Birmingham
Stratford, Oxford
Feb. 12/20, 1992

Michael J. Ferguson
Montréal

Les Publications INRS-Télécommunications, Montréal

Journal Index

Contents

1  Wednesday, Feb. 12, Mirabel
2  Thurs. Feb. 13, London, Heathrow
3  Friday, Feb. 14, London
4  Saturday, Feb. 15, Birmingham
5  Sunday, Feb. 16, Birmingham
6  Monday, Feb. 17, Birmingham
7  Tuesday, Feb. 18, Stratford on Avon
8  Wednesday, Feb. 19, Oxford
9  Thursday, Feb. 20, Colnford
10  Maps

I am on my way to one of the garden spots of the world - Birmingham, England - for a TEX Users Group Director's meeting. Is this one of the ``perks'' of winning an election? I replaced the frame on my bike again. This new one is a normal, full-sized mountain bike with the feature that it folds. I am hoping that it will make it possible to travel by train - not on this trip but in May when I am in Italy. The bike is sufficiently compact that it actually fits easily in the trunk of the car.

1  Wednesday, Feb. 12, Mirabel

This flight is the first step in an exciting adventure for 8 kids. They are part of World Youth on their way to spend 6 months of Peace Corps type work in Ghana. They were originally 9 but one got delayed because of a very mild case of mono. They are very excited - and what were they to do for a full day in London?

This is the first flight that I have been on in a long time that actually has empty seats. I have three to myself. I might get some sleep but not much; the flight is only going to be 5 hours and 40 minutes - about the same time as the train from Montréal to Toronto.

I may have the row to myself, but unfortunately I am on the smoking/no smoking transition. There does not seem to be any way to prevent the smoke from invading my air space. I think I shall move up and several rows. I just found an empty one in the middle.

2  Thurs. Feb. 13, London, Heathrow

We arrived a little early but more than made up for it with a long taxi to our gate. I am still amazed at eclectic collection of planes on the ground. Along with the usual Air India, Garuda, Cathay Pacific, QANTAS, Singapore Airlines, and Virgin, were five from United.

After wending my way through the ``Disney World'' holding pens of customs and immigration, I arrived at the baggage claim - my bag and bike were already there.

One of the objectives of this trip was to visit some old friends from IIASA, the Basile family, that had recently moved from Geneva to London. I found a phone, fed it an exorbitant number of coins and discovered that next week is school break and the entire Basile family was going to be out of town - Paul and Marc were going to Albertville, Marie, Gwen's youngest, was going to visit friends in Geneva, and Gwen was just being alone. If I am going to see them, it is today. So I will be off to London today instead of Oxford.

It was easy to get out of Terminal 4, but I immediately went the wrong direction on the A4. Then I compounded the error by waiting, at light to cross the highway, on the wrong side of the road. The A4 into London, 15 miles long, is not really a wonderful biking road. It is busy with 4 narrow lanes, but does have strategically located bike paths. Some of these coexist with auto off street parking. For me the coexistence was not entirely benign. As I (almost) passed one car, the front door suddenly opened and I crashed. My bike was only slightly damaged, both tow clips broken and the handlebar banged out of position. My arm hurt - I had been gouged by the upper corner of the car door - but I didn't think it was too bad. The driver was very apologetic, and asked about my well being. It seemed that there would be less hassle if I just replaced the tow clips when I found bike shop so I indicated I was OK and left. In Hammersmith I fixed the tow clips and also decided to stop at their Kentucky Fried Chicken to examine my arm. It had been sore, warm, and wet, so I suspected some blood. When I took off my jacket, I found a 3 inch circle of blood on my sweater. My shirt was worse. I had a 1 inch, very deep gash, with what looked like brown jelly and cut muscle below the skin. Something had to be done.

I continued into London, and stopped at a Chemist's Shop near Hyde Park Corner. I showed the Chemist my arm, a real attention getter, and asked for advice. He suggested the Westminster Hospital on Victoria Street. I couldn't find it on my map and he didn't really know where it was. He found the word ``hospital'' on my map and directed me there. This was the Greycoat Hospital which was really a school. The real Westmister Hospital is on Horseferry. I found it and their ``casualty center''. The nurse said that it was indeed very deep, put a dressing on it and asked me to wait. Eventually I discovered that I needed to register. I did, and waited 30 minutes to be shown to a cubicle and another 60 minutes before anybody at all saw me. Wasn't I just taking up valuable space? When the doctor saw it, she wanted a second opinion from the surgical team. Twenty minutes later the second opinion arrived and the prognosis was that it was ok just to sew it up. The doctor put in three stitches, prescribed some antibiotics, and I was on my way. She apologized about the fact that the antibiotics would cost $3.40. Amazingly, the entire stitching was free.

It was a beautiful day, clear and sunny, and very unusual for this time of year. It was a slight waste, perhaps, spending the afternoon in a hospital - but it was interesting.

I got a good map of London, and made my way towards Hampstead-Heath and the Basiles. While getting lost, a shortage of coins, and a lack of phone card phones, allowed me to discover that England is another country that allows incoming calls to pay phones.

I finally found Perceval Ave (yes it IS spelled correctly) on the highest hill in London.

3  Friday, Feb. 14, London

It is another clear, pretty day in London. This morning I will check out the trains to Birmingham. Hopefully, I won't have to fold up my bike.

Although it was a straight shot from Hampstead-Heath to Euston Station, I managed to go right by it without noticing and ended up in the middle of University College London. I back-tracked along Tottenham Court Road and used the fact that I was riding a bike to make an ``illegal'' right turn to get back to the side entrance for the station.

Bicycles are OK on British trains, even the IC variety. It cost an extra $3.00 and you were required to make a specific train reservation. Birmingham is very easy to get to from London. There seems to be a train about every 20 minutes. I opted for the 4:10 but actually went on the 3:40 instead.

The rest of the day was spent visiting bookstores. I was after a couple of very new books on semantics and temporal logic. I was first steered to Dillons which appears to be the book store for University College, London. They knew of both the books I wanted but neither were on their shelves. They suggested that I try Foyles. Foyles is a huge, possibly the world's largest, bookstore on Charing Cross.

It is now normal London drizzle. The sun has totally disappeared. It did not reappear all day. I found Charing Cross after exploring the Strand, riding through the pigeons in Trafalgar Square and being amazed at all the shows playing. If I had money and time, it could be quite much fun. Foyles is as big as I remember (I was last there in 1970) and it's still very hard to find a book or even browse. They insist on shelving the books by publisher rather than subject and author. They didn't have either of the books I wanted and claimed that they were too new to be stocked. Browsing was also not much fun.

I left Foyles, and walked up the street for a delicious fish (plaice), chips, and salad lunch. They didn't have any local beers on the menu. I took the opportunity to continue my tasting of German beers. I had been upset at missing Becks while visiting Peggy in November. Becks is indeed a decent beer.

I stopped at Dillons on the way back to Euston Station and was delighted to find the book on Temporal Logic was now on the shelf. I bought that and two others.

The 3:40 to Birmingham is decently full. The conductor reminded passengers that today was a heavy fare day and that the supersaver fare was not valid.

It is grey, overcast, and getting dark. We should be arriving at Birmingham-New Street station at 5:20. Yesterday it was quite dark then.

It was indeed quite dark - but it wasn't raining. I rode up Corporation Ave. feeling that this was not the street for me. I think that there was a friendlier commercial street running parallel but it was not obvious it would get me where I needed to go. Very soon it was clear that I didn't really know where I needed to go. Aston University was on the other side of the motorway. Fortunately there was a pedestrian tunnel under it and I was able to find my way. The final closure on the Aston Business College Center was made quite easy because I met a couple of friends.

4  Saturday, Feb. 15, Birmingham

It was a beautiful day and we have been stuck inside for all of it - in a meeting.

5  Sunday, Feb. 16, Birmingham

We have been stuck inside all day today too.

6  Monday, Feb. 17, Birmingham

It looks like a good day. Aston University, formerly known as Aston Tech - the latter reported with a slight sneer - is a pleasant, modern campus in the center of Birmingham. It has little memorable character and a neighbourhood that is fraying about the edges.

My target for today is Stratford-on-Avon. The local reports indicate that Stratford is suffering from winter doldrums, with no theatre until March. That is a trifle long to wait in a queue.

Henley in Arden

This is a cute, semi half-timbered town about 8 miles north of Stratford. Seaspray Fish and Chips - Take away shop was my choice for lunch. I had to ask the lady to put back about half the chips in there normal serving. It was still twice as much as I could eat. They had picnic tables on the sidewalk. I had them to myself since everyone else was taking their lunch home.

It has been a beautiful day - cool and mostly sunny.

Stratford on Avon, Warwickshire, Shakespeare's County

Tis a place for the Bard's Walk, Birthplace, Ann's Cottage, Mother Arden's House, and half timbered stuff shops. It is touristy but has charm. I am now having a Flowers Original Bitter, in the Garrick Inn and Harvard House. Flowers used to be brewed in Stratford but now comes from Cheltenham. There is no local brew any more.

The Garrick Inn and Harvard House both date back to 1596. The Harvard House is named after the grandson of the original owners. It is, for some reason, not the Rogers House in memory of Thomas and Ann Rogers but instead the Harvard House named after John Harvard, their grandson and the Harvard of Harvard University.

Stratford is not totally void of Theatre in the winter. The Shakespeare company is on vacation until March and the entire Theatre is on vacation on Monday. On other days they have various shows such as Grease or a Dance Revue. I wonder if Oxford has Theatre or Music on Tuesdays. We shall see.

7  Tuesday, Feb. 18, Stratford on Avon

The grey sky is drizzling on the snow. It is perhaps a tribute to Shakespeare's genius that he could write

Full many a glorious morning have I seen
Flatter the mountain-tops with sovereign eye,

Perhaps he really lived in another part of the world!

The rain changed to wet snow and snow pellets just after I got started, The fields just outside of Stratford have a light covering of snow but the road is clear. It is just above freezing, and so are my hands. I have decide to stop at a pub to warm up but must wait until after 11:00, the apparently universal opening time in England. The big town on the route, Shipston on Stour, does not seem to have any likely candidate. Perhaps the A3400 (main road) is shunting me through a dull part of town. I haven't seen any ``city center'' signs - maybe there isn't any. I continue on and decide to stop at the Red Lion Inn in Long Compton - not to be confused with the Red Lion Inn in Little Compton. The fire is blazing and the hot onion soup is wonderful. There is much sympathy, for I seem to have picked the day of the first snowfall, and only one they hope, of the year. Simon feels that it must be a ``bet'' that makes me ``push bike'' in this weather. When I tell him its to get exercise and see the country, his comment is ``Better you than me!''.

After Simon came back from seeing the doctor in Chipping Norton, he says the road is snow covered and wishes me luck. This ``fearful'' driving is the apparent reason for the dart teams cancelling out their game this afternoon.

I replaced my very wet socks - my super mountain bike shoes do not keep me dry - and gloves and started up the hill to Chipping Norton. The climb was about 300 feet with the snow getting noticeably heavier as I rose. At the top, about 400 feet higher than Stratford, there was a 1 to 2 inch blanket over the fields, and the side roads. It was really rather pretty, and would have been stunning if the sun had decided to come out.

It was not all downhill from here, as I had been told in Long Compton - not an unusual misrepresentation. It was down though, but my feet were still freezing. I stopped at the Duke of Marlborough just north of Woodstock for the second drying. My feet were soaked again so I decide to change shoes and use plastic bags. The toe clips did keep my feet in place and the plastic kept them dry. It was much more comfortable into Oxford.

I managed to find some very detailed maps (2cm/km) of the route from Birmingham to London and discovered that there really are very few small roads going north/south. The snow discouraged me from trying but if I had, it would have been a route such as - (south from Enstone) - Fulwell, Deadman's Riding Wood, Dog Kennel, and finally, Grim's Ditch to get back on the main road. These names do not instill confidence, neither do the dotted portions on the roads. Almost all of the signs in such directions warned of ``Single Track Road''.

The Dual Carriageway just south of Woodstock had a real bicycle path, a rather pleasant change. I passed the Oxford City sign and still had 3 miles to go before the center of town - now there were lots of bikes.

Instead of looking for ``Casualty'' hospital, I looked for the Tourist Bureau, and a place to stay. I finally found it just beyond the strangest Pedestrian Zone, Cornmarket Street, I have ever seen. This zone had a street in the middle full of busses and taxis. Perhaps the impact was smaller when hit by a bus. Most bicyclists were walking their bikes.

I found a nice B&B, unloaded, and went back into town to explore bookshops. Blackwells closed early, but Dillons was open and had some books that even their London store was missing.

Today may have been a short (40 miles) day, but it was not a lazy one.

8  Wednesday, Feb. 19, Oxford

It is not raining - yet. The forecast is ambiguous. I am on my way to Windsor today, approximately 50 miles and what should be an easy ride to Heathrow in the morning.

The plastic bags are going to have to go. My feet are damp. Maybe that's why they are so cold. Hopefully it won't snow - just a few flakes so far.

It was a long uphill from here into the snow, but at least that was confined to the woods, fields and banks of the roads. The rise was reasonably gentle up about 300 feet except for the last little sharp climb at the top of Howe Wood.

From there it was all down through Pishill Bottom, Pishill Bank and Pishill all the way to Middle and Lower Assendon. The drop was almost 500 feet finishing at Henley on Thames. The Thames here was very quiet and smooth, just perfect, except perhaps for the frost, for a regatta.

I stopped for lunch at another Rose and Crown - there are apparently a shortage of acceptable pub names in England - and had a sliced beef sandwich, euphemistically called a ``steak sandwich'' and another half pint of Brakspears, perhaps fitting as the brewery was next door. The ``bar food'' in pubs is quite good and reasonably priced. I would certainly recommend it.

From Henley the road went up and down the left bank of the Thames in a typical cliffy riverbank fashion. From Wargrave it was up over a ridge to Upper Wargrave and down to Hare Hatch. This was the third or fourth time I saw the postman delivering the post (mail?) on his/her bike. This time there was considerable strain. He was also going up the hill to Upper Wargrave.

Windsor

Windsor Castle is much more imposing than I remember it in 1958. According to the guard, not much has changed except that the people are not now allowed to wander through much of the castle grounds. This restriction was quite recent as a means to reduce the threat of terrorism. It was quite crowded this afternoon.

I decide not to visit but to continue on towards Heathrow. Although my map showed Heathrow only about 5 miles away, the route looked moderately confusing. I passed north of the castle through continuous playing fields, not for golf. I doubt these were the ``playing fields of Eton'' but they were close.

Heathrow airport is surrounded by huge reservoirs, enclosed by 50 foot high dikes, with such names as Queen Mother Reservoir, Wraysbury Reservoir, King George VI Reservoir, and Queen Mary Reservoir. It was obvious while you were passing one, and they helped navigation considerably. I tried unsuccessfully to find accommodation during a circle tour of Stanwell Moor, Stanwell, East Bedford, West Bedford, Feltham, and Ashford. Even the Stanwell Arms Hotel was fully booked. However, I did get a card for the Colnford Guest Lodge from the proprietor of the Old Rectory and they had a room left over the garage - I took it. Both the room and lodge are just west of the runways at Heathrow. It is spartan but adequate, and should make for an easy ride to Terminal 4 - perhaps slightly longer than the five minutes they list on their card.

9  Thursday, Feb. 20, Colnford

The frost was on the grass and hedgerows - there are no pumpkins. I was right at the end of the runways but it was still 4 miles to Terminal 4. I wonder how far it would have been from Windsor.

A small mystery has been solved. I was told, by a good friend, that there was a Body Shop in Terminal 4, but the last time I was here with Peggy, we were unable to find one. There is indeed one, but it is in the departure area rather than in the Duty Free Area. Coming originally from Terminal 1, we missed it.

I am very slow putting together my bike. It is clear that I will have to arrive at least 1.5 to 2 hours before a train leaves to be able to get it on board. There is a compensation of sorts though; I am able to carry it, all the way through to have it x-rayed. In retrospect, I like the Frankfurt, Claim your baggage by the plane procedure better.

Random Comments

10  Maps




File translated from TEX by TTH, version 3.02.
On 12 Nov 2008, 10:20.