It was a fairly emotional reunion with my father after nearly two years (Mum came out to Melbourne to see me in January). He hugged me and made some jokey reference to my living in Australia, a comment that was laden with regret at being a long-distance parent. He kept on saying how lovely it was to be able to experience the real flesh and blood version of me, rather than a voice on the end of the phone.
There’s a lot less of Dad to hug nowadays; he’s had a few falls since I last saw him and is pretty frail and a bit wobbly on his feet. But he’s the proud owner of what we call a ‘pusher’, one of those Zimmer-type frames on wheels which allows him to totter off to the village shop to get the papers, and he’s still got a wonderful sense of humour, is very dapper and up to speed with what’s going on in the world.
One way we’ve bonded is over meals, so I’ve done a bit of creating in the kitchen, and one lunch time made Heston’s prawn cocktail, which went down a treat and took us down yet another memory lane; we used to go out for dinner at a local inn called the Normanton in the 70s where prawn cocktail was a firm favourite.
Midweek saw us drive over to Derbyshire to meet up with a former work colleague of Dad’s for a pub lunch in the village where I was born! It was a glorious drive along steep country lanes darkened one minute by heavy rain clouds and the next lit up by flashes of bright sun. Derek, who has recently been bereaved, worked with Dad at Whitbread East Pennines. Back then Whitbread was a brewing company but they are now a hotel and leisure chain. Dad and Derek are both in their 80s and loved reminiscing about the good old days. Derek remembers that I sometimes went to the brewery after school and did my homework in his office. Another emotional reunion!
On Thursday Mum and I did a day trip by train to Lincoln. Once again it was a mild day – is this global warming or what? – and, on arrival, we walked straight along the High Street through the arches of the ancient Guildhall building and up the steep and narrow cobbled streets to the cathedral. What a climb it was. I am so proud of Mum at 83 for managing both the distance and the gradient. Go Mum! We rewarded ourselves with a cuppa in a charming little tea room – all chiming clocks, copper kettles and timber beams – when we got to the top. As we sat down to a pot of earl grey served in Royal Albert china (the one with the roses and gold rim), I reflected that it really is the simple things in life that make me happy.
The cathedral is, in a word, magnificent. Built in the shape of a cross to mirror Christ’s journey, it’s huge, vast and magisterial with lofty vaulted ceilings directing all the attention heavenward. Commissioned by William the Conqueror (there’s also an 11th century castle nearby) in 1072 and finished around 1245, it’s a fine example of gothic architecture, and is full of treasures: a 12th century marble font adorned with mythical beasts enacting the battle between good and evil; a series of striking modern wooden carvings depicting the Stations of the Cross; St Hugh’s Choir, a church within a church where every pew and choir stall is intricately carved with figures and symbols; Eleanor of Castile’s Tomb; and in a small side chapel, a series of murals by Duncan Grant (one of the Bloomsbury set) from the 50s depicting my favourite thing, the English countryside.
By lunchtime we’d worked up a good appetite and had a delicious lunch in the Wig and Mitre pub. Then we ambled back down to the train station via little boutiques and arty shops, a shambolic antique shop that smelled of cat pee and was full of curiosities but no bone china mugs! No single ones anyway, to add to my collection of non-matching English bone china mugs. The irony is that since I moved to Australia, I can’t get enough of English antiques, history or heritage! So I was delighted to find a little Toby Jug in a charity shop for the princely sum of £2.50. Then it was straight to Marks and Spencers where I got so engrossed in buying new bras that we ended up running to the station. Poor, long-suffering Mum doing her best to keep up. But it gets worse. Platform 4A looked identical to 5A (I won’t explain why, but it did) and even had the same two carriage little chugger (my word for those small trains) ready and waiting. So we jumped on, fairly breathless at this point. It seemed strange that it didn’t leave on time. Then a man got on and asked if the train was going to Newark and when his fellow passengers nodded, I suddenly realised our (my) error. We were up and off the train in seconds, only to find our train had left three minutes ago. Mum was very good about it. Luckily we only had an hour to wait till the next train. Better than ending up in Newark though. I got Mum a cup of tea at the station cafe and dashed back to Marks and Spencer’s. Any opportunity…
The hour passed very quickly but I was back in time to get the right train equipped with several new bras, one Toby Jug and sweet, sweet memories of a fabulous day of all that Blighty does best.
I will leave you with a picture of a section of Duncan Grant’s fabulous mural: