Monday morning in England had a very different feel to it. Although I did not have to get up at the crack of dawn to go to work, I was awake shortly after the birds burst into their morning chorus, which is much earlier than an Austin 'crack of dawn'.
Although my mum attempts to potter around quietly, she fails. Once I hear her up and about, guilt overwhelms me and there is no way I can go back to sleep. After removing Samantha from her campground in the middle of the living room, I set about completing the first task of the day. Monday is cleaning the lounge day. As an exercise routine, I am far more fond of swimming! However, breakfast awaited and the lure of toast and marmalade was enough to give me an incentive to finish quickly. Our objective for the day was to see how much we could spend on incidentals, such as crisps, chocolate and biscuits, without going into an overdraft scenario!
I received a call, Monday afternoon, from an old friend, and we arranged to meet on Tuesday. I had not seen Sheri for nearly 27 years, although our eldest kids had attended the same high school. Arrangements were made for the following evening, and I was looking forward to all my calendared events. With not much time to spare, my social life was going to be a whirlwind of activity, and catching up on the English soap operas was not going to be a happening thing! Samantha and I spent the remainder of Monday picking blackberries from the garden. Samantha climbed the ladder and we managed, with a pair of extended clippers, and a pair of sheers, to pick enough to make approximately half a small individual pie. After we had washed the half a dozen berries, we put back the tools. Ever the rebel, I picked up the sheers and raced across the garden. 'Look at me, running with scissors', I exclaimed to the sighs of the non-existent crowd.
Richard joined us on Tuesday evening, and our children were rather shocked that we, too, had been rather mischievous in our past. As we relived our teenage years, we remembered the time when my school was closed, but Sheri's was still open, and another friend, Lynda, and I posed as Sheri's cousins from Manchester. With an horrific accent, we managed to convince her Headteacher (Principal) that we were on vacation for a few days and as it was during the school term, our parents would be happier if we continued our education, London style. Only one teacher was not convinced, and she would not allow us into her classroom during lessons. As we howled with laughter at the memory, the kids were unsure whether to be appalled at our indiscretions, or stand back in awe, at our cunning deviousness! Promising to keep in touch, which is so much easier with the advent of social media, we said our farewells and I went back to mum's, with Samantha and Richard.
The scream that came from the parlour was quite excruciating. 'When I said I was camping out in the lounge, I didn't expect there to be wildlife', cried Samantha, as she pointed to a small dot on the ceiling, which was obviously magnified in her sight. With a microscope I would have barely made out the eight legs that were jutting out from the minuscule body. The vacuum cleaner arm was attached, and the motor whirled into life, and sucked the poor unsuspecting arachnid down the shoot into the black hole of household waste. Thirty minutes later, after a thorough inspection of every nook and cranny, Samantha lay down under her sleeping bag, and reluctantly closed her eyes. Although almost an hour after midnight, I was still wide awake, as the evening of reminiscing had left me quite energised, and I wondered how I was going to get up early enough the following morning, in order to complete the military style chores, have breakfast, and be at the station in time to catch the train into London!
The fortuitous events for one is not necessarily seen in the same light for another, and as my mother bewailed the untimely demise of her washing machine, I was thankful for the extremely loud noise it made when in its spin cycle. I jumped up a little before seven, and stood by my bed ready for inspection! The nightmarish events of the previous evening had prevented Samantha from sleeping soundly and she had packed up her troubles in her blankets and without a smile laid the bedding burrito on top of my futon, before taking a shower, while I took the vacuum back into the lounge for the daily housework routine, despite the fact I was duplicating the task for the second time after midnight. However, as Samantha had spent the (best part of) the night in the room, the dust would obviously be far more prolific and a flick of the duster, with a second hoovering would be necessary to achieve the perfection within which my mother is adamant she does not insist upon.
Sightseeing in London never looses its appeal. The efficiency of what was the British Rail overground system, and the London Underground, is second to none. Whilst I was one of the many who complained when having to use it, it is a perfect way to get into, and around, London as a tourist. The even dates in August saw the Changing of the Guard procession outside Buckingham Palace, and we walked from Green Park Station to the far right gate of the famous landmark. As we reached the railings that stop the crowds from emerging across the entrance, a family from Minnesota were eagerly awaiting the event. After discussing the temperature difference in Minneapolis, Austin and London, they asked if I was sure that the guards would, indeed, march through this gate, as opposed to those in the centre or to the left. I assured them that they were in the best possible place, and remembered how my dad, when he owned a company that brought school children from other parts of the country, as well as Europe, to London, would say, 'Prince Charles called me this morning to let me know they will be coming through this gate!' I had no reason to see why, after years of tradition, this would change. The vibrations that ran from the tip of my toes to the top of my head, were as strong as I remembered, as the red coated soldiers marched in unison through the right entrance to the Palace.
Three and a half miles seemed like seven, in the heat of the day, but the map confirmed that it was no more and no less from Buck House to the Tower of London. Walking along the river, passing the South Bank and the Globe Theatre, I was quite delighted when Dana called, as the weak signal on my archaic phone meant that we had to stop for a while. Much as 99 degrees Fahrenheit in Austin is bearable, 77 degrees in the heart of London can be quite exhausting for those no longer used to it! However, after the call, we continued along the path and watched the sand sculptors create works of art, before I took my life into my own hands, and descended down some steel steps to reach the shore of the Thames. Samantha stood laughing, in amazement that I had actually stepped foot on the steep metal contraption, and then was struck with horror as she foresaw my inability to climb back up! I was incredibly brave and despite the panic attack before ascending, managed to clamber my way back up to the top, without the helping hand of my daughter, who was taking pictures to prove I had 'done it'!
The Tower of London was still standing, despite the lack of ravens in plain sight (legend has it that if the ravens depart, the tower falls) and Traitors Gate was firmly down. The train ride back to Oxford Street failed to provide a seat for our weary behinds, although a padded block to lean upon sufficed. After entering a few stores, collecting collectibles and eating a sandwich, we left London town and headed back to Hertfordshire. Wednesday night was Curry night, with another old school friend, Andrea. Samantha joined us as far as the village, but walked back to mums, alone with her takeaway korma! More reminiscing and new memories were made. I arrived home shortly before midnight and spoke to Dana before falling asleep after twelve.
Friday night was family night, and that meant shopping on Thursday morning with a non-enforceable, but non-negotiable house arrest was in place. At 82 years old, my mother is as lively as any twenty one year old, but as the years go by, preparations take longer, and despite the two extra pairs of willing hands, everything needs to be done at her pace. Once the groceries were procured, Thursday afternoon becomes a battleground in the kitchen. I was prepared, but as we were doing cold meat and salad, there was not too much to get ready and we were given hall passes at 4:30 to go to the village and meet up with Beverly and Jodie, our mother and daughter counterparts! Thursday evening however, I had set aside for our now annual get together of the class of '76! Although one missing, four friends who began school on the same day in 1965 (with another friend whom I know, being the mother of one of Richard's friends) met for dinner in Radlett. For the second time during the week, I was bathed in glory as my blog, this blog was mentioned, with many compliments, and words of encouragement which will perhaps force me to continue working on the novel I aspire to complete in my retirement years! As always, I thanked those who spend time reading, as without my readership, what would be the point. (Well, I would still write as I enjoy doing so...it was just nice to know that people I know read, as well as people I do not...I am grateful to all!) It was a good thing that we had so much catching up to do, as Lesley, Michele, Karen, Laraine and I spent quite a few hours waiting for our dinner to arrive! Once again, I arrived back at mum's shortly before midnight, and on such a high, I was unable to get to sleep before one.
With the faithful washing machine waking me post dawn, but pre- seven, I entered into the affray and set to peeling potatoes, cutting cabbage and slicing tomatoes. As usual, the cream for dessert stared up and goaded me. Just one more spin of the blades, it insisted, and I obeyed. As it went from under to over whipped in a thrice, I was removed from the area with a 'tsk' and placed in the cucumber slicing side of the kitchen. It is not hard to fail at slicing cucumber, one would assume, and once again, one would assume wrongly! Texas style is not English style, and nine years in the self proclaimed greatest state of the Union has mellowed me into culinary malfunction, British style! Fortunately, no one seemed to notice the thickness of the green vegetable, and the over whipped cream held the strawberries in place rather nicely. The sun set and rose again without a problem!
Samantha and I went shopping on Saturday, firstly with Richard, who then dropped us at the mall, and we took the bus home. I informed Samantha that children were not permitted to press the button which informed the driver we wanted to get off at the next stop. She quickly responded with the remark that she was over 21, and considered an adult both on this, and the other side of the pond. I explained that the small print on the sticker behind the driver's seat explicitly pointed out that children, when accompanied by their parents, no matter their age, were not permitted to press the button, as the older person had the responsibility. Although not convinced, she relented, and let me do the honours. It is amazing how things which seem so exciting as a child, such as pressing the call bell on the bus, remain a thrill in adult life. Perhaps I lead a very sheltered life! Samantha left mum's on Saturday afternoon, to stay with her dad, as Richard was to take her and Steff to have pictures taken with 'the bride' early on Sunday. As Rick and Steff were out for most of Saturday, Samantha had offered to dog-sit on Saturday night, and in true Samantha style, had managed to lose the keys to their house. Mum attempted to help look for the missing lock openers, and failed to understand when I explained that they were probably in the last place Samantha would think to look. 'Where does she think she had them last?' would be perceived as a trick question. After checking under and over everything in the bedroom, Samantha appeared on the scene, in a wild panic. Being an expert in this kind of situation, I asked if she had actually bothered to look in her handbag. She ran out to the car, and then back in again, shouting, 'Love you; see you tomorrow'. Mum stood with her mouth open, as I whispered, 'Welcome to my world!'
Saturday evening saw yet more reunions. This time it was that of my old youth club friends. Although I had met up with Sally and Mike last year, and had bumped into Judy several years ago when accompanying mum for a hospital check up, I had not seen Judy's husband David, nor their friends, Susie and Freddy for over 30 years. More reminiscing was on the table, as well as a sumptuous Indian takeaway, and a good time was had by all. I returned home, again, after midnight, and was glad I did not have to get up for anything before noon on Sunday.
With age, comes lack of sleep, and whilst mum has always been an early riser, she sees no point in staying in bed even when there is nothing to do. Having said that, there is never nothing to do at my mother's house, and getting up before seven on a Sunday, is regulatory. My niece, Emma, was getting married on Sunday and we had to be ready by 3pm. With the lounge free of Samantha, as she had stayed in a bed, albeit a sofa variety, at her father's flat, and the lack of activity in there during Saturday, I was still charged with the daily housework task. Having completed it and had breakfast, I then went to hang out the washing, and vacuum the remainder of the bungalow. I cannot tell you what I did between 7:45 and 11:45, but the four hours flew past with little effort. At a quarter to noon, mum and I sat down from a heavy morning's duty, and wondered if it was too early to have lunch. She could not answer the question, 'what have we done?'
The wedding was magnificent, but due to the unseemly length of this post, I will leave the details, followed by my final day in England, and our return home on Tuesday for ........... another story.