Supper starters have included baked mozzarella with cranberry sauce, crayfish and mango salad and English summer soup, as light and feathery as a celery frill. Entrees range from salmon risotto to sirloin steak to tarragon chicken, all doused with ketchup by some of the international students from China. (I'm reminded of a colleague who drank his tempura dipping sauce at a Japanese restaurant in Los Angeles, thinking it was soup.) I've exhibited unusual dining habits as well, as I'm yet to be able to manage a knife and fork in the English manner, no matter how hard I try.
So far I've learned more about Dickens, the British Empire and the Victorians than I'd anticipated I possibly could in so short a time. For instance...
- English gardens of the Victorian era took on geometrical shapes to show that nature could adhere to science, and be tamed and shaped.
- Kipling wrote, "To be English is to win first prize in the lottery of life."
- Cricket was a democratic game played in villages where the local blacksmith or butcher could bowl out the lord of the manor.
- The entire idea of celebrating birthdays as momentous occasions was a European concept that England transferred to its colonies.
- Queen Victoria was the first person ever to appear on a postage stamp, and the word "England" did not need to appear on these stamps, since her image was iconic.
- David Livingston, the great missionary who carried "liberation" to the heart of Africa actually converted only one solitary person.
- Millicent Fawcett, a Suffragist, used political power to get women the vote in 1918, unlike the militant Suffragettes who had taken to bombing empty buildings.
- Public health became a matter of concern in 1842 after Edwin Chadwick, later knighted, wrote a tract called "The Report of the Sanitary Condition of the Laboring People in Great Britain," which became a huge best seller.
- In Oliver Twist it's ludicrous that Dickens, who spent his career championing the downtrodden, devoted so much reflection to the idea that character can be read by physiognomy, "nature being written on his face."
- The adoption law in England wasn't passed until 1924, so the "adoptions" of Oliver by Mr. Brownlow, and Estella by Miss Havisham in Great Expectations were informal philanthropic acts.
- In Dickens lifetime the population of London increased 2.5 times!
The rest of this week I'll be reading Jeremy Tabling's Going Astray: Dickens and London, and hope to do a Dickens walk while I'm in London next week...if I have time. I'll be seeing two musicals, Avenue Q and Oliver! as well as visiting the Grace Kelly exhibit at the Victoria and Albert Museum and seeing the newly opened apartments at Buckingham Palace, all pre-booked by my friend Heather from Weston-super-Mare.