Day 354: Strawberry Thief

Laetitia took her group to Lechlade, on the Thames, west of Oxford. The river is narrower here, and though still navigable, is traversed by craft smaller than Growltiger’s barge from T. S. Eliot’s Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats.

After some walks along the Thames, Laetitia took her group to Kelmscott Manor, the country home of William Morris. Morris was a nineteenth-century Renaissance man: a poet, artist, translator, illustrator, and entrepreneur, who with Edward Burne-Jones and Dante Gabriel Rossetti was active in the English Pre-Raphaelite and Arts and Crafts movements. The company that Morris founded produced images for embroidery, tapestry, printed and woven textiles, wallpaper, and stained glass. He and his partners profoundly affected the decoration of homes, churches, and public buildings during the early twentieth century.

Laetitia did not lead a tour of the house herself, since each room had a docent. One docent had an interesting story about the inspiration for the famous image called Strawberry Thief, which depicts birds and strawberries. Morris apparently got the idea for the design when he watched thrushes stealing strawberries from his garden as he waited to use the outhouse, which according to the docent was a three-holer. Laetitia though about how quirky the inspiration process was—how a beautiful image emerged from a trip to a place most people think rude.

She was still thinking about that when she dropped into a pub late that afternoon to write a limerick. Art appreciation is also quirky, she thought. Some people love non-objective art of Rothko or the music of Phillip Glass, while others hate it. It was the same with limericks, though she hesitated to call them art. Some of those she thought best caused listeners to groan. Certainly one had to be careful when gratuitously inflicting them on others. With that thought, she wrote the limerick of the day.

Rob thought that no verse could be droller
Than the one he wrote on the three-holer
So he gave it a try
But he got a black eye
From the young mother pushing a stroller.

Day 334: Blue Ball Yard

In London, near the Thames, Laetitia and her group went for walks in Green Park and St. James Park, not far from Buckingham Palace. Afterward they visited the Royal Mews and walked by 10 Downing Street on the wayto the Household Cavalry Museum. Fans of the film Accidental Tourist know that there are some people who don’t like to leave home when they travel. Such tourists seek out McDonalds in Munich and Starbucks in London. This was the case with Laetitia’s group today. When it came time for a late lunch, they wanted to go to a place that served hamburgers.

Laetitia found an appropriate place in her guidebook. They walked down St. James Street and under a narrow archway into a cul-de-sac called Blue Ball Yard. At the end of Blue Ball Yard is an upscale hotel and their destination, a bar that serves American fare. The walls and ceilings of the bar were adorned with British and American memorabilia from World War II onward, including American and British admirals, warplanes, sports items, pictures of celebrities and the like.

Laetitia’s group spread out among the tables, and Laetitia sat at the bar. While the waiters were taking orders and serving her group, Laetitia listened to the bartender. “This area used to be Queen Anne’s mews. Lord Godolphin built the carriage house for her. They used timbers from wrecked wooden warships in its construction and it is now part of the hotel.”

Then he asked Laetitia, “What do you do?”

She answered, “I lead tours and write limericks.”

He said, “A limerick is a kind of poem, isn’t it? There used to be an aspiring poet named James who was a regular here. People in the bar used to call him ‘St. James’ after the nearby street, but he called himself, ‘The Bard of Blue Ball Yard.’ The title wasn’t a success; there’s something about blue balls that isn’t very appealing. Most of the other regulars thought it wasn’t a very smart choice.” Laetitia smiled and thanked him for his story. Then she wrote down the day’s limerick.

When young James, the self-proclaimed bard
Of the cul-de-sac called “Blue Ball Yard”
Learned the thought of blue balls
Is one that appalls
Getting over that proved to be hard.

Day 324: Thong Throng

Thong is a hamlet in Kent, a bit south of Gravesend on the Thames, that was chosen as a destination only because of its inclusion in Rude World. Laetitia took her group to Gravesend first. They did a walkabout in this historic community that dates back at least to the eleventh century. Kent is perhaps best known for the White Cliffs of Dover, famous in song and because the narrowest crossing point of the English Channel is from Dover to Calais in northern France. Laetitia thought about taking the train through the Channel Tunnel to France and back, but the schedules wouldn’t work, so they went to Thong. The word “thong” has a number of meanings, but today, most people think of a skimpy piece of underwear or swimwear that exposes the buttocks, leading some to refer to such attire as “butt-floss.” A bartender’s story at the pub that evening about a local exhibitionist named Michelle led to the day’s limerick.

On a stroll in her hometown of Thong
Michelle thought there was nothing wrong
With wearing just that
Plus her shoes and her hat
As she waved at her large ogling throng.