Monday, April 30, 2012

The right side up again!

At last the time has come…
I won’t say I’m ‘cured’ of the effects of that damned stroke and its sequels, for I’m not. I am no longer nimble of foot, and my shoulders and hands now work at 70% agility and 40% power. Typing is still a trial. Speech slurs sometimes for a few sentences. And fatigue is a problem. But I’m alive and kicking, and, I reckoned, fit enough to return to the top of the world for a gentle summer’s activity under the careful eyes of various friends… starting with brother, John, in Leicestershire.

The take-off was difficult. The day after I left Gerolstein and New Zealand, our dear little mother, in dreadful pain with a broken back for weeks past, was rushed to hospital with further problems. She died in the night, days short of her 90th birthday. Her final instructions (and she did love to instruct) were that I should not turn back, but continue on to Britain and John. She wanted us to be together. And here we are. Just we two, for the first time in decades.



The first stage of take-off was ten days in Sydney with veteran friends, Barry and Rosemary. I couldn’t have been in better hands. Alas, the horsey action was rained off – what on earth has become of Sydney’s weather? – but I met up with my partner-in-horses, Jack Dowie, with another veteran (young) theatrical friend, James Thane, and had morning coffee with a very colourful bird...



We dined at a splendid pizzeria, Via Napolitana, in Lane Cove, and on my last night in town we feted the second birthday of Harry, Barry and Rosemary’s gorgeous grandson. Harry is something else! and with showbiz parents and grandparents, naturally already developing (among others!) terpsichorean talents. Shimmy-shake, Harry!



The Emirates flight from Sydney was the best inter-hemispherical trip I have ever had. The airline staff looked after me wonderfully (thank you for seat 21D … even a place for my walking stick), I had splendid co-travellers – Craig the oil-rigger, heading for Brazil, and charming, handsome 82 year-old David from Wales – a lot of whiskey, slept six whole hours, and arrived at Birmingham airport in amazingly sprightly state.

Of course, I paid for it in the following days with my worst attack of jetlag (with a touch of hangover?) ever.

But those days were to be eventful. John had decided, now that he is a widower, to downsize his living quarters. Unlike me, who has still not found a new home in the five searching years of my re-singled state, he lighted on precisely the right place almost immediately. A tiny, end of terrace cottage in the delightfully rural Billa Barra Lane. It is now his, and by the time I return at the end of the summer he will hopefully have moved in.



Come the weekend, we hit the roads of the mass of counties which crowd this area. Through Rutland, Cambridgeshire and Northamptonshire (in one order or another) to Market Deeping, Lincolnshire where John keeps a tiny Puck caravan with which, transporting his bicycle, he investigates the intimate corners of the Norfolk countryside. It is the cosiest wee ‘home’ and writer’s hideaway imaginable. Friend Liz had sewed some new curtains for the mobile palace’s windows, and we happily installed them.



Nearby Crowland is the place which Greg chose for his ashes, so we drove by the spot for me to pay my silent loving respects to my late brother-in-law, and continued to the town to see the sights: a remarkable three-sided 14th century bridge and a nicely battered abbey. And all the way, we passed through lovely green, English countryside, and charming villages where 20th century builders have barely laid a spoiling hand…





The next day, in heavy rain, we headed for the Norfolk coast. I have never been north of Great Yarmouth, so the part of the coastline from Hunstanton to Wells-near-the-sea was all new for me. Hunstanton is a typical English C19th working-class holiday resort. Sadly, the pier is gone, but the bingo halls flash their lights, the little bandstand watches over the waves, the ‘biggest joke shop in Britain’ sells fart-cushions and other similar delicacies … only the inroad of tandoori bars and the like tells us this is the 21st century. We chose the Hunstanton Bakery and Cornerhouse for a pot of tea for two, and a toasted sarnie. Brilliant choice. Thick white cups, strong tea, generous straightforward sandwiches with no poofy lettuce, cress, potato crisps or other clich├ęd ‘garnish’. Union Jack mats, lacy not-quite-unspotted tabecloths, old photos and endless instructive notices n the walls …



Outside, the rain dribbled down, the grey sea threw out its curly white bad-temper … ah! it does one good to see that places like Hunstanton still exist. Even with tandoori.



The coast, going eastwards along the Wash, gets progressively more picturesque. Arrived at Brancaster, we decided to essay a walk to the Coastal Path and the beach which John has oft tramped. The walk proved a tiny bit longer than intended. The wind had brought down an elderly tree on top of the electric wires and into the road. But we were not deterred! We pressed on, on foot, through the grey and damp fenland, the towering thatch-makers rushes, till we reached the seaside, where John took my picture in proof of the exploit accomplished. I had walked a staunch mile and a half, at my old pace … no stick needed! And I even remained (just) untoppled by the North Sea wind!



Onwards. through the endless number of villages named Burnham something – a peep inside a particularly fine church, St Mary’s, with some jolly windows and a beautiful 11th century font …



to the pretty port of Wells, where we sat by the drizzly estuary-side and scoffed our Sainsbury’s afternoon-tea, until it was time to turn back through the five counties (‘I hate crowds’) to Coalville, a warm ‘fire’, fish stew, red wine, a jigsaw puzzle, Match of the Day and the queen of the place, Tunis…



My northern summer has begun well. And now, Monday morning, the first sun I have seen in a fortnight has crept forth …
Let’s hope it continues this way ... life owes me a little kindness after the events of the last year and a bit...