Sunday, September 11, 2011


I woke quite early, Ellie quite late. I was pleased she was getting the chance to catch up on the lost sleep on the flight from Los Angeles, and felt reasonably well rested myself--enough so as to be able to get up, make a good English cuppa tea and get a start on the blog entry your read (possibly; or possibly not) yesterday. Went out to find a Herald Tribune, which carries a little more American national news than the European papers; and a copy of the weekend Guardian. Was pleased to note that Paul Krugman was a fraction less critical of the Obama speech than he might have been; and that the reception of the speech was generally positive.

On with the day... we had another cup of tea, a bowl of fruit and cereal from yesterday's shopping expedition, a shave and shower and were ready for the drive through the north of London to met up with the family, as planned, at The Grove, a resort near Watford, halfway between where we're staying and where they live, in Harpenden. Loved the little dark blue Toyota Yaris that came with our home trade. Quite comfortable and easy to drive. I learned to drive on the left-hand side of the road, but it's still a bit of a challenge when I come back to the old country; I'm not a nervous driver in normal circumstances, but I admit to getting easily flustered when I don't know where I'm going, particularly in heavy traffic where it's important to know ahead of time when you're going to have to make a lane change or a turn. Thanks to massive road works and consequently massive traffic jams, it was a slow and slightly nerve-racking business getting out of town.

And then there's the matter of "roundabouts", and knowing which exit to take from them, and how; and the unfamiliar highway posting system and directional signs, the idiosyncrasies that can be misleading and bewildering. We found ourselves following signs to The Grove with big trucks on them, indicating, was we shortly discovered, that this was the route for delivery trucks not for passenger cars; and that it took us the (very!) long way around to avoid certain narrow bridges. What should have been a forty-five minute drive clocked in at an hour and a half as we drove in through the impressive gates and drove up through the lovely green landscape, up over a hump-back bridge that crossed a canal with colorful recreation barges, and on up to the magnificent mansion which has been converted into the resort known as The Grove. We were impressed.

A great reunion with the family. Matthew, my oldest, and Alice, his oldest, were waiting for us in the lobby. Inside, already at the lunch table, we found Diane, Matthew's wife, and the twins, Georgia and Joseph (well, Joe) along with Diane's parents, Helen and Leslie, over for the summer with the family from where they live in the south of France.

Quite a gang: needed three pictures! Here's Ellie and Alice...

The Grove provided us with an excellent buffet from which to choose for lunch, starting with hors d'oeuvres and tapas, leading on to a selection of roasts, vegetables and salads, and ending up with a fine selection of cheeses and, for dessert, fruits, cakes and pastries with delicious whipped dream. A spread, in other words, worthy of Tom Jones (the Fielding Tom, not the Welsh one) and that whole 18th century culture of excess. We ate well, we dallied over dessert and coffee, we enjoyed the family catch-up conversations.

After lunch, we braved the cold winds (they had been predicted as gale force, a remnant of our late unlamented hurricane Irene) and skies heavy with dark clouds to tour the gardens out behind the mansion: green, manicured lawns and luxuriant flower beds...

landscaped with nicely clipped, low hedges and lily ponds...

(that's Georgia!) ... all interspersed with sculptures...

... whose whimsy added to the aura of a pleasure garden. Also, who'd have guessed, an Indian couple getting married!

The Bentleys and Aston Martins in the parking lot were a clue to the upscale quality of the resort, whose luxury we enjoyed enormously. Not a thought for Karl Marx, lying there in his grave, unvisited yesterday, in Highgate Cemetery.

A wonderful celebration, then, of our family reunion. Later in the afternoon, we followed Matthew's car back to Harpenden, where they have recently made some improvements to their house: a renovated under-the-stairs loo, traditional in an English home; a new shower in the bathroom upstairs; and a fine patio behind the house, allowing a more spacious area for the children's play and outdoor entertainment. The children are amazingly creative: they all play musical instruments, they draw and paint, they write stories and poems, and the results of their efforts are everywhere in the house. It's great to see them again, and to admire their sheer, unrestrained vitality!

By early evening Ellie and I were feeling the effects of the time change and sleep deprivation, and decided it was time to leave for the drive back to London before it got too dark. We said our goodbyes to Helen and Leslie, who will be returning to France before we rejoin the family on Sunday; and less final ones to Matthew and Diane and the grandkids. The drive back to Islington was relatively uneventful, thanks in part to Matthew's excellent directions--and the loan of his GPS. Back at our flat, we had a quick bite of fruit and cheese and crackers as we listened to the Modern Jazz Quartet on our I-Pad. Such a strange new world!

1 comment:

An. said...