Does the Queen Jog Around Her Own Park?

Abbey HouseThe key was older, longer, and heavier than any I’d ever used. It glided smoothly into the lock and with a quick turn the heavy door opened into our room. Donna figured it was the original living room of the house and pointed out elaborate crown molding along the very high ceilings. It seemed odd that the walls were painted pink and the floors were covered with thin green outdoor carpet, which clashed somewhat with the velvet curtains framing the bay window looking out to Mary Poppins land. A pedestal sink stood in the corner and five single beds were placed about.

“Where’s the bathroom?” Jill asked

“Down the hall.”

Her mouth gaped open. “What?”

Two packs fell on the floor followed by the sound of two boys falling on their beds. Snoring followed. Donna unpacked the fifty pounds of travel books we’d all been lugging, arranged them in a circle on her bed, then jumped in the middle. Jill returned from the bathroom and turned on the TV. I washed my face. The soap had a rosy smell that reminded me of my grandmother’s house.

“What? Only six channels?”

“Two more since I’ve been here last.” Donna noted.

Jill and I watched a reality show about dating and realized that in spite of the English accents and better manners, the people here were no different from home. Eventually she stood up and stretched. “I need to jog or something.”

“Some fresh air sounds great.” Donna added.

Do you think people in London will laugh at me if I wear shorts and running shoes?”

“Why would they laugh at you?”

She shrugged her shoulders.

Donna shut her book and glanced at the boys. “They won’t even know we’re gone.”

Outside, I saw no evidence of other tourists. Along the street walked men with briefcases, children in uniforms, and women with grocery bags. It was a big day for us, but to them it was just another Tuesday afternoon.

A sprawling brick building came into our view. “Is that a factory?”

“Hardly Jeffery, it’s KensingtonPalace. Queen Victoria lived there.”

“It doesn’t look Victorian” I added. “Where are the tall gables and cookie-cutter patterns?”

“It was built in another era – way before her time.”

My brain wasn’t ready for this. I guess coming from a world that caps off at 100 years tends to limit one’s perspective.

Beyond the palace we found acres of green lawn. In spite of its fancy name, KensingtonGardens seemed like a typical city park. The sun was out and the place felt festive. A woman walked by and spoke into her cell phone: “You should join me here– it’s warm – at least thirty degrees!” Dogs ran about freely and sniffed the asphalt paths. Jill was happy to see other joggers. I expected London to be formal and slightly uptight. So far it wasn’t.

A large pond got our attention. The reflection of the sky colored it steel blue. We strolled in that direction toward a bench near the waters edge. “I’m running around it.”  Jill took off on the gravel path. The sound of her footsteps trailed off as Donna and I sat down.8182

The warmth of the afternoon sun felt good. My mind was active, like the body of a freshly beheaded chicken. Donna’s voice broke my thoughts: “Can you believe we’re here?”

“Not really.”

She closed her eyes and bathed her face in the sun. “I’m relaxing for the first time in days.”

My mind wasn’t relaxing, it was buzzing in full throttle. A large chunk of this trip was already over  –  the pre-trip scheduling, packing, arranging for the house-sitter, saying goodbye, the flight, the initial shock of arriving, finding our hotel – all behind us now. An oddly pleasant feeling followed – a sense of forward progression.

I glanced at my watch. “Hey Babe, by local time it’s been twenty four hours.” She continued to soak in the sun. “One down – one hundred and forty nine to go.” I declared.

“Relax, Jeffery.” Her eyes were still closed. She took my hand. “Enjoy the moment.”

NEXT: Showering with R2-D2


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