Updated: Oct 5
Landing in Central London
When we landed at Heathrow airport, I had watched the pastoral countryside change from patchwork grasslands spotted with Suffolk sheep and quintessential English villages across the landscape. I felt I was home and excited we had a few nights layover in Central London -before traversing Europe, past the continent of Africa onto the Middle East.
The Savoy was built during the Edwardian era and located in central London, where my father's work had chosen our stay. I felt like a princess in a palace. We were all impressed, even my two-year-old sister, who grabbed anything she could as we passed by all kinds of shiny objects. I remember the numerous Bobbies with their billy clubs, known initially as Pellers, in reference to Sir Robert Peel. When we arrived, it was magical to see architecture that, even as a seven-year-old, I appreciated. When I try to remember this time, I am not sure if some of it was a dream? I have visions that I am not sure where in our travels they originated.
I do distinctly remember talking to a boy named Walter, who was my age with a British accent. Our families were walking by Buckingham Palace en-route down The Mall, a very grand, flag-lined road in the city of Westminster via St. James's Park. Walters's family was looking a bit chaotic, with four children running about and a two-year-old toddler, just like my youngest sister. We were all excited about our ice cream treat once we reached St. James park. The birds are emblazoned in my memory as swarms of pigeons the size of ducks to exotic birds like Pelicans swimming in the palatial garden ponds. Walter was very polite and was telling me about the park's history like a mature adult, giving a guided tour. He enjoyed talking to me, maybe because I could not stop looking at his smiling face, nice clothes and perfectly combed hair. Walter told me about his goal to be a professional Rugby player for the Harlequins, and someday he would sail a yacht around the south pacific looking for abandoned islands where he knew Spanish pirates had hidden treasures. He told me he had a sailboat with his brothers and would take me out on the river Thames if his parents could figure out a way to get it there. Walter also told me he was going to drive around the world and would be the first person to do this. I wondered about the ocean we flew over and how he would manage. I thought it was a bit confusing at times, trying to understand his strong accent as words more sophisticated seemed like a foreign language to me. Walter was kind, and my first British tour guide. I felt very comfortable with him and enjoyed all of his stories, wishing he could be my friend. Before he said goodbye, he put a British pin on my shirt, and told me, "Now you are British!"
My Mother had found a way to entertain us by purchasing a game from one of the quaint toy shops on our walk back to the hotel. One man in his toy shop was selling all kinds of British toys that we could not take with us. But Mr. Pop was allowed. The man selling the game told my parents, "It's just like Mr. Potato head but better." Exhausted and tired from the endless hikes around Central London, we headed back to our hotel. My parents did regret this purchase as we screamed with delight seeing flying Mr. Pop pieces hurl through our hotel room. My Mother said, "Great, this game will take your eye out!" I never knew where that game went, but I don't think it left the hotel.
The bidet became our instant waterworks entertainment while my parents had retreated for some much-needed adult getaway time. They made their way to The Savoy's Afternoon Tea room, dining on cucumber sandwiches and scones with strawberry jam and Cornish clotted cream. Walter's parents had told them if they are staying at The Savoy, they must try the cucumber sandwiches and puddings! It was outstanding and an experience they will never forget. But children were not allowed. They promised to bring us back Victoria sponge cake. While my parents were enjoying their escape, I also remember opening a window with no window screen, looking out onto the streets of Westminster. On the ledge were those huge duck-like pigeons again. Returning to the Biget, my sister Vine and I were fascinated with what the heck this was? The more we turned up the water dial, the higher the fountain came from this toilet like contraption. The water finally reached the ceiling. We did not notice after we got bored and returned to watching The Kids From 47A and Andy Pandy, that water was gushing out of the bidet and making it's way to the floor below us.
Our door flung open with the hotel manager accompanying my frantic parents at the door. It was not good. We were basically in trouble for creating a flood on top of someone's bed. My sister and I remained silent as if this was a horrible water issue the hotel room was having, and we were innocent. Calmly my brother announced,"Vine and Ivy did it,"and resumed changing the channel to The Flaxton Boys. He got what he wanted, and we got what we deserved, long cleaning up and talking to before going straight to bed.
I can't remember if we took a hackney carriage (also called a black cab), back to the airport, or a double-decker bus. I wanted the memory of the double-decker bus with no rooftop on the second level and chosen to push the button for our stop. But I am sure that is not what happened. I didn't mean to get into trouble so often. I was not always in control of my impulses. My parents were frantic, trying to find me as the black cab was approaching to take all of us to the airport. I saw a fox in the alley and had to follow it. I could not believe there was a fox right on the streets of London in the early morning hours. He looked like he needed rescuing. I didn't want to scream out, "There's a fox!" because I was sure my siblings would chase him away, and my parents would keep me from rescuing him. Taking the biscuit out of my pocket from the Savoy, the fox came towards me. The background noise of voices calling out my name faded away quickly as I reached out and tried to pet him. He was tired, old, and not like the wild, carefree foxes of New England. My father quickly grabbed me and chased off the fox. "Goddammit, Ivy, you made us late again!" My father was a kind man and had reservoirs of patience. Not a word was said as my parents remained calm, hailing a new black cab.
We made it to the airport and our gate. My mother told me how lucky we were the airline changed our flight to leave in the late afternoon. I was scolded and told never, ever to go near wild animals again and wander off when we were in a hurry to get somewhere. I promised and meant it at the time, but throughout my life, I would continue to chase after animals, dangerous adventures, and exciting avenues. It was hard for me to be like my siblings, who, for the most part, behaved during times like this one. Looking over the parting landscape of England, I wished Walter would have given me his address, or I had thought of giving him mine. I wondered if I would ever see him again. While waiting for our flight, the news was on. The only part that caught my attention was hearing about a spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama. He was the head monk leader for the Tibetan religion, Buddhism and led his people with compassion and forgiveness. The Dalai Lama urged his people and the world to remain calm even though all was lost, and there would be no returning to live in Tibet. The Chinese Government had pushed him into exile with many following, never to return or face ultimate death just for believing in a religion that life continues through reincarnation after death. I was so mesmerized and wanted to know more about the message he gave. I wished I could have met him and asked him how he kept his optimism despite so much adversity and despair.
It would take 10 hours later and a stopover in Istanbul, which I have no memory of, before landing in the early morning hours in the city of Tehran, Iran, once known as Persia. The view descending was a freshly snowed mountainous terrain and desert wastelands to bright city lights. Thirty years later, I would understand that the Shah was on his last legs. Riots in the late 1970s began to take hold as the disparity between the poor and rich grew wider, even though he pushed the country to adopt more western modernization, allowing some cultural freedom. At home, our family and friends were oblivious to the economic injustice and political repression, which brought on the revolution of 1979 and our abrupt return to the United States.
* Ivy is based on a fictional character. She is telling her story as a mature adult and what she recalls from her youth while reflecting on her life now.
Little village photographs on this page were taken at the Bekonscot Village in the countryside of England. And The Pub sign at 5 Horseshoes in Maidensgrove, England.