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A tale of seaside resorts


One of the Whippy flavors offered along Weymouth beach

Americans may be surprised to know that England has quite a few seaside resorts. “I thought they went to Spain for that,” an American might say. But England has its Dover, Brighton, Bournemouth, Weymouth, Portsmouth, Plymouth, and Cornish beaches. All with sun, salt spray, waves, sunrises and sunsets, piers and jetties, gulls, and seaside stuff for sale.

Weymouth is along the Jurassic Coast of south England and runs along the West Dorset and East Devon counties. Weymouth beach faces east, so that the sun rises on the water. Manhattan’s beach faces west, so we see the sun set over the water. (Continued)

Murder at the B&B. An Ophelia Perhaps Mystery.

I guess it can’t be the guy from Dover.

Eustacia Vye of Thomas Hardy’s Return of the Native

“Dad! You scared me out of my wits!” I’m panting, clutching my heart. “Why didn’t you phone that you were back in Oxford?”

“Oh, come on, honey, you know sometimes I get called last minute for lectures. Tomorrow night it’s Thomas Hardy, the Industrial Revolution, and the Steam Engine. Anyway, I thought I’d surprise you.”

“Well, you did.” I’m grumpy that I got called Pumpkin and that my sleuthing will be put on hold.

The Wine Café is really crowded. We can’t get up to the bar, much less get the bartender’s attention, so we sit down at a table in the front. Dad tells me about the lecture and asks me a bunch of personal questions, all involving Robert. I only answer a few. Finally, Judy the bar girl comes over.

“A small glass of that Pinot Grigio I really like, please, Judy?”

Dad looks at me. “You know I like the reds better.” He looks up at Judy. “I’d like to try your house red. And could you also bring us some mixed nuts? And some black and green olives?” He looks around at me a bit sheepishly, then back up at Judy. “And do you have any pretzels?”

“Sure,” says Judy with a small smirk. “I can put together a nice combi plate for you.” (Continued)

Bathed in memories in Bath


Sam and I at the Large Bath

I was first in the old Roman spa town of Bath, England, in 1983, with a husband and a small boy in my arms. That little boy is now married, about to become a father, has just graduated from law school, and his father and I are divorced. Nothing is guaranteed, nothing stays the same, but most things were also at one time bathed in golden rays of sunshine. That day 31 years ago was beautiful and fine and filled with pride and accomplishment in being parents.

I have been back to Bath several times since then, most recently a few weeks ago. It amazed me how much I had forgotten about this ancient town: the swans, the Avon’s parks and sculptured water falls, the great pub and restaurant food, the cricket fields, and the honey-colored stone terraces in front of which the rich preened and paraded.

Perhaps my forgetting was about being just another overwhelmed mom on holiday, making sure a small boy stayed safe, fed, clean, and swaddled in his mother’s love.

Literacy through Mills & Boon

I take my literacy for granted.

I was sitting at the Weymouth Library to use the free wi-fi (since my B&B didn’t have it) when I realized the two adult women opposite me at a table were working through a book together. One was the tutor, the other was learning to read.

On this trip, I’ve built my travels around books, authors, and literature. From Charles Dickens to Thomas Hardy to Jane Austen to William Shakespeare to Tracy Chevalier, I’ve visited literary sites in London, Oxford, Bath, Lyme Regis, Dorchester, and Stratford-upon-Avon.

I benefited from my mother’s prenatal care, my parents’ DNA, my grandparents’ German-American culture valuing education, my mother’s reading to us, a literary environment in our house, my good eyesight, normal learning abilities, and my schools and teachers (particularly Miss Guthrie in the 3rd and 4th grades).

Carrying the Sheikh's HeirAnd here at the Weymouth Library was an adult woman who was just getting started on her journey to literacy. (Continued)

Rejected suitors take to roaming as naturally as unhived bees

“Rejected suitors take to roaming as naturally as unhived bees.” It’s a phrase from English poet and novelist Thomas Hardy (1840-1938) and refers to Diggory Venn, perhaps my favorite of the Hardy characters.

If the hive is Wessex (Hardy’s partly real, partly fictionalized Dorset county in south central England) and Venn the bee, then he does indeed take to roaming to become a red-hued nomad. Venn has been rejected by Thomasin Yeobright, who is told to pursue a more “professional” husband, and quits the world of dairy farming to become a wandering reddleman, a reddish powdery dye (“reddle”) used by sheep farmers to identify their flocks, and living in a small, horse-drawn camping trailer.

If Hardy, a native of Dorset, had joined me on my bus ride, he’d have still see exquisite, emerald-green hills strewn with popcorn dots of sheep. If he’d continued to rattle along with me through that country recently as I journeyed south, he would have enjoyed the sunshine in Weymouth, a seaside resort Hardy visited from time to time.

I also visited Dorchester to see the Hardy collection amongst the fossils and manufacturing memorabilia at the chock-a-block Dorset County Museum. That collection includes a recreation of Hardy’s study, complete with pens supposedly used to write his different rural soap operas, where tragic characters struggle against passion and social circumstance. It helped that, after viewing the museum, I enjoyed (wolfed down, more like it) a chutney-dotted ham-and-Stilton-infused ploughman’s lunch at The Old Tea House, where Hardy himself supposedly took tea numerous times. (Continued)

Murder at the B&B. An Ophelia Perhaps Mystery.

IMG_1470All Those Violins Can’t Be Good.

I creep through the small forest surrounding the church and enter from a side door. The old ladies crowded into the church pews look back at me. I may be the only one not wearing a hat. But someone else is coming in from the opposite side door. A tall man in a trench coat. A beige trench coat. No hat.

He sits down at the end of the far right pew.

I turn my attention to the small orchestra at the front. All those violins can’t be good. This will be the Four Seasons as I’d feared. I’d have almost welcomed the Four Seasons done by a metal band, Even a dixieland band.

The priest makes some announcements. He even mentions parishioner Oscar Briggs, who is doing much better apparently and appreciated the cakes and sweets people had been bringing to the hospital. He then introduced the conductor, and, just as the concert master tunes the group to his A, I decide I can’t do it. I can’t just sit there and suffer through this classical music workhorse.

I flee into the night, past the church bulletin board with all the concert flyers, past the photos of missionaries in Africa, and then past the bins in the rectory driveway. Someone behind me clears his throat.

“Pumpkin! I’ve finally found you!”


There once was an ichthyosaurus

Ichthyosaurs in London’s Natural History Museum

I was a small girl in California when I’d first heard of the ichthyosaurs. My mother had read me Isabel Frances Bellous’s poem “The Ichthyosaurus.

There once was an ichthyosaurus,
Who lived when the earth was all porous,
Be he fainted with shame
When he first heard his name,
And departed a long time before us.

My mother might have mentioned that Mary lived on a beach like I did. She mght have mentioned that Mary was not taken seriously like I sometimes thought I wasn’t. That Mary had tremendous energy and intellect. I do remember looking at the black-and-white sketch of an ichthyosaur that was in the book. From when I was very small, I’d loved black-and-white illustrations. Later, I’d even considered becoming a scientific illustrator, such as Beatrix Potter had been.


Captain Wentworth and Anne Elliott attend to Louisa Mulgrave, who’s just jumped from the Cobb

But the memory of that poem and my reading of Tracy Chevalier’s historical fiction book, Remarkable Creatures, had now led me to spend a week in Weymouth, a slightly faded seaside resort on the Jurassic Coast in west Dorset. From there, I then took the X53 bus from King George’s Statue station and traveled 95 miles northwest along Chesil Beach to Lyme Regis. Among other sites, Lyme Regis is where you find The Cobb (a harbor wall poking out into the Lyme Bay), made famous in Jane Austen’s book Persuasion, where Captain Wentworth and Anne Elliott go walking, plus where Meryl Streep’s French Lieutenant’s woman character does some fashionably mysterious turns in a heavy cloak. Lyme Bay is one bay west from Weymouth Bay on the English Channel. But right now it is perhaps most famous as the setting for Mary’s inchthyosaur finds.

I had waited for a sunny day to make my visit, even though I knew that Mary had never been a fair-weather paleontologist, and she had in fact made many of her most important finds after winter storms. In December 2001, UNESCO listed the “Jurassic Coast” along Dorset and East Devon beaches, cliff,s and headlands one of the most significant Earth Science sites in the world. It is the United Kingdom’s only natural World Heritage site, and the only place in the world where 185 million years of geology in a near-continuous sequence are revealed in the cliffs. A walk along the coast is like walking through the Triassic, Jurassic, and Ceatceous periods. (Continued)

Dressing–among other things–the English “chip”

I seem to have English “chips” (French fries) most every day. I’ve tried to be on a one-chip-a-day diet, but resistance is often quite futile.

In England, American French fries are called “chips,” and American potato chips are called “crisps.” Both are from potatoes, of course, but somewhere and somehow the words got turned around. The English do an excellent job with chips. American French fries can vary from skinny McDonalds fries to the wonderfully lumpy Dairy Queen fries to thick-cut potato wedges. The English, however, seem to have perfected the lightly fried, thick-fingered (not to be confused with fish fingers) chip. Any of the condiments mentioned elow are also quite wonderful on fish-finger “butties” (sandwiches).

In public houses (pubs) and in most restaurants here, you’ll usually get offered mustard, vinegar, salad dressing, brown sauce, and ketchup for chips and whatever else you might like to smother. Sometimes bottles of these are all housed in a handy tote of some kind. Here’s a short course in British condiments.

Typical condiments

Colman’s mustard. Not often used on chips, but who can resist this spicy mustard on just about everything? Jeremiah Colman began making mustard at a water mill in Bawburgh, a village near Norwich in eastern England. To give his mustard that tang, Colman blended brown and white mustard seeds brought by wagon from Cambridgeshire and Yorkshire or shipped in from Holland.

Heinz salad dressing. A kind of mayonnaisey- or Miracle Whip-type white cream with lumpy bits, like tartar sauce.

HP brown sauce. A Worchestershire-type savory brown sauce that really wakes up a pile of otherwise bland chips. It’s my favorite condiment here. HP Sauce has a base of malt vinegar, blended with tomato, dates, tamarind, sweetener, and spices. It’s used with hot or cold savory foods or in soups. Garton registered the sauce’s name in 1895, calling it “HP” because he had heard that a restaurant in the Houses of Parliament had begun serving it. Other versions include: (Continued)

Murder at the B&B. An Ophelia Perhaps Mystery. Part 5.

“Definitely Not that Creep from San Sebastian”

The next morning, as I stirred cut-up strawberries into my yogurt, I asked Sarala, the breakfast server, if she’d seen any strange people in the neighborhood. She’d seen nothing unusual but said she’d ask her friends who worked in the hotels next door and down the street.

I finished up the yogurt, the coffee, and two croissants (I can’t help myself) and thought for a few moments about the mystery man, but I had bigger problems than the American right now. I had to go to the vet, and Ti Jean had only five days left with me.

I have to use every single trick and all of my brain cells to outsmart my cat into his carrier. Last week, I’d set the carrier in the middle of my room with the door open. I’d fluffed up an old tea towel into the bed of the carrier and had inserted a few new catnip toys under the towel. The Royal Canin food doesn’t entice him at all, so I have to employ Plan B. (Continued)

Going to Guernsey


Castle Cornet, Island of Guernsey, facing north on the English Channel

The bestselling literary phenom, The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, was set here. Read by perhaps every book club in the United States—including mine in Salt Lake City–this book (by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows) is set during the occupation of the island by Nazi soldiers starting in 1940. Various monuments along Guernsey’s waterfront commemorate the liberation of the island in 1944.

A grim and true part of the book was the description of the Todt (after Nazi engineer, Fritz Todt, though Tod is also “death” in German) workers brought to Guernsey by the Nazis. These conscripts—about 16,000 men and boys from Germany’s Occupied Territories, political prisoners, Russian prisoners of war, and 1% of the German men who could not pass the physical—were often worked to death as part of Heinrich Himmler’s plan of “Death by Exhaustion.” I saw no memorials to these conscripts.

Fritz Todt, Nazi engineer

I boarded the Condorferries express in Weymouth, sitting in an assigned seat, rolling and dipping for 2 ½ hours east across the English Channel, to Guernsey, a Channel Island. No passport is required, as Guernsey belongs to England. Some passengers were sick from the bumpy ride, though I am happy to report my stomach was fine, and the return trip was smooth as fine custard.

The French writer, Victor Hugo (1802–1885), lived with his wife, Adele, in Hauteville House, and apparently, with his mistress Juliette Drouet, on Guernsey from 1855 to 1870. Hugo wrote Les Miserables while there and set Les Travailleurs de la mer (Toiler of the Sea) on the island.

Hauteville House is a lemon -yellow rowhouse on rue du Hauteville, up from the harbor. Hauteville House is not open to the public. Even a photo opp is denied since the plaque on the wall is behind a tall, black, iron fence. There is a computer printout in a plastic sleeve hanging in one of the windows reminding visitors the house is not a museum. Okay. Maintaining even a a small museum is expensive and labor-intensive, plus it denies housing space to Guernseyans. But I still think someone could have tried a little harder. (Continued)