Saturday, 11 October 2014

Fortnight in autumnal England

Almost time to leave ... we have had a wonderful two weeks here. A bit of a rush, as ever, but in between the trains and undergrounds, lots of quiet moments, splendid meals with friends, and golden walks along sun-filled streets.
The itinerary for me was: plane to Luton and then train to St Albans, where stayed with Gill & Tom for a few days and hopped down to London to see nephew Richard and family: splendid Sunday lunch cooked by a very busy Anna (thank you Anna, it was delicious!) and musical performances from my great-nephew and nieces, Oscar on the piano, Freya on the clarinet and Runa on the violin, back to St Albans and more scrumptious food (and a red wine from Puglia, more of this later... ) then rather swift visit to friends Gill & Ivan in Clapham, south London, coach from Victoria to Oxford (where David joined me), and we spent a few glorious days with Matteo and Alexandra and their two daughters, Amanda and Violetta. The beech trees golden in the sunlight, the house on the towpath with ducks and geese abounding on the waters just outside. Went to exhibition in the Ashmolean (and lunch in the rooftop restaurant) and I visited my old college, St Annes, and presented them with a couple of books I've recently translated and walked back along Parks Road and into Blackwells bookshop, then inside Balliol full of flowers in the front quad, getting a feeling that some things have scarcely changed though the skyline has different dreaming spires...
By train to Winchester, where wonerful space and peace, even though torrential rains arrived on our first day there. But such a graceful house, wonderful paintings on the walls and soft carpets underfoot and, as ever at Jenny's, food that is not only delicious and a joy to behold on the festive board, but also, as Gaenor would say "so GOOD for you". Swiss friend of fifty years' standing, Vreni, arrived as prearranged, and Jenny's daughter Elizabeth and darling small grandson Barney were there too. Great merriment. Thence back to St Albans pausing in London to have coffee with niece Rachel (lovely to see her after several years) and lunch with Giancarlo whom we know from Torino days (we were there 2006 to 2010, it's already begins to feel long since...). I took a coach from St Alban's to Woodside Park near High Barnet to see old friends Debbie and Jeff from our Didsbury days, talked about words (!) and life. Debbie is a writer and helps/ed me with my own writing.
On out last day in St Albans we visited nephew and neice David & Conny, and I walked up the hill from their house to the huge abbey church of St Albans and filled my spirit with openness and quiet history. And thence to Godalming where we are spending the final few days.
Have just visited the National Trust property, Petworth House (Sussex) and rolling Capablity Brown park and gardens.
Drooled round the house, marvelling at the painting collection.
Wonderful to see Turners for real (noted the impasto) and rows of Van Dyck, Lely, Gainsborough, and the occasional gem by Rogier van der Weyden, Bosch or Hobbema...
Too much for one brief visit.
I feel I have been eating and drinking too much ... although it has all been delicious. Probably I haven't don enough walks and hilly climbs. Must remedy this.
Otherwise it has all been most exhilirating, and my head is full of colour and a minimum of raucous background! I can still hear the echo of my singing in Troia cathedral, in Italy.
Welcome autumn, such rich greens here in the south of England and leaves of brilliant burning red. The colours are strong and the hillside slopes stretch up into huge cloud-filled skies where today we saw two brilliant rainbows.
Tomorrow back to Amsterdam.

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