Despite the Rail Workers Union’s stoush threatening to stop the French trains, we made all our connections and saved our no-claim bonus from another near miss. Next day our uncrowded Brittany Ferries’ catamaran sailed us 3 hours from Normandy’s bare cliffs, fabulous French chateaus, and the luxury-yacht-bobbing bays of Le Havre to Portsmouth and the promise of conversation. Yes, what we have missed the most. It’s all very well to stumble around hoping the greetings etc, we try to use are appropriate, but that’s not chatting.
We picked up a hire car, headed for Cornwall, and for the next week drove in and out of the dark deep greens of an endless, unmarked English country laneliness, lined with late Spring wildflowers strobed in early summer sunstreams….exclaiming “Aaah!” And “Oooooh!” and again “Aaah!” as the deep greens darkened, the hedgerows thickened, the road narrowed, daylight dimmed and the sounds of hares outrunning badgers in bedtime stories to sleepy children all tumbled, grinning and delighted, and we knew at any moment we could be lost forever if not for Google Maps – and if the signal would only be a little less capricious!
Cornwall is wonderful! Of course it is, or Doc Martin would never have set up practice in Port Wenn aka, Port Isaacs; the Pirates of Penzance would not have occurred to Gilbert or Sullivan; Hagrid would’ve missed the castle on St Michael’s Mount, leaving Harry Potter to his Dementor-driven terror;
Virginia Woolf would have described a different Lighthouse and different Waves; Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca could never have dreamt of Manderley; Barbara Hepworth would have reached the height of her powers somewhere else; Marconi would’ve had to find somewhere else from whence to transmit the first wireless signal across the Atlantic to Newfoundland; no TV audiences anywhere need ever have known of
John Nettles’ rugged stamina in sleuthing the obsessive compulsive murderers of Midsommer; and Sandra Clyne might have found Celia Otley’s accent less appealing! Cornwall gave way to Hampshire – lodged in a chocolate box Tudor village where we fully expected to see Beatrix Potter chastising Peter Rabbit, or Big Ears driving Noddy wild around every next bend,
or all Famous Five sharing scones with clotted cream and raspberry jam at their picnic by the river. Stonehenge, which, as the Great Wit says, “Rocks”! Winchester Cathedral, the longest church in the world, forerunner to Westminster Abbey, where commemorative plaques on the north side aisle and the floor honour local late resident, Jane Austen’s work and life, and where we were lucky to hear the choir’s daily evensong. Oxford. Preserving the essence of scenes that make a place variously quaint or beautiful etc demands certain concessions. Our advice was to “take the Park and Ride to Oxford”. Yes, these are cheap carparks serviced by cheap busses, set on the edge of places too busy to drive through or with streets too narrow for heavy traffic. Park the car; ride the bus return fare to the heart of the city. Very practical, very popular. And in Oxford the bicycle rules.
I was not prepared for my emotional response as I entered the quadrangle of Balliol College, I was so overwhelmed with nostalgia that tears trickled down my cheeks. Thank god for sunglasses! I suspect it was just the accumulation of years of vicariously visiting English culture and lifestyle through books, TV, film etc. The imagination can stir up the possibility of some past life experience. If I have had such an experience, I was probably a boy! The first women entered Oxford in 1878 as part-time students, not accepted for degree completion until 1920. In 1973 Balliol was the first of the traditional all-male colleges to elect a woman as a Fellow and Tutor. Yes let’s hear it for Will Shakespeare in London and Anne Hathaway stoking the home fires at Stratford-on-Avon. We visited Anne’s house, and while we weren’t happy about the £16.00 entry fee, we were more disappointed to discover the shop sold no likenesses of her, only him.
And so to London… Just London, poor rich London. The place names; the postcodes…it all counts you know – towards your identity in the Who’s Who and which names you may drop; where you might shop and what you might buy that’s a fair enough cop. Personally I find Harrods suits more than the local Co-op, ‘tho it is frightfully dear there. Still, you get what you pay for everywhere, and they do take such good care. If they relax their prices, blimey, ‘ood shop there then, eh? We’d be left with Fortnum and Mason’s and that’d leave a rather large hole in the basin. Of course we sang and danced the Book of Mormon in the West End. Harassed each other in Harrods, not to mention FORTnam and MASONing nor all the nostalgic rest…like:
Hyde Park, Marble Arch, Notting Hill, Kew, Westminster, Kensington, Chelsea – take the Tube. Brick Lane, Park Lane, Portobello Road Covent Garden, Old Vic, The Globe, Soho, ho,ho. Tate Modern, Albert Hall, Change the Guard to there. Piccadilly Circus, St Paul’s Dome, not far from Leicester Square. Beefeaters, Buckingham, Oxford, Regent, Downing Streets Crown Jewels, Hampton Court tried for hunting Hampstead Heath, Old Bailey, Big Ben, Traitor’s Gate, The London Eye spies high tides on the Thames we all should see before we die…
Kew Gardens . We took a memorable boat ride from Westminster Bridge to the gardens. Being in his last week of service after 50 years on the Thames, our boat Captain needed little encouragement to regale us with tales of the river and folk who have lived along it over the years, an hour of pure gold. The heat of the day stole our enthusiasm for the gardens, so, since the Temperate House is closed until 2018, we found a giant water lily to have a rest in – just kidding.
Then Annie took off …….while I lingered in the cool cafe. And Annie’s reward for labouring through the mostly unshaded, humid, 33-degree day, was the discovery of two wonderful women – Shirley Sherwood, a dedicated collector of mouth-watering botanical art from over 200 artists world-wide that she’s been amassing since 1990; and Marianne North, a pioneering botanical artist from Victorian England whose body of work, numbering 833 small but intricately-detailed oils, is housed/exhibited in her own purpose-built gallery, upstairs from the Sherwood. A fabulous air-conditioned dalliance with two remarkable women, thoroughly recommended.
Kathryn Jenkins how great! We bought an extra ticket and invited our host of the moment, Chonette.
Chonette is a lovely Spanish-born woman who lived her early years in Mexico until marrying and moving into an English life. During our stay in her very colourful self-catering apartment, she fussed over us and made us feel very special. We chose Chippenham because it was the closest affordable town to Kathryn Jenkins’ Concert at the National Arboretum in Westonbirt.
There we were in the queue with the thousands of others waiting for the gates to open, modestly-equipped with small picnic hamper and bottle of wine – no esky, no chairs. Everyone else had chairs. How would we see anything surrounded by chairs? However, we found a great spot, with a clear view and while all the Brits banqueted royally around us, we sat on Chonette’s blankets and enjoyed Kathryn with our sushi and chicken wraps.
Hostels. It’s 40 years since either of us did the youth hostel thing, but we found the Snowdon Ranger, YHA, in the Snowdonia National Park, surprisingly quiet and comfortable. Hearty meal, warm, slow lazy evening, early night into easy dream…..then Bang! the famous Grosse German DOOR-BANGER Percussion Gruppe arrived late (nearly 11pm). Giggling Gertrudas’ cymbals pitched high in leading soprano to gaggling Geese stepping up und stepping down the three long-suffering flights of wooden stairs. We cussed and all the doors percussed! But did we climb Mt Snowdon?
Manchester reunion, Janet had not seen Carolyn for 39 years and now she was a wife, mother and grandmother! Hooker Creek NT now known as Lajamanu was the last contact so lots of tales to tell. Carolyn and husband Richard warmly welcomed us at Stockport station and we enjoyed a divine roast (with Yorkshire puddings) the following two days of splendid catering was punctuated with meeting the family, reworking luggage requirements, relaxing and eating berries from Richards garden.