame voice): A.C. no, A.C. no.

Eventually she gets up and brings A.C. back to table.

Two minutes later he is terrorizing pigeons again.
Mum two (again lamely): A.C. no, A.C. no.

She doesn't get up.

Me (thinks): Are you sure his name isn't Damien?
When I leave the cafe and am halfway to the next glasshouse I can still hear A.C. shrieking like a pterodactyl.

So for the record if in 30 years an evil genius named A.C. is holding the world hostage with a giant electro-ray (his proverbial biggest stick of all), you were warned here first.


  1. Andrea, this is a super post. I am vicariously drooling over books at your library and thinking I need to plan a trip.
    And you drew the boys spot-on. I almost spit coffee on the keyboard. In fact, I fear AC has an evil clone here in California, as I saw him terrorize his friend at a neighboring cafe table. Their two chatting mothers barely noted that the boys' 'game' almost tripped passersby and tore up the curbside shrubbery.
    Thanks for a good read and I wish many more good reads and observations for you on this marvelous trip.

  2. Thanks, Tricia. I'm finding that a sound benefit of traveling solo is loads of time to observe and reflect (and then blog).