Friday, October 19, 2007

English Gentlemen

England seems to spawn a certain type of "character" in the best sense of the word. Eccentric doesn't quite fit but it comes close. These gentlemen, usually of mature years, display a breadth of interest and depth of pursuit that seems quite out of the ordinary. I've known several. Nigel Racine-Jacques used to patrol the London streets looking for bewildered tourists whom he would befriend and guide. My parents once stood on a street corner, indecisive about their directions, when Nigel came up to them, offering a map and advice. He wound up walking them all over town, showing them things that most tourists miss -- a house where Benjamin Franklin stayed, Roman ruins, a ribald interpretation of the royal crest. Here in Penzance, on our last trip, we met Roger Jenkin, an historian and scholar and friend to tourists. He not only told us about a local site --a large anchor propped against a building, but told us of the ship's captain and even added some 200 year old gossip about his death. Yesterday I spent time with my son-in-law Simon's father. He would probably bristle at being called a "character" and, yet, in this sense it is a compliment. He has myriad interests -- from maritime history and architecture to English watercourses. He's documented many of these interests on a variety of web sites. You never know what you'll find there -- perhaps how to date a historic house by looking at the windows or determining the layout of an ancient manor by drawing a tree plan. He's interested in a lot of little things no one else seems to care about. But when he's gone, the world will have lost an amazing amount of information and we'll all be poorer for it.

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