The Object of Your Story

                                                                               

Occasionally it’s mentioned in workshops or books on the craft of writing, how effective a physical object can be when subtly weaving it through your story.  Recently I finished reading the book The Velvet Hours by Alyson Richman which uses a large 19th century portrait of a Parisian courtesan as an occasional object from beginning to end. Even without a picture to physically see, the author showed the reader the gilded frame, the woman’s posture, colors, and fabrics.  It easily came to mind whenever the painting was mentioned at various intervals of the story. It was a familiar object.  And, what I loved about this book was how the author wrote it as a fictionalized account of a newspaper article. It was a story of a family learning about their great-great grandmother’s apartment in Paris which was locked up for over 70 years. When the apartment was opened by family heirs in 2011, it was as if time stood still and they walked into 1940s Paris. I remember reading the newspaper article and posting it on Facebook.  I was fascinated by the story and thrilled someone wrote a book about it.

If you decide you want an object for your story, how do you discover what it will be?

As writers, we understand inspiration arises from unexpected places. You may be in a writers’ group when a new story pops into your head and the first draft is soon underway. Perhaps you are sitting at your desk or on a plane thousands of feet in the air when an idea for a new character is born. You can be anywhere.  That’s the beauty of being a writer.

It wasn’t long ago, as I was housecleaning, when an object in my home reminded me of someone I once loved.   I wiped dust off the Asian antique mirror and remembered a time, 43 years ago, when the man I loved looked at his reflection in this mirror, standing in my mother’s home.  I was across the room watching him when his reflection caught mine and we locked eyes. It was a moment which stood still in time for me. He’s been gone many years, but, oddly, his reflection and the memory of our connection remain embedded in  the wavy glass of this mirror.

My thoughts, as I continued dusting, trailed off to another time I could only conjure up in my imagination. It occurred to me my grandfather may have bought this mirror for my grandmother when they were first married in Shanghai in 1929. The mirror, with its new glass, survived WWII hidden in a Shanghai cellar. It was kept with other curios and precious objects out of sight and protected from the Japanese invasion and ensuing confiscations since these objects were in the cellar of a White Russian friend of my grandmother’s. If a Russian (or any nationality) was married to a citizen of an enemy country, they were sent to Japanese internment camps, which was the case of my grandmother and mother who spent 4 years in a camp because of the marriage between my  Russian grandmother and  a British man.

A couple of years after the war, in 1947, the mirror took a journey by ship to the United States and hung on the wall of my grandmother’s San Francisco flat well into the late 70s.  The mirror had additional journeys over the next 37 years when it lived in my mother’s home in Pleasant Hill, CA; Colorado Springs, CO; then to my home in Seattle, and eventually settling in Edmonds 11 years ago. I imagine one of my children and one of my grandchildren will take it from here.

And so it was a day of simple housecleaning which created my story-object. If I choose to do so,  I can carry this mirror through my book for almost 100 years of my family’s history.  I can write a historical fiction showing the reader many of the faces reflected over time, some known and some imagined; we have so much freedom as writers to create whatever we wish!

Stories and ideas pop up for writers from unexpected places and we are delighted when they pop up at all.

Vivian C. Murray

10/16

 

 

 

 

 

Family History 101

  

Sam Sharrock, my grand father, who makes a point of writing he had been in uniform for 4 months until now when the photo was taken. The period he was uniformed 24/7 was the 1937 Japanese-Chinese conflict.

My cousin John and his wife Denise arrived in my hotel lobby about 9:20 a.m. And it was wonderful to see them again. This was only the third time we have met since meeting for the first time in Colorado for my mother’s small memorial service in 2012.

John was as interested in his uncle’s life as I was interested in my grandfather’s life. Both men being one and the same: Sam Sharrock. 

 

Henry was our personal guide and hired a driver and van which took us to our family’s places of interest. He done the same thing with another cousin two years prior.

During the day, we explored the back of old police stations where Sam worked from the time he arrived in 1922 to the day he was assassinated in 1942. 

My grandmother saved the old photos Sam had taken during his life in Shanghai. I had seen them many times over the years and  when very young, I would secretly sneak them out of my grandmother’s Chinese carved trunk in her flat in San Francisco. It was always a great treat for me to scour through the photos to see family, most of whom were from England and whom I didn’t know, but also to see the aftermath from bombings by the Japanese in Shanghai. This included dead bodies, an infamous dog who fed off them, and buildings demolished.

  

Now I was in the city I had only fantasized about. We were in and out of the  van all day. We went to the apartment house where our family lived and in a childlike prankster mode, we rang different doorbells hoping someone would let us in. There were several ways into the apartment complex and we were looking for a specific apartment. Eventually someone would appear and after Henry explained, in Chinese, why we were showing up uninvited to their homes, we were granted access to the inner courtyard.

  

 

                                             The courtyard on Weihai Road

I tried to picture how the G.I.’s in their jeeps drove in to pick my mother up on dates, as she had told me about. It was only when we got to the final entry point that it all made sense. It was a bit of a disappointment to learn that the current inhabitant of the apartment was in a nursing home. The apartment was shut tight and we couldn’t get in to see the layout. 

  

But how cool it was to be there! After all these years I could actually touch the same brick walls and walk the same ground I had seen only in photos for more than 60 years.   

Henry was a gem for talking rapid fire Chinese to security guards all over Shanghai convincing them to let us into various properties due to his dogged persistence. The only place his tactics didn’t work was at Holy Trinity Church. We couldn’t even get inside the gates to see where my grandparents got married and where my mother was baptized; that particular guard wouldn’t budge. Henry also took the initiative to bang on a back door to the church in the event someone was inside working.  He was well worth his price in gold, as the saying goes.

We saw parts of Shanghai which most people would not be privy to seeing. It was an experience of a lifetime.

One of the most intriguing moments was when one of the workers at a police property beckoned me into the back area of one of the station. Denise followed behind and we were both a bit unnerved by the man showing us the way as if it was something he shouldn’t be doing or leading us to the chopping block. There were old rusty jail cells stacked with old furniture from schools, as it appeared to me, anyway. Chairs, desks, etc. A jumbled cobwebbed jailhouse mess with metal doors and old rusty locks. It looked like a damp nightmare for any prisoner.

  

We were led to a big metal door which he proceeded to unlock and then motioning us to enter. I looked at Denise and we both couldn’t talk as if we might break the spell this man was under to show us a room so secretive in Communist China. And this was done totally unprovoked and out of the blue. 

With a slight bit of trepidation, I started taking photo after photo of all the men’s faces framed and hanging on concrete walls in what may have been an administrative office for the police. Denise asked if she should get John so he could see it too  and I said yes! Unfortunately, the man started getting nervous and told me we had to go. I kept shooting photos as we were led out of what I learned was some sort of a tribute room to the communists who were killed. How/what/why I have no idea. Maybe the Nationalists killed them. All I know is we saw a secret place in Shanghai and I certainly love the idea of secrets as long as no one is murdered for them. By the time John and Henry got to us, we were already walking back into the prison yard so they missed the display.

  

We also went to Ward Prison which was built in the 30s and the largest prison ever built in China. This place was scary. But not content to only take photos of the exterior, I started down a passageway, passed the check-in booth with the guard looking the other way, and into the outer yard while taking photos before I realized the guard was yelling at me. I finally looked into the glassed in booth to see the uniformed guard waving his arms and yelling at me in Chinese to get out. He was probably swearing at me in Chinese, too, I thought it was pretty funny but Henry was not amused. He probably didn’t want one of his “paying guests” to be arrested and detained in a Chinese jail. Imagine all the paperwork that would involve!

  

Racing along, we took a quick peek into the Fashion Mart because I wanted some Chinese clothes, specifically old fashioned wide legged pants which I couldn’t find anywhere. Henry thinks I can get a pair made here. I just wanted a set of outdoor pajamas which so many Chinese used to wear. I was a bit disappointed to see how ‘Westernized’ Shanghai had become.  There was so little of the authentic way of life left to see. But from what I have read in other blogs, it is still feasible to witness Chinese life out in the countryside. It is apparent Shanghai is still a cosmopolitan city, as it always has been, but it is rapidly catching up with the rest of the world’s economic race to the proverbial finish line of wealth. A bit sad to me, but inevitable. 

  

Everywhere, any time, there are women in wedding dresses and formal wear being photographed. What I thought was a wedding photo was most likely a fashionshoot.

After seeing what I witnessed the next day, perhaps progress wouldn’t be such a bad thing after all…

Cheshire is a Cat & a District in England which Includes Bears, Ice Cream, and a Lake

There was one day left in England before heading to France and we had things to do, besides pack. Denise and I drove into Congleton after a stop at a post office where I mailed home an expensive box filled with inexpensive souvenirs. (But it was worth paying for it just so I wouldn’t have to lug it around France plus be charged for a 2nd additional bag on Ryan Air.) Of course, in a busy British neighborhood post office, on a Saturday, was one of the very few times on this trip when my debit card wouldn’t work because of the changing credit card ‘pin system’ going on in Europe now. On top of that, I hadn’t gone to the cash machine first, so luckily Denise came to the rescue as the lone Postmaster was very patient and understanding with the whole situation. The line was almost going out the door behind me and I felt embarrassed for holding things up, although the postmaster assured me that it was quite all right, they would just have to wait, and he was open until 3 (it was about 11) so there was plenty of time. I love that laid back British attitude.

The Cheshire District in the North Country of England seemed to bring out my inner kid. This was even where Lewis Carroll lived awhile and naming the “Cheshire Cat” in Alice in Wonderland after this district.

Then there is the town called Congleton, which is known for bears, among other things. Funny thing is, my late mom loved and collected bears (mostly very cool miniature figurines) and she would have loved to know that her cousin lived in a town that was known for its bears.

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The first settlements in Congleton were Neolithic, Stone Age, and Bronze. Much later, Congleton became a market town after the Vikings destroyed Davenport. The Romans are thought to have been here, too, which is no wonder even if they haven’t found evidence of that…yet. William the Conquerer gave the district of Cheshire over to his nephew, the Earl of Chester. Much history follows with it’s first charter signed in 1272 by the 3rd Earl of Lincoln, Henry de Lacy, to not only hold fairs but also to behead criminals. On that note, the town charter was stamped with approval.

In 1451 the River Dane flooded and the town was destroyed, they rerouted the river, and rebuilt Congleton on higher ground.

In the 1620s, cockfighting and bear-baiting became popular sports in Congleton. But officials wanted larger crowds so they needed a bigger and meaner bear. Rumor has it they sold the town bible to acquire funding for a new bear. However, the truth was, they used the money they were going to pay to get a new bible, to actually buy the bear, and when the crowds increased putting more money in the coffers, they were able to replenish the fund to buy the new bible.

Another publicized story from Congleton, is about John Bradshaw, mayor and lawyer, and, as this article I was reading called him, a regicide, because he penned his name as the first signature on the decree to execute Charles I in 1649. On the wall of The White Lion public house, there is a blue plaque stating that Bradshaw’s attorney office was here and he served his articles from here in this 16th century building. (Note that this White Lion still has some old Christmas, um, holiday trees, (which have seen better days) hanging on the facade.)

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Fast forward to the 21st century and Congleton is still a market town with a nice pedestrian area where we stopped for some pastries (The photo showing the pastry shop isn’t where we actually stopped for pastries. This is called poetic license as I didn’t have a photo of the one we went to but did have a photo of this one just up the street). It’s a pleasant little town where having a cappuccino in a little covered walkway was a pleasant experience.

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Congleton was also an important player in the textile industry well known for leather gloves, silk and lace (my kind of mill!). Interesting and diverse product line.

This little village park celebrates not only awards for being pretty but back in the early days of film, used to show silent movies in the little clubhouse with musicians playing mood tunes and is now celebrating the current Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee. I do recall seeing other celebratory remnants of last year’s big occasion when in London two weeks prior, too. It was a big year for London with the Olympics and the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee. And now a royal baby on the way who could well be a future monarch. All very exciting stuff for royalists (like me).

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Later, John took me to what would be my very own version of Stonehenge, especially since I have never seen the real Stonehenge nor the Avebury standing stones (which are said to be better since you can actually walk amongst them). This little out-of-the-way monument appears to be a pretty low key tourist attraction, with me being the only tourist. (John hung out at the car at the far end of the long driveway, not sure why, but maybe I was on private land and this place called for another ‘quick getaway.’) Now, this was my kind of tourist attraction. Quiet. Rundown. No one else to step around while I took photos. And it was just pretty darn cool. Such history. And how many different ways can a person photograph a few rocks? Let me show you:

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A brief rundown of the history of these is they are called the Bridestones Neolithic Chambered Long Cairn (thanks, John!). It’s the only known tomb in Cheshire to date to the Neolithic period 3500-2400 BC. It is on the west flank of Cloud Hill facing westerly over Cheshire County. Apparently, from what has been gathered historically by Antiquarians, these stones are mere remnants of a more extensive monument. When I later told my 7 year old grandson, Gabriel, about this, he suggested we do some digging (literally) to find out what caveman is buried there. We decided he/she must have been important due to what the original size of the monument was estimated to have been. Perhaps Manchester University will fund sending more students to do further research one day.

Now, on to more important matters. There really is an Ice Cream Farm in Cheshire County

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Oh. My. I felt about 6 years old right then. This was a real ice cream farm! The cows make the milk for the ice cream, they sell the ice cream to their visitors, and they seem to have very happy cows who (a) look forward to visitors (see shot of black and white young cow looking up at me from the barn below), (b) whisper Beatle tunes into one another’s ears (“Listen, wooowaaaeeee, let me whisper in your ear….”), (c) they like to be petted, and (d) they have skylights in the big barn giving them natural Vitamin D from the light. Even the cats like to hang out in the pen with the happy ice cream cows.

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The ice cream was delish and everything was just so darn quaint and cute.

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And I can’t even begin to describe the farm and the beautiful land it sits on, so I won’t even try. A picture speaks a thousand words.

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From the top of Cloud Hill, there is this view of the district which includes the industrial plumes of Liverpool in the distance, and on the right side of the photo there is the humongous observatory, Jodrell Bank Observatory.

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Lastly I learned one more last fascinating fact about the area. There is a Lake Rudyard. Coincidentally, it just so happens that my mother, remember she passed away just before her long-lost first cousin John, who had just driven my USA born and raised self to the overlook of this lake, happens to live in this part of England. He also happens to be the one responsible for finding me after he and his family had been looking for my mom for 65 or so years, because he just so happened to see my mom’s obituary online last year, after a two year hiatus from looking, when he was possessed by the urge to go back online one night. I had purposely written the obit with key words like her father’s name (John’s uncle) and the city of Shanghai (where she was born), just in case someone was looking for her like I had looked for them. And because I wrote my full name and the metropolitan city in the U.S. where I lived, and I had taken a random photo of a baby seal on the beach the month before, which our small town e-paper published with my name, he was then able to find my address. Doreen, his sister, wrote to me, and here I was, a year later, by a lake called Rudyard. It just so happens that my mother loved Rudyard Kipling and had several of his books and when I was young I started reading Kipling, too, and now I was accidentally at the lake where Rudyard Kipling’s parents met, which was how their son, Rudyard, was given his name. (All these years I thought he and his family were from India.) I was standing in the middle of some remote place in England, I had never heard of, in front of a lake I never knew about, thinking how it should be my mom standing here. How she would have loved it. How she loved ice cream, bears, and animals and would have been in heaven to spend a whole day at an ice cream farm eating ice cream with those animals. And maybe she’s orchestrating this whole chorus of “Happenings” from her perch here on Cloud Hill to remind us all that anything is possible “If” you believe that it can happen.

This one’s for you, Mom, wherever you are.

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Onwards to France…

Peter Rabbit and The Lake District

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It was about an hour and a half drive north to get to the Lake District (Cumbria) from Congleton. Pretty landscape scenery with a few interjections from John of notable landmarks or items to note along the way. One was a mountain area known for the Lancashire witch-burning back in the day of notable witch-burnings which I will need to read about further one of these days. A snow covered mountain range called the Howgills. The other that stands out are the miles and miles of hand made slate or stone fences criss-crossing acres and acres and acres of land. These man-made fences are impressive.

I Googled for more info and someone called Ricx said:
“Cumbria is covered with approx 7000 miles of dry stone walling built nearly two hundred years ago. They still stand used mainly for sheep in the cold and freshness of the Peinines of Cumbria. The snow capped hills in the background are the Howgills.” (I could swear John gave me the term for this fence building technique, but I didn’t write it down, hence I forgot the name.)

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We arrived at a ferry crossing over Windemere lake. Our timing was impeccable; we didn’t have to wait long for the ferry and the crossing was over in the blink of an eye!

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Not long after, we arrived in the small village of Hawkshead which was overrun with images of Peter Rabbit and souvenir shoppes. This was Beatrix Potter country. As a lover of children’s books, ever since I heard about Beatrix’s life story, many years ago, and how she endowed her beautiful acres of land in the Lake District to the National Trust (UK’s version of America’s National Park Service) upon her death, this area has been on my ‘wish list’ of travel destinations. And, here I was. (Careful what you wish for as you may just get it and then you, too, can be thankful for a random event leading to fulfilling your wish.)

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Curiously, most, if not all, of the shoppes featured Japanese translations for any Potter signage. John later found out that in Japan, students are taught English by reading Beatrix Potter’s children’s books. Therefore, thousands of Japanese tourists make their way to Hawkshead and Hilltop House every year. Wow, who knew? I certainly had no clue of the impact on people, especially as a learning tool, these books have made globally.

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We went into one of the National Trust protected buildings which featured several original works of art by Beatrix along with story lines on her life. This included her love life. Although she never had children of her own, she was engaged to one fellow in London, but married another fellow she met here in the Lake District (If memory serves me, they met in this building which was a government run office for land procurement.) when purchasing her first property here in Cumbria after her books sold like hotcakes. There is a movie about her life starring Renée Zellweger (which at a certain period of her life story reduced me into a puddle of tears) called “Miss Potter” explaining more, if you are interested.

Anyway, the three of us wandered around the two story building, up an uneven staircase, and walked on wildly uneven and wavy floorboards. I proceeded to happily escape into my little pretend photo-journalist world taking photo after photo of the ‘artifacts’ presented. And, John, Denise, and I had a little fun with the period hats, as well.

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Then, I snapped this picture…on the way out…

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…and, DUNDUNDUN DUN, a woman jumped out of nowhere and severely admonished me for, yep, you got it, TAKING PHOTOS. Oops. (As a side note, she was Japanese which really makes me want to know HER story and how she managed to get this job. Did her dream come true, too?)

We high-tailed it (a little bunny talk) back to the car before our time ran out in the parking lot (yeah, had to pay for parking in this small village in the middle of nowhere), and headed up to Hilltop House. It was obvious, here, that I couldn’t take photos inside (Good grief, there were so many “guards” scattered about! All of whom were mostly elderly women who may be volunteers or maybe paid, not sure). They were standing guard over some beautiful antiques Beatrix and hubby had collected. She loved ‘miniatures’ like I do, too. Then there was her drawing room (literally) where I stood next to a carved desk showing a pad with little animal drawings and the sun, at that moment, just so happened to be shining through the window nearby causing me to blurt out to the ‘guard’ (who was actually an elderly man this time), “Wow, she had great lighting in this spot for drawing, didn’t she?” He merely mumbled a brief acknowledgement. Oh well. It inspired me, anyway.

Back outside I was able to start clicking away again in her garden and in front of the house envisioning her imagination running away with her animal antics as I looked at the dormant vegetable garden and stone barn.

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We decided to head back to town for lunch and to allow time for me to shop for souvenirs to give to my 7 year and 4 year old grandkids, not to mention, for myself. As I was walking down the path towards the car park (there is no such thing of people walking with me since I inevitably stop to take photos every 2 seconds, and I have yet to meet anyone patient enough to wait for me, nor would I expect anyone to be that patient, and besides, taking photos really is a solitary art), something caught my eye and there in the dead winter grass, was this:

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Then my camera battery died. And I had not charged the other two the night before. The day was not yet over and having 3 dead batteries was NOT a good thing. I am usually pretty good at keeping the system going when I travel: one battery in the camera, one in the camera case for the day trip, and the third in the charger plugged in at wherever I’m sleeping the night. But not this time.

Earlier when we had been in the village, there was this sign on a pub which had caught my eye so I suggested we give it a try for lunch. As soon as we ordered, I was on the hunt for an electrical outlet (thank goodness my British electrical converter was also in my camera bag) to charge my battery. The bartender pointed one out and I was back on track.

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Lunch, for me, was the most savory salad I had during my entire journey. I noticed that The King’s Arms also rented out rooms which were very reasonable, but it was off-season, too, which could very well impact the reasoning. However, good to note in case I ever return.

After going a bit overboard on the souvenirs, in a conservatively budget-conscious way, I noticed this interesting tower.

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This shot was taken in a hurry, hence blurry, but I could imagine there is a lot of history in this area one could learn about during a more leisurely trip. But light was fading and we had to meet up for dinner with more “long lost cousins” on our way back to Congleton. It was obvious that several days in the Lake District would just be touching the surface of what this beautiful area has to offer. For the fit and hardy, there are trails everywhere, mountains to climb, and beautiful vistas to see. I do feel very thankful to have had the opportunity to see what I did that day, thanks to my very own “long lost cousin” John and his wife, Denise.

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Rylands Library in Manchester UK

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Somewhere along the line over the last year for the planning of this trip, Rylands Library popped up as a possible interesting piece of history to visit when in Manchester. From the little I saw, the architecture looked pretty cool.

After the visit to Manchester’s Museum of Industry and Science, John, Denise, and I walked over to the library. They had never been there so it would be a new experience for all of us.

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Wow. I could have spent an entire week in this place. Note the architectural fusion between old and new in the photo below.

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The Rylands Library was built as a memorial to John Rylands by his third wife, Enriqueta Rylands, in the late 1800s with the opening in 1900. It seemed a bit of a memorial to herself, too, from this statue of her we came across. His statue was at the other side of this expansive reading room.

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John and Enriqueta were married for 13 years until his death in 1888 at the remarkable age of 87 (unusual for that time, but, then again, I’ve seen that people who amass great wealth tend to live longer, probably due to being able to afford the greater comforts in life along with perhaps the psychological values of less stress over finances).

In 1972, the Rylands Library merged with the University of Manchester.

It is said that the Rylands, as of 2012, had the largest collection of printed volumes in the UK at 250,000, as well as a staggering 1M+ manuscripts and archival items. One claim to fame is the ownership of a piece of the oldest New Testament (Mr. Rylands was a practicing Baptist). I was thrilled to be able to freely take photographs in the various rooms.

Fragment of New Testament:

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The architecture is a blend of 1890s Victorian, neo-Gothic, with a vaulted roof making the exterior and interior look as if it had once been a church, which it had never been. It was built with Cumbrian sandstone (Cumbria is where the beautiful Lake District resides (more on that later)) which, other than some repairs here and there, has stood up to the hands of time, as well as withstood the smooty, dirty air which the Manchester area was quagmired in for ages due to the coal, cotton, and railroad industries.

Mrs. Rylands amassed Mr. Rylands fortune upon his death. John Rylands (aka “English entrepreneur, philanthropist, and owner of the largest textile concern in the UK and Manchester’s first multi-millionaire.”) owned the bulk of the cotton industry in the UK, with manufacturing plants in Wigan, where my family members worked for a pittance and under harsh working conditions. Plus, there was also coal found under these plants, which was also “harvested.”. How ironic that now, over 100 years later, my cousin and I are visiting a beautiful building and library collection thanks to Rylands’ fortune built from the labors of our ancestors. But, I digress…

The corridors and library rooms felt almost profound with the history and memories of civilization. The earliest written works of Chaucer are housed here and I came across documents from Sylvia Plath and her husband, Ted Hughes, who didn’t want the newspaper to make a “big deal” out of the typed document of Plath’s in her obituary. John pointed out the early women’s suffrage documents (a woman from Manchester started that movement!) encased but unfortunately I didn’t get a photo as I was so overwhelmed by the building and the collections including this photo of a book by H.D. Wells called “The Origins of History” that was ‘carved in’ to look like the human heart between the covers. Which is exactly what books can bring us: The Heart of History.

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And, as each day passed, I was finding out more than I had ever imagined about “the heart of my family’s history.”

Here are some additional photos from the Ryland Library including the awesome restroom I used with the pull chain toilet! Couldn’t resist taking the shot…

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By the Sea, By the Beautiful Sea

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Ben and I took off early on Friday for the Imperial War Museum to look over materials regarding Shanghai which we had previously requested to review. These were personal journals of people who lived there when my grandfather, grandmother, and mom all lived there as well as some memorabilia from the Japanese Internment Camp in Yangchow C where my grandmother and mom lived for 4 years. This war museum has a good system for researchers and the review room had quite a few people studying various books and papers. I identified what I wanted copied, paid for it, and now wait for the IWM to mail them to Ben in London who will forward it all to me in the U.S.

After lunch, we collected our luggage and knapsacks from Ben’s mom and dad’s apartment and began making our way for the train station. Ben was an awesome guide and help to me with my overflowing baggage due to gifts I had bought for my American family. It was pouring. Then our train was delayed for a bit because of a “trespasser on the tracks.” Other than that delay, the ride and transfer was smooth and pleasant. I do like train travel…

Arriving in Seaford at dusk, we met up with Les and Doreen at their home and were off to have the area’s ‘traditional’ fish and chips. Fresh fish and all.

Doreen and I had some time on our own the following day to take the bus into Brighton, have a pleasant lunch, and see the Imperial Palace. It’s an impressive place for a king or queen to entertain guests, that’s for sure. The dining room table was set for about 30 featuring lovely china; it was massive. Apparently, Queen Victoria didn’t really like the place. I wasn’t allowed to take photos inside which was unfortunate as it was really opulent and filled with rare and marvelous things, mostly Asian. I loved it.

Brighton Pier was a highlight for me as I’ve seen it in films and always wanted to go. Plus, there was a Ferris wheel which I hopped on leaving patient Doreen to wait (heights aren’t her thing). The view of the sea with the sunlight, hitting the water just so, was awe inspiring. And Brighton is not a small, sleepy seaside village only known in the old days for couples having trysts. It is a huge University town with even animal rights protestors passing by us. How I get these ideas about the size of some towns is beyond me.

Alfriston was our Sunday destination for a British Mother’s Day brunch. But before going there, the cab took us up to the headlands of the Seven Sisters chalk cliffs. Wow. Stunning view. The family had all walked the cliffs over the years and I could see why that walk would be tempting. For me, it wouldn’t work out well at this stage but for those stronger and healthier, it would be an incredible walk.

We were driven from there to Alfriston. Interesting little town but the chain link fence surrounding the whole center of town’s main water line didn’t help the ambiance-factor. We all had a fine time in spite of that little distraction.

My time in Seaford was winding down. The roaring evening fires were memorable as the weather was getting colder portending what was to come.

Next stop: Stoke-on-Trent train station to meet my cousin John, Doreen’s brother, who lives with his wife, Denise, in Congleton. This is not far from Manchester. I feel another adventure coming on…

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Falling for St. Paul

The flight to London was sleepless but I managed to stay relatively alert after my 11:30 a.m. landing. It was amazing that there was such a short queue going through immigration at Heathrow. However, the line was growing behind me and I noticed two agents taking off from their posts (on much deserved breaks, I am sure) leaving only two other agents to handle the onslaught of the next cattle call.

Ben was nowhere to be found after I emerged from the perfume-laden-duty-free-section outside of baggage in Terminal 5, so I proceeded to look for the cabbie he had told me would be holding a sign with my name on it. I didn’t see my name but did see a sign with Ben’s last name. Luckily I stopped and mentioned that this was my cousin’s last name so perhaps there was a mixup. There was. This short delay waiting for Ben allowed me the chance to get a decent cup of cappuccino at Costa and get my bearings while doing some people watching. I noticed a lot of business people starting their week in London.

Ben arrived soon after and after the cab ride into a gray London day, we met up with his mum, Doreen, and all took a brief walk around the grounds of the large hotel and residence complex. I then managed to nap for an hour which was perfect to get that second wind for my flagging sail before dinner.

Ben retrieved me and we were off to Doreen’s and my cousin-in-law Les’ apartment for celebratory champagne toasting ‘The Internet’ for bringing us all together. There was a Spanish restaurant not far, called Goya, where we had tapas and a good amount of wine and laughter. After waiting almost a year for this trip, the Heritage Walk had begun.

Tuesday morning began with three of the four of us meeting up to catch the #24 to Trafalgar Square. I saw the back end of Buckingham Palace this time rather than the front as I had 11 years ago. There were two Coldstream Guards (which my grandfather was also) holding themselves stiff on horses half in and half out of little guard houses on either side of a gate leading onto the palace grounds (I recognized this as the vehicle passageway used after William and Catherine’s wedding last year). Good grief, what a job! And what could be worse than to also have to deal with all the lookie-loos gawking and photographing you while keeping that stiff upper lip. Wonder how long their post shifts are and whether that was part of my grandfather Sam’s job back in the early 20s. I hope his post at the palace was short before he was transferred on to Constantinople.

Trafalgar Square with those four magnificent lions, the fountains, the modern art installation recently instituted for the top of one column showcasing a local artist, this one being the golden child riding a rocking horse, and then a movie crew making a Bollywood film, was a fabulous introduction to the London I had not met before. Less was a magnificent tour guide historian telling me about each building we passed. If only I had a photographic memory. Or, any kind of memory would do, to be honest.

We walked about St. Paul’s where I took outlawed photos feeling slightly guilty, as any former practicing Catholic would feel. I imagine it could have been the Catholic God who pushed me down the front steps of the cathedral in punishment for my dastardly deed. Or, perhaps it was my not watching where I was stepping and missing a step tumbling down whilst breaking my fall on the backs of two unfortunate young woman who were just as surprised as I was. Nothing was broken but “falling for St. Paul” did not help my already achy muscles. And it is an unnerving experience to fall down stairs. While I have fallen over the last couple of years, which I think is caused by these damn “floaters” in my eyes (can I sound more pathetic?), I haven’t actually fallen down stairs since I was about six and in my grandmother’s upstairs flat in San Francisco. I can still remember that tumble.

St. Paul’s cathedral has an interesting past (doesn’t everything?), one of which is surviving the London Blitz during WWII. It supposed to be the third largest cathedral but I think it is quite dwarfed in comparison to both St. Peter’s in Rome and the Sevilla Cathedral in Spain.

After lunch in St. Paul’s, Doreen left us to get to work and Less and I went underground to take the Tube to Canary Wharf. Instead, we we landed in Greenwich to see the schooner, Cutty Sark, ending up buying tickets for the boat back to London. It was sunny and a perfect day to be on the water. Plus, what better way was there to see the Tower of London and the Tower Bridge, not to mention the Globe theatre of Shakespeare fame (made without nails but instead with wooden pegs), the Hard, and other remarkable and unremarkable London sights. I highly recommend taking a boat down the Thames on a clear day.

On our way back, we made a brief stop during rush hour at Spencer and David’s to pick up our respective meals, then went back to our respective rooms to respectively recuperate from an intoxicatingly beautiful London experience.

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