Interesting time in the Duty Free shop at Belfast airport, when I asked the guy for advice as to a nice whiskey to buy for my next hosts. He took the question rather more seriously than I'd expected, getting out 2 books - the first, a comprehensive "Whiskey Bible" with ratings and reviews for every (legal) whiskey in the world, with much-loved, dog-eared pages, and scribbles in the margins; and the other, his own, handwritten notebook, chronicling every whiskey he'd ever tasted! Only in Ireland, I suspect! Anyway, he pressed me to sample a particular one (I would've felt rude saying 'No'!) and then steered me towards buying a 15y/o Bushmills single malt. Then, probably only because I'd had a drink, I ended up buying them a bottle of Piper as well. And a t-shirt for me!
Uneventful flight. Not quite so uneventful, the trip from Heathrow to my aunt and uncle's house just outside Westerham, a village in Kent... She'd very kindly arranged for Victor from a local taxi company to pick me up, to save me dragging my luggage all through the Tube and trains. But when I got to the pre-arranged meeting place, there
he wasn't! Bugger!! I ring the number I've been given, but forget the UK prefix, so get onto the Guide Dogs Society! Try again, get diverted to another number, and speak to Edmund. Who is Romanian and very apologetic. (Victor had "car trouble", which I suspect is Romanian for "forgot") Anyway Edmund asks me to wait 45 mins, while he comes to get me. He is very pleasant, and I'm quite interested to hear his stories about his emigration 15 yrs ago, his experiences of England, his daughters and his various lines of work. Then, soon after I've commented on how lucky we are that the motorway traffic is flowing so freely, there is a blockage on the M25. Our subsequent detour is just as blocked, which gives us plenty of time to delve into things in more depth, and I hear about his tormented Romanian childhood, his marriage problems and his rediscovery of God. Great! Oh well, it passes the time I guess, and he's nice enough, and it's not as though I have a deadline, so I just chill, and listen to him, and watch the villages and farms of the 'B' roads inch past in slo-mo....
We finally arrive, and I'm so excited and relieved to see my beloved aunt, Rosemary and her gorgeous 90 y/o ex-GP husband, Uncle Michael. He is in better health than I'd feared, and still very funny, but possibly not going to be around for much longer, which was a large part of the reason that I came over now rather than later. She, on the other hand, is 82 and absolutely amazing! She looks great, is as hilarious as ever, an accomplished cook, really good company and a thoughtful hostess. She's always busy, mowing the large lawn, re-painting outdoor furniture, gardening, entertaining, and caring for Michael. Even when she sits still, she's doing tapestry! If I'm anything like her when I'm 82, I'll be happy.
It's a nice rest here. I've come just to be
with them, so there's no need to go anywhere or do much, except help out now and then, and chat. Nice. On Thursday Rosemary & I go to "Ightham Mote" an old house in Kent, which has been added onto in various stages since the first part was built in 1320, so they have done the interior out in the style of different centuries
for different rooms, which makes it interesting to look around. On the way home we see some "oast houses", distinctive to Kent with their wonky tops, which were originally used for malting hops for beer, but are now largely converted into quirky houses. Friday 22nd
I head into London for the day/night. Years ago another lovely aunt, who died last year, had tried to take me to the Tate Modern art museum, but we never made it, and so I wanted to see it, kind of in her honour. I contacted her son, Jack, who lives in London, to see if we could manage a cousins' catch up, and he gave me directions to "Hix", a hip restaurant in Piccadilly that he'd booked for us for lunch. So I was gonna get the train into Victoria, then the 38 bus past Buckingham Palace to Piccadilly. Sounds like a plan, huh? Well this day turns out to be the only goddamn day in umpteen years that the London bus drivers go on strike! Never mind - it's not raining - I'll walk. Oh no, hang on, it's raining now - I'll get the tube. Oh god - the tube's
really busy cos of the buses, and now I'm not gonna get there in time. But wait - it's stopped raining - OK, I'll walk. I'll cut through St James' Park to Trafalgar Square. I'm halfway there now... F***!! They've closed half the paths, either getting ready for the Olympics, or leftover from the Jubilee. Bloody hell. Try to power walk around it all, but keep bumping into school groups and slow fat tourists! Anyway, I get there eventually, hot & bothered, almost on time, and Jack fixes everything by ordering me the fanciest G & T I've ever had: Hendricks (cucumber infused) gin, with a tiny bottle of boutique tonic water and a strip of cucumber skin spiraling around the inside of the glass! We have a yummy lunch, then I catch a tube to the Tate to meet the lovely Carissa, who used to work in our ED, but is now finishing her law degree in London. We don't look at much of the art - too busy catching up and gossiping! It's great to see her and hear stories of her work, travels and plans. We have a drink in a pub by the Thames, and then
she delivers me to Waterloo Station, where I get a train to my cousin Jack's. He lives in a beautifully renovated house in south London with his partner, Sandra, who is just back from a day at Ascot, looking fabulous, complete with hat. Apparently this is the first year Ascot haven't allowed fascinators - only compulsory hats. Must be a bit of a blurred line sometimes... Anyway, they have asked a friend, Neil, over to join us for dinner, and we start off with "Rose Garden" champagne cocktails (made with rose-petal syrup & vodka).... It's a fun evening with lots of laughs! Saturday 23rd
Train back next morning to Rosemary & Michael, in time to get changed for the 90th birthday party of a great friend of theirs. Marianne was sent to England from Austria by her mother during the War, along similar lines as the Kindertransport, and subsequently lost her whole family in the Holocaust. She has made her way through life in England as a French teacher and she had over 70 friends, young and old, at her party. It was held in a lovely National Trust home, Squerry's Court, with some music provided by a
family of young boy violinists, ranging in age from about 5 to 13. Cute. Marianne and a couple of friends came back for drinks after the party, and that marked the end of my visit. Rosemary took me to Ebbsfleet the next morning, to catch my first Channel Tunnel train, back to see Will again in Holland.
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