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  • Alison Merrill

London, England – Understanding Your Past and Knowing Yourself

Updated: Mar 22

“Whomever you become, whatever you make yourself into, that is who you always were. It was always inside you.”


– Dr. Kerry, Educated


A lot of times when I talk about how I’ve changed or how other people change, people (myself included) usually ask or wonder “are you being true to yourself?” As humans, we tend to resist change and when we say to someone, “you’ve changed” - a lot of time there is a negative connotation. The issue with holding on to how we use to be is it will always make us wonder, “do I belong where I am now?” Even though it might be a small percent of us that feels we do not belong, this feeling of uncertainty will affect how we and others see ourselves and ultimately decrease the chance we reach our full potential.


The past couple years in my pursuit to grow, I was so focused on what was ahead I did not have time to look back. In my time in England, it’s been rewarding to learn more about my family’s past. I still firmly believe that if at any point we want to change aspects of ourselves we can. However, looking back on the past can help someone write their own story, giving them a stronger sense of confidence, knowledge, and self.


London - What have we been doing?


Sam and I have spent the last ten days in London. We were lucky to be joined by my older sister, Katherine and my mom for six of those days (we missed you, dad!). The time we spent in London was amazing and we had some incredible experiences:


1. A full-day walking tour of London: Buckingham Palace, Changing of the Guards, the Tower of London, the red phone booths, and more

2. Visiting the Harry Potter Warner Brother Studios in London where the films were made

3. Going to the Tate Modern Museum

4. Riding the London Eye

5. Having English Tea at Sketch

6. Going to Wimbledon (Sam)

7. Taking dance class at one of London’s premier dance studios, Studio 68 London (Alison)

8. Biking Richardson Park

9. A day trip to Cambridge University to see where my mom went to school

10. Seeing Shakespeare’s Midsummer’s Night Dream at The Globe Theatre


The Stories We Love Best Do Live in Us Forever” – J.K. Rowling

As a kid, I grew up reading Harry Potter. I’ve read each book three times and seen every movie around 20 times. Knowing that the Warner Brothers Tour of Harry Potter in London features props from the movie and gives the audience inside access to the making of the films, this made the top of my London “must see” list.


The Making of the Harry Potter Movies: The Creative Process


What I did not expect was how in depth the tour would cover the artistic process. The tour showcases how the costumes, props, sets, and scripts were made and built. I was fascinated that each film had different executive directors, screen writers, and producers.

While I was reading the biographies of the executive directors and listening to their interviews, I was astounded. Every director had a different vision for their movie. The first film was meant to be light-hearted - a story about children going off to a British boarding school, with some magic thrown in. As the series progressed, the films grew scarier. With the third, the director wanted to only shoot in certain colors, making the images and scenery darker. In the fifth, the director highlighted Harry’s anger and in the sixth when the characters started coming of age and falling in love, the director showed more character development and humor.


I love how each filmmaker had a unique interpretation of their book and how all the directors were interviewed for the job (against 100’s of other people) and needed to convince the producers that their vision for the movie would bring each book to life.


When you get a good idea, run with it


This quote jumped out to me (I wish I wrote down the name of the director!) because when I work on a creative project I take this approach. My dad who is a musician and artist told me when I was younger that he knew he had a good idea when each morning he woke up and the idea was still on his mind.


When I choreographed my first dance video I thought about the idea for three months. With the help of my director and friend JC, he encouraged me to pursue the idea and once I created the steps and worked with the dancers, new aspects of the project came to life. Initially, I only wanted to do 30 seconds of dancing with 3 dancers. Then I started picturing new sections of choreography and saw more dancers. The video changed from being in a dance studio, to an apartment. Once I found an apartment that matched the image in my head, new elements got added. The choreography changed as we adapted around obstacles: the space being too small in certain rooms, moving furniture, and when the furniture was too big to move, dancing on it.


In the beginning, I was worried about the concept being perfect that I was scared to act on the idea. I now know that no idea will ever be fully hashed out. In fact, the real magic is acting on the idea that’s been there for months, keep going, expanding the concept, and seeing where the idea goes.


Understanding your past is knowing yourself better


Sam and I had a couple extra days in London after my sister and mom flew home. My mom has a longtime friend, Eva Simmons who was also her landlord and fellow student at her college in Cambridge, Lucy Cavendish which is a school specifically for women over twenty-six. Eva offered to show Sam and I around Cambridge for a day and to join her and her boyfriend, Paul, who is a professor at Cambridge for a traditional English supper. Fun fact, Cambridge is not just one college, but many and students apply and get accepted into a college within Cambridge which would have made exploring it with just myself and Sam difficult and boring.


The Struggle


Sam and I took the train from Kings Cross (yes, that is where Harry Potter got the train to Hogwarts and yes, there is a platform nine and three quarters where one can visit and pay 12 USD to have their picture taken). Not doing our due diligence on how the train system works outside of London, Sam and I assumed our Oyster Cards (similar to any city transportation card – MetroCard, Bart, T-pass, etc.) would take us to Cambridge which was outside of London.


Once we got to Cambridge we were obstructed by our Oyster Cards not buzzing us through the gates and instead got a “Seek Assistance” error. The train operator came over and was baffled that we did not know that the Oyster Card would not work outside of London. We continued to insist that we were dumb, not thieves. After he believed us, he let us go. Eva asked what the hold-up was and Sam and I explained that we thought our Oyster Cards would work as tickets to which she replied, “Why? You aren’t in London” - good point. After going to the parking lot, I proceeded to stand at the driver’s side of Eva’s car because in England they drive on other side of the road meaning traffic is reversed and so are the seats. Eva told me unless I was planning to drive I should go to the passenger side which was located on the opposite end of the car. So far… off to a great start.


A Day in Cambridge


Eva, Sam, and I stopped at the Cambridge University Library which is a library of public record meaning that they have a copy of everything ever published. It was amazing to see floors filled with books. We took an elevator that Eva said was exactly the same as it was when she was there. We road up six floors and when the elevator doors opened they revealed an enormous room filled with volume upon volume of books which was incredible because this was just one small section of books throughout the library! From there, we went to the “rare books” room. In this room, each book has to be carefully placed on a large tray as students use them for research because the books are so fragile, too much contact can ruin them.


According to Eva, my mother spent a good deal of time in the library. Additionally, one of my best friends, Gabby studied at Cambridge and graduated two years ago. It was fun imagining both my mother and Gabby working in the hidden crevices of the library amidst shelves of books in one of the many desks.


After the library, we headed to my mom’s college, Lucy Cavendish and had lunch there. Sam recorded an episode of his podcast with Eva who was a BBC journalist for 25 years and has traveled the world, and then we went to the center of Cambridge where we saw King’s College and the famous Chapel which is twice as tall as it is wide. After that we stopped to watch people punt boats (similar to gondolas in Venice) down the canal. Many of them were piloted by locals and tourists alike, crashing into the sides of the river.

We arrived at a beautiful street near the center of town where Eva and Paul live. This is the same house that, Eva had rented the top floor to my mother and father. Eva had turned the back area into a beautiful garden and we enjoyed a traditional English roast– grilled potatoes, lamb (veggie patty for me), carrots, green beans, cauliflower and cheese mash, and a dessert of lemon tart, raspberries from their garden, ice cream, and numerous glasses of prosecco.


King's College from the back. Overlooking the canal and the "punting" boats.

Sam


Top 3 experiences


1. Being amongst the wild stags in Richmond park

2. Home-cooked English roast in Eva & Paul’s garden in Cambridge

3. Mid-Summer Nights dream at The Globe


Lowlight - Disappointing chicken tikka masala. I thought England had great Indian!


Best bite of food - Kale + cauliflower Mac & cheese from Pret a Manger


Lessons learned - If you love the land, buy it. They paid $10k for the land for their beautiful garden. It’s the only way to control what happens to the land you love. Wisdom from Eva Simmons

Dinner in Eva and Paul's garden

Alison


Top 3 Experiences:


1. Afternoon tea at Sketch with my mom and sister (we talked about our earliest memories we had with her and my dad),

2. Exploring Cambridge with Eva and Sam

3. Seeing Midsummer Night’s Dream at The Globe.


Lowlight: My brain not shutting up when I was trying to relax in the park


Best bite of food: Cauliflower and kale macaroni and cheese from Pret… LOL… it was after a long day of bike riding


Lesson learned: if a local offers to show you around their town for the day, always say “yes”


My sister, mom, and myself having tea at Sketch

Thank you for joining us on our journey! We are currently writing this post from a cafe in Istanbul, Turkey with our friends Kevin and Jeff. We will be spending the next few days in Cappadocia and Istanbul.


Cheers,

Alison



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