Tale of Two Biddies
“And a beautiful world we live in, when it is possible, and when many other such things are possible, and not only possible, but done– done, see you!– under that sky there, every day.”
It happened like this. Grammie “Wombat” Walker (my mom’s mom) decided that she wanted to go back to England. On hearing that my aunt would not be able to come along, as she did seven years ago on the first England trip, my grandmother and mom sat in kitchen of the camp on Kennebunk pond. Grammie Wombat picks up the phone and dials her best friend, Aunt Mary Maxwell, and asks if she would like to go…after a heartbeat she agrees, hanging up grammie looks at my mother and says, “Is it alright if Mary comes?” At that point what else is there do to but say yes?
That is how two 84 year old Mainers came to Paris and England for a trip no one involved is likely to ever forget.
My mom, dad, grandmother, and adoptive grandmother, boarded a plane on the 17th of September bound for Paris. The 12 day itinerary went like this: Paris for the a few days, Cotswold region of England for the weekend, London for a few days, and then back to the USA.
Of course, I was not there for the time in Paris. For me, the adventure didn’t begin until the 20th of September when the gang made it to England. But when we did meet up the stories I heard will certainly be told and retold on the deck this summer.
Here are some snapshots of my favorite ones:
After waiting in line my dad comes back and hands one train ticket to mom, grammie holds out her hand for hers and dad looks at his mother in law and says, “Well, I didn’t get one for you! You have to go and get your own, it’s part of the experience.” Of course when I was told this story Wombat interjects and tells me that she has had enough damn experience standing in lines and that father of mine is a piece of work and she doesn’t know how to speak French. So, for the experience, the two biddies stand in line and successfully ask for tickets, in French. After that any time that something was unpleasant during the trip it was labeled as ‘part of the experience’. Which made it okay.
Part of this experience was walking. Walking everywhere. I am certain that whenever grammie talks about London she will mention how “That Keith Matthews made me walk all over Paris, then all over London!” How that became my dad’s fault I am not sure.
Breaking news: Two eighty four year old best friends visit Paris together and are extremely photogenic in front of the Eiffel tower.
I walked out of ARA Design at one o clock, the afternoon of the 20th and practically ran into my dad about to walk past my office, in search of my office. Laughing we hug and I ask, “So, where are the ladies?” Looking down the street, down the street, there they are, moving along fresh off of the train from Paris.
It is very strange to see my family here in London. Sometimes I forget that this place is not an entirely separate world.
After afternoon tea I went back to work and my family hopped into a rental car (scary thought) and took off to Chipping Camden, a charming English town in the picturesque Cotswold region.
This is where my adventure starts. I had been told that I can take a train from Paddington Station to a town called Moreton-in-Marsh, where my parents will then come to pick me up and bring me to Chipping Camden. So, fine, Hammersmith & City line from Kings Cross to Paddingon. Paddington is way bigger than I thought it was! But I found my way to an electronic ticket booth only to find out that Moreton-in-Marsh is not actually a destination option. So I find a ticket counter, wind my way through the long queue of travelers. Get my ticket and a lady who I am fairly certain is Professor Umbridge from Harry Potter, or is at least her long lost sister, looks at me and drawls “Your train leaves at 4:50.”
The time was 4:45. I look at her, look at my watch, look at her again and ask, “Will I be able to make that?”
Her response, “Not if you stand here much longer.”
So I take off.
Through the first turnstile: 4:47. None of the trains have labels and there are nine platforms spread out, with nine trains ready to depart. Frantic I ask a security guard on platform 2 where the train to Moreton-in-Marsh is: 4:48 he looks at his watch says “It’s number nine, you better hurry, I’ll open the safety gates for you.” 4:49: he waves me through as I start to run. I get to platform nine, open an already closed door of a full train on an empty platform and shut it behind me in time for the wheels to start to move. At 4:57 I start to breathe, then I stop again realizing that I am not actually sure this is the right train. But wheels are in motion, so there really is nothing I can do.
Because I was so late getting to the train there were no actual seats left, so I sat on the floor under the luggage rack and played chess on my tablet. Soon enough a seat opened up, and soon after that I arrived at Moreton-in-Marsh. It was getting late, and dark, and I waited at the platform. It looked like this:
Moreton-in-Marsh station: perfect spot for a murder….After waiting in the dark for twenty minutes and many missed calls I finally got in touch with mom, who was still 30+ minutes away. The solution? Ask the cab driver where the closet pub is and then start walking.
The pub was called the Bell Inn. I walked in and everyone went silent and stared at me for a couple of seconds while I walked up to the bar. That moment marks the most uncomfortable I have been so far this entire semester. But a pint of IPA and engaging conversation with two local gents made me feel at home in no time.
Good quotes of the evening:
“I like a girl who orders a pint, we can be friends.”
“If you are stayin’ in Moreton-in-Marsh for a coupla days I have some advice. Tomorra morning’, go to the chemist. Pick up some Prozac.” To which his friend responded, “Richard! What the foock kind of advice is that?”
My mom walked through the door just as I was considering a second pint and swept me away with my family into the countryside.
Roads here are different. It seems that two lanes are highly optional, and road signs are not greatly valued. Roads here at night in a car with two old ladies, my mother, and my dad behind the wheel is terrifying. When we finally made it to the Bed and Breakfast in Chipping Camden I snapped this picture:
I title it: a thorn between two roses.
Quote of the night (after driving down almost every road in Chipping Camden looking for the guesthouse): “Well, we’ve tried ever other road, maybe we should just go down the ONLY ONE left! It has to be right!” And you know what. It was right.
The Malt house, in Chipping Camden, is a lovely guesthouse complete with full English breakfast and a small herd of sheep in the back pasture. What a delightful change of pace from life in London. Also, the cot I had on the floor of my parent’s room was more comfortable than my bed at the International Students House. Go figure.
After breakfast I went out and said hello to the sheep. I like these creatures.
Chipping Camden is a beautiful town in a beautiful setting, but the real purpose of our visit here is this house:
My great, great, great, great grandfather ________ lived in Chipping Camden and worked as a tin smith out of this house. The large tin kettle above the door is one that he made as a shop sign when he was alive. I stood there, and looked up at the kettle. It is strange to think that a relative of mine made his life here. Someone endured hardships, celebrated triumphs, and walked these streets in a time that is so different from the one I live in. The most amazing thing to me was the kettle itself. Being able to see a town so connected to my heritage was cool, but being able to see something that a relative shaped with his own hands was absolutely remarkable.
Broadway Tower sits on top of a hill overlooking the countryside. A lonely rook on top of the world.
At Broaway Tower we had a surprise tour of an old nuclear observation bunker. Here we are going down. The inside was extremely small, stuffy, and really not terribly protected from the environment. The purpose of the bunker was, in the event of a nuclear attack, to track the fallout and take observations, reading, pictures, etc. 48 hour shifts in an insulated hole 20 feet deep in the earth is not something I would sign up for.
After the tour of the bunker Mom, Dad, Mary and I went up the tower.
As per suggestion from the tour guide at Broadway tower we found this 12th century church sitting quietly by the side of the road in that unassuming way that old churches have. Bell roped hanging from the ceiling, worn steps, stolen chest, and sunlight through stained glass.
Sudely Castle, known for its beautiful grounds, gardens, and for the tomb of Katherine Parr, Queen of England, Henry the 8th sixth and final wife. The castle was beautiful. Half restored, half left ruins, gardens, ponds, and paths between hedges. There was a wedding reception taking place that made Wombat very uncomfortable, but there was no way my mother was going to miss seeing the tomb of Katherine Parr so she hopped through a hedge and dad and I could do nothing but follow.
I had a moment here sitting on a stone bench looking at the wonderfully warm light soften the surrounding hills. Afternoon fading into evening, golden wind through ancient trees.
Quotes from 9/20/2013
Wombat: “It was all over his face bales of hay.” (Grammie doesn’t take breaks between thoughts sometimes. This creates very bizarre sentences.)
Amy Matthews (aka YODA): “Private residence the gatehouse is.”
Amy Matthews: “Here’s where we die!…no, wait HERE’S where we die!” (Mom comments on dad’s driving.)
Dad (Sarcastically): “Sorry, I didn’t see that sign. I was focused on the one that said ‘single lane road with PULLOUTS.”
I love my family so much, even though they are all batty.
We started day two at Blenheim Palace. Home to the 11th Duke and Duchess of Marlborough, Blenheim palace is a World Heritage Site AND is the birthplace of Sir Winston Churchill. We split up here. Mom, dad and I walked towards the bridge. I split off to go and sketch in the water gardens. After about an hour this is what I had:
Two of the four figures in the right hand courtyard are my father as I watched him wander around looking for me. I was late for the meet up time. This worked out pretty well for me because dad and I got to wander, slowly, around the Winston Churchill exhibit.
After afternoon tea was the Dragonfly Maze! This is a delightful hedge maze/rebus. I will not ruin the surprise ending, but it was really lovely.
Driving out of Bourton-on-the-Water we went past the elderly people sign. After complaining so much about being on these roads dad whips the car around and pulls up on the sidewalk on the side of a roundabout. I hopped out with the octogenarians and made them pose…
THINGS I MISSED WHILE AT CLASS AND/OR INTERNSHIP
Here we are out to dinner at a nice Indian place on Tottenham Court Road. Now, one thing about my grandmother: she does not like things that have flavor. Salt, pepper, and ketchup are the three spices that she uses. So going to an Indian restaurant was a real adventure for her. Thank goodness for Aunt Mary. The appetizer arrived, full of delicious traditional Indian flavors. Mary tries a piece of chicken tikka that Wombat was turning her nose up at, then plunks a piece down on her plate and says: “Ruth, eat it, you’ll like it.” Of course, the honey chicken turned out to be too spicy (it wasn’t spicy at all) but the peshwari naan was acceptable. Chocolate, and shot of amaretto was served with the check.
The next day they went to Leeds Castle outside of London. I will have to go there someday soon, it looks beautiful!
Dad and I got out picture taken at 221B Baker St.
“Life is infinitely stranger than anything which the mind of man could invent. We would not dare to conceive the things which are really mere commonplaces of existence. If we could fly out of that window hand in hand, hover over this great city, gently remove the roofs, and and peep in at the queer things which are going on, the strange coincidences, the plannings, the cross-purposes, the wonderful chains of events, working through generations, and leading to the most outre results, it would make all fiction with its conventionalities and foreseen conclusions most stale and unprofitable.”
― Arthur Conan Doyle, The Complete Adventures of Sherlock Holmes
A day and a half later the group dropped me at the Elephant and Castle tube station on their way to the Heathrow airport. I rode the tube back home. At 7:00 on a Saturday the Bakerloo line is calm.
Having the matriarchs in London was: exciting, exhausting, joyful, adventurous, and above all, inspiring. Inspiring because when I am 84 I can only hope to be walking around foreign cities with my family. So, really, the tale of two biddies is a story of success over ‘experiences’, pain in the ass son-in-laws, foreign food, and crazy French drivers. It is also the tale of family. Family across generations, and now, across the globe.
Grammie, Aunt Mary, Mom, and Dad. I love you all very much.
That is all.