Tag Archives: swans


3 Nov

I’m back in the US, now.  A long break from the blog, for me, though it was invisible thanks to the scheduling feature on WordPress.  I considered leaving with my last post — the three hundredth on this blog!! — and disappearing into the wildness of America.  Which I probably will do.  But the question I know I have had for every returning expat is on my mind:  What is it like to come home?


Well, for one thing, the view is nice.

The question is too big and freaks me out at the moment, to be honest.  Just like America: too big and freaks me out.  I walked into a local grocery and nearly fainted.  So many options in the aisle (20 kinds of string cheese?  What even IS string cheese??) but nothing I want (WHERE IS ALL THE COCONUT YOGURT?) yet everyone is friendly and chatting to me and if one more stranger is kind and speaks to me for no reason I WILL LOSE MY SHIT.

You’re too much, America.  Everything is fast, is open late, is full of sugar, is full of petroleum, is saturated with color, is shiny bright white teeth, is the latest brand, is single use and thrown away, is too cold, is too hot, is zooming, is choices, is big and wide and too much.  I’ve only been gone three years.  What happened?  To me?

Frankly I could use a cup of tea.

I’m turning off the calculator in my head.  Something worth the number “twenty” is actually going to cost me twenty dollars, instead of some larger calculation.  You’d think this would be handy, but it’s a bit disconcerting.  Everything in the UK seems to cost less, because the currency is stronger.  I wouldn’t blink at paying 3 pounds for some small trinket, but no way am I paying 6 dollars for the same item in the US.  Even thought that’s the same price.  Oh, dear, I really should have paid more attention to math in college …

The roads are beautiful.  Gorgeous.  I want to drive around all day just for the pleasure of smooth asphalt, enormously wide lanes, right-on-red, functioning street lamps at night, and no zebra crossings.

I miss my kitchen composter.  Municipal composting is a great idea.  I miss my high-viz friends at the county recycling centre.  I saw them so regularly, since our town picked up waste just the once every two weeks. I don’t understand throwing everything in to one big bin … and someone else takes it away and sorts it?  That is … that is … crazy.  I spent three years cleaning, sorting, stacking, and properly disposing of my recycling.  I bought products on the basis of whether or not they had too much wasteful packaging.  I recycled everything.  EVERYTHING.  I feel like we’ve produced more trash in a week in the US than we did in two months in the UK.  Living more consciously of waste is going to be an effort.  This country makes it so easy to consume and dispose.  Our 51st state is going to be a giant pile of garbage.

American children become consumers so young.  We went to an amusement park recently and I was astounded at all the designer tracksuits, shirts, hats, and footwear for children.  When I wanted to find running bottoms for my girls when we ran a mud run together in the UK, I was told no one made sports clothes for girls.  (We eventually settled on a very small cut women’s xtra small.  The rampant sexism in UK sports is a topic for another day.)  We walked into Old Navy yesterday and saw approximately seventy million styles of yoga pants, running bottoms, zumba trousers, and dance capris for girls as young as 2.  Choice is good, right?  But … kids become habituated to thinking of themselves as vehicles for marketing.  I don’t know.

Where is that tea.  Also, someone pull up BBC Radio because I miss British voices.  Why is everyone here so perky?  It’s baffling.  I’m exhausted.


I pulled open my photo archives and picked this one out totally at random. So many scenes to share. Each memory a little prickle on my heart.

I have tried to look through my many unedited photos and dozens of explorations which have never made it to the blog.  I find my eyes are a bit too tender at the moment, to look at Camelot.  And it would feel strange to write about the experience of being in a place when I’m not there.  It’s all memory, now.  So, I make no promises about what will show up next.  Occasional photo posts as I find something worth sharing?  Random thoughts about repatriation, as I slowly crawl out of my bunker?  In the UK my mind tended towards knights, but here I think I’ll quote a pirate — “Good night, Crumpets in Camelot … I’ll most likely kill you in the morning.”


Oh, and PS – I saw this in that local grocery I mentioned, and a reserved and silent tear leaked quietly out the side of one eye. Hail Britannia. 


Le Chevalier au Cygne

16 Nov

There isn’t really a Swan Knight in today’s post, but I was reminded of medieval chansons de geste when we walked down to the Severn River as it runs towards Worcester Cathedral, and saw:

Just a few romantic swans in this direction, gently emerging from the dreamy mist enveloping the Worcester Bridge.

From the other direction, a full-frontal swan assault team.

My children are very familiar with the story of Oriant, Beatrice, the evil Matabrune, and Helias, who becomes the Swan Knight in one version of the story. (I don’t know if this link works, but an audio of the story is free on iTunes from Barefoot Books: https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/barefoot-books-podcast-ipod/id361242548 — scroll down to #16, Knight of the Swan)

There was something mesmerizing about the shockingly white feathers against the dark river water.  These are mute swans (note the orange bills), and they made a soft sort of chirping bark sound and wagged their tail feathers as they careened back and forth.  (Really.)

A beautiful swan statue, a gift from the German city of Kleve, overlooks both the riverside walk and the swans themselves.  In the right background, you can see the Cathedral Tower.

Why the swan?  We asked the guide inside the Cathedral — where we found heraldic and symbolic swans in various places — and the presence of swans in Worcester seemed to be a mystery to the guide as well.  A Beauchamp lord — the family claimed kinship to the swan knight, somewhere in time’s mists — and his lady are buried, here, her head resting on a large black swan.

“So, as they stray’d, a swan they saw
Sail stately up and strong,
And by a silver chain she drew
A little boat along,
Whose streamer to the gentle breeze,
Long floating, flutter’d light,
Beneath whose crimson canopy
There lay reclined a knight.

“With arching crest and swelling breast
On sail’d the stately swan,
And lightly up the parting tide
The little boat came on.
And onward to the shore they drew,
And leapt to land the knight,
And down the stream the little boat
Fell soon beyond the sight.”

Day out: WWT Slimbridge Wetland Centre

2 Nov

What to do on an overcast half-term break day out?  We gave WWT Slimbridge Wetland Centre a try.  High praise from these North Americans: although it poured rain on us twice while we were walking the extensive grounds, we didn’t give up and run back to the indoor centre until we were too cold to feel our fingers.  Beautiful and peaceful on a rainy day, I can only imagine how gorgeous it would be under a warm sun.

Access to the site is typically English — wind your way through one-track lanes and through small villages until you think you are lost and then: there it is.  Parking is free and there’s plenty of it, and the Centre is open year-round during daylight hours.

The main building holds exhibit and educational spaces, a gift shop, cafe, and an observation tower.

There was a display of paper-cut decorative art in the main hall.  If only I had two hundred pounds to spare …

A pound for a bag of feed and you can give the birds a snack.  Don’t bring your own bread — it’s not nutritious enough for the birds.  These were the fattest pigeons I’ve ever seen.

Everyone knows the drill, and the mute swans take their share of the loot.

You can feed the birds leaning over a fence, or walk up to them and attempt feeding by hand (or by scattering the feed on the ground and running away, my six-year-old’s favorite strategy).

There are several play areas throughout the site, including “Welly Boot Land”.  Expect to get wet here — either from playing in the water, or from the rain.

Half-term break included Halloween this year, so the Centre was spooked up for the kids.  We followed a Halloween Trail with thematic clues throughout the park.  (Cupcakes in the cafe for rewards, after.)

Did I mention that rain, yet?  Pretty much the whole place was “Welly Boot Land” during out visit.  That’s okay.  It was fun to explore.

In between the main paths, grassy (or muddy or leafy) side paths lead to quiet streams or ponds.  These trumpeter swans hooted and honked as they swan off.

Or flamingos.  There are several groupings of flamingos here at the Centre, spread throughout the parklands.

Apparently, they like jack-o-lanterns.

A beautiful setting for a long, quiet walk.

Not bird or wetlands related, necessarily, but irresistible.

There are a beautiful variety of swans at the Centre.  This is the smallest of the swan family, a Coroscoba.

Black necked swans as well.

These fronds waved well above our heads.  Even on a half-term holiday, the grounds were not crowded (maybe because of that rain) and we found it very peaceful.

A dash inside the tropical house to wait out some rain, and we found a large above-ground koi pond full of assertive fish.  It was like being surrounded by dozens of glowing, gorgeous, miniature sharks.

And another dash to a covered observation hut, looking over flamingo lagoon.

The Wetland Centre clearly belongs to the birds.  As many wander the paths as stay beyond the fences.  I’m kind of in love with this lovely drake.  Don’t tell him hoisin duck is one of my favorite appetizers.

It was touch and go over this bridge.  The geese put up a strong, hissing, defense, but eventually retreated in the face of three children and a very wet mother.

Crain brain.  Some of the Halloween trail items may have gone a little far…

The award-winning rain garden.  Check out the eco roof.  I would totally build one of these in my backyard.  Heck, make it a little bigger and install FIOS, and I’ll live there.

Back inside the Centre, we visited Toad Hall and the many small amphibious creatures therein.

Then a quiet stop in the cafe, with a unique view of one of the flamingo groups.  Traveling in England Tip #463: English lunch officially ends at 1:30.  So if you walk in to a cafe at 1:20 and it seems crowded, take a short walk.  When you return at 1:31, it will be abandoned.  Enjoy!

Before you go, don’t forget to take the lift (or walk) to the top of the observation tower.  Look out over the paths you’ve walked.

And dream of the many more places there are still to go, here in this corner of Camelot.