London Day 1: Back to the trenches…

From the 18 September 2014:

Early on in 2014, my husband broke my heart, when he declared that our car would never make it down to Italy and back, even though the man at the car inspection thought that it would! So much for that planned vacation. I kept saving money anyway, just in case something would happen. When May came around, I almost had a fit. I showed him all the things which were going to happen 6 June, in Normandy. This is after all a very special year for historians and veterans alike. It is 100 years since WWI started but also 70 years since Operation Overlord and the beginning of the end, to WWII.

Suddenly he and E. started to say that we must drive down to Normandy. I did not react the way they thought I would. “So the car can not make it down to Italy but it suddenly is well enough to go to France?”. T. started mentioning that the car inspector seemed to think it would be fine. Well, I told him, that no way was I going to drive to Normandy, even if I would have loved to have seen all the re-enactments and that it was a unique event, since it will never happen again. They will never do it again, since the veterans are getting too old to travel. But to have the car break down in France, not being fluent in the language, far from it, no… And there was also the matter of D. graduating. To go to France under such rushed circumstances, was not my cup of tea. He was graduating on the 11th and then having the formal ceremony on the 13th. I am a realist and knew exactly what sort of work I was in for, in order to prepare everything for the 11th. My husband just does not realize what sort of preparation goes in to everything. A symptom of ADHD in adults.

Summer came, and more and more meetings got planned in at BUP and habilitation for our three youngest boys. And “Cookie” was having braces put on in the middle of everything as well. For months now, I have felt more and more overwhelmed with things, and I already knew I would feel this way, when all the appointment papers started dropping in. So I started to look at when the appointments would start easing off, and that was going to happen after the 17th September. I studied my Dollhouse magazines and discovered that the Miniatura fair/show was to take place on the 20th September, and decided that since I missed it in the spring, here was my chance to actually get to go and see all the things for real, that I have studied in all the internet shops, on eBay and Etsy. I bought a ticket to Miniatura long before I booked a trip! The Saturday tickets sell out quickly they said, so I was not going to stand without. But it felt weird to have bought a ticket for a fair without having a hotel or air planeticket to get to England. About a month later, I booked the needed tickets for a stay in London, tube ticket and a train ticket to Birmingham, so I could attend the fair.

After ISIS or IS or ISIL, or whatever they choose to call themselves this week, started to behead people and threaten all Christians and the Western World, I stopped being happy about my journey plans. Birmingham, being the hot-pot for fanatic Islamists among other things. But the closer my departure date came, I started adapting the Blitz spirit.Back in 1940 and onwards, the Londoners among others, knew that the bombers would come. But they couldn’t stop living because of that. They went on, business as usual, and they did the same a couple of years ago, when Muslim fanatics blew up a bus and bombs in the tube. You just can’t let terrorism get to you and make you too afraid to live. So, I packed my bag on the 17th September while the children were running a marathon in the town park, a reoccurring yearly event. And in the morning, the 18th September, I got out of bed at 04:00 to shower and get myself ready. Since “Gubby” was going through terrible separation anxiety at the moment and cried his heart out every day when I left him at pre-school, clinging to me and D., who had had to start coming along, I said my goodbyes the night before. At 05:00, T. got out of bed, finally, and D. crawled in to our bed so that “Gubby” would not notice we were gone, and we could be off.

We arrived at the airport after 06:00 and I was so nervous, that I had to run to the loo before I did anything else. As we had turned out from our street, a black cat ran across the road, which means bad luck according to superstition, and when I went up the stairs at the airport, after my visit to the loo, I fell on the stairs. Everyone stared and probably thought I was drunk. Most unpleasant! I managed to get up on my feet again but now it really felt wrong to sit down and fly. T. had to convince me that I would be alright, even though the cat had run in front of me and I had taken a nasty fall. So, I took my suitcase and said goodbye, only to stumble on to the next glitch. Not getting any help with checking in. When I am really tired, then my eyes are not really awake enough to see through my old reading glasses, and I still do not have new proper glasses for my current eyesight, after 3 1/2 months of trying to rectify the problem. So, I could not see the things in my papers which needed to be entered on the computer screen. It took twice the time it needed to, the computer told me it would shut down, and when I finally had got everything entered and walked off to hand in my suitcase, they asked me for the tag. I had not seen it come out and fall on the floor. What a mess! Why can’t they have at least one person patrolling the area and helping out, if someone is in need of help? Is that too much to ask after paying an arm and a leg for the tickets?

Next I headed to security and boy, talk about rush hour traffic. I have never seen so many people in that area before. A digital sign said the wait would be 14 minutes but it took more than that and when I went through, my silver bracelet, which I can not take off myself, so I always have to sleep with it on, beeped. A lady had to help me unscrew the little lock while I pushed the two ends of the bangle towards each other, so it could be unlocked. Then she more or less ripped it off me instead of letting me bend it so I could wiggle myself out of it. The result was a gigantic painful scratch. I will now have a nice long scar across my arm, on the top of the wrist, so it can be seen by everyone. Thanks for that airport security! There was no time by now, to look at anything in the taxfree area. I just headed for WHSmith, which is nothing like in Britain, and bought myself a drink and head ache pills, since I had packed them in my suitcase by mistake! And then on to the gate where boarding had already started. And when I got to my seat, someone else was sitting there and got really perturbed when both the air stewardess and I told her to move. Everyone else had got to choose their seats at check in, which I did not get to do. Weird! But this lady was in the wrong seat, wrong row, wrong everything!

When we landed at Gatwick airport, it was already warm outside. The captain told us that it was going to be 25 degrees Celsius and I couldn’t believe my ears. I who had dark, long-legged jeans on and a wool jacket! In other words, I had completely packed the wrong things for this trip and was going to perspire!!! It was somewhat tricky to get a ticket for the Gatwick Express since I did not have the time to get my reading glasses out. Everyone was screaming and in a hurry, including the people who assigned you to a machine. So I hope I did not overpay and bought a first class ticket, which I did not need. And then I was bawled out when I showed the ticket man my receipt instead of my ticket, them looking identical. The little green and orange cards you get that are supposedly your tickets. Well, I couldn’t read which was which, I just had to follow the throng. No time to piddle around with reading glasses in order to show the right card. I got down to the right platform, only to see the train leaving in front of me. So back up all the stairs to see what platform the next one was leaving from. All trains were running late, platforms were being changed and I had to leave for another platform. I think that all in all I lost 45 minutes, before I finally got on to a Gatwick Express train and was on my way to London. I who had hoped to have been at the Imperial War Museum at 10:00 when they open, had to scrap those plans. I got off at Victoria and took the tube to Paddington, being very nervous about my hotel.

On the 16th September, it suddenly dawned on me that we had not contacted the hotel to find out 1) if I would be allowed to drop my luggage with them, early in the morning. Some hotels really mind or charge for it. 2) if I would be allowed to check in late since no way was I coming back to the hotel at 14:00, interrupting my day, just to check in formally. As we tried to get the address, e-mail and phone number, both T., at work, and myself, read the reviews the hotel had received the last month or so, and I got more and more depressed reading them. Most of them gave the hotel, the Orchard, one star, saying that it was a ghastly hotel where the staff starts cleaning and slamming around things at 06:45. That the personnel is awful, that you don’t get clean towels, that breakfast is appalling, that the noise from a pub and the street is overwhelming and so on. So, it was with trepidation I turned on to Sussex Garden, wondering if it was going to be the hotel where I stayed a couple of years ago, which had terrible Indian staff, no toilet paper, no lift, the stairs having rickety banisters/railings and the rooms the size of a shoebox. To my amazement, it was not. I walked in to a hotel, which was part of a group of hotels laying door to door with each other, which meant that there are people night and day and when you travel alone, this is a good thing.

Walking in to the hotel, I was greeted by a Russian girl who told me that sure, I could put my suitcase in the lounge. I quickly placed my wool jacket in the suitcase, cursing the fact that I had brought it in the first place, and I was on my way to Lambeth. I arrived about 11:00, so I had 7 hours to see the newly re-imagemodelled museum. This was part of the reason for my trip. Getting to see all the new and fantastic things they had made to it and to see the Exhibition “Spies” by horrible histories. I loved “There’s a stench in the trench” so I was really looking forward to this. I walked in, and could not make heads or tails of the place. So my first question was, where did people get the maps? I was told to go outside and get a timed ticket, for the new WWI exhibition and also get a map at that time. I had missed the two people handing out tickets, thinking they were only doing so for the big school classes entering the building at the same time as I did. I walked out and got my ticket for 11:15 and I asked where to get the tickets for the “Spies” exhibition. The young girl  standing at the entrance looked at me, and told me “That is for kids only! You can go and read lots more in the regular spies exhibit!”. Making it sound like I was VERY old and under no circumstances would they let me in to the exhibition. In other words, part of my trip was ruined. I had really looked forward to this bit, but the museum being re-modelled promised something good for the adults as well, right? In the spies section?

So, disappointed I walked down the stairs and had a very quick glance to my right and left, where I noticed two different book shops/gift shops. Odd! Arriving on the lower floor, I noticed that this is where they had put the café and yet another gift/book shop. I had 15 minutes so I went and bought myself some water, since suddenly I felt faint, being very dehydrated from perspiration. The café was a great disappointment compared to the old one. The menu seemed more fancy, the setting looking very fancy and believe it or not, but I did not find it inviting. It was too cold and sterile. The old cafeteria reminded you of a canteen at perhaps an airforce base or something. In line with what the museum is about. It was light and unassuming. Now it is all fancy 21st Century imageblack and it reminds you of a fancy café in say perhaps Harrods or one of the posh department stores, and not a museum one. I was surprised that I could even afford the water, the way this place looked. Sorry, IWM, but thumbs down to your fancy cafeteria/café!

I went to stand in the queue which had formed, and soon we got to enter. Sadly enough, so did the school classes and let me say this, I have noticed some differences between Swedish and British school classes. On the tube and at museums. They SCREAM! They scream the entire time. There is no mumble or low-key speaking like Swedish school classes are encouraged to do, but there is constant screaming from the pupils and as soon as we got in to this exhibit, they started to lean on the displays. It felt like they were going to tear the entire place down. I have no idea who the teachers were, they did not seem too clever and they seemed to be totally acclimatized to the sound level. As a teacher, I would have summed up the visit as  a total waste of time. They needed to have walked around with a guide who could have pointed out what they should have paid attention to. As it was, I think they learned absolutely zero. And my visit had its second disappointment, since I need quiet to stand and read lengthy text and image image imageunderstand what it says in English, which after all is not my native language. It took me forever to get through the WWI exhibit thanks to their screaming and I must say that I miss the old trench experience since that part of IWM made it all much more alive. The dolls, the voices, the sounds, the smells, the shelling. They took away something which was good. And I started to think, why? To be high-tech? More modern? Or because people nowadays have the attention span of a peanut?

imageWhen I was done with WWI, after about 3 hours, I did walk in to the cafeteria to see if there was anything to eat. I wasn’t overly hungry and when I saw the delicious looking lemon poppy-seed cake, I decided to just have a small snack of that. It was very empty in the café, so I ate a little bit too quick I think, to move on to the next stage and be out of the cold sterile environment. WWII I thought. This is when the real shock came. Gone is basically all of WWII. I guess they ran out of money, after spending it all on tearing away the big hall floor and making WWI in to something they find grand. I am a WWII historian and my disappointment met no end. Sure, the floor with the Holocaust is still there. And “A Family in Wartime” which has the fantastic Allpress Dollhouse or replica of their real wartime house. But WWII has been reduced to a floor that is just basically a corridor around the open atrium, which shows a couple of airplanes and a V1 and a V2 bomb. How can I describe what the WWII floor now contains? Big vehicles and artefacts! Everything that was down on the entrance hall floor, is now standing in the WWII corridor. There are not even signs by the items but you have to find  big boardsimage somewhere, which has all of the artefacts outlined on it and saying what they are. It’s up to you to remember what you read and sort the items out between that sign board and the next one. NOT GOOD if there is a lot of people on the floor, standing in the way.

Gone is the Blitz experience which is one of the main reasons why I kept going back to the IWM over and over again, to get a dose of WWII. Gone is the 1940s house, which I wanted to see this time, to get ideas for my own WWII dollhouse. There is nothing in the exhibit that recounts what happened in the inter-war years and 1939-1945 only have the artefacts. So, it started to dawn on me, that IWM is now all about WWI and everything else is less important. I guess the next major re-modelling will cover WWII, but that will be in 2039 and I am not likely to be able to go and see it when I am in my 70s. Like a dehydrated person in the desert longing for anything to drink, no matter what, I went to the corner of that floor and imagespent all my time in “A Family in Wartime”, trying to take photos of the dollhouse and study wallpapers, items they used back then like what the pots and pans looked like, imagecolours, radios, taps in the sink, what the sink looked like, the tub they bathed in, … What else was there to do? imageI wanted to walk away with SOME new knowledge of WWII, even though they deprived me of the bigger heavier stuff. Fy on them to take away the blitz experience, how could they??? I didn’t bother with the cinema and the film about Afghanistan. Couldn’t care less. Not interested.

Next I went to the secret war and to my horror, I discovered that it is the same boring thing we saw there in 1993! It has not changed one bit! No improvements made at all, exactly left as it was, during the re-modelling of the rest. And this is what that girl thought I was going to stand and read instead of the funny horrible histories way of describing things, which is made up to make history fun and educational. All the stuff found at the grown ups department of the spies section can be read in a book. I did not want to use my brain, I just wanted to see things out of the eyes of children. And for that teenage girl to stand there and say that it is just for children! What does she know of my age and what I have at home? I have three boys and my 6 and 8 year-olds are not on the level of 6 and 8, but years behind their peers. I was fuming with anger and it was 17:00, so no use in going to get myself a ticket at that point. I sat down on some steps in the SOE part of the secret war area, fuming for a while,  and then I took the lift up to the spies exhibition level. I bought my three youngest boys a para-rat each as a gift and I also bought the book describing the exhibition that I was not allowed to go to since I was “too old”. COW! I wish to voice a formal complaint against that girl and her judgemental attitude!

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From there I went around to the four bookshops. This was really the last nail in the coffin! I don’t appreciate having to whip out my Master card four times, in order to buy the things I want to purchase. I don’t appreciate that one shop has some things, another one totally different things, a third one… This is absolutely ridiculous. For heaven’s sake, this is one and the same museum and one should be able to stand and compare the things one has put in one’s “shopping basket” and then make an intelligent decision. This way, they force you to make silly purchases, that you regret at the end of the day, because there was not a single shop which had an overview of everything available. Good for business but not for me as a visitor! I got one book in the WWII bookshop, which did not exist in the general book shop, where I bought a book on WWI instead and a funny book for D., while in the WWI shop, I got all sorts of general souvenirs. Worse of all, the things I had decided on getting, beforehand, after looking at their internet site, were not even there, in any of the four shops! I had to walk home without the things I really wanted, and with things I had not planned on buying.

So, to sum up the new and improved Imperial War Museum: I take off one star, for staff that tells you that you are too old to attend one of their exhibitions, because you left your young children at home! I take off another star, because the general gift and book shop was done away with, where it was easier to shop what you wanted and compare what is available! Another star is taken off, because the café has lost all its charm and only is inviting for those with money. It’s become too posh for a war museum. And I take off three stars for the simple reason that its become a WWI museum, with little emphasis on WWII, which in some respects was a more important war, with first the rise of the Nazis and then  the war years themselves that entailed so much which was never present in the first world war conflict! To decimate it to what it now has become, is an utter disgrace. Sure, the dollhouse is there to show a little bit homefront and the holocaust is there, but honestly, artefacts can not take the place of explaining the rise of Hitler and the war itself. You need all aspects, films, signs with text, interactive screens. So, while the Museum before held a ten star status in my book, it now has slipped down to a five-star museum and I am not sure I will continue recommending it, like I have in the past. I made sure to take my two oldest sons there, when I took them individually to London. I planned on taking E. there, like I did with “Cookie”, two years ago, but at this point, I think I can take the museum off our itenary. That is exactly how disappointed I am in its new shape.

At this point, the museum was closing and I headed back to the hotel with my purchases and to check in formally. I also had to stop off at Booths since the cake must have contained lots of eggs or grease. My indigestion was killing me and the personnel at the pharmacy was clueless. They did not have simple indigestion tablets like we have here in Sweden. I told the pharmacist that I was in so much pain that it felt like I was having a gall stone attack. And he sold me medicine against GAS! Honestly! How could I forget my indigestion powders at home? They would have weighed nothing! Showing up at the hotel, I was happily surprised when I discovered that they had a lift. They always place me on the third floor, when I travel alone, and they did the same thing this time. So it was great to be able to not drag my suitcase up three flights of narrow stairs, being scared that the railing/banister is going to fall down and me with it. Up on the third floor, my room was right by the lift, which made me a little bit worried, but entering the room, I was excited. Everything was new and fresh. A giant TV on imagethe wall, plenty of room to move about, and a very nice bathroom with shower cabin which prevented water to run out all over the floor. I couldn’t have been more pleased. I left my suitcase and my WWI bag from IWM and decided to head out again. My feet clad in converse, were sore, but I realized that to use all my time in London wisely, I could not be at the hotel at that hour, but needed to run errands till everything closed for the day. So off to Paddington tube station again, and soon I stood at Marble Arch and the first NEXT store on Oxford Street. I did not find what I wanted: A new winter jacket. I did find a pretty sweater but they did not have it in size 8, so I had to head towards Bond Street on foot, to try to find the correct size there. My hunt for souvenirs and gifts for the children had by now started. I love buying things for them, but to have the pressure of finding things for everyone and for the same amount of money, well let’s say, it ruins your holiday! D. was all done in my book. I got him a trench whistle and a book at IWM. Since his Birthday was to be two days after my arrival home, I decided to not bother with more things for him. Already having too much for his Birthday, since his dad went off and bought something for him behind my back.

I found Mothercare and to my disappointment, they were sold out on everything “Thomas the Tank Engine”, in “Gubby’s” size. This was a great disappointment since he loves Thomas and we don’t have Thomas-clothes in Sweden. Even more disappointing was the realisation that I soon have no business in stores like that at all. Not being able to have another baby, like I’ve dreamed of for the last five years, and my children growing out of the sizes they sell. It really makes me loose my will to live. It feels like my life is over and not worth living anymore. The only Thomas thing I could buy for “Gubby” was a Thomas beanie, which he will love but I thought I would come home with a pyjamas and shirts too.  In the Disney store, I found pyjamas for him and for “Boo”, with Toystory on them, which I knew would excite them. But would make “Kitty” jealous of course. They did not have his size. I did look at T-shirts for “Cookie” but did not want to get her anything quite yet, since this was only the first day. Once again, I was thrown in to depressing thoughts when I looked at all the little girl toys and Princess things. No little girl to shop for anymore. Serena would have loved all those things, had she got to live. She would have given me an excuse to go hunting for little cute dresses all over. Never again! Life is just too cruel.

At the second NEXT store, I found my sweater and I went to the children’s image imagedepartment just to see if they had anything funny. They did! Wonderful “Minion” T-shirts for “Boo” and “Gubby”. We love the “Minions” from “Despicable Me”, so this was great! There was also a sweatshirt with one Minion on it and I splurged and got one for “Boo”. At £17 I thought it cost too much to get two of that one, as well. “Gubby” has a lot of inherited things, so he will not miss it. Besides it is grey and it is not really his colour. But “Boo” has a serious deficit in clothes. I don’t know what “Kitty” does to his clothes, but most can not be handed down to his brother. The thing about ADHD: they wear hard on their clothes! Unfortunately they were sold out of both kinds of Minion shirts in “Kitty’s” size and this really became the continuing story of my trip. His size being sold out. At 21:30, everything closed, and I was forced back to the hotel, where I arrived at 22:00 to sit and watch the Scottish election news. I sat down to listen to what they were saying and took a look at my poor feet which now had three water blisters on three little toes. So much for Converse being comfortable shoes!

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