Our arrival in England was a spectacular spring day – a cloudless blue sky that Gerard could not believe. He kept saying, “This is not the England I remember!” We began our twelve-day stay with Torie who I’ve been friends with since I first arrived at boarding school at the tender age of eleven. I’ve also known Julian, who was then her next door neighbor and now her husband, almost that long. They are both amazing hosts, meeting us at the airport with a wonderful vegetarian dinner waiting, prepared by ‘Le Chef’ Julian. The following day, the weather continued to be stellar; still in disbelief, Gerard took his fleece with him. Torie showed us picturesque Henley and we walked along the Thames amid cherry blossom and blackthorn (which is actually white and not to be confused with hawthorn, not yet out).
The next day, my brother drove us down to Winchester where my cousin Cherryl had graciously organized a family reunion with cousins I hadn’t seen in decades. In fact, it’s taken 50 years to meet Pippa’s husband, David. And it was the first time since 1985 that I’d seen Cherryl’s three children. There was hardly enough time to catch up with everybody; there were so many people to talk with. The meal was lavish. Again, as throughout the whole visit, everyone took great care in accommodating our diet.
We stayed the next couple of days with Tim and Sally, both of whom go back to my Southampton University time. Gerard also knew them briefly when he joined me there. They live in the Old Rectory, next door to a thousand-year-old church and surrounded by beautiful Hampshire countryside. The view from our bedroom window stretching down their back garden and to the fields beyond is so peaceful; perhaps why I slept well there. We had a pub lunch in the New Forest with another colleague from university days. The next morning, Tim and Sally saw us off from the village railway station of Romsey, where we took the train to Bath.
Kate, who like Torie goes back to my boarding school days, and her husband Nigel had just moved into their house in Bath when we last visited them four years ago.
They described their renovation plans and how they were going to blow out the back to make a new large kitchen but we had no idea how transformative it was going to be. A huge glass paneled wall now looks out on a garden of shrubs and flowers that we found hard to believe was less than four years old. It was perfect, sitting at the breakfast table in bright sunshine with the glass panels open on to the garden.
Gerard who after being remarkably healthy throughout India wasn’t feeling great, some bug that hit him suddenly, was able to take it easy here while I took long walks with Kate beside the canal running right at the end of their street.
Our last afternoon, Nigel took us on a short walking tour of downtown Bath
and then, to avoid traffic jams, on an immense detour out into the country, which was absolutely beautiful,
ending up at Landsdowne Crescent back in the city. The hedgerows were full of primroses, bluebells and wild garlic.
The next morning, Kate drove us back to Wargrave where Julian had prepared yet another culinary delight. He is a caterer by profession and a chef by choice and we have been the recipients of one delectable meal after another. On Friday, our luck with the weather ran out… it had turned wet and cool. But we still managed to walk beside the river. The Sultan of Imam now owns the old Manor House and is responsible for planting the thousands of daffodils around the town.
The next day we went up to London, where I met up with Stephanie another long-standing friend I met in my last two years of boarding school and we played a strong role in my adolescence. On weekend passes, she introduced me to London’s post-bohemian scene. Gerard and I met Stephanie and her artist husband in a local cafe and then moved to a restaurant for lunch next door. Jonny, who we just recently saw in Rishikesh, joined us. He had just returned from India the night before and we were fortunate he had the energy to trek up to London from Brighton to see us. While Jonny and Gerard talked about meditation, Stephanie and I immediately picked up where we left off four years ago. A sign of good friendship. Five hours later, we I had to say goodbye, not knowing when I’d see her again.
On Sunday, our last day, my brother arranged a family lunch, with children and spouses. All thirteen of us had a chance to talk, but with limited time I left feeling there was much more to be said. To end the day and our stay in London, we braved the bitter cold (the temperatures had now dropped to 5C an extreme change even for Britain) and boarded the bus to Shepherd’s Bush for a cup of tea with Cristiane and Crispin, friends from when I worked at Yankee Group. It was great to see them and their two girls in their new house.
My infrequent and brief visits back to England are always nostalgic but this time was particularly so, perhaps because it’s now been forty-five years since I left to live in the U.S with Gerard. I was so young, so English and totally unprepared for America. When I would return though rarely, I was grateful to the customs man glancing at my British passport and saying Welcome Home! But now, I feel quite foreign, England has changed so much, economically, politically and culturally. Even the cooking has been revolutionized in recent years. We both agreed we ate like royalty thanks to the skill and generosity of our hosts. I’m grateful I still have friends from school and college that I can pick up with so easily and who welcome Gerard and I into their homes.
But the countryside remains enchanting as ever and when I walked along country lanes, the hedges exploding with primroses, and looked out across the open fields, everything so green and fresh (thanks to ample Spring showers) clouds scudding across the sky…I recognized the England I knew forty-five years ago.