In which Betty has literary adventures, finds the English heartland and succumbs to some travel bugs.
So the rest of my English sojourn taught me several things:
- England, despite being the country of my birth, is a foreign country. And a cramped and crowded one. And overheated in the winter, except for the train that I took from York on a freezing morning – the heating in my carriage had broken down, and the air-con was blasting colder air into the already frigid air. I could barely feel my toes by the time we reached London – and it was warmer off the train than on it.
- Heating problems notwithstanding, it’s far better to catch a train than a bus – road traffic is an abomination over there. Gridlock on a Sunday arv at Clapham Junction ("Ladies & gentlemen, due to works on the railway line, please change to the bus") stretched what should've been a one-hour train trip into a two hour road-ordeal.
- English birdsong is magnificent.
- I have no immunity to English germs.
I don’t think I could live in England again – it’s so crowded. However, I had some wonderful times. Cousin David drove me and Auntie Min around Epsom to show us around – we went to Epsom Downs, where the famous Derby is held, and the Epsom Well (reputed to have therapeutic waters).
|Epsom Well again - up close|
I had a family New Year at Cousin Helen's, in Kent - great fun.
|Auntie Min tripping the light fantastic with Helen on NY Eve. Cousin Ray makes sure he gets a photo of this momentous event before heading back to the wilds of Penzance.|
I visited my other aunt and uncle in the (very) little village of Coleby, in Lincolnshire. It’s the England you expect after watching The Vicar of Dibley, with endless green fields and hedgerows, old stone houses, a village green, an old parish church with an old churchyard – English heartland stuff. I went to one of the (in)famous village parties and met lots of neighbours.
|The village green (and I think that funny structure may be the old well?), Coleby|
I fed my love of literature and history when we motored through the Wolds and visited Somersby, where we went to the tiny church of St Margaret and I touched the baptismal font where Alfred, Lord Tennyson, was christened (his father was the rector there.) We saw the Dambusters memorial in Woodhall Spa, and looked at Windsor chairs in an antique shop.
|The tiny St Margaret's Church, Somersby, where Tennyson was baptised|
I had a Dickens experience, visiting Gravesend and Rochester in Kent, and a bit of a Jane Austen moment on an outing to Box Hill in Surrey when Cousin Janet came visiting from the West Country. Ann and I drove past the place where Charles Kingsley is buried.
|Kent: The house where Charles Dickens honeymooned, and did a bit of writing|
|Rochester Cathedral, seen from the walls of Rochester Castle|
|The lookout at Box Hill: Jerry, Janet & Auntie Min|
I went stomping around York with my friend Abhay until my legs almost dropped off. It seems that no matter which way you go, you end up going past the Minster. York is beautiful, and the National Train Museum there was great fun.
|York in Turner-esque morning light|
|York - monastery ruins, courtesy of Henry VIII|
|Australian ruin (oooh my aching feet!) courtesy of my youthful, long-legged guide Abhay (left)|
I found myself in awe of the driving skills of the Brits – so many of the roads are far too narrow for two way traffic – especially when cars are parked along both sides of the road – and yet they manage somehow.
RANT: found myself not a fan of the NHS when, the day before I was due to fly home, the Killer Sore Throat bug was worsening rather than improving. I had no voice, couldn’t swallow, was shivery and miserable, and I started to worry that I wouldn’t be allowed on the plane home. Auntie Min was also a victim of the bug, so we taxied to the doctor. Here’s where I got cross. I had to pay fifty pounds to see the doctor, and the receipt they gave me was just a cashbox receipt – no indication that it was from a medical practice – I will never be able to claim anything back (despite the reciprocal agreement that England and Australia have regarding doctors’ visits...) To add insult to injury, the doctor said the bug was probably viral, not bacterial. He prescribed antibiotics anyway, telling me they would probably have limited efficacy – and then the chemist told me that as the doc had prescribed capsules rather than tablets, the prescription would cost thirty seven pounds to fill, rather than five. Rather a lot for something that the doctor doesn’t expect will be very useful anyway, don’t you think? I told the man in Boots "Thanks but no thanks, a funeral would be cheaper", and took my germs and my prescription away in disgust.
Some fast talking (well, squeaking) on my part and a kind-hearted community-minded pharmacist who must unfortunately remain nameless (i.e., not Boots!) took pity on me and let me have the tablets instead. For God’s sake, the actual drug and dosage were the same – but ridiculous prescription rules mean that if you are prescribed a 250mg erythromycin capsule, you have to have the 250mg erythromycin capsule, not the 250mg erythromycin tablet. Duh!
The tablets were far more effective than the doctor had led me to believe. Within 18 hours I felt human again.
So – that was the rest of my trip. Because I was so sick I wasn’t able to catch up with Ann again, or my friend Fran in London – and my plans to visit the Victoria and Albert Museum had to be shelved. Bugger. Perhaps next time.
Because there will be a next time! It was very hard to say goodbye to everyone. As long as I have family in England, I’ll keep going back. I’ll try to avoid germs next time though.