Sunday morning, Eileen and I made our way to the local Anglican church. I went along to spend some time with my lovely wife and also maybe check out the organ for possible practicing. I emailed the organist a week or so ago and had not received any response. 

It was good for me to attend an English parish Eucharist, I think. My previous impression was that the churches in England are either dieing or in the throes of charismatic renewal. This church seems to be more of an English equivalent of my parish back home. The hymn books had only words but no music. I assumed this was a cost cutting measure. Not only was there the traditonal choir and organ accompaniment, there was also a piano, 3 violins, clarinet, flute and trumpet. And the congregation sang heartily even chiming in on the Gloria and Sanctus despite the obvious choral nature of the settings. 

People from the local charity mission (called the Tea Warehouse) were the featured guests and arrived late. One of them stood and gave an interesting thank you and information talk about their work. His was an interesting story of post traumatic syndrome (although he did not refer to it by that name). He had served in Northern Ireland and came home very unhappy and disturbed by what he had witnessed and done there.  He began drinking heavily and ended up estranged from his wife and children and on the streets. The Tea Warehouse and the church was part of his rehabilitation. 

He arrived just in time to rescue the congregation from the preacher’s imprecation that we turn to each other and (without mentioning names) speak about something in our lives that had required us to overcome our own feelings of anger and hurt. The relief was palpable. Or maybe that was my own subjective response.

There were also many children present. 

I did manage to connect with the organist afterwards (after he played a hoary old Boelmann postlude). He was more than happy to allow me to practice there.

Which is what I did yesterday morning.

After practicing on Monday, Sarah drove Eileen and me to Straford von Avon. Matthew remained home to get some work done and possibly pop in to London to witness his hero Brian May show up at the long running Queen musical, “We Will Rock You.”

Stratford von Avon was of course touristy but fun. We stopped just out of the city to visit Ann Hathaway’s home. This turned out to be a good strategy because it was not as glitzy as Shakespeare’s birthplace in town.  Anne Hathaway was William’s wife. The building and garden were delightful. Interestingly, the place had been owned and staffed by a descendent of Anne until near the end of the 19th century or so. Mary Baker was the last one and seemed to be quite a character. 

The docent was quite entertaining and regaled us with humor, history  and interesting if dubious etymologies. For an example of slightly suspect etymology, he mentioned the term “upper crust” when showing us how the bread ovens worked. He told us the term came from the fact that the bread was cooked right on hot stones. The burnt bottom was given to servants and children while the “upper crust” was reserved for the master of the house. 

When I checked on this on my newly purchased, “Dictionary of Idioms and Their Origins” by Linda and Roger Havell, I discovered that these authors say that this phrase was coined by a Canadian judge, Thomas Haliburton, in the 19th century. Hmmm. Who knows? But the 18th century is a ways from the 17th century which was the time of the building we were in. 

The birthplace was the most jarring. Before we were granted entrance we had to watch an awful video that showered us with quotes of Shakespeare in the mouths of movie actors mostly while clips and photographs went by in a dramatic wide screen Disney display. After this stopped, the doors automatically opened and we had to suffer several more of these. There seemed to be no way to skip the presentations and go right to the buildling. Sarah remarked that it was weird to expect everyone to have to view this stuff before they could go to the building especially considering that people coming would include scholars and people primarily interested in Shakespeare in a literary way.

The final shrine was what was left of the building where Shakespeare spent his last years and died. The actual wing of the building is no longer there. Again a witty docent informed us that we were looking at where the building was not through the window of the remaining wing. Later he mentioned that they plant a “knot garden” which seems to be a garden of hedges and flowers in the shapes of ropes tied in knots. Get it? not the building, the knot garden?

Anyway, it has been an adult ambition of mine to visit the birthplace of Shakespeare before I die and that has now happened. He and Bach have been huge influences on my life and I always wanted to at least come to Stratford-von-Avon and see what it was like. 

This is one of two places I want to visit. The other is Leipzig and see where Bach spent much of his adult life. Maybe another trip, eh?

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