Published: July 13th 2012July 13th 2012
I have mentioned Philip and Pat numerous times since we arrived back in Ellesmere and most of the comments seem to revolve around food or drink. Next week we will join them in Burgundy for a two week holiday near Cluny, where I am only too aware that we will enjoy many a glass of the local wine and fare. This week it was birthday time for Philip and to toast the occasion we travelled up to Didsbury near Manchester for a wonderful birthday meal cooked by Mark. It was a great night, which saw Mark produce a six course meal in his flat that would not have looked out of place at a restaurant. It was stunning and we were thrilled to be part of the very intimate dinner party – it had been awful all day weather wise so the evening had given us something to look forward to. In fact as we sat at Carolyn and Bill’s place earlier in the afternoon and watched sheet rain descend on to the Shropshire countryside an intimate dinner party was the furthest thing from our mind as we were more concerned with road conditions and traffic. We should not have been
anxious as we drove up in easy time and could not have found a closer park to Mark’s flat – I could touch the door from my driver’s window.
One of the special moments of this trip was being invited to share in Lianne’s wedding to Karim. We looked after Lianne when we were running St. Aidans’ House at the College and since leaving the UK have kept in good contact with her and her parents Jill and Dougie. She even visited us in NZ on two occasions. On one of her tours ‘down under’ she met Karim in Melbourne and that meeting had its conclusion in that most wonderful of halls at the College, Big School. Dougie must have cashed in all his prayer credits as the weather was some of the best of the summer; the sun streamed through the large windows as Lianne entered to the accompaniment of the famous Shultze organ. Twenty four hours earlier and the roads and paths would have been awash and high heels would have made way for wellies. On a personal note we only just made our seats after a race back from Manchester and nearly ran into the bride
as she arrived in a horse drawn carriage, which made for some laughter amongst those gathered outside. For the College this was the first time that a wedding had taken place in Big School and it passed the test as a venue. It has great acoustics and makes for a very good place to have your photos in so I am sure it will become popular amongst Old Ellesmerians.
On the subject of OEs it was a treat for us to meet up with many of Lianne’s peers who we had taught or looked after in the boarding house. Three of them, Mel Halstead, Sophie Witter and Abigail Owen were bridesmaids. It is always nice to see them all grown up and in one instance meet the new husband. Over the course of the day and night we also meet up with Tara Unwin, Will Lloyd, Emma Thomas, Patrick Barker and Cole Marley. After the ceremony we were back on the Terraces for Pimms and canapés – it seemed amazing to think that it was a week since we had been on Terraces for pre ball drinks. At least we have been consistent with our activities on the Terraces.
With the sun beating down we sat on the steps and chatted about old times in the boarding house, which provided many a laugh. Abigail’s denials that she did not kill the House fish fell on deaf ears and her conclusion that she missed out on being a House Prefect because she may or may not (I forget) have pinched an area of my body brought many a giggle.
The Wedding Breakfast (we were on Melbourne time) in Dining Room was quite superb. The caterers had put on a wonderful meal and in good Shropshire style I had half a cow on my plate. The beef was beautifully cooked and fell apart in your mouth. It was all washed down with some Australian wines and top table even had some Fosters. The Australian theme was underlined by the Bride and Groom’s entrance to that famous Aussie anthem “Tie Me Kangaroo Down Sport”, which highlighted Lianne’s love of animals and Karim’s Australian roots. We sat with a nice group of locals who made us feel most welcome and I felt quite entertained as they regaled us with their stories of the local pilates classes – not a regular Shropshire farmer
activity! Dougie made one of the best Father of the Bride speeches I have heard. Not one who likes to make speeches he had us all laughing for 40 minutes while he dropped his best friend in it, placed a ribbon in his hair, poked fun at Lianne’s first boyfriend (thankfully not in attendance), mentioned me in dispatches regarding looking at short skirts (that coupled with the Abi quote could see me do an 8-10 year stretch), told the world that there was no way he could return to Oz as it’s too hot, and then explain to us all how proud a Dad he was on this most special of days – it was brilliant in every way.
After a break including a couple of beers out in the sun the evening revellers arrived. Carolyn & Bill joined us at the table with Dave and Sue Hinks and many parents that we had not seen since leaving. There were also a few familiar faces that I used to drink with at the Black Lion in 1990 – it was quite the catch up. With the band hitting their straps it was an entertaining few hours with the first
dance and more food arriving – just what my body needed another buffet! It was such a special occasion and we both feel so privileged to have been included by all the Betts and I am sure that even with Dougie’s protestations that it’s too hot; we will see them in Melbourne one day soon. It was to be our last function at the College and as we bid farewell to Bill and Carolyn I think we both spied the clock tower for one last time and thought of all the great memories we have of this place. When we arrived in May, leaving Ellesmere again seemed the furthest thing from our minds but that point had now been reached.
The Men’s Wimbledon Final saw us eating a gourmet lunch while sitting in front of the TV at Jane & Jonathan’s place. Tucked away along the lanes heading towards Shrewsbury from Ellesmere their 15th
Century cottage is superb in every way. When we were invited several weeks previous Andy Murray was yet to produce his heroics and make the final. Now he had dared the Brits to believe that this was to be his year and once he had
won the first set all looked good. Unfortunately for him the greatest tennis player of this generation was standing on the other side of the net. Roger Federer was like a machine after the first set and as we all know easily won the next three and thus the Championship. It was a calculated and dominant win and he showed all of his class. He reminds me of James Bond in that he appears breathless and immaculately dressed soon after his games – he effortlessly slipped on the Rolex to earn himself a cool £15 million. My other thought was of Barbara back in NZ whose adoration of ‘The Fed Express’ was the basis for many of our conversations. I expect that she loved this result! Mixed into all this tennis was a magnificent Spanish inspired lunch, a fantastic and ever flowing array of wines, great tennis banter, and a huge TV screen, which we all seemed happy to sit in front of due to the fact that it was pouring down outside. June may have been wet but July is shaping up to be just as bad.
To help drown the British sorrows we went to the Hutchinson’s
for pre-dinner drinks. Graham and Suzanne were at Ellesmere with us and have moved into the Ellesmere town ship. Much to my enjoyment they still mix a great Gin & Tonic and it was nice to catch up on all their news. Graham had just returned from his final Combined Cadet Force Summer Camp as he is stepping down from his commanding role – it may be a good time to get out as his successor has the job of getting the force ready for Remembrance Day and this year Ellesmere has been chosen to march at the Cenotaph in Whitehall. I do hope that Martin has been working on his marching drills.
After a final dinner at David’s (what’s the number to apply for Biggest Loser?), a last pack up and a quick visit to see my old Housemother Chris Sumner who had looked after me in 1990 (and Clark and JL) we left Ellesmere and headed back to Coventry. We had enjoyed one night with Kate and Neil soon after the cruise and enjoyed it so much we went back. As I mentioned once before they live on a massive estate and this time we set out
to explore some of it. On the first afternoon we walked through the fields, watched the golfers tee off at the golf course, stalked the deer, drank Pimms under an oak tree (Pricey never leaves home without a drink), and watched a man fly-fishing on one of the lakes. After many a drink and dinner we lit the outdoor fire and wiled the evening away retelling stories and introducing Neil’s new Deputy Head to all the fun of the fair. It was brill! During one of my fireside diatribes I told Pricey that I thought we should try to emulate the men who recently found millions of pounds worth of Roman coins on a farm. I said we needed a metal detector – so what did he produce? A metal detector! We left the house the next morning dreaming of treasure and with little or no knowledge of where to look – and the realisation that we were poaching of sorts as someone owns the metal detecting rights to the estate. We were suitably inconspicuous and kept to the woods and fringes of the property but we should not have worried. No one would want half our booty. We found
a small bullet (possibly from the Civil War), a hat pin casing without the large ruby that I am sure was once in it, a rusty nail (likely pre Civil War), a brass lapel badge with no name and no clasp, and a button. Estimated worth: 3 pence. It all made for a great morning and we were so glad we did it then rather than trying in the afternoon, which saw us all sitting in front of the fire (yes, a fire in July) reading the papers as the rain continued to fall in buckets. It was sad to leave the Prices, their hospitality, and their little bit of paradise but we are sure we will see them soon.
And now all roads lead to France. We travelled down to Kent via Tilbrook near Huntingdon to catch up with Andrew Beale, who we had not seen since he left Ellesmere in 1998. He is HOD Biology at Kimbolton School and after he took us to the pub for lunch he showed us around the school campus. It is an amazing place built within and round the ancient family home of the Duke of Manchester with many of the
original paintings and frescoes surviving. Even the 6th
Form bar tells a story being in the dungeons deep beneath the old castle. Sir John Major was the MP for this area and sent his children to the school some years ago – he was annoyed by the Headmaster at prize giving when the HM addressed him in his speech as Prime Minister. Legend has it that he told the HM he was attending as a parent not the PM, therefore he should not be made to feel any different. An excellent career move by the HM. From there we moved onto Dan’s parents place near Faversham in Kent. What a beautiful part of the country and what a beautiful home they have – you will have to visit Natalee. They have lived here since Dan was 9 months old and they have transformed it into a lovely family home with a fantastic garden – in fact it is a garden that people come to visit; a Belgium garden group visited the day before we arrived. Gill and Peter have looked after us so well and shown off a little part of their world – a walk
around the roads of Faversham and a trip into Canterbury. We have talked lots, rested lots, tried a bottle of the Tenterden English bubbly, read books, papers and largely had two great days. It has been real treat and a nice stopping point to head to the Chunnel, which is only 30 minutes down the road. It is our gateway to France and we are so glad we came to see them.
So that’s that – the UK part of the grand tour is done and dusted. Amazing to think we are at the four month point of the trip and still having a ball! We are not even sick of living out of suitcases yet!
There are more photos below