Monday, September 7, 2015

Good Friends, Good Times

Note: I feel bad that I lost some of the photos that I took with our friends. It’s one thing to lose pictures of a place, but it's times with your friends that you most want to document.

When you are far from home, nothing is better than connecting with long-time friends.  

A bit road-weary after Oxford, we visited our friends Mitch and Susan, whom we first met back in 1989, when Kevin worked under contract for British Telecom.  His office at Southend-on-Sea included engineers from the UK, New Zealand, Australia, and Trinidad and Tobago.  Kevin was the only American, which he liked. Because we all arrived at about the same time, many of us quite far from home, we all became close, sharing dinners and parties, taking trips together, and celebrating Christmas together. It was in Southend that we met Mitch and Susan.

When we arrived at their home outside of London, we needed some downtime.  Can you imagine how good it felt just to relax in the company of friends? Not to mention our relief in getting our laundry done!  And we especially appreciated Susan’s wonderful dinners, which bring a little bit of Trinidad and Tobago to England. We have always savored Susan’s cooking, and this time was no exception. She is also a very kind person.

Not the best photo of Susan. She's prettier than this!

It was  rewarding to catch up and hear of the success of their children, who were quite young when we first met. Their daughter, whom I remember crawling under our bed to “stroke the kitty,” now has her own successful recruiting business. She has two beautiful daughters who resemble both their attractive mother and grandmother.

Their son, building on earlier achievements, has just launched his own software startup, creating custom business intelligence tools. He already has some impressive clients and has hired his first employee. We’re sure he will go far.  It pleases us immensely to see how these two have grown and prospered, thanks in large part to their hard-working parents.

What are these two up to now? Mitch took us to Windsor one day.
Unfortunately, I lost most of my photos, but I'm pleased I have this one.

After a few days with Mitch and Susan, we moved on to London to visit our friend Shirley. We only had a short time with her before we had to fly to Italy, so we made the most of every moment. One highlight was seeing her niece’s video creation in an art exhibition at the Barbican in London, Europe’s largest multi-arts and conference center.  (Benedict Cumberbatch was playing in Hamlet at the Barbican that week too.)

A proud father and aunt at the exhibition.
Shirley’s niece is part of Fish Island Labs, a collaboration of artists and technologists, who are taking digital art in new and exciting directions. We felt honored to be a part of the family and friends who attended the show and celebrated at a nearby pub.  (It should be mentioned that Shirley’s other niece, the sister of the artist, is also on her way to achieving success, working at a prestigious London public-relations firm. The fact that she has received kudos on her marketing writing made me feel a connection to her, of course.)

You can see the artist's innovative work on her website. I particularly like C_NOw White.

The next day, Shirley took time off work to treat us to a tour of the state rooms and gardens at Buckingham Palace.  (This tour was not available when we lived in England, and we have missed it on subsequent visits.) Since I forgot to bring my tiara, we had to take the public tour; otherwise, I’m sure the queen would have greeted us personally. (Actually, she wasn't there that day.)

In the gardens of Buckingham Palace, minus tiara.
We enjoyed the tour immensely, and I was surprised at how much we got to see.  Visitors enter by the same staircase as visiting royalty and heads-of-state, through all of the official state rooms and the impressive art gallery. There are several exhibits showing the work of the chefs, dressmakers, and other staff of the palace, In addition, the tour takes you through the state dining room. The audio\video guide is one of the best I have tried—I usually dislike them--and I highly recommend the tour. Unfortunately, no photos are allowed inside the palace.

Later, we poked about expensive antique and furniture shops, including Linley, the store owned by Princess Margaret’s son. The custom furniture pieces there are true works of art. The gentleman’s valet cabinet is sold out (£80,000, approximately $121,371), but maybe you’d like the drinks cabinet? It’s only £10,000 more. It's an ideal gift if you have a spare $136,927 lying around. Take a look.

I don’t know why they didn’t throw us out. Shirley claimed she doesn’t get the kind of treatment they gave us while we were there, which is hard to believe, because she always dresses much more stylishly than we do. The staff seemed pleased to demonstrate anything we took an interest in. Maybe they thought we were software millionaires when they noted our casual dress and heard we were from Seattle?

We also paid a brief visit to the Saatchi Gallery in London. We have always enjoyed touring galleries with Shirley. We viewed an interesting and sometimes thought-provoking exhibition on the work of artists from emerging countries, and I liked the way the artists blended native art forms with contemporary themes and styles.

Kevin and Shirley at the Saatchi Gallery.

Time with friends is always good, but it’s especially cherished when we are heading off to foreign lands where it may be a long time before we see another familiar face. Thanks Mitch, Susan, and Shirley for your warm hospitality!

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