Funny how England seems so insurmountably far away when I am in California. It seems downright close when I’m in Gloucestershire. And with Jane heading home today, having just left for the airport…well, the high wall that separates my two worlds seems higher than ever. Jane will spend the entire day going down that physically wrenching rabbit hole called intercontinental travel. And in a week I will do the same. This makes me all the more aware of where I am.
I am in a place built of yellow stone. Even the farmer’s barn just across the road is built of Cotswold sandstone. It’s beautiful stuff. And the English keep it looking that way. Many complain about the laws and regulations that specify UK construction. But behind it all, there’s some sort of unwritten understanding. This is Gloucestershire. This is what we have. We’d like to keep it.
I imagine that the British would also like to keep their skies. Yesterday, Jane and I sat watching black, billowy storm clouds moving across the Severn Valley as we drove towards Tewkesbury. They intermittently produced surprising amounts of rain. We attended a religious service with music in Tewkesbury Abby, had lunch, then got drenched. It was hard explaining to Jane’s friends that, no, this wasn’t really a hardship. Rain is, or should be, part of life, after all. It has been absent for so long in California, that I happily rolled around town in a sodden sports jacket. As for the Frank Martin Mass for two choirs…wow. I had never heard it before. The piece is faintly dissonant, and seems to come from no particular period. The Swiss composer died in 1975. Professional singers make the sort of thing sound so easy.
I took a break during the communion part of the service. In searching for the men’s toilets, I made a distinctly wrong turn. In an old English town like this one can go very wrong indeed. But it’s not every day that I am in Tewkesbury. Driven by a sense of wheeled adventure, I headed up a very steep footpath. This led to the wrong side of the Abbey refectory. So, I thought I could find myself out on the high street fairly easily. I went racing along a medieval wall, feeling a sense of things closing in. Which they were. In the end, my journey ended at some medieval steps. The space was too narrow to even turn. I reversed down the tight passage. When I finally turned around…there it was, the steep footpath.
Where the road of life took a pleasant turn. With time, certain things do get easier, after all. With the greatest of ease I asked a middle-aged Italian couple to stand in front of the chair while I made my precipitous descent. There were no problems. Just anxiety. Of which, thank you very much, I already have quite enough.
Tewkesbury was the site of a major and decisive battle in the War of the Roses. More recently, it was the scene of some of the worst flooding in southern England. The town sits at the confluence of the Avon and Severn rivers. And damned if we didn’t turn up right there, shortly after lunch. There’s a park by the Avon. There’s also a weir. I rolled my wheel chair across the latter, staring with wonder and admiration at the churning waters. Particularly beautiful water lilies floated with their wide pads and yellow flowers. In the adjacent park, mounded flower beds showed off snapdragons, salvia and hollyhock. England, there will always be one.
But I may not always be traveling here. At least not so much. I am getting older, an observation at once so profound and so obvious…. Or maybe the ‘older’ part will drive me back here even more. Things feel very different with the house in San Francisco. It’s home. It’s permanent. And it’s only in the airline age that we can pretend to live in multiple places. I think Glen Park will do.