Wednesday, January 25, 2017
I had my last breakfast with Susan (toast with Tony’s orange marmalade, Lurpak butter and decaff coffee) while overlooking the meadow outside her kitchen—almost completely shrouded by thick swirls of fog on this chilly morning. It is not a great day to be traveling but I will spend most of it in a coach anyway.
Departure from Oxford:
At 8. 15 am, I say goodbye and thanks to my generous friends, Sue and Tony, and dragging my backpack behind me, I set off for the bus stop that will take me to The High for my 9. 15 am coach to Stanstead Airport where my friend Rosa will pick me up and drive me the ten minutes over to her home in Essex. I am deeply sorry to leave my friends and the Oxford I so adore behind me and as I nurse these thoughts, Tony comes running after me with my black jacket—which, somehow, I have left behind on my bed! Thankfully, I was still only a few meters away from their front door.
I had decided to take the bus from Abingdon Road, but since I am so early, I walk instead to the Tesco Express opposite Christ Church College to buy some chocolates for my friends’ Rosa and Matt’s two little boys. I have small wooden toys for them from India, but I know that the way to every little kid’s heart is through a box of chocolates. I pick up Celebrations and Quality Street from Tesco and armed with my goodies, I walk to the High Street. Visibility is very poor and Old Tom Tower has all but disappeared. It is also dreadfully cold—there is the foggy wet dampness that seems to penetrate every layer you are wearing and settle in your bones. Ugggh!
At the coach stop, I make conversation with a man from Bombay who is waiting for the coach to London where he works—yes, he lives in Oxford, he says, and does the commute three times a week. He is from Juhu and, within seconds, we feel like old friends. He hops in when his coach arrives and, five minutes later, I follow suit when mine trundles along. Meanwhile, I have read tourist signposts that inform me that I am standing between two of the oldest coffee shops in Oxford—the Queens Lane Coffee House where I have often sipped coffee and wolfed down scones slathered with clotted cream and strawberry jam and, across the road, The Grand Café—where I have never been! On its rather grand shop windows, it advertises Afternoon Tea all day!!! How come I have missed this place? It is something to do for when I am next in the city of dreaming spires—that truly look as if they are well-tucked away in Dreamland today since it is so foggy. That, and Oli’s Thai, the renowned Thai place on Magdalen Road in Cowley. One must always leave behind something to be done the next time round. And I hope there will be many next times yet…
On the Coach to Essex:
It is a long journey to Stanstead from Oxford. We go through Headington and make a stops at High Wycombe, Hemel Hempstead, Luton (airport), Hatfield and finally Stanstead. The early part of the ride is uncomfortably chilly but the driver assures me that the heating is on—it just takes long to heat up a huge coach when there are only five persons on board.
When I arrive at Stanstead, I go through the airport and climb up one level to the Arrivals area where Rosa is supposed to pick me up. I call her to tell her that I have reached and then wait for her in the freezing cold. I am not looking forward to getting home to Southport for this one reason—the dead of winter is not the best time for a homecoming on the East Atlantic coast! Still…I am sure that the warmth of the welcome I will receive will compensate for the weather.
Rosa did arrive about ten minutes later and we did drive to her place—only ten minutes away. Since she has moved to this place only two years ago, I am coming here for the first time. It is one of those brand-new estate developments similar to America’s gated communities with cookie-cutter homes, small patches of personal back gardens and attached garages. Rosa’s previous home in Bishop’s Storford (where we will spend tomorrow) was smaller. I had stayed there before she had her two sons during her work stint with Matt, her husband, in Singapore. The expanded family necessitated a larger home—hence this lovely one. As soon as I enter, I am grateful for the warmth of a cozy living room and attached kitchen with huge dining table. Rosa can only stay with me ten minutes as she has an appointment to keep at her boys’ school where she does Reading as a volunteer parent who happens to work from home. She warms up a pot of roast chicken soup for me and I eat it with a buttered slice of tiger bread—tiger bread is peculiar to Britain and involves a brown checkered crusted top. She leaves me with the remote, tells me she will be back in about an hour and a half and goes.
Getting to Know My Littlest Hosts:
I spend most of the afternoon watching TV (one of the last episodes of As Time Goes By is on Gold, the channel I had sorely missed when I lived in London). Just fifteen minutes before she can arrive with the boys, sleep insistently washes over me and I simply must go and take a nap. I awake at 4.00 pm and spend the next hour getting to know the delightful Jacob and Daniel who are at lovely ages—five and three. Rosa enjoys playing with them: mini table tennis, some kind of game on the floor with what appear to be jigsaw puzzle bits. They run around like lightning between their two rooms while showing off their toys to ‘Aunty Rochelle’. I am enchanted by how cute, lively, energetic and well-behaved they are.
An hour later, after Rosa brews me a cup of lemony tea, the boys are served their ‘tea’—which is actually their dinner: ham and cheese omelettes with boiled sweet corn, bread and butter. There is my chocolate to follow for dessert—for they have been told, as my mother and Rosa’s mother had once told us: No chocolate until you finish everything on your plate. They are good and obedient eaters. They do not leave the table, once seated. There is no fighting, no fussing, no shoving or pushing. I am amazed by the discipline of kids still under six years old. When they have finished, they start the complicated process of choosing what they term ‘grown-up chocolate’, i.e. chocolate that isn’t Smarties! It is pure fun watching them taste each caramel or coconut center and decide whether or not they like it (they mostly don’t…so Rosa ends up eating a good half dozen!)
They are allowed an hour of telly because Aunty Rochelle is staying with them. This allows Rosa and me to chat about all sorts of things. There is so much to catch up on as we have not seen each other for about eight years! We have had email contact, of course, but that is hardly enough. Then, Rosa excuses herself to start the ‘evening routine’—baths, a story, bedtime. I watch Only Fools and Horses on Gold—it is hilarious! But when she returns, we get to the kitchen to eat our own dinner. Matt, a high school teacher of Physics, is detained as it happens to be parent-teacher night. We miss him, but Rosa puts out almost an entire deli of cold foods and salad: plates of cold cuts (salami and prosciutto), smoked salmon, babaganoush, taramasalata, crackers of every sort, Double Gloucestershire cheese and Camembert, a bag of salad leaves and a case of cherry tomatoes. There is so much to nibble on with the tiger bread. When we have had our fill, Matt arrives and join us in a bit of open sandwich with smoked salmon. He also makes himself a sandwich for the next day as we chat nineteen to the dozen and Rosa takes a lateish work conference call. I am absolutely charmed by the company of my friends and truly delighted to be with them again.
About 10. 15 pm, however, we decide to call it a day. I excuse myself after giving a hand clearing and putting food away and I go up to my pretty room where I snuggle into bed after brushing and flossing my teeth in the upstairs bathroom.
It has been a grand day and I feel deeply happy that I am ending my days in the UK in such a serene, peaceful and very leisurely sort of way.
Until tomorrow, cheerio…