If you read right to the end of our last epistle, you would have found the sting in its tail. Yes, we still rue the day a person unknown stole most of our gadgetry at Brussels Railway Station. But we have now jumped most of the hoops required by our travel insurance company and are getting over the shock of it all. With the help of the ‘find my Mac’ function, Geoff even traced his iPod to a street in Brussels and passed this information on to the police. If you have an Apple device, make sure this function is turned on!
Do you know this address? If so, please collect Geoff's iPod for us!
Our friend Sue’s house was a wonderful haven to get ourselves sorted out. After a few days we headed off to Milford-on-Sea, which is on the English southern coast looking across to the Isle of Wight. There we picked up a rental car, congratulated ourselves that we found our way by animal instinct and without a map to Sue’s caravan, dropped our stuff and went to meet a birding pal. Padraig took us to Stanpit Marsh. The gentle walk watching ponies as well as egrets, oystercatchers and godwits grazing in glorious sunshine was good therapy. We started to unwind.
Ponies, birds, white cliffs, marshes. Add wind and you have a typical southern English day
The next day, a Sunday, good English weather found us. Gale force winds and rain buffeted the caravan but it is not cold yet. Wonderful! The local church was full and there I was converted by a parishioner to the benefits of waterproof trousers. The local outdoors clothing shop did a roaring trade in these the next day. I now have a complete set of British rambling kit: boots from Norwich, jacket from Keswick and trousers from Lymington.
Over the next week, we managed to dodge the worst of the weather by following forecasts assiduously. We battled the wind while walking part of the Solent Way around the coast, spotting birds when we are able to hold the binoculars still enough. Another day, we headed inland to Salisbury Cathedral. Our tour guide lifted a paving stone to poke a long stick down to gauge how high the water was. Talking of water, the cathedral also has a magnificent new font large enough to accommodate a large extended family and bearing the oily marks of the Archbishop of Canterbury’s blessing.
Salisbury Cathedral reflected in its new font, which show the oily marks of the Archbishop’s blessing
When we visited the National Motor Museum at Beaulieu, Geoff complained that his face hurt from smiling so much at the vintage cars. (I should have got more photographic evidence ... ) I got my kicks out of the ponies grazing in the heathland and among the trees of the surrounding New Forest. I like the idea of owning a New Forest pony, unbroken, unridden free to roam. The villages even have pony-proof litter bins.
Our day on the Isle of Wight was mainly spent at Osbourne House, the home of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert. They regarded it as cosy but it looked pretty grand to us. For Victorian residents, there were plenty of naked statues in evidence. The children's cubby house was a Swiss cottage well away from the main house with wildlife trophies shot by the young princes on display.
Geoff, pleased as Punch in front of a Rolls Royce at the National Motor Museum
On our last day in the caravan, the sun returned and lured us and many others out to trudge through the gravel along the sea wall to Hurst Castle where Charles I was once imprisoned. A Brent Goose, which must have recently arrived from its breeding grounds in the Arctic to feed in the marshes, was added to my list.
Sue came to wrap the caravan in cotton wool, so to speak, for the winter and drive us back to London. She had a treat in store for us. She had lined up tickets for us to a lecture by her boss, the Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, the same one whose oily fingers blessed the Salisbury font. It was given in the Methodist Central Hall, venue for the first meeting of the United Nations. He spoke about personhood as distinct from individuality with plenty of references to my favourite theological theme, relationality. The papers here are full of speculation about who might be his successor.
The Needles of the Isle of Wight as we saw them on our way back from Hurst Castle
We get our daily exercise walking to the Underground station or to Sainsbury’s for our dose of supermarket tourism. (During our caravan sojourn, we had joined the dizzying heights of Waitrose in Lymington. The supermarkets here have a clear pecking order.) We have ventured into central London a few times and also to Surrey to meet friends. The London Wetlands, recently developed on the site of an old reservoir, delighted us with its collection of exotic birds as well as its wild marshes. But generally we have thoroughly enjoyed having the run of Sue’s house. She left a couple of days ago on her travels so we are fully fledged house-sitters again now.
Our budgie-sitting duties are minimal as one of Sue’s neighbours, Peter, enjoys looking after Bird and visits each day to do that. Peter’s parents built one of the first houses in this street in the 1920s so he has witnessed much of the history of this neighbourhood. These days Kenton is mainly populated by folk of South Asian, Caribbean and African ancestry and the main road is full of curry houses and vegetarian goodies. Students trudge past our mock-Tudor house each morning to the school down the street. Apparently there is a severe shortage of school places in London as the city becomes more and more congested.
I could not add these exotic Mandarin Ducks to my bird list but our trip to the London Wetlands did whet the appetite for birding around the world
Last Sunday we met some of the more elderly Kenton residents at the local and cosmopolitan Methodist church, not far from the local Hindu temple. We marvelled at the pew-sheet evidently produced on a typewriter, we were handed the flowers from the altar to take home and were invited back to hear a concert by the London Metropolitan Police Choir to mark the church’s 85th anniversary. It must have been founded In the days when Kenton was still surrounded by fields and Peter’s parents were unpacking their boxes.
So, as the summer clings on and the trees are giving serious consideration to turning colour and allowing the wind to shake loose their leaves, we send our greetings to you all.