Having carefully explored all the possibilities that the double tub had to offer we settled in for a quiet evening. After that, we retired to the bedroom.
The next morning was rather dismal weather wise but we had plans to visit the Tate gallery and the British Museum; but I had added in a surprise. The British museum was actually closed but we had been given access. All I needed to do was call an assistant curator and he or she would usher us in. It was really thrilling to wander the seeming miles of corridors and halls unimpeded by others with their strollers and center of the path discussions. We spent four hours and a bit and could have spent the day but the Tate beckoned.
But first, there was the matter of lunch. We decided against French restaurants in general and chose a pub that had been recommended by a friend. It was a great place and since I wasn't driving, I treated myself to a pint or two. I rarely drink beer at home because of the taste and the fact that it's served cold. Ally stuck to Shiraz and we had beef sandwiches and chips, the house specialty. Then it was back in a cab for the ride to the Tate Britain Gallery. I was a bit disappointed when I discovered a few of my favorites were on loan or being maintained, but there was plenty to see. Ally was enthralled with the Rossetti, Blake and Waterhouse paintings. Centuries of art were laid out along the halls and corridors and we had an excellent view of each painting. Three hours of that and we were ready for a change.
"Can you handle one more museum?" I asked Ally.
"Can we find a place for a snack first?" She countered.
"I think we can do that easily," I smiled and gave her a kiss.
With a cabby's help, we found a nice bakery that had pastries and tables to consume them.
After a suitable rest we hailed yet another cab for our next ride, I poked my head in and asked if he knew the Royal Hospital museum in Whitechapel and he did.
Given the time of day, I expected more of a crowd. I was pleasantly surprised and so was Ally.
"So no special access here eh?" Ally inquired.
"None necessary Babe, it's midweek in the off season. Besides, I thought you might like to meet Mr. Merrick," I chuckled.
"Oh I do, and if you're up for this you might like the Mütter Museum in Philadelphia. I could spend days there," Ally purred.
"I've heard of it but I've never been, I think the boys would enjoy that one, we could hit it during the summer break," I suggested.
"Are you sure? It is pretty graphic, Carter might have a few issues with some of it and possibly Kelly," Ally probed.
"We can certainly ask them and hear what they think on the subject," I agreed.
Before we knew it, we were face to face with Joseph Merrick or at least his skeleton. We both marveled at how long the man managed to live with such a condition. I wondered if he would have lived longer if he had better care and comfort. We didn't stay long after viewing the exhibits of Merrick and Joseph Lister. Ally was getting a bit tired and frankly, so was I.
We went back to the hotel and emailed the boys, just to let them know we would call after they were home from school.
We napped and nibbled and generally rested. Tomorrow it would be the Imperial War Museum. Being a gun collector and a student of military affairs in general, it was a place I was looking forward to.
We took a late dinner in the dining room and chatted with other guests in the bar. At 10:00 we ambled back to the suite to call the boys. It gave us time to change and get comfortable before the call. I had purchased two Bluetooth speaker phones and with those being used at both ends, the conversation was easier. Carter had great news about his math skills, he had been chosen for a math tournament and he had three unassisted goals in his last soccer game. Ally and I hooted for Carter and urged him to keep it up.
Kelly, as it turns out was a natural born hitter, The school baseball season was in full swing and he had eight home runs and twenty base hits in fifty-six innings. We told Kelly how proud we were of him and his abilities. I pointed out that his stats would be even better if they played nine innings like the majors.
"C'mon Kelly, tell them the rest!" Brandon commanded.
"I'm getting to it, … Dad, Mom, I made the honors list and Brandon should tell you his news too," Kelly insisted.
"I'm sure he will but let's hear what the Dean had to say," I coaxed.
Kelly explained his GPA and how he had maintained above standard even excellent grades in all his classes. He was also in line for a citizenship award.
I was bowled over. His athletic prowess had drifted to his scholastic efforts and he was extremely well liked. He used his position to help others and would fend off compliments regularly, Brandon told us.
"I just treat people the way I want to be treated, it's not complicated," Kelly explained.
"There's nothing wrong with that Honey, take the recognition and enjoy it a little, keep doing what you're doing because it works for you," Ally encouraged.
"Thanks, Mom, and thank you too, Dad," Kelly agreed.
"So Brandon, what do you have to say?" I asked.
"Go on, tell them," insisted Kelly and Carter in unison.
"Okay already, I'm going to. My science paper on genetically altered crops got an A plus and it's going into competition for review. Real scientists will read it and evaluate my conclusions and my data. It could end up in the National High School Journal of Science!" Brandon crowed.
"Outstanding Brandon, I look forward to reading it myself. Why don't you email it to me and I can read it on the train to France," I suggested.
"Sure Dad, I'll send it as soon as we're done here.
Excellent, Hey where's Wade? I haven't heard from him yet. He's part of the family after all," I insisted.
"I'm here Uncle Rob, I was just listening to the other guys. My report on Persia is being posted on the school network and I made honors, too. Dad carried me around and jumped in the pool with our clothes on. He was so excited," Wade related happily.
"Yeah, that sounds like Dennis," Ally agreed. "How are you making out with that herd of boys Cammie?"
Just fine, Hon, It was easier to just bring clothes for Wade and I over here. It ain't honest though. Brandon does most of the cooking and the others clean the heck out of the house. I spend a lot of time reading or surfing the web. I'm gonna get fat if this goes on much longer," Cammie complained, tongue in cheek.
"Well, enjoy it while you can kiddo, we'll be home before you know it," Ally laughed.
We all chatted a bit longer and called it a night.
We were up early due to a disrupted sleep rhythm and had an early breakfast in the suite. Alas, getting a British cook to cook bacon American style is an uphill and unwinnable battle. But he came close and it was still good.
"I love all the fancy food we've been eating but I'd kill for one of Trudy's bacon burgers with an egg on top," Ally confessed.
That made me laugh, I had to admit that I was thinking the same thing earlier and fortunately I knew of a place that made Yank food and it wasn't an American chain.
"We'll hit that after the museum this morning. I did the Napoleonic Wars last time so it's time I looked in on the World Wars. I've had a look before but not in depth, and they'll be assigning an escort to show us around. The place is vast and you can't cover it all in one day" I shared with Ally.
"Well, at least I have a passing knowledge of the World Wars, do they include the Boer Wars in that part of the museum?" Ally inquired.
"I think so, it goes from eighteen seventy-five forward I believe, but that might have changed. We'll know soon enough though," I added.
The weather was the same although clearing was expected for the afternoon. Our car took us right to the front steps of the museum and we were met at the door by a pleasant man and woman team.
"I'm Astrid and this is Miles and we'll be your escorts and tour guides this morning. If you'd like to come through you can check your coats and umbrellas. The section you've chosen is quite voluminous so you mightn't want to carry them," Astrid suggested.
"If you have any questions about the exhibits please feel free to ask, Astrid and I are specialists in this wing. Have either of you been here before?" Miles inquired.
"Yes, I've been here four times and I'm not even close to being done. I try to carve out a day for this place on each trip," I explained.
"This is all new to me but I did at least study the World Wars and one of my great aunts was in the WAF and flew fighters from the west coast to the ports in the east. And a distant cousin was an "Attagirl" ferry pilot for the ATS," Ally shared.
"So then this isn't just static knowledge for you, it's part of your family history," Miles conceded.
"I hope you've worn comfortable shoes, you'll be doing a lot of walking this morning," Astrid chuckled.
It was astonishing how all the efforts that went in to winning both wars came to fruition. The horrors of WWI were unbelievable and so were the acts of gallantry in the face of overwhelming odds.
The WWII exhibits were quite interesting. They touched on every aspect, including the wrong-headed notion that the Americans came in and won the war for Britain. It amazes me how many people actually believe that rubbish. Although Montgomery was a completely useless individual when it came to getting a job done. Fortunately, he had many competent underlings. There were exhibits of Ration cards and coupons and lists of what a family could expect to get by on for a month. It wasn't much.
Later I was allowed to examine a few of the firearms that don't often appear in the U.S. like the Welrod pistol which was an SOE silenced pistol. It was used to neutralize guards and conduct assassinations when needed. The De Lisle carbine was the first I'd ever seen in person. It was also silenced and served the same function as the Welrod, just from further away.
By the time we had been through that part of the museum, we were pretty well walked out. We thanked Astrid and Miles for their excellent presentation and I vowed to return again.
I summoned the car as we reclaimed our coats and gave the driver an address in Soho.
Jack's American Café was popular with the Brits but you'd often find homesick Yanks in there eating good old unhealthy American staples. Plus they took reservations and our table was waiting when we arrived.
The place was run by the son of the original Jack. He made a killing selling hamburgers and other American faves to anyone who wanted them.
Ally ordered my standby the same way I did, with the egg yolk not too runny. She ordered onion rings and a coke while I had shoestring fries and root beer with mine. It was heaven, we had eaten many 5-star meals in the last week but that gets old quick.
Ally toyed with her onion rings and I launched half a fry through the one she held up. I had told the driver he could get his lunch and he could call me back once he was done and I'd give him our location. The weather had cleared and we thought we'd visit some of the shops.
Once we finished our meal and paid the rather high tab, we strolled towards Kensington Gardens. We looked in at a couple of shops along the way but nothing really sparked our interest. Ally decided she would save the real shopping for Paris. I could imagine her affecting the balance of trade if my friend's wife got involved. Elodie St. Saens was born to shop, it was her calling. I was sure she would convince Ally to do some serious store hopping while Louis and I caught up.
Our driver phoned just as we were in sight of Kensington Palace, so we told him we'd meet him on the northwest corner of the park.
In the car, I pressed Ally to decide if we'd accept Sir Gregory's invitation to stay at his country home. I knew Sir Gregory from the Ministry of Defense and my work with them. In private, I called him Burma, it was an old school name that he was fond of.
"I won't know how to act, what do you wear to a place like that?" Ally demanded.
"Well, last time I saw Clara she was wearing khaki trousers, a man's shirt and wellies. She takes an active interest in gardening and isn't shy about who sees her grubbing in the soil. Since when did you become class conscious?" I pressed.
"I'm not, I just don't want to be under or over dressed," Ally admitted.
"Ah, well then here's the thing. They aren't peerage and I think we're on a similar financial footing. I can tell you that Clara is fond of trousers so a pants suit would be in order. Those cargo pants and a straw blouse would look very good and you'd be comfortable. You could wear that loose khaki cardigan over the top and a soft hat in case of weather," I suggested.
"Oh, so you're dressing me now?" she grinned.
"So shall I call Burma back and tell him we're coming for sure?" I asked.
"Okay, it can't be that bad, do they have horses?"
"Yes, and we'll probably be invited to ride, it's the best way to see the grounds," I put in.
"Okay, you got me," Ally grinned.
I made the call and Burma was delighted, he assured me that they had a room ready for us and they looked forward to the visit.
Tomorrow we would check out of the hotel and a car would take us to Penngrove not too far from Ashford, which is where we would catch the Eurostar to Paris.
We had a quiet evening and a light supper in our suite. I advised the front desk that we would be checking out early in the morning and our car would be along around six-thirty.
Leaving London to the south was trouble free since all the traffic was headed into the city. The A2 was snarled beyond belief, I couldn't fathom why anyone would drive all the way in when they could take a train. We left the A2 and headed off into lush green countryside with forests and rolling hills along the M20.
Penngrove was Burma's ancestral home and he was pretty much stuck with it. His wife adored the place and he was now only doing consulting for the M.O.D. and some of the intelligence agencies. We passed a helipad for those occasions when he was needed urgently in London. The house itself was only twenty bedrooms so it was considered small by aristocracy standards. The large late Stuart period house had been modernized considerably during the Georgian period but still retained some of the Stuart features.
We were greeted warmly by Lady Clara and Burma as well as their four Labradors and three boys. Clara immediately absconded with Ally and gave her a tour of the house while I chatted with Burma and his boys and took a stroll around the grounds, ending up at the stables. Unlike many landed gentlemen, Burma actually had the money to maintain the house without public tours and other intrusions. They did host a Village Fete each year but the house was not involved. They also have a few staff. A house manager and a cook were present and there were a few men and women on the place that dealt with the horses and grounds. Like me, Burma was a motorhead and he had a respectable collection of classics and modern vehicles in a specially constructed barn.
The ladies caught up with us at the stables and it was suggested that the best way to tour the grounds was on horseback. The boys were impressed with Ally's comfort mounting and guiding an unknown horse.
"Please note that my little Newton is wearing clothes in honor of your visit," Clara chuckled.
"It wouldn't bother us if he wasn't, the weather is great for a naked ride," Ally chuckled.
Fortunately, Newton was out of earshot but I was sure that Hamish the oldest would clue him in later.
Of the three boys, Michael had always been the most reserved and contemplative. He and I got on well and he spoke to me more than to any other adult according to his parents. He was sensitive, artistic and sweet natured even at fifteen.
"Well then Frizz, which is it going to be? Oxford or Cambridge?" I asked Hamish. I had been visiting when a regrettable experiment with rocketry toasted his lush curly locks into a singed and kinky mess. It grew out but he had to endure a crew cut for most of his summer break that year. Since that time, his family name was Frizz.
"Edinburgh actually, Uncle Rob, it's the best medical school for my chosen specialty which is Oncology," Hamish grinned.
"Outstanding, I hate cancer with a passion and I salute your choice," I informed him.
I would discuss Michael’s plans with him when we had a moment to ourselves. Newton was not yet settled on a career but space detective seemed to have his interest at the moment.
The estate was still as beautiful as I remembered. The large pond or small lake still resembled a John Constable painting, ducks, geese and a few swans swam placidly. I noted the small dock with the rowboat and war canoe pulled up on the bank. The war canoe was one of Newton's favorites, it had been fashioned after an Algonquin canoe and was peppered with native symbols. Newton was an expert at paddling it like a native. He and the boys that he brought home from school had great fun canoeing and camping on the glade just the other side of the lake. There were Oak, Ash and Yew trees in abundance along with many other species. It was a paradise for foxes, badgers and small boys.