I watched the 1983 movie “Flashdance” tonight. It was the big movie of 1983 and I was in England with my kids that summer. I had six teenagers and my wife Jill with me and we spent two weeks driving around the country in a VW van. We spent the first week in London and I got the kids all 7 day passes on the Underground. We rented two apartments in a building at 202 Kensington Church Street where I had stayed many times before.
The building is in the Notting Hill area which has become very fashionable since I first stayed there. Portobello Road is nearby but is no longer the antique market attraction it was when I first visited in 1977. The Notting Hill Underground station is around the corner and the kids were able to go everywhere in London from that base. We had three boys and three girls so I told the boys they had to stay with the girls but they could otherwise stay out late and go where they wanted to go. The oldest was my son, Mike Jr. who was 18.
One place we went for dinner, another old haunt, was Geale’s Fish Restaurant.
I have been going there when in London since the 1970s and it is always good. The neighborhood is a bit fancier now. Another wonderful restaurant, which is gone now, was a South African place a few blocks away. We found it because of a profile in Gourmet magazine and when I told the owner about it, they gave us free drinks. I can’t remember the name anymore.
The kids all stayed out until 4 AM and we could never get them up in time to do the tourist things. Leicester Square was the big movie center and I suspect they spent most evenings there. We went to nice restaurants and they went to fast food places and everybody was happy.
One night we had tickets for Cats, which was still a big hit then. I had seen it two years before and it had morphed into a children’s event with the cats remaining on stage at intermission so the kids could go up to them.
During the show, one cat, Rum Tum Tugger sat in the lap of one of the girls and we all had a nice time.
Another day was devoted to a side trip to Richmond and Hampton Court palace. The kids all went and we toured this old Tudor palace. Elizabeth of York had rowed across the river to reach the palace and her son, Henry VIII, used the palace which has many paintings of him.
When we were ready to return to London, Gary, Jills’s son who was 15, somehow got lost and he finally came running to the boat with considerable worry on his face.
After a week, we picked up our rental van and set off for the Isle of Wight. I had stayed there before on another trip although the owner ship of the B&B had changed. It was located on the grounds of Osborne House, the summer residence of Queen Victoria and her children.
The guest house was called “New Barn House” and it was on the grounds of Osborne House. I can’t fnd it anymore and haven’t been there in years so maybe it is gone. There is a “New Barn Street.” Maybe this is it as I can’t get to a photo. The first time I was there, Osborne House was still one half museum and one half veterans home. The vets stayed in the old servants quarters of Osborne House but their wives could not stay with them and New Barn House was a B&B for the wives. The proprietor was Captain Brooke-Smith a retired naval officer whose son worked at Jeremy Rogers yacht builder in Lymington. When I asked the son for a recommendation on the island, he called his father and verified that they had room for the four of us.
The experience the first time was fun. We were the only Americans and were the object of considerable curiosity in the dining room. All the other tables were taken by individual wives with a few visiting husbands. Before the call (with a bell) to dinner, Captain Brooke-Smith conducted a small cash bar where one could get a glass of sherry for 50 pence.
When we went back in 1983, the house was still there but the proprietors, and the atmosphere, had changed. The wives could apparently stay with their husbands in the rehabilitation facilities in the old servants’ quarters. The new proprietors were a young couple, Toby and Jenny, who had connections to the London art and music scene. The food had improved and the entire scene was very different and much more fun for the kids. In fact, they insisted on staying longer than we had planned. One night, one resident took the girls out on a pub crawl as he checked out the various rock groups entertaining on the island’s club scene. The girls were 14 and 15 so I was a bit concerned but they got back about 4 AM and told us they had seen this new group called Duran Duran.
We finally dragged the kids away from the island but not before we had visited Cowes and saw the Admirals Cup crews, including Ted Turner who gave my wife an appreciative eye.
Our next stop was Broadway in the Cotswalds. Because we had all the kids, we stayed at the Broadway Hotel, which is very nice and one step below the Lygon Arms. The latter is luxury and too expensive for the crew we had. The Broadway Hotel is very nice and we were there again a few years ago with Claire and her husband, Derek.
The hotel had one large room in back, almost like a bunkhouse, and the kids stayed there.
Broadway was the home of J.M. Barrie, the author of Peter Pan, the play and novel. It is a delightful village, heavily over run by tourists in summer. Claire and her husband Derek met Kate and me for New Years at Heathrow airport when they were spending a year in Spain. We spent New Years Eve at the Broadway Hotel and had a great time.
Our next stage was to return home so we checked into a cheap hotel near Heathrow and planned to drop off the van at the airport in the morning. The next day we were driving to the airport when I saw a sign “Stoke Poges.” That, of course, is the village whose church yard was immortalized in Grey’s Elegy. We turned off and stopped at the church, St Giles.
All the kids, except Kate who refused to get out of the car, trooped into the church where there were copies of the famous poem.
There is an old photo which better shows the churchyard.
So, I will end this small reminiscence with the poem. It is alleged that General Wolfe, as he was rowed to shore for the invasion, recited the poem and said, “I would rather have written this than take Quebec.