1 August 2021

After endless weeks and months of lockdown, it’s been an extraordinarily busy week. We explored a “new” (to us) walk, had a visitor come to visit, undertook an outing up to the big city, and enjoyed a lovely evening with village friends for cocktails, canapes and croquet. If this is what Freedom from Covid restrictions is going to be like, I am not going to be able to stand the pace.

On Monday the weather was reasonably sunny if somewhat warm and humid so we decided to take ourselves off on a “new” walk. We drove to the lovely village of Abthorpe, about seven miles away from here, and set off across the fields on a splendid stroll.

Although I had cycled through Abthorpe on a couple of occasions, we hadn’t previously explored the village properly. It is lovely with a quintessential village green complete with bright red British telephone box (few and far between these days).

The tromp around the fields was fine and we only went wrong once just outside the village of Bradden where we could not for the life of us find the footpath we were supposed to follow. We ended up going up into the village and following the road back to where we should have emerged from the fields and carried on from there. We weren’t complaining, actually, as the road made for nice, easy walking and it was a lovely, shaded, quiet country lane. By the end of the trek, though, we were hot and sweaty. Fortunately, as we concluded the circuit, we passed the New Inn which, much to our delight, was open and serving long, cold drinks. We sat out in the marquee and guzzled down some very refreshing fruit juice with lemonade. Splendid.

On Tuesday we had a visit from our dear friend Indrani who came for lunch. Indrani was Penny’s Head of English at her first teaching job and she more or less single-handedly nurtured Penny through the trials and tribulations of one’s debut in the profession. Although Penny was only at the school for two terms, Indrani and her husband John remained steadfast friends and it was lovely to see her. The weather was changeable but we were still able to sit outside on the patio for lunch. The umbrella over the table kept us dry during the occasional showers.

Wednesday we ventured out to the big city to meet up with friends and take in the Turner exhibition at the Tate Britain. I have to confess I didn’t know too much about Turner beforehand – my extensive knowledge all seems to have been gleaned from the film Mr Turner with Timothy Spall as the artist. I was aware of some of his more famous works and they were all there. It was a splendid exhibition and it was a grand day out. We did, sadly, have to race back home as Penny was hosting this month’s Book Club meeting.

This was the first time we’ve travelled by train and, indeed, the first time we’ve been up to London since the beginning of the pandemic. We felt moderately safe throughout but I have to confess I was stunned by the number of people who were not wearing masks on the train (where it is “recommended”) nor in the underground where masks are still legally required. Of course, there’s no enforcement so those who choose to be arseholes know there is little to no chance of them being challenged or fined. Don’t get me wrong – it wasn’t the majority or anything approaching it but I was surprised at the number nevertheless.

Thursday evening, we wandered down to the other end of the village for an evening of cocktails, canapes and croquet. This had been organised by the Ladies Who Croque – the group of women with whom Penelope plays croquet most Thursday afternoons. Hilary, at whose home they play, organised for Danny Webster of our village dinners fame, to come and show folks how to make a couple of cocktails and also to provide a selection of canapes.

We had three cocktails to master, a Long Island Iced Tea, a Margarita and a Daiquri. Danny went through the motions of creating each concoction and then we all had a go at making our own. And all three were delicious although I think several folks found the Margarita a bit much for their tastes. Thankfully, I was on hand to help them out if they felt it was just too much for them.

A surprising success (to me) was the Long Island Iced Tea which has no relationship to tea, thankfully, but which consists of five different spirits. The “tea” comes from a splash of Coke which is added to each glass just at the end and the result does, indeed, look like a glass of iced tea. The dangerous thing about this drink is that it tastes utterly non-alcoholic and I can easily see one becoming excessively inebriated on a hot summer’s day. Rather like Pimms in that regard but considerably stronger.

The croquet itself was viscious – these women have not only become very accomplished croquet players during the pandemic but there are also a number who are very competitive. It was the Women Who Croque against the Men Who Don’t and it was a highly charged event. I guess it was the cocktails because clearly the women were off form and we, the men, romped home with the victory. I’m not sure they will invite us again but I hope so. It was a lot of fun.

No “You Couldn’t Make It Up” news this week. I can’t be bothered.

I was interested and somewhat amused to see that the Welsh slate landscape around Mount Snowdon has been awarded World Heritage Site status. Had we known that we were in the midst of such splendour on our various excursions to the Principality all those years ago we might have been more impressed.

On one summer’s exhibition we had gone camping in Wales, the original plan being that we would be away for two weeks. We had a splendid campsite just by the beach somewhere and the three boys (and the dog) were all geared up for a wonderful vacation.

This was probably in about 1981 or so and Adam must have been about three. Our first night at the campsite was marred somewhat by the discovery that we had left his “unga” behind – the scrap of muslin cloth which he held to his cheek when he went to sleep at night. (The name came from the sound he made as he clutched the cloth sucking the corner – unga, unga, unga . . .).

After spending a very disturbed and distressing first night in the tent, the next morning was spent trawling the fabric shops in whatever was the nearby town searching for some muslin or something which would suffice. Each time we found something Adam was asked to clutch it and see if it would be satisfactory. The first several attempts were failures but eventually we found something which met with his approval. Relief all round. I don’t think the shop assistant was too impressed when we asked to buy half a yard.

Wales is known for many things, one of which is its weather. It rains a lot! And, it lived up to its reputation during this trip. We had, I think, a day on the beach and then it rained and rained and rained. We had to dig a trench round the tent and then had to find a myriad of entertainments to which we could take the boys where we could be in the dry. We went down a slate mine and visited just about every museum in the vicinity. We even visited a power station for its entertainment value. Not only was the weather exceedingly miserable but the vacation was also turning out to be much more expensive than we had anticipated as we had to pay admission to all the places we visited. The photo of Penny and the boys in front of a slate slag heap sums it up!

After the first week we took a vote to see if we should cut our losses and go home early. It was unanimous.

Finally, I ran across this on Facebook somewhere and thought it was excellent.

I hope it’s true.

Meanwhile, keep happy, keep smiling, keep isolating as much as you can, wear a facemask when you go out and keep your distance. And keep safe.

Lots of love to you all,

Greg

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