Friday, April 17, 2009

A (Not Quite) Last Hurrah!

What a day--one that started out with breakfast at a sidewalk cafe in Paris and ended with a memorable dinner at a pub in the English countryside!

No pictures from the early part of the day. We simply got up at seven, showered, packed, and went out for a cafe au lait and tartine at our usual haunt, stopping at a local boulangerie to buy a sandwich for the train. Made our way to the Gare du Nord via taxi, with a driver who waxed passionate about Obama and heatedly excoriated Bush and the Bush years. Like every French person we have spoken to about the global political situation, he was excited by the prospect of America rejoining the community of nations.

The Eurostar proved a very fast and easy ride between Paris and London--after the usual ritual of getting through customs and immigration, completed by both countries, France and England, at the train station of origin. I caught up with American-style news with the Herald Tribune, did the crossword, and before I knew it found the train pulling in to St. Pancras station in London. Some small problems finding our way across St. Pancras to the appropriate train for Harpenden, but it all proved quite manageable, and we found Matthew and Alice waiting for us at their local train station.

Great to be back with the family! The children seemed delighted to see their grandparents again, and Diane had prepared an excellent chicken Caesar salad for our lunch, along with a good plate of cheeses. After lunch, a special treat in the form of a car trip north to visit Bletchley Park...


... a beautiful mansion set in a lovely park--and the site, not incidentally, of the great code-breaking work without which the Allied victory over Hitler in World War II would have been far from certain. I have a special attachment to the place, because the big old rectory where I lived, not far from Bletchley, as a child, was the temporary wartime home for several of the people who worked here. A long view of the utilitarian blocks...


.... that housed the enormously complex (and secret) equipment...


... that was developed to decode German military command messages sent out on their "Engima" machine in codes that the Nazis believed, right up to the end, to be unbreakable. It was the icnredible courage of some British servive men that led to the capture of code books--the first, I believe, from a captured U-Boat--that made the effort just a little bit easier.



Bletchley Park is now a fascinating museum, which involved a great deal of study for which we had no time. So most of the story remained, well, a complete enigma to my distinctly non-technical mind. But I do understand that the computer on which I write this morning originates in the work that was done by this relative handful of pioneers. Here's a shot of the telephone operating room with, in the foreground, Diane's tiny cell phone--likely more powerful than the entire early system!


Here's a snapshot of Ellie and the grandchildren on our way to visit the main house...


.... where I was thrilled to find, in the register, at least two familiar names. At first I remembered only the a couple of first names, Vivian and Fiona, then suddenly put Fiona together with Baker and found the name of one of our wartime guests. And then remembered that my aunt Gay was also living with us and working at Bletchley, and looked up "Williams"--my mother's maiden name. And there she was...


... Helen Gabrielle Willams. My aunt died a few years ago, but it was definitely a big thrill to find her wartime work memorialized here!

I couldn't leave without a few shots of the beautiful interior of the house, which Ellie and I decided must be of the Arts and Crafts era of the early twentieth century. Here we go, the great dining hall...


.... a grand stairway...


Here's Hut 6, where both Gay and Fiona worked, now somewhat decrepit, as you can see...


... though several of the buildings are being restored.

And in the evening, another very special moment, one that I have been looking forward to for the entire trip. I must have mentioned somewhere along the line in The Buddha Diaries that I had been contacted, thanks to the marvels of the Internet, by a very old friend who was at boarding school with me more than sixty years ago. I cannot remember seeing him since, though he recalls one brief meeting a few years later. No matter, here we are, reunited after all these years...


Whilst the families got acquainted around a big table in the pub where we had agreed to meet for dinner, Ben and I took a long walk together through the soggy English twilight, and were delighted to find how much we had, back then, and still have, in common. We have led lives very different--and very distant--from each other, but have arrived in many ways at the same place. There's no rom, here, to recall our conversation, but we promised each other to pursue our common interests in further dialogue. I'm looking forward to that, and I'm sure you'll be hearing more about it on The Buddha Diaries. In the meantime, here is a part of the younger generation--my Matthew and Diane and Ben's Sue and her husband Roger--with a beaming Ben.


The picture reflects, I think, some of the sheer joy of the evening. We all got along, as they say, famously--despite having to shout a great deal over the noise of an incredibly busy pub. My only regret is not to have found, on my camera this morning, a good picture of Ben's wife, Rosemary. Another time, perhaps, at the Alford arms...


Matthew's Tom-Tom GPS guided us back home along what it must have thought was the shortest route, along some alarmingly narrow but eerily beautiful country roads...


And so to bed, very tired, but after a truly exhilerating day. I'm writing this n Saturday morning, the last day before we hop aboard a plane for the long flight back to Los Angeles. As Ellie said last night at bedtime, it does seem weird to be headed back home. It feels so very distant from England, the English people, the English countryside...

5 comments:

hele said...

what a beautiful post. I love the way your personal experiences enrich your travel tales.

thank you for taking me along.

AuntieAnne said...

I have so enjoyed the vicarious visits to lovely spots, Peter, - including 'meeting' your family and friends - and I think you take the most amazing photos! I also want to say that I was born and raised in Hollywood but have lived here in Belgium for the past twenty-five years. When I visit my brother and sister-in-law in California, we stay at my niece's family's cottage in Laguna ... so I've especially enjoyed reading your Buddha Diaries blog knowing you are usually writing from that wonderful spot. Oh, and my father was born (in 1901) and raised in Watford, England and my beloved husband (who passed away nearly four years ago now) was Bermudian (I taught school in Bermuda in the 70's and early 80's). I have all sorts of writing ideas myself and hope that one day they will come tumbling out. In order to post my comment, I've just now had to set up my own blog. So you seem to be getting me started. Bless you. One further note - I am a Quaker and find your philosophy quite similar to mine. Welcome home!

Nancy Youdelman said...

I have very much enjoyed your posts from Europe, seeing your photos and your warm, engaging writing style. Thanks so much for sharing it.

Robin said...

This is a wonderful post of love family and karmic relationship.

Thanks for sharing.

PeterAtLarge said...

Hello, AuntieAnne--for some reason I was unable to access your blog. But thanks for checking in at The Buddha Diaries--and please let me know next time you'll be in Laguna Cheers, PC