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It seemed a long time since I'd left New Zealand but it was only now that the opportunity arose to catch up with friends in England. So, from 28-30 June, I set off to Hampshire for three days or the annual tennis reunion with my old school friends.

Kate had a busy week ahead with painting and preparation for the grand laying of the carpet, hopefully in the middle of the month. But all the best-laid plans …

She told me later that her car broke down and she spent a pretty abortive day waiting for the RAC, going to the Audi garage, coming back by public transport, fetching the children by tube and getting no painting done at all.

I, meanwhile, had a lovely day on Monday. I set off on the train to Winchester, where Bub met me in beautiful sunshine with the hood down in her Audi sports car! We shopped for the impending arrival of the rest of the team and spent a lovely afternoon in the sun by the pool. Martin was in Scotland visiting his very elderly mother so we were alone to enjoy each other’s company, great food and wine.

On Tuesday, Bub and I went shopping and came back to put the final touches to the preparations.

We even managed to watch a bit of Wimbledon.

Pip arrived around 4.0 and Gill at 9.0 and we all had a lovely dinner together.

Wednesday was a wonderfully lazy day. We finished our al fresco breakfast at about 11.00. then ‘Ginia arrived (in white) – a member of the team of 1959-60 who’s been missing from our previous reunions.

It was almost immediately time for lunch, so the huge umbrella was erected.

And we all sat down to enjoy one of Bub’s amazing lunches.

The afternoon was spent in a very leisurely fashion. A bit of tennis watching, a bit of indulgence at the pool and lots of chat.

Bub’s cousin, Doodles, who’d also gone to Sherborne, arrived with John and she and Bub started preparing the main course for a gourmet chicken dinner à l’orange (and ginger too actually) while the rest of us tried to keep out of their way! It was a masterpiece, but so delicious that it disappeared before I had a chance to take a photo! Sadly ‘Ginia had left before dinner so she missed out on an amazing evening.

Needless to say, we ate and drank royally, topped off with New Zealand pavlova enjoyed by both Doodles, and Pip!

Thursday was sadly the day when everyone returned home. We had another very slow start with breakfast al fresco. First Pip left after lunch 5and then Gill, while the rest of us concentrated on the tennis.

And then it was time for Doodles and Bub to take me into Winchester for my return to London. It had been another very happy and successful annual reunion.

After a lovely holiday in France and England with members of the family, and a couple of croquet tournaments, it was good to catch up with my brother, Tony, and his wife at Little Compton in Gloucestershire from 26-29 July.

We spent three days in total relaxation, great company, excellent food, shopping, visiting a Garden Centre, and catching up on all the family news. I even managed to buy a new big suitcase, in psychedelic colours to replace the one that broke as soon as I'd arrived in England.

Their two West Highland White Terriers were in good form and were joined for the week by Charlie, their daughter Emma’s Westie, while she’s on holiday with her little family.

Janet has done a huge amount in the garden since last year and it was a picture – despite a great shortage of rain.

The hollyhocks outside the front door just keep growing, the roses were beautiful everywhere, but the tallest ones, which Janet couldn’t reach, needed some deadheading.

The lovely herbaceous beds were a picture and Janet had very cleverly trailed a glorious sweet pea over a dying Ceanothus.

Outside their back door was a beautiful hanging basket of trailing petunias with a hint of snapdragon! It reminded me of the first time I’d shown Riley a snapdragon and she’d asked me whether there was such a thing as a snap hippotamus too!

Tony had harvested a very small crop of potatoes the previous year so it was with some trepidation that we turned his barrel upside down to see what would appear this year. He was very happy that the crop was substantially larger and the taste that evening was delicious.

And so on Thursday, it was time to take the train back to London and lovely to be met by Julie for another great evening and night together before I set off for a week of croquet in Budleigh Salterton.

Back to London again after a fun week and Julie was there to meet me at the tube station. She'd prepared a lovely salad dinner and there was lots of time to unpack, repack and relax.

The next morning, we enjoyed a leisurely breakfast together and then she took me all the way to Liverpool Street, trundling my bag (I could get used to this!) and saw me onto the train for Broxbourne and my visit to Sally from 9-14 August.

It was a glorious day and Sally and I sat in the garden and enjoyed the beautiful weather and each other’s company. Alan was soon back from golf and we caught up with at least some of the news.

Tuesday was packed with activity. We dropped in to see Judy and Peter who’d come over to New Zealand four years previously.

Then we did a few errands and arrived in Welwyn to visit a very old friend who’d captained the England B hockey team in the 1960s. Carol, who took the photo, had invited another member of the East of England team to lunch so we were all able to catch up with Linda too.

All the car journeys between friends provided Sally and me with lots of chat time which were a special bonus.

The next day we set off for Felixstowe to visit a very old tennis-playing friend and Julie’s godmother, Molly. Molly has extended her kitchen since we’d been with her two years previously and it looked excellent.

When the three of us get together life suddenly becomes very funny and we laughed about so many stories and had such a great time. Inexplicably I was very tired after lunch and absented myself to get horizontal – surprisingly for two hours. All that talking!

It was time to walk along the foreshore before dinner and it was all looking at its best with tiny beach huts, reportedly now fetching GBP300,000 each. Molly guided us to a lovely restaurant where we each enjoyed a splendid meal of whole plaice with new potatoes and fresh beans. 

And Molly regressed to childhood and asked for blackberry jelly and blueberry ice cream.

We all slept well. Sadly we had to leave the next morning after such a short visit but there was more to come. Sally had arranged for us to stop off in Saffron Walden to visit more old friends, Cyril and Ann. Unexpectedly, their younger daughter, Jane, was on holiday from teaching in Germany and their grandson, Oliver, was also there.

More chats, a lovely lunch and again, time to go home.

It was a real pleasure to spend some time together working on Sally’s computer and helping her to download and catalogue photos – something she’s been putting off for ages. We got so engrossed on Friday morning that we decided to delay the train back to London but that suited Julie well because she was rushing to get ready to leave the next morning to holiday for 10 days in Cyprus.

After a couple of days in London, including a visit to the Proms at the Albert Hall, I went down to Waterford in Hertfordshire from 16-21 August to spend time with a very old friend from the Broxbourne Bridge Club. 

Suzi had returned to Kent, and I packed to go to Amanda’s. Kate very kindly picked me up to take me to register with her Surgery but registrations had to happen between 2.00 and 6.00 daily and it was only 9.00 am. And they wouldn’t take my blood pressure unless I was registered! They gave us a list of walk-in clinics but only one was outside the congestion zone and that one was under construction and wouldn’t open for another month. Fortunately, I remembered that Amanda, having been a registered nurse with high blood pressure herself, might have a BP monitor on hand. So I caught the train to Hertfordshire and she met me and took me under her wing. We had a lazy day, a lovely salmon dinner and watched a DVD of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo – something on both our lists of things to do.

As the week went on the BP went down gradually but the pain didn’t improve and Sally suggested that Amanda take me to her McTimoney Chiropractor in Welwyn – about 20 minutes away. And so on Thursday, Amanda very kindly drove me there and it was a very unusual experience. There is hardly any contact and one could be forgiven for wondering if they’re actually doing anything. Their objective is to make the bones of the body perfectly in line on the basis that the body will then be able to heal itself.

To cut a long story short, I had a roaring headache for the rest of the day but gradually the pain has, in fact, receded and about four days later it’s much improved. Remarkable.

Tuesday was a quiet day because Amanda had some work to do. Unfortunately, her WiFi gave up the ghost so she took me into Hertford and left me for a few hours at a WiFi Hotel which was very pleasant and enabled me to catch up while she ran her errands.

That evening she took me to play bridge at the Village Hall which is on the opposite side of the road to their house. I haven’t played for so long and, although she tried to remind me about some of the systems, I played very poorly and we came third from bottom! Amanda and I used to be partners at Broxbourne about 35 years ago and reached a fairly high standard. But the memory hasn’t retained much of what I knew then. Amanda now teaches bridge and was very patient with me.

The rest of the week was jam-packed with activities. On Wednesday she took me to the National theatre. We were early so we had a lovely lunch in a café on the pavement before we went in to see a very modern rendering of Thebes. The set was wonderful and the acting superb.

The synopsis reads:

‘Faced with an impoverished, war-ravaged country the new president of Thebes surrounds herself with a Cabinet of sensible women and promises peace. But without the aid of vastly wealthy Athens and its swaggering leader, she doesn’t stand a chance.

Set in the modern-day, but inspired by ancient myth, Moira Buffini’s new play explores head-on the cost of democracy in the aftermath of war’.

I wished I’d taken more time to study my ancient Greek history so that I could follow the plot better. It was a heavy play but amusing as well as tragic and it was a great experience to be in the Theatre.

We enjoyed the activity all around the National Theatre, and spied London Eye in the distance, also on the South Bank of the Thames.

We walked a long way and returned home feeling as if we’d had an excellent day out. We were glad that the evening was free and we could prepare for the following day’s entertainment and then blob.

After our visit to Welwyn early on Thursday morning we hurried home to welcome 6 bridge players. Amanda had organised a day of bridge, teams of 4, with lunch in the middle. It was huge fun but once again I was the bunny (called the rabbit in England) and our team lost heavily, mostly because of my bad bidding and dismal play! Poor Amanda, she remained upbeat and was at great pains to congratulate me when I (rarely) did something right!

However, that evening was the weekly bridge night at Broxbourne. This was a bridge club that Ken and I had started back in the 1970s and it was great fun to see some of the familiar faces, still playing regularly.

After the previous performances, I determined to focus and do my best to remember everything she’d reminded me about. We played very, very basic Acol with natural bids wherever possible so that I wouldn’t have to dredge up anything complicated! The evening went well and Amanda prophesied that we’d done well among the 27 pairs playing.

And sure enough, during the night the Director had put the results on the web site and there we were – top! We were both absolutely delighted. And I’ve resolved to play more bridge when I get home so that I don’t have such a steep learning curve every year when I visit.

Sadly Friday was the end of my visit and it was back to London. Kate very kindly picked me up at a tube station and took me home to enjoy a special dinner with the family, prepared by Cheryl. It was lovely to catch up with all their news before Bret took me back to Julie’s flat.

Time was passing too fast! By now it was 26 August and I spent Saturday morning catching up with edits of the four chapters that Anne had sent. Then I set off for Orpington in Kent to spend four days with Suzi from 22-26 August. She was in great form and met me at the station in her little red banger. We did a grocery shop and she cooked a lovely meal while we chatted. In the evening we watched a very light-hearted DVD called The Holiday with Cameron Diaz, Jude Law, Kate Winslet, and Jack Black. It was funny and very relaxing.

We set off on Sunday morning for Canterbury. We’d tried the same journey last year but Suzi’s car had boiled so we’d had to turn back. This time, however, we arrived and parked easily and had a lovely wander through the City. And it was definitely the buildings and not my camera that were 'under the influence'. The leaning was fascinating!

There were some very ancient and fascinating buildings dating back to the 17th Century.

A lovely old building called Conquest House

And heaps of old pubs with strange notices on the outsides.

And then we came upon the entrance to the Cathedral and the fairly short queue of people waiting in the rain to 3get inside through the South West Porch. This was built in the reign of Henry V (d.1422).

It was decorated outside with historical figures in 1862.

Like most English Cathedrals, it’s very beautiful. But its difference from other Cathedrals in England is in the fact that this Cathedral has been the seat of the Archbishop of Canterbury since AD597. Missionaries from Rome converted the King of Kent to Christianity. Augustine, leader of the mission, was consecrated as Archbishop and his cathedral (official seat) was established here.

This photo shows only about half its size. It’s enormous. Here you can see the two Western Towers and the Nave which was rebuilt in the Perpendicular Gothic style from 1377 to 1405.

The nave is very long. The entire length of the Cathedral is 157 metres.

The carved and painted Gothic Revival pulpit was designed in 1898 and features saints associated with Canter7bury. This is the pulpit used by the Archbishop at Christmas, Easter and other special occasions.

Some panels in the 13th Century Miracle stained glass windows show the original tomb of St Thomas Becket in the Crypt.

This candle burns where the shrine of St Thomas of Canterbury stood from 1220 to 1538 when it was destroyed on the orders of Henry VIII. Becket’s cult was one that questioned the King’s supremacy in Church matters. Beyond the Candle, you can see the West window.

The pavement floor of the Trinity Chapel was prepared for the repositioning of the shrine and includes an Italian-style geometric marble mosaic and a series of French roundels, showing seasons and the zodiac.

To the east of the candle is the full length of the earliest Gothic Quire, and the High Altar stands on a flight of steps and behind the High Altar, you can see St Augustine’s Chair, probably 13th century, in which archbishops are enthroned as Primate of all England.

We saw one of the Cathedral’s finest medieval tombs, that of Edward, Prince of Wales, known as the Black Prince (1330-1376). The gilded effigy shows him in full armour and gauntlets including the spurs he won at the battle of Crécy, with his dog and helmet. The shields on the tomb include, for the first time, the three ostrich feathers of peace which are still referred to as ‘Prince of Wales feathers’.

Our visit was all too short and this is somewhere I’d love to come back to. Leaving the interior behind us, we walked out to the Great Cloister and round three sides, under the ornate roof bosses, some representing a rich array of late medieval English heraldry. Below our feet were the tombstones of people associated with the Cathedral’s history. On the lawn are the tombs of some of the archbishops.

We spent some lovely moments in the Gift Shop which was full of all sorts of special treasures.

It was still raining as we left Canterbury and headed for Ashford to visit my friend, Barbara, with whom I’d played hockey in the 1960s. She’s been confined to a wheelchair for too many years with rheumatoid arthritis, but is always cheerful and full of chat. We caught up with all the family’s news.

Her daughter, Michelle was caring for her while David took a well-needed break cruising in northern Europe. She works part of the year in Ashford and part as a ski instructor in Andorra – what a life!

The week passed quietly with Suzi at work and me, left to my own devices, with her wireless dongle and a mountain of work to do. What a treat.

With the apartment to myself and in view of her impending departure to Surrey, it was a good opportunity to do a little advance housework and spring cleaning so that she doesn’t have to do every room on the last day. It was also an opportunity to take her little car to the garage to get new windscreen wipers which we were delighted to be able to test out on a subsequent journey.

What a feast for the senses Kent had been. Suzi is about to change her job and move to Surrey to another NHS Hospital so it’s not likely that I’ll visit this part of the world for a while. But it’s been good to visit for the two years she's been here because it’s a county I don’t know very well.

On Wednesday evening it was time to return to London. Julie had returned from Cyprus, full of news, and we had to pack for our five-day trip to Lake Como and Adam and Janice’s new home there.

But first we had a whole day together and we managed to fit in a few shopping trips between two job interviews. Julie’s hoping to be able to start a new job as soon as we get back from Como.

Around England - 28 June - 26 August 2010

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