We got up at the crack of dawn yesterday morning to drive to Slough (rhymes with cow), our home base for the next few days. What's in Slough? There's the Horlick's malted milk factory, a Tesco Extra, and the Mars factory, (actually it used to be here, now it's somewhere in the Czech Republic, but still the Mars bar was created here). The real reason we decided to shack up in Slough for a few days is much more pathetic -- it's home to Wernham-Hogg. The fictional paper company in the original BBC's "The Office." How could we not, given the chance, stay in Slough?
We made good time on the drive, and got there earlier than we thought. Since we didn't really want to face our super-cheap hotel so early in the day, we explored the options that Betty showed us. Betty, for those of you who don't know, is our navigation system. Betty will, sadly, stay with the car when we return it this week -- we're going to miss her. Anyone who's ever driven with either of us knows that we spend a large part of our time behind the wheel lost, and Betty has seen us safely across Europe and the UK admirably.
Betty had several suggestions, including the Royal Botanic Gardens (called Kew Gardens), in London. Our friend Dave, who's written several books on Palm Trees, had told us about the Palm House at the Kew, and how cool it is. Dave was right!
We scurried between several of the greenhouses at the gardens. It's winter, and below freezing in London, so hot-houses are where it's at at the Kew. The Palm House stole the show! The sprawling iron and glass structure, built in 1848, is so very Victorian. Green houses are always great - the experience of walking into a whole other climate is so extravagant, especially when you walk from the dead of winter to the luxurious warmth and profusion of the tropics.
The great thing about the Palm House is that once you're inside, it could be 2010, or 1840, and it would look exactly the same. The palms are pre-historically big. The iron railings are ornate, the condensation from the soaring glass ceiling drips onto your head in startlingly heavy splashes. Up a lacy spiral staircase is a catwalk circling the upper walls, and to get a glimpse at the frozen garden plots below you outside, you have to scrub a circle in the slightly slimy, wet windows.
We were still wandering the gardens at closing time. We would have been worried about finding our cheap hotel in the dark if it weren't for Betty.