Please click on Southern England map to see where we are.
We got on our planned flight from Atlanta Monday and were fortunate to have Business Class seats. With a reasonably good tailwind we landed early, in less than eight hours. We had a decent meal and both of us watched the movie “Mama Mia.” Afterwards Lynda slept until breakfast (about an hour before landing), while I watched a hilarious Dana Carvey HBO show, listened to music, and followed our progress across the North Atlantic on TV. I find it difficult to sleep on airplanes; besides, our 6AM arrival was only 1AM on my body clock.
We quickly got through Customs and retrieved the checked luggage. Shortly thereafter we found our friend Robert who graciously got up at such an ungodly hour. After about a 40-minute drive we arrived in the town of Dorking and were greeted by Susan’s smiling face. As you probably recall Susan and Robert are our British friends who toured the U.S. - visiting 35 states - in their motorcoach for the better part of three years. We met them rather serendipitously in Natchitoches, LA three years ago while I was doing genealogy. We are seeing their post-RVing world until Sunday, when we leave for The Midlands (near Birmingham) in search of more Soady family history.
Upon arrival Susan gave us a quick tour of their new home that they purchased and had renovated (originally built in 1889) since our last visit in 2006. By this time I was ready for sleep that consumed the next six hours. About an hour after I entered dreamland Lynda joined me, not that I remember mind you. At 2PM I got up refreshed and went into town with Susan and Robert to get some coal for the fireplace (don’t worry it’s clean burning), some provisions, and British money from an ATM. Normally going to town is a ten or fifteen-minute walk but the coal required driving. Upon our return Lynda had joined the ranks of the living, so we all settled in for a quiet evening at home. Their son Patrick (soon to be a father) arrived from London shortly thereafter. He is a former chef and came down to prepare the annual Christmas lunch the following day for the staff of Robert’s small publishing business. Happily, we were also invited.
On Wednesday morning our job was to stay clear of the master at work in the kitchen. True chefs don’t want to be distracted while creating a notable meal. Today’s centerpiece was a fresh free-range turkey with homemade stuffing (or dressing). Patrick also prepared a lovely pate appetizer and a chocolate soufflé dessert. It’s great to have an accomplished chef in the family!
Besides food preparation the other notable event of Wednesday morning was the arrival of Robert’s newest Bentley motorcar chassis from the welding shop. You see one of Robert’s hobbies is refurbishing old Bentleys. He currently has three operating vehicles: a traditional 1935 touring sedan; and two custom convertibles circa 1950, one of which is housed in Easton, MD for occasional stateside use. The aforementioned chassis will also become a custom convertible.
By one o’clock the “staff” consisting of Anne and Stella, who work in the office here at the house, and Neil the family accountant had arrived. Tom, the other member of the team, was unable to attend due to illness. So the eight of us, including our chef for the day, began our four and a half hour fine dining celebration. Unbeknownst to Lynda and me, a tradition of this annual event is the wearing of silly hats chosen by Susan. It reminded me of Monty Python’s Ministry of Silly Walks; perhaps, there’s also a Ministry of Silly Hats. With a lunch like this there was no need for supper, so the four of us retired to the sitting room for the balance of the evening for some port, tea and conversation.
Yesterday, after a leisurely morning and lunch, we walked into town for a few more provisions and to reserve a table for dinner at our hosts’ favorite pub. We also picked up a British power cable for our computer at Susan’s computer service store and a SIM Card for the cell phone Patrick graciously loaned us for use while in Britain. It was a cool and mostly cloudy day but the walk about town was invigorating.
When we arrived at the pub about 7PM it was bustling with pre-Christmas partying. When I entered, I encountered what I thought to be cigarette smoke, only to realize that my glasses had fogged briefly from the temperature change. Susan assured me not to worry; the pubs are smoke-free these days. Thank you for that!
After having a drink we were seated for dinner. Susan and I each had a lovely salmon Wellington. Lynda opted for an equally tasty cod dish, while Robert chose sausage and mash (potatoes if you weren’t sure). Pub food has certainly improved over the years. From a food perspective, my early pub experiences about 40 years ago were noteworthy by their various degrees of awful. Now they are my favorite places to dine in Britain. I love the atmosphere as well as the value for the food and drink.
Before Lynda and I awoke this morning, Susan was off to the market to find some kippers for breakfast. I had mentioned that it’s a tradition with me to have them at least once while in Britain. You see I have been eating kippers my entire life, although in the U.S. they only come in cans as kippered snacks. My English-raised grandfather started me on this eating fetish when I was a young boy. Here you get a whole smoked fish filet that requires a certain degree of dexterity to navigate the bones. One has to like them since they tend to stay with you for several hours. Robert and Susan apparently do as well, since we each had a whole fish. Lynda resists the taste of kippers to the same degree as I resist drinking her beloved Sulphur water.
As I conclude this missive, Susan and Lynda are out for a brisk walk while Robert is working on something in the garage. Except for the clouds yesterday, we have had mostly sunshine since our arrival; can’t complain about that. That’s all for now!