Travel

Heathrow Airport

Catching the Heathrow Express to Paddington

I caught the Heathrow Express and if you haven’t ever done this it’s the new train that goes directly to Paddington Station. It gets you from Heathrow to the City in 15 minutes. All the cabbies are of course quite upset about it, but such is progress.

Last year when I was in London I actually got a stern lecture by a cabbie, because the doorman at the hotel asked where we were going and I said, “Heathrow.”

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Somewhere Above the Pole

Compliments to the Staff

The flight was excellent. We arrived on the flight to Heathrow a few minutes early and I actually had very nice service from two flight attendants, both of them English.

Well, actually from one flight attendant.

The nice one was quite sweet and sincere and the other had been flying with United since the Magna Carta was signed. I gave them both the little appreciation comment cards that United sends out every so often. I gave the card to the first one because she was indeed very sweet and to the second one because I thought she really needed something to cheer her up. She seemed in dire need of it actually. I had a nice meal, several glasses of wine and a sleeping pill.

There was a very delightful lady with whom I shared the row. She is a nurse from West Virginia and living in Honolulu. She and I were both reading but had a very enjoyable conversation over dinner. She was just newly engaged and is travelling to Scotland with a girlfriend for a week touring around with no plans at all—just a list of B&B’s around the country. Sounds refreshingly fun.

I woke up an hour before landing with breakfast of fruit and pastry. I’m sure it’s difficult to bake at 30,000 feet. Seriously, do things rise at this altitude? I’d recommend sticking with the fresh fruit.

We arrived about mid-day as fresh as new.

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Red Carpet Club, Los Angeles International 

Ahh—a nice crisp, cold glass of Chardonnay. Well, cheap Chardonnay, but anyway it’s cold. I’m still sitting here in the Red Carpet Club and as I posted earlier it’s rather busy here. All I could hear were middle-aged white guys chatting on their cell phones about.. well I didn’t really care what, actually. So, I thought that I would try out all my little gadgets while I’m in here. I’m already on the Internet thanks to a little wireless company called Boingo.

I pulled out my new little ear-bud headphones and loaded up Windows Media Player and now all I hear is Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 17. It’s blaring away and a truly amazing piece. Divine really. It’s like sitting here in the midst of commotion and chaos and feeling like I’m in a dream. I can still see their mouths moving, but all I hear is Mozart! Anyone finding this as amusing as I am?

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Los Angeles International Airport

I arrived here at LAX a short time ago. Check-in was a breeze. I think it took all of about ten minutes to use the kiosk, get my boarding pass and get through security. I didn’t actually realize that you could use the kiosks for international flights, but you just select your flight, enter your first, middle, and last name, then passport number and off you go.

The staff seemed a little overwhelmed though. They have to come by to take your bags and so they can put the tags on; obviously, they don’t need as many hands on deck as the old days, but the still seemed a bit overworked and tad frantic. Pleasant enough experience.

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Los Angeles

Departure -1 and Counting

Tomorrow I shall depart for England and I hope to be able to convincingly and effectively convey the journey in photos and these diary entries. I do hope that it will be as enjoyable for one to read as it will be for me to experience and to write along the way.

It will of course be my perspective, and as Churchill once said:

“History will be kind to me for I intend to write it.”

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Los Angeles

Departure -2 and Counting

In two days I shall become a foreigner.

I’m in the final stages of confirming reservations and sorting out what to pack for the adventure upon which I am about to set out. I checked the weather in London—it’s to be a bit of rain intermixed with a bit of sunshine here and there over the course of the next week. It shall be perfect. I need to make sure to remember to pack my traveling umbrella though…

As Sir Winston said in the House of Commons in 1945:

‘It is a mistake to look too far ahead. Only one link in the chain of destiny can be handled at the time.’

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Los Angeles

Another one of the other more fascinating responses that I got to my letter of introduction was from a friend here in Los Angeles whose grandfather’s best friend was Sir William Samuel Stephenson CC MC DFC (January 23, 1897 – January 31, 1989).

He was a fascinating character. Here’s part of what Wikipedia has to say:

“A Canadian who fought in W.W.I with the Canadian Army Engineers, then transferred to the British Royal Flying Corps in 1917, after learning to fly while he was recovering from being gassed in 1916. Stephenson flew the British Sopwith Camel fighter biplane and scored twelve victories before he was shot down and captured by the Germans on July 28, 1918.”

The entry goes on to say that in the lead up to Second World War, he became a wealthy industrialist and

“As early as April 1936 Stephenson was voluntarily providing confidential information to the British, passing on detailed information to British opposition MP Winston Churchill about how Hitler’s Nazi government was building up its armed forces and hiding military expenditures of eight hundred million pounds sterling. This was a clear violation of the terms of the Treaty of Versailles and showed the growing Nazi threat to European and international security; Churchill used Stephenson’s information in Parliament to warn against the appeasement polices of the government of Neville Chamberlain.”

After the Second World War began Winston Churchill sent Stephenson to the United States on 21 June 1940 to covertly establish and run the British Security Coordination (BSC) in New York City, more than a year prior to the US entering the war.

The BSC office headquartered in room 3603 in Rockefeller Center became an umbrella organisation that by the end of the war represented the British intelligence agencies MI5, MI6 (SIS or Secret Intelligence Service), SOE (Special Operations Executive) and PWE (Political Warfare Executive) throughout North America, South America and the Caribbean.

In his role as the senior representative of British intelligence in the western hemisphere Stephenson was one of the few people in the hemisphere authorised to view raw Ultra transcripts from the British Bletchley Park code-breaking of German Enigma ciphers.

He was trusted by Churchill to decide what Ultra information to pass along to various branches of the US and Canadian governments.”

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Los Angeles

It’s now one week from departure. D -7 and counting!

Last weekend I emailed a short letter of introduction, discussing my upcoming trip, to a number of contacts in my address book which included friend’s, family, and colleagues. I also emailed it to the ChurchillChat group on Google, thinking that there may be a few interested parties to be found there. I don’t send many emails in an exceedingly wide distribution like this but I thought this was one occasion that demanded such an action.

The responses I have received have been quite fascinating. Until one makes an announcement such as this one doesn’t realise how wide a net it may cast…

One of the first responses was from a friend who is retired lawyer in Washington who took an interesting historical holiday recently. He is the Executive VP of a group called the Napoleonic Alliance. He wrote:

“… 50 of us made a pilgrimage to Paris on the occasion of the 200th anniversary of Napoleon’s coronation on December 2, 2004. The concert held at La Madeleine, the classical church facing the Place de la Concord whose interior is absolutely majestic. In black-tie, we filed in to a drum roll rendered by Grenadiers de la Garde Imperiale in their tall bearskins, a salute as one of the patrons of the affair, and we were seated in a prime location. Le tout Paris was there including the descendants of the Imperial family. I was introduced to a tall dignified affable fellow who did not have a coveted ticket, and I was about to donate my own (being already in) when he smiled politely and stated he didn’t need one. He was Nicolas Davout, duc d’Auerstadt and prince d’Eckmuhl, a descendant of one of Napoleon’s most illustrious marshals. After the concert, we repaired to a late dinner at Le Grand Vefour, a restaurant in period decor preferred by Napoleon and Josephine…”

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Los Angeles

Here’s the letter that I emailed out to my contacts this past weekend:

———————-

Dear friends, family, and colleagues,

As many of you know, if we’ve spoken recently, I’ll be taking a trip at the end of the month with The Churchill Centre and the International Churchill Society called, ‘Churchill’s England’.

There will be 50 of us on this educational holiday visiting historic sites and meeting scholars, some of his family members, and his former associates. We’ll be spending eight captivating days together immersed in retracing the steps of the former Prime Minister.

Several highlights on the itinerary are:

  1. A private tour of Parliament courtesy of The Hon. Nicholas Soames, MP.
  2. A tour of the new Churchill Museum at the Cabinet War Rooms with curator Phil Reed.
  3. An afternoon  at the Churchill Archives Centre, Cambridge with director Allen Packwood.
  4. Paying a visit to Churchill’s former country house Chartwell, including a discussion with curator Carole Kenwright and Minnie Churchill. Also, possibly joining us at Chartwell will be Churchill’s last private secretary from 1952-65, Anthony Montague Browne and his wife, who live nearby.
  5. We’ll be finishing off the trip with two black-tie dinners, first at Blenheim Palace which is the ancestral home of the Duke and Duchess of Marlborough and birthplace of Sir Winston. The second will be at the Randolph Hotel in Oxford.

Many other historically significant stops await us along the way about which I hope you will find interesting reading.

I’ve been looking forward with great anticipation to this historical journey and I’m inviting you to come along as well. I’ve created a travel journal blog just for the occasion and will have journal entries from the pre-planning of the trip, through each of the day’s activities.

For those of you that are unfamiliar with blog’s, they are merely a way on the Internet to create journal entries along with photos and links to other web sites. It’s quite easy to read and navigate through and you are welcome to post comments if you like. It will be displayed in reverse chronological order, newest first, down to the oldest pre-departure entries.

I’ll be departing for England on May 18th and the official trip will begin on Saturday May 20th, so if you like please come along on this journey with me.

All you have to do is click:

In the Footsteps of Churchill

Remember what Sir Winston said at Bris­tol Uni­ver­sity, where he was Chancellor:

 ‘The most important thing about education is appetite.’

See you in England.

 

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Los Angeles

The first time that I decided to read a book specific to a city that I was visiting was while I was in Florence three or four years ago. I found it was a brilliant and much more engaging experience to be in the midst of reading a volume about Michelangelo’s creation of the statue of David Il Gigante by Anton Gill while being in Florence and visiting the Academia to view his magnificent work. Through the course of my stay, I would walk to a particular square or landmark, as it was being discussed, and would sit on the steps or in a café nearby and thoroughly enjoy being present in the precise spot where the story was unfolding.

I decided that this was a practice I was going to continue on every trip that I would take from that moment on.

I’ve read a number of books about Sir Winston Churchill, but never a complete biography. So, for this trip, I decided on one of the two definitive biographies of Churchill. The one I decided upon was by Roy Jenkins. It’s about a thousand pages long and I decided I would start preparing by reading a month before leaving on this trip. I determined that I’d like to be just about midway through the book, completely immersed in the life of Sir Winston, as I depart for my journey to England. I just finished page 365 yesterday, so I’ve got about 100 pages or so to go prior to leaving on May 18.

The other definitive biography of Sir Winston was written by Sir Martin Gilbert. I didn’t realize that Sir Martin would be along on this trip and that I would get a chance to meet him; otherwise, I probably would’ve decided on his biography, instead of the one currently reading. Gilbert’s biography is considered the ‘Offical Biography.’

I went to Barns and Noble a couple of months ago and I looked both of these biographies over and decided that I liked the first paragraph of Roy Jenkins book so much, I decided to purchase it.

The first chapter begins with:

“Churchill’s provenance was aristocratic, indeed ducal, and some have seen this as the most important key to his whole career. That is unconvincing. Churchill was far too many faceted, idiosyncratic and unpredictable a character to allow himself to be imprisoned by the circumstances of his birth.”

Well, that was enough for me; I had to continue reading to find out how his life unfolded. I am thoroughly enjoying the book, though it is taking a little extra research on the side in order to understand more about the parliamentary system, with which I am somewhat unfamiliar. So, a good learning experience all around.

I’m also finding that cross-referencing some of the events that are taking place in this biography with another book that I purchased a recently, ‘Speaking for Themselves, The Personal Letters of Winston and Clementine Churchill,‘ is a wonderful way to get multiple perspectives. ‘Speaking for Themselves’ was compiled by one of their daughters, Lady Mary Soames [whom I am also looking forward to meeting on this trip]. It’s a wonderfully intimate portrait of a 57-year love affair… and political partnership.

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