July 8, 2007

Today’s stage of the Tour de France went from London to Canterbury, on the main road right by Pip’s house. So about 9 am we (Paul, Rosemary, and Matthew) walked down to the roundabout to watch the publicity caravan go by. We didn’t have to wait long before they arrived. It was a lot of fun watching the floats drive by and throw out freebies. We even got a key chain from the French Gendarmerie. But it was a bit incongruous to hear the French advertising blaring out from floats advertising companies that we knew nothing about.

After the caravan had passed, Rosemary realized the camera battery was running low, so we nipped back to Pip’s to replace it. Then we headed to the tube station to go to Greenwich, where the official start was to take place at 11 am. The trip on tube and light rail via Canary Wharf took about half an hour, and on arrival in Greenwich we found the streets packed with people. We wove our way through the crowds and headed to the official start line. We managed to find a place to watch just after the “Km. 0” sign, although we couldn’t see very well. We only had to wait about 10 minutes before the peloton came. It was quite exciting to see the mass of cyclists go by at a very fast pace, but it was almost a blur and it took about half a minute. That was the official start.

The crowds started to break up and we headed up the hill to the Greenwich museum and the Prime Meridian. Outside the museum we straddled the meridian with a dozen other people. Unfortunately we did not have much time to go through the museum in depth, so we just did a quick tour. We saw John Flamsteed’s apartments and his square telescope, then the display about John Harrison’s chronometers. We whipped through the sections about time zones and daylight saving and made for the shop. Here Paul found the 24-hour wall clock he had been looking for for years, so he decided to buy it.

Now it was noon and we had to be at the South Bank at 1 pm, to meet Paul’s cousin Henry and his partner Klaus. So we hurried back past the Tour de France’s French street market to the train station. We arrived at the prearranged meeting spot, Foyle’s Books near the London Eye, right at 1 pm and they were waiting for us. Henri looked quite a lot like his older brother Jacques, who we had met once back in the 1980’s. Caroline and Jason had said they would join us, so we chatted for quite a bit while waiting for them to arrive. Finally we gave up waiting and headed to Gabriel’s Wharf to have some lunch, but on the way we luckily bumped into Caroline and Jason. It was a lovely day out, so we had lunch sitting at a picnic table. We had panini sandwiches from a takeaway shop called Sarni’s (local slang: “sarnie” = “sandwich”) and ice-cream for dessert. We chatted for an hour or so while we were eating. Henry and Klaus have only been living in England for about 8 months; before that they lived in Holland for several years and before that in Oslo, which is where they met. Before we left we took some group photographs.

Then we headed back on the tube to Pip’s house where his family was gathering. They were in the little back yard and Val did the introductions. Paul’s aunt Hilda was there, looking older and frailer than when we had seen her last September. Pip’s youngest brother Jim was also there, with his wife Tracey; they are expecting their first child in about seven weeks. Later the middle brother, Adam, arrived with his wife Laura and their children Daniel and Hetty. (The relationships are actually more complicated than that, but for practical purposes that’s how they are.)

Dinner was very good. Pip barbecued up a ton of food: sausages, lamb chops, fish, chicken kebabs, and steaks. There was also salad and veggies, and ice cream for dessert. We all had a great time chatting away. Once again we took family photos before the relatives had to leave to catch trains home.

But it wasn’t over for us. While we were catching up on our journal-writing and Pip and Jason were working their way through Pip’s beer collection, Pip remembered a bottle of jellied eels that he had. So he brought them out and passed them around to anybody who was game to try them. Which was only Jason and Paul. Jason choked his down and Paul observed that they tasted like “low tide”.

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