Tag Archive | Stanstead Mountfitchet

Beautiful Bishop Stortford

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Stanstead Mountfichet, Essex

I am still jetlagged and on Bombay time—so I am still awaking at 4.00 am. However, I am able to return to sleep after I have spent an hour on my phone with Twitter. When I do surface, it is after 7.00 am. I wash and shower and join my newest little friends at breakfast which I eat with Rosa: Dorset Muesli with milk. It is delicious. We then focus on getting the kids dressed for school—only Jacob will go today while Daniel will hang out with us.

Off to Jacob’s School:

School is about a seven minute walk away but it is simply freezing and I do not enjoy getting out into the cold at all. Although layered warmly, smoke is pouring out of my mouth every time I blow air out—I feel like Puff the Magic Dragon! We arrive at the school where Jacob, who is thrilled I have accepted his invitation to come to his school, bounds off. Daniel returns home with us and Rosa immediately gets a fancy DeLonghi coffee machine ready to make me a cappuccino that is delicious when eaten with her homemade banana bread. We simply do not stop talking—there is so much to say. Next, we plan our day and after Daniel has watched some TV, we get ready to go out into the cold again.

Exploring Bishops Stortford:

The last time I had stayed with my friends Rosa and Matt, they lived in Bishops Stortford but had taken me exploring in Thaxted and Saffron Walden instead. They live now in a sprawling new gated community in Stanstead Mountfichet, but since we had not really explored Bishops Stortford, one of the oldest communities here in Essex, Rosa decides we must go there. Matt had suggested a visit to the Rhodes Museum (also known as the Bishops Sortford Museum). It turns out that the Rhodes family (of the famed Rhodes Scholarships in Oxford) hailed from Bishops Stortford and established themselves as colonial entrepreneurs from this hamlet.

Visiting the Rhodes Museum:

The Rhodes Museum is free to enter. We park our car and make our way, past the Theater that offers some fairly decent shows, to the museum where we are the only visitors for the day. The most striking elements of it are a wonderful Mural—which is actually an embroidered panel—very similar to the Bayeux Tapestry—that tells the story of the town in patchwork applique and embroidery. It is in glass cases high up on a wall but there is conveniently a gallery from which one can scrutinize it carefully at eye level. It is fantastic as one looks at its Tudor beginnings to its present.

Inside, the biggest attraction for me was the Domesday Book—my first time ever seeing one. This is a facsimile, of course, but it is fascinating, as I do not believe that I have ever seen one (not even in the British Library). The page is open to the entry on Bishops Stortford—which indicates how old the town is for the Book was decreed to have been a record of all land holdings in England under orders of William, the Norman Conqueror from France, who had just taken over England from the Anglo-Saxon King Harold. The script is unfamiliar to us and we guess that it is Anglo-Saxon.

There are also exhibits on the Rhodes’ family contribution to the area and to the world—heavy emphasis on colonial mining works in Africa (which would make any post-colonialist shudder), as well as memorabilia and articles that belonged to Cecil Rhodes. There are also section on Gilbey’s Gin (made in the region) and information on a prominent family known as Pye. I do wish I had more time to read everything but it is simply freezing in the museum—it is true that these places do not believe in wasting money on heating in the winter as there are so few visitors. We used the rest room and leave.

Lunch at Bills in the Town Center:

It is almost lunch time and we drive off to the Town Center past the Mound which is all that remains of a castle that once stood here. We also see a huge windmill that is also featured on the embroidered mural in the museum. Finally, we arrive at the car park at M and S where Rosa gets a parking voucher and we go off in search of lunch at Bills, where she has a two for the price of one voucher. There are lot of thrift shops on the main streets and I am sorely tempted to enter a few—I will do so after lunch.

At Bill’s, I order the Fish Pie (I have spent 6 months in England and not yet had fish pie—I realize that I must remedy that immediately!). It is haddock, cod and prawns smothered in a white cheesy sauce and blanketed with mashed potato flavored with chives. It could not be more delicious and I savor every mouthful. It is also huge—so I ask for half of it to be packed away for my lunch tomorrow. Rosa has a Bacon and Avocado Salad with a Chicken Skewer and Daniel has Bangers and Chips with a Chocolate Brownie and Ice-Cream to follow. It is my treat and I am sorry that Matt and Jacob are missing to enjoy it but we simply could not swing things to include them.

After lunch, I leave Rosa with Daniel as he finishes his dessert and I hurry off to the thrift shops. Alas, nothing catches my eye. Rosa catches up with me and I nip into M and S for some Battenburg Cake to take back home. Alas, they do not have the tinned tongue that I crave and always take to the US where it is not available. I shall try to get some from Oxford Street tomorrow.

Since I had booked a train ticket online to get back to London tomorrow, Rosa makes a short detour at the station so that I could print out my ticket and receipt. Armed with this treasure, I can arrive at the platform at the last minute tomorrow morning to board my train.

We hurry off to the car as we have to pick Jacob up from school. Daniel dozes off in the car and is dropped off home with me as Rosa hurries off to get Jacob. His friend Ryan returns with him and together they make a merry din as the three of them play and leave Rosa and me to nurse a cup of lemony tea.

This is the time Llew decides to Facetime with me as he needs my flight details. I chat with him for a while and give him the information he needs. He also chats with Rosa and with Daniel whom he meets online for the first time. I am pleased to be returning home to the US but loathe to imagine what the country will be like under the new Prez.

Soon enough, Ryan leaves, I go off for a short nap, the children spend time coloring, watching TV and playing with Rosa. Then it is time for their ‘tea’ (supper). They eat ham, cucumber, tomatoes and tiger bread and finish off with milk. They are such good children—I am struck by their obedience. Their parents will brook no nonsense and I can see that when Rosa tells them to do something, they know she means it and they comply. Most impressive! All the while, Rosa is busy turning one of Nigel Slater’s tagines into what will become a princely meal for us.

Another hour later, after they have watched some more TV and Matt returns home, their daily bedtime routine begins—baths, stories, prayers, bed. I watch some of the news on TV myself as I get more and more depressed at the thought of returning to Trummpppphhhh’s America. When they are both settled in for the night, their parents return to the kitchen. The aromas emanating out of the oven where Rosa’s casserole bubbles briskly are very comforting indeed.

Dinner with the Fradleys:

It is not long before I am settled with a delightful glass of white wine which I sip as we lay the table for dinner. Rosa gets out some couscous and we are about to eat it with boiled sweet corn and the chicken tagine that is fragrant with the addition of cinnamon, cumin, turmeric and smoked paprika. Rosa brings the heavy casserole to the table and over the couscous that has cooked beautifully, we sit down and eat a most delicious meal. The meat is so tender, it is falling off the bone. There are apricots to lend sweetness. Overall, it is a meal to remember—I can still recall the amazing Boeuf Bourguignon that Rosa had conjured up, eight years ago, when I was last at her home one Mother’s Day. She is a superb chef and we do justice to her cooking.

A little later, after Matt helps clear things up and stack them in the dishwasher, we call it a night. I am sleepy again and at 9.30pm, I say thanks and goodnight and leave to get settled in my room. I shall pack my little back pack tomorrow. For the moment, I am ready to sleep. It will be the last night I will pass in the UK and in a bed different from my own…

Until tomorrow, cheerio…



Another Change of Household: in Essex Now!

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…