“Half memoir, half travel, A Yank Back to England...is an absolutely wonderful book, not only about going home again but also about love and family and tradition and the passage of the years.”
—Michael Dirda, Pulitzer Prize-winning literary critic (Washington
To see the entire quote, click here.

Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Regatta Fever, part 2

Henley was filled with an air of tepid expectancy. The whole town was in the grips of discrete pre-regatta fever, and we saw lots of activity. People with clipboards were gadding about, looking for things to supervise. Boats and bleachers were being quietly hauled out of trucks. A bandstand was getting a fresh lick of paint. Large marquee tents were going up with silent ease. Guy rope tightened. Unopened, dark green ticket booths were getting a cleaning and etched gold letters were being retouched.
We had scones and tea in a small restaurant with a view of the bridge at Henley and its endless stream of heavy traffic which, like the river below, seemed to flow in one direction. Away from Henley. The locals, it seemed, had somewhere better to go. And so did we. Suddenly we both missed Windsor and realized how much we enjoyed it. We checked the map. Happily, Windsor was, as the tarmac flowed, less than half an hour away. Forty minutes later, we were happily strolling around the old castle town again.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Regatta Fever, part 1

The Royal Henley Regatta was starting the following week and, in preparation, Henley-on-Thames had thoughtfully banned street parking, created no entry streets, and cordoned off vehicular access to the river except for the main bridge in and out of town. This was, no doubt, to punish anyone not traveling in an amphibious craft of some description.
We parked miles away, near a supermarket on the outskirts of town, and walked back through a throng of tourists, would-be royal watchers, and assorted gawkers. Like lemmings, we followed the crowd towards the river. At the side of the bridge with its constant flow of noisy, smelly traffic, we glimpsed lawns that led to the river’s edge, perfectly run-down looking boathouses, and creamy white riverside mansions that looked like slightly wilted wedding cakes waiting to be cut.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Back to Bleedin' Blighty, part 2

I gazed out of the window at the thick, snot-colored clouds that seemed to go on forever. England. It had to be England. I pulled my face into a grimy crease to speak, but the attendant was on a mission and spoke first, with authoritarian kindness.
“You’ll have to hold your baby in your lap and strap her in. I have to stow the cot.”
“How can I—?” I asked, lamely. But she was gone, mumbling something about landing soon and being back in a jif. A jif, a jiffy, the attendant was becoming a little more English, a little more quaint, the closer we got to London.
Here we go again, I thought. Another so-called vacation.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Back to Bleedin' Blighty, part 1

I was hot. I had a headache and my daughter needed to be changed. Her diaper had blown up as big as a zeppelin, only heavier, warmer. The attendant returned wearing blue plastic gloves. She grabbed my package of squelchy diaper, popped it in a bag, then wagged a blue plastic finger at me.
“I really must ask you to strap yourself in, sir.”
“Yes, alright, but—”
The plane squeaked, the sound of foam polystyrene packaging slowly being twisted and torn. I was feeling a little anxious.
”Is it supposed to sound like that, the plane?”
“Oh, what, the squeaking? I know, I know, they do that, don’t they? Everything’s made of plastic now, isn’t it?” Thinking she had reassured me, the perky attendant turned her attention to Frances before scurrying back down the gangway.
“You’ll have to strap yourself in too, madam.”
“Did you sleep?” Frances asked me kindly.
“No. I drank. Headache.”

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

A Brit’s Christmas in America

In Dickensian England, goose was the bird of choice for the big feast. When I was growing up in the East End, most families served turkey at Christmas or, in small families like ours, a capon, which is a fat and juicy, knackerless chicken. Since Christmas comes so soon after Thanksgiving, and perhaps because I am so far away from the Green and Pleasant, my American Christmas dinners are invariably roast beef and Yorkshire pudding, based on the traditional Sunday lunch.
For the uninitiated, a Yorkshire pudding is like a popover, only better. Sometimes made with beef drippings in a large tin, I prefer a pan with small indentations that proffer individual servings. This way everyone gets a pudding that resembles a golden, crusty well just waiting for lashings of rich gravy.
Mum was not always a bad cook, but she was always a surprising one. Sometimes her puddings would rise like golden mountain peaks, other times they would sit there, in a pool of meat fat, looking and tasting like a rubber bathmat. There was never any way of knowing in advance. Although inured to Mum’s culinary failures, we could still be buoyed up her erratic successes.
When it is done right, as it will be tomorrow, nothing can beat this classic Sunday lunch of a rib of beef, pink-to-rare on the inside, crusty on the outside, with a freshly made Yorkshire pud, crispy vegetables, as well as meltingly roasted potatoes and parsnips, and a little horseradish cream on the side. This feast is a thing sublime, with the looks, aromas, and flavors of Thanksgiving and Christmas all rolled into one.
Merry Christmas. Eat and drink hearty!

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Christmas at St. Paul's

“Remember when Denny took us up to Saint Paul’s for a Christmas Eve service?” Lew asked Mum.
“Lovely. Lovely place, Saint Paul’s.” Jessie spoke with solemn reverence. “Lovely place. At Christmas – that’s when we went.”
“Packed it was. Packed!” said Lew.
“Anyone would’ve thought it was Christmas.” I could not resist.
“Don’t you laugh,” Lew looked at Frances. “Holy communion, they had, and everyone, I mean everyone, went up for it – everyone except us, that is. I couldn’t believe it, took ages. Do you remember that?” Jessie shook her head and shrugged. Lew went on, “Well, I bloody well do. You turned around and said ‘they’re tearing the balls out it,’ that’s what you said. ‘They’re tearing the balls out of it.’”
Frances looked a bit disturbed.
“The choir was wonderful,” I added.
“After midnight, it was. Denis had a car then,” Lew said, recalling.
“Just as well he did. That’s why he can get around and we never could.”
“Don’t start that again,” said Lew.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Dinner at the cottage

The pub was out. That evening, I sautéed the duck breasts we had bought, deglazed the pan with some red wine, then mixed in some blackcurrant jam for a sauce. I sliced the pieces with one passably sharp knife and served up the duck with some baked spuds. Mum and Lew seemed wary about eating rare duck, but quickly overcame their timidity and tucked in with great gusto. Even Kate liked it.
“Where did you learn to cook like that, son?” asked Lew.
“It’s fancy cooking. I never liked fancy cooking,” said Mum defensively.
“From books. When I lived over in Putney.”
“Ah, right, I remember—” said Lew. “Trundle Towers!”
“Well, at least I can say I’ve eaten duck now,” said Mum, with great satisfaction.
“You’ve had duck before, woman,” said Lew.
“I know what I’ve had. And I’ve not had duck. Never!” Mum said angrily.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Mum vetoes the pub

“I didn’t like that place. I didn’t like to say,” said Jessie.
“But you did Mum, several times, in fact.”
“I was just speaking me mind.”
“What didn’t you like about it? The food wasn’t that bad.”
“Wasn’t the food. Dingy. The atmosphere. Not cheerful. No life. I like a bit of life meself.”

Friday, December 19, 2008

Black clouds overhead

“Look at it, look at it! Bloody weather! Typical! Typical!” I was ranting now.
Frances was looking displeased, not with the weather, rather with the black cloud that had settled about my shoulders. She told me to lift it. Lighten up. Or at least, smile sardonically. And the cloud would lift and the weather would improve. She really said that. Annoyingly, she was usually right when it came to this cloud business. But I was having none of it. I was tunneling away, deeper and deeper into the darkness of my mood. And that was that. Frances, with Kate in tow, was understandably trying to ignore me, hoping perhaps, I’d go away. But I did not go away.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

In the footfalls of Oscar Wilde, part 2

We did not explore the town, but walked instead by an old wooden lock located by the river, in a separate channel. A man was maneuvering his boat into the lock. He never looked up, but he obviously knew what he was doing. He jumped to the side and, using a big paddle like a handle, shut the lock gates. Then he turned wheels and opened two sluice gates. Creamy, green water gushed from one part of the lock to the other, and his boat rose to meet another level of river. Then he reopened the gates, untied his boat, jumped back on, and put-putted away. I felt like applauding. I could not imagine myself doing such a thing. I would have panicked and, no doubt, disrupted the flow of water or disabled the lock.
Just beyond the bridge, the river widened and opened up, with an old mill on one side and the squat gorge on the other side. We enjoyed the view but had seen enough. Looking for Oscar’s old haunts seemed a bit silly now, even to me. Besides, we were all very hot and getting hungry.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

In the footfalls of Oscar Wilde, part 1

Just about noon, we shot across a bridge and promptly left Goring-on-Thames, our destination. Sheepishly we turned back, gently recrossed the river, and parked near a post office. We were welcomed by a church and few houses, but not much else. At least it was not flat. Just across the bridge, we could now see the land suddenly hiccuping into a small forested gorge, providing a delightful, verdant backdrop to the slow-flowing river.
Oscar Wilde had spent a family holiday in Goring, but I could not think why. We never saw anyone, even the ubiquitous Swan Hotel on the opposite bank looked deserted. Perhaps the heat of the day had scared everyone inside. Safe to say, we were the only tourists strolling across the bridge that afternoon. The river was flowing quite well and part of the greenish water was filled with mud, like a seam of fast-flowing milk chocolate.

Monday, December 15, 2008

At Arundel Castle

The family chapel was large, like the inside of a small cathedral. The vaulted ceilings seemed cavernous. The floor and some of the columns were made of khaki-colored marble. Down the center of the chapel was a massive oriental carpet. The altar had silver vases and heavyset candlesticks. Above all this was a very narrow stained glass window, like a bejeweled bracelet in a stone setting. The rest of the chapel was also made of stone and looked like fussily carved icing, as if someone had gone overboard in a cake decorating contest.
Down more corridors and through more doorways, we eventually found a room that appeared to be shoehorned from a well-to-do suburban house into the bowels of the castle. We were in a lounge and office with working electric bar fires and a dropped ceiling. Perhaps this area was used by the family when the gawking hordes had gone.
“This must be the private parts,” said Jessie innocently.
“Not that private, Mum,” I said with a smile.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Sunday seafood teas in Dagenham, part 2

The fishman showed up regular as clockwork. A few honks of the horn was all it took to attract his regular customers. I always went out with Lew, to help him make his selection. The fishmonger’s thick cheeks, hands, and forearms were lobster-red. He always wore a floppy green jersey and a bright, starched white apron. The crustaceans were never weighed out, but rather scooped up in pint and half-pint tin mugs. Mum always requested pinky red prawns.
“Knock ‘em down,” Lew would say in his gravelly growl, and the fishmonger would reluctantly bash the tin mug on his makeshift counter, bending a sea whisker or two but allowing a little room for a few more prawns. The cockles were like very tiny clams and, along with winkles, were my favorites. Winkles, those very tiny black sea snails, were tasty but required patience and a little skill. Needles or hat pins would be distributed with saucers filled with vinegar and pepper. Using a needle, I would flip off the winkle cap then twist inside the shell and pull out a tiny crustacean. I preferred ‘winkling’ out a whole bunch at a time and making a sandwich.
“We didn’t always get prawns,” said Jessie, half remembering.
“No, WE didn’t.” Lew cast a knowing smile in my direction.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Sunday seafood teas in Dagenham, part 1

“Remember the teas we had on Sunday, Mum?”
“No, I can’t say I do,” said Jessie, tearing at a slice of bread.
“Of course you do,” scolded Lew. He went on to explain, mainly for Frances’ benefit, what afternoon Sunday tea was like.
“The fish man showed up, on Sunday. He sold prawns and winkles and cockles, welks. Never much liked welks. Mum got the prawns, I got the winkles, and Denis had the cockles. Lots of vinegar and pepper, and bread and butter. Lovely.” He grinned at the memory and I recalled it myself.
Seafood was a regular Sunday afternoon treat in Dagenham. Shrimp, tiny, tiny crustaceans, heads and tails pinched between forefinger and thumbs, a slight crunch like biting into the sea. Cockles, chewy and soft and tasting mostly of the vinegar and pepper they were dunked in. The seafood was sold from the back of a van that dripped with briny ice water and smelled of the sea.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Going nowhere fast

“What was it that happened?” Jessie shot a look at Lew, “Something happened.”
“Nothing happened,” said Lew.
“Something happened,” said Jessie, stubbornly.
“We almost got lost, but Pam knew the way,” said Lew, quickly.
“Oh that was it. He almost got us lost!” Mum recalled triumphantly.
“You going to tell the story, or shall I?”
“What story? What story you telling?” asked Jessie. “I like a good story.”
“There’s nothing to tell. I just got a leg over with me directions.” Lew fumed.
“It was alright, I knew where I was going. Used to come down this way a lot,” said Pam.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

My Nan holds court at “The Vic,” part 2

“I’ll have what she’s having,” my Nan would say, pointing. An assortment of half a dozen liqueur-type drinks would appear, which she would drain like shooters. Inebriation was never far behind, a condition feared by all the menfolk who dated her daughters. Unfortunately, curtailing Nanny’s booze intake evoked her wrath, but plying her with drinks did not abate it. For no particular reason, my Nan would focus her ire on one of her daughters’ boyfriends.
I’m sure it was the same thirty years before when Lew was courting Jessie.
“So the journey down was okay?” asked Frances, changing the subject.

Monday, December 8, 2008

My Nan holds court at “The Vic,” part 1

“Like a Tartar, Mum was,” said Jessie. “A real Tartar. When the drink was in her.”
Jessie said ‘the drink in her’ as if her mother, my grandmother, had been possessed of a spirit other than gin. And Jessie could see it as clear as clear, as though it were yesterday. I thought I could, too: an aging lady, her looks, along with husbands and lovers, all gone – but there she was, holding court in that pub, holding onto what was left. Friday night was always the big night out, because Friday was pay day and the Vic, really the Victoria Public House, was the place to go. And Nanny Evans always came along. According to Lew, my old grandmother would sit in the corner nursing a Guinness. Then, suddenly, she’d be reminded of the vicariousness of her existence and the fragile jollity of her demeanor would implode into a searing jealousy of her daughters and their boyfriends. It was their time.
“And your Nan would sit there drinking and then, for no reason, she’s start in on one of us. For no reason at all,” said Lew, to me. “And God help us when she did. All us boys were fair game.”
Then Saturday morning would roll around and, I was told, she would happily remember nothing.
“You dreaded it, but you had to take it.” Lew sounded regretful, even sympathetic. “Had a hard life though, your Nanny. They all did in those days.”

Saturday, December 6, 2008

At the Beetle & Wedge, part 2

I glanced at the menu the waiter had left and nearly fell off my chair.
“That coffee is five bloody quid! Five quid!” I was almost yelling.
“Calm down,” said Frances. “It's a whole pot, and these cookies are delicious. Try one!”
I was not to be placated. “Are you going to drink it all?”
“I don’t know yet, probably not.”
“That’s what I thought!”
“There’s plenty for two. Let’s get another cup.”
“They’ll charge another fiver for that!”
I was having a rare but full-fledged cheap moment. After Frances finished a couple of cups, I polished off the rest with the cream. I was not about to leave anything. Frances divided the rest of the pastries between me and Kate, who was just back from flirting with the bartender.
“These are delicious! And don’t say they ought to be. Just enjoy them, and relax.”
“Probably want a bloody tip as well,” I mumbled.
“Don’t worry about the tip,” said Frances expansively. “I’m sure it's included.”

Friday, December 5, 2008

At the Beetle & Wedge, part 1

We sat down and ordered without looking at a menu, a glass of cider for me and coffee for Frances. Kate was, as ever, happily sucking on a bottle of milk. The wait-staff were all French, but unlike our friendly frogs back in Windsor, this mob had definitely been enlisted from the haute cuisine brigade.
Our waiter brought my cider and a French-style plunger pot of coffee with a jug of cream, biscuits, and petit fours. This was a luxurious cup of coffee, to be savored after a sumptuous meal rather than slurped down on a rather stressful road trip.
“Ave you ze booking for ze lunch? No? No problem. You can eat at ze bar. Mais no. Not a river view, iz not possible. Iz all booked.”
“We’ll stay with the drinks for now. Thanks.”
“Az you wish.” A French shrug of the mouth and he was gone.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

A riverside discovery, part 2

Eventually the sky opened up, the brush and trees disappeared, and we came upon the river Thames and the tiny village of Moulseford. We pulled up at what we thought was a pub but, on closer inspection, it seemed we had found the Beetle and Wedge, a fancy riverside restaurant with a small adjoining hotel. Cars were already in the parking lot. A good sign. As we headed to the entrance, we saw someone piling lumps of coal on a semi-outdoor grill. I had not seen coal on a fire since I was a boy.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

A riverside discovery, part 1

We saw, by luck, a tiny bracken-covered sign leading to the tiny, riverside hamlet of Moulseford. The road seemed narrow, with tall grasses brushing the side windows as we turned. Then the road became narrower still, shrinking to the size of a bike path. This teeny roadway was thoughtfully dotted with tarmac flanges placed, presumably, to minimize head-on collisions and murder-suicides. In such a tight spot we finally ‘killed our speed,’ but no one else did. A stout man in a Jag, the actor who played Inspector Strange on Morse, one of my favorite shows, mimed swear words at us as we dithered onto a nearby flange to let him pass. I had no idea who had the right-of-way, but I had a young family and a desire to live.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Still wending our way around the Thames Valley

We were still eager to discover the picturesque Thames Valley, still desperate for a stroll at the water’s edge. But the more we zigzagged the ancient waterway, zooming along at sixty miles an hour despite the ‘kill your speed’ signs, the more we seemed cut off by the very thing that had attracted us to the area in the first place – the river. Quite often, we approached a town, drove over a span of bridge, and found the town gone. Most, it seemed, had been built on one side of the Thames and had sprawled along that one bank. Crossing the river at a promising spot, we’d find nothing except boring bits of pasture and a few trees. We actually double-backed several times to see what we might have missed. And sometimes we overlooked the teeny-tiny directional arrows and missed a village completely, resulting in more zigzagging and even more backtracking.

We later realized, the best way to see the Thames Valley was on a boat, floating around the soft curves of the river, traveling at the water’s pace, discovering tiny bank-side hamlets, and generally enjoying the slowness and tranquility of the journey, rather like Mole and Ratty.

Monday, December 1, 2008

A literary journey (not), part 2

The closest we got to any literary memorabilia was the Swan Hotel, right on the river’s edge. Pubs called ‘the Swan’ abound in this part of the world, but the one in Pangbourne is mentioned in Jerome K. Jerome’s Three Men in a Boat. Appropriately, the pub was like a big old boat house, complete with an ancient wood rowing boat suspended to the ceiling. Outside the pub, beyond the run-down landing dock, was a rather impressive horseshoe-shaped weir cascading noisy water. The weir sounded like the shushing interference on our old television at home in Dagenham. So instead of musing about Ratty and Mole, I was again thinking about Jessie and Lew. Oh, well.
“So, have you—” Frances did not know how to phrase her question.
“Got my literary fill? Well, yes, I suppose I have.”
“I was going to say, ‘Seen all you want to see?’”
“Yes!” I had.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Side dish, anyone? Please pass the gin.

In America, Thanksgiving focuses on family and turkey. In England, we didn’t have Thanksgiving; but in my family, all get-togethers focused on drinking. Just before emigrating to the States, I organized a farewell party. My mum and all her sisters, Vi, Flo, Mary, and May showed up armed with bottles of gin. Way past midnight, the five ladies were dead drunk—they sang and swayed their arms, laughed and cried, but they could not move. I made several phone calls and their sons, the cousins I had not seen in years, arrived, much later, to winkle their respective mothers out of my flat. Drinks parties in my extended family went on and on. Nobody ever left until the booze ran out. And, even then, one relative always had the bright idea of making tea and cheese sandwiches to ‘soak up’ the gin the old girls had consumed.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

A literary journey (not), part 1

We headed first for Pangbourne, home of Kenneth Graham and his Wind in the Willows. We could not really gain access to the river at Pangbourne, there was no walkway. And why should there be? The old market town had grown into a bedroom suburb of London, with lots of houses, lots of shops, and not much in the way of charm. Not that I expected to see Mister Toad sauntering about or stealing motor cars but I had expected a much smaller place, more tranquil, even pastoral. But it was not to be.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Planning over breakfast

Over breakfast, Frances and I discussed the day’s itinerary. Our plan was to zigzag the Thames Valley, crossing the river at various leafy intersections and immersing ourselves in literary landmarks and points of interest that dotted this area. For once, the itinerary had been my idea, but Frances was agreeable and, with the weather still sunny, the views would at least be pretty.
Frances looked up suddenly and realized Kate was gone. The French doors were open, we thought of the pond. Of Kate’s attraction to goldfish. But she had simply sat down at another table, adopted a family in another part of the dining room. When we came up to her, our toddler was happily sucking on her bottle in the company of her two new ‘brothers.’ Oddly, the father just carried on reading his newspaper as if nothing untoward had happened, and the mother didn’t seem to mind either.

Monday, November 24, 2008

First time in Windsor

Nestled in the curve of the Thames, at its prettiest and most leafiest, Windsor is really three towns in one. The first clings and cowers within the mighty shadow of Windsor Castle, suitably deferential. Beyond this is a rather ordinary town that, apart from a large army barracks, looks like any other middle class suburban town in England aspiring to be something it’s not. The third part is Eton, which is not really Windsor at all but, rather, a small village just across the Thames on the opposite bank. Eton is not much more than a one street village but it is very old, pleasantly genteel, and subdued.
With three very different towns to choose from, we had unknowingly booked a hotel in Windsor’s boring bit.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Mum settles for white

I grabbed a bottle of wine from the fridge and two glasses.
“Is that white wine?” asked Jessie.
“Yes, Mum,” I said, grabbing another glass. Sometimes I could read my parents quite well.
“I prefer a drop of red, meself. But if that’s all you have, I’ll have that.”
“Thank you, Mum.”
“Don’t want to cause trouble. Well, down the hatch then!”
And down the hatch it went.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Full steam ahead, part 2

As the trains would slowly pull out of London, I saw the soiled backsides of buildings, embankment walls, and nondescript bridges with sidings sprouting clumps of grass and weeds beneath dilapidated, rusting undercarriages. The train moved farther and the concrete-and-brick gullies and gorges and tiny road tunnels gave way to residential back gardens. The odd signal box. Then more houses, walls of bricks, then wooden posts. The city was being stretched out like toffee, thinner and thinner, first translucent, then quite transparent, then suddenly disappearing altogether. The train would break free and there were green embankments on either side and nothing much else. The stagnant urban life had been banished in a flash, reappearing periodically in gray-brown blurs as the train hurtled through small village stations and county towns.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Full steam ahead, part 1

I found it strange to travel by car to a coastal region in England. Holiday trips with my parents, Jessie and Lew, always started at one of London’s main-line terminus stations, usually Victoria for the South Coast or Paddington for the West Country. As I drove I remembered those large, glass-covered edifices, filthy from the soot of train smoke built up over the great age of steam, a gummy brown legacy of time gone by. When I was a kid steam trains were still in service and I could easily recall the loud engine noise as they scudded to a halt, wheezing smoking, billowing steam and sounding like metallic raspberries. But it was the smell I remembered most, the smell of grease, oil, and coal. These were the ingredients that fueled adventures far from my home in Dagenham.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

After dinner chat with Dad

Lew made for the Jack Daniels. I got the glasses. I wanted to ask him how Mum was doing, how he was coping, but Lew had other things on his mind.
“I’m going to be eighty-seven this year,” he said.
“Good for you,” I said cheerfully.
“Let me take the weight off me plates of meat.” He lowered himself gently into a chair.
“Cheers,” I said handing him a glass.
“I haven’t got much longer, son,” Lew sounded grave.
“I wouldn’t say that, Dad. You’ve quit smoking. You’re still getting about, you go up the top. You get the food in. Get the newspaper. Put your bets on.”
“It’s getting harder. A lot harder.”
“You can get some help. Have you thought about that? Take taxis.”
“Your mother won’t stand for that.”
He sniffed his drink, then downed it in one gulp. He let out a long, raspy breath and smiled a toothless grin.
“Where are your teeth?” I asked.
“In my pocket.”
“They’re alright, I wrapped them in me ‘ankerchief, now don’t worry about that. ”
“Well, that’s one way of keeping them clean, Dad.”

Friday, November 14, 2008

Our cottage in Chichester

“This is funny,” said Frances, opening and closing drawers in the kitchen. “We get six of everything. Look!”
She was right. Knives, forks plates, glasses, cups. Six of everything. Except for electrical sockets. In the kitchen, five plugs were fitted together like large bits of Lego, clustered around just one outlet in the wall.
Six towels. Then we saw six bars of soap. When we discovered the stock of toilet rolls, we stopped counting.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Driving into London

The road became dense with cars, trucks, buses, vans, and motorized scooters that zigzagged around the massed traffic like demented pilot fish that had lost their way. Apart from intermittent stop signs, everything seemed to be speeding up. Everything, that is, except my reactions. I was feeling tired. Grimy. Horrid. And dreading where I was going. What had I been thinking? Why, oh why, was I planning to dwell in the damp valleys of East Anglia and not, say, in the sun-drenched hill towns of Tuscany? Oh, Christ. I was heading for ten days of gloom and doom.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Lunch in Sudbury

It was time for lunch. Unfortunately, motoring around busy one way streets looking for pleasant eateries was not practical. Our little troupe could not walk very far or very quickly. So we entered the first place we came upon. The cafe had grease stains on the wall, the air felt heavy, and I felt grimy the moment we sat down. The English breakfast we ordered was quite revolting, with a moat of congealing fat around the edge of the plate that looked like an ice rink. Fortunately, Mum assured us the heat of the tea we were drinking would melt the fat and make it disappear.