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Thinking of England December 30, 2008

Posted by alwaysjan in Holidays, Travel.
Tags: , , , , , , , ,
2 comments

littleengland

I was done writing cloying holiday posts, but then my friend Nora sent me this Christmas ornament. It arrived in a big box delivered on Christmas morning and was handed to me by an exceptionally cheery guy from Fedex, who smelled of pine and overtime.

Alas, I tried to pry the little suitcase open, hoping to find a miniature raincoat and Wellies, but no luck. It did remind me though of what a difference a year makes. Last year at this time we’d just arrived in England so I could finally meet Lesley, the friend I’d met via the internet only months earlier. Yes, it was all crazy, but some things in life are meant to be. I made up a cover story so my parents wouldn’t worry – something about visiting people we’d met in California.

I didn’t even know Lesley’s real name and actual address til the week before we left. At one point I emailed her and asked if she wasn’t concerned that we might be serial killers and she could end up in a shallow grave, what with us being Americans and all. Lesley was nonplussed. She informed me her brother was a police detective in Ipswich, so we’d never get away with it.

When we staggered off the plane at Heathrow, there was Lesley and her husband, Ian, waiting. We fortified ourselves with coffee (Yes!) and then made the two-hour drive back to Framlingham in Suffolk. All bodies were accounted for.

England was a dream. Cold and grey, but after the relentless California sunshine, England seemed so utterly – English! We toured the local castle, queued up for fish and chips in Aldeburgh, and trapsed the cobblestone streets of Cambridge. We spent the most memorable New Year’s Eve ever at a posh hotel outside London as their guests. A piper escorted us into a magical wonderland where we sat at a table awash with glitter and crystal. There was unlimited champagne and the revelers sang every rousing verse of “Rule Brittannia” and “Oh Jerusalem” while balloons whooshed overhead like incoming missles.

I figured this was how the English celebrate, what with the waving of the Union Jack and the English flag of St. George until Lesley disabused me of this notion. She looked almost aghast and confided this was all rather over the top – downright Las Vegas-y. (said with a wrinkle of the nose). Oh. How ironic that the first song everyone danced to was “La Bamba.” Pacoima posh.

But the soundtrack for our visit was Amy Winehouse’s CD, which greeted us each morning after Lesley yelled, “Get up, you lazy bastards!” That’s what you call the Queen’s English, I believe. I was surprised that the grass was green in January and most of the houses had red tile roofs mottled with moss, while others were thatched. Indian restaurants were “curry houses” and  “bits and pieces” is English for what we call leftovers or odds and ends. Following this logic, Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein was made from bits and pieces.

But this is the memory I hold dearest. We’d all agreed to eat a late dinner, so while everyone else took a nap, Lesley and I stole away in the dark. Not only was it cold, it was spitting rain. We followed a winding route along a path marked “Lover’s Lane,” which led over a hill. I lost my sense of direction and imagined being adrift out on the moors, even though there were no moors, and we could see the lights of nearby houses. We were taking the back way to Lesley’s favorite pub, The Station, once actually the village train station.

Never could I have imagined how welcoming a English pub could be on a cold winter’s night. A three-foot wide cloud of mistletoe floated in front of the bar. (The bartender, Gareth, is also an arborist.) It was still early and not yet crowded. Lesley asked if we could sit in the “snug,” a small room behind the main pub and off the kitchen. A party had reserved the room, but they weren’t due for an hour so we got the okay.

The snug was aptly named. There was a crackling fire and it was just big enough for two long farmhouse tables which had been set for dinner. It looked like a medieval feast was in the offing. Lesley and I sat at one end of the table and she ordered a bottle of red wine. You could hear the clanking of pots in the kitchen and the pop of the fire. Aside from a plastic child’s highchair folded up in the corner, it probably looked the same as it did a hundred some years ago. (Okay, white Christmas lights outlined the windows.)  As we sat there sharing a bottle of wine by candlelight, this is what went through my mind: I can’t believe I’m sitting here in this magical place with this amazing person I met on the internet! I must take in every detail and commit it to memory because this is the one of the most amazing nights of my life!

We talked and drank, and talked some more. When we’d finished the bottle, we bid farewell to Gareth, and walked back home to join the others. It is this memory that warms my heart when I’m thinking of England.

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