Flying over France left me hopeful. There was a fair amount of visibility and it seemed as if the weather would co-operate. Flying over the English Channel did little to break my mild streak of hope of seeing a bit of English coastline from the air. The grey, churning waters were clearly visible. My hope grew as time progressed and Davey’s Follies started appearing below, spin, spin, spinning in the wind. Quietly, gently I hummed “the Man of la Mancha” to myself as my small aeroplane flew over rows and rows of Davey’s Follies. Soon, I thought, I will see the English coast. The colour of the water started to change, more waves became apparent. My hope was rising in a sharp crescendo – the English coast in autumn! Suddenly, my Luxembourg Airlines Bombardier flew into a thick cover of clouds – grey, grey, white and then grey. A few minutes later, the pilot announced that we had started our final descent into London City Airport as the clouds broke and suburban South-Eastern England appeared beneath. “Oh, g-d, good old England” I thought.
The rest of my flight progressed nicely. We arrived in London half an hour late. Passport control was quick and painless – although it took a few minutes for my suitcase to arrive. After a 15-minute chinwag with two members of the Royal British Legion, I purchased my perquisite poppy and set out to see if Boadicea made it from Hove. Not seeing anyone, I purchased a single fare ticket and went to Waterloo Station. Having a few hours to spare, I walked to Westminster and explored the Houses of Parliament from the outside. Security was high and I heard a news-reader announce that the Jaguar that just drove through the gates was bringing Davey of Davey’s Follies’ fame to another session of wrecking the United Kingdom. I could not help myself humming “the Man of la Mancha” again, albeit slightly louder this time in response to the din of traffic.
The train journey to Dorchester was remarkably pleasant. While I fear that it might crush a few delicate egos here, the British rail network is not nearly as dreadful as people fear. In fact, I was chuffed at how clean and punctual it was in comparison to Germany’s execrable “service”. Although I arrived in Dorchester slightly late, it was understandable. There seems to have been a put of a power problem just outside Southampton. Oh, and the jolly Spanish eejit in charge of the drinks trolley rant out of hot water and could not furnish me with my required cuppa. Being in a somewhat positive mood, I was inclined to forgive him – just. In any event, I did not elect to play Moors versus Christians circa 748 in the role of Othello.
I have a dreadful sense of direction. Dreadful. In fact, I suspect that Ed Miliband’s economic competence might well be significantly acuter than my sense of direction. In short, I managed to get lost in Dorchester for nearly two hours. After many failed attempts to locate the correct street of Dorchester’s four, I finally asked a respectable pair of ladies if they could perhaps tell me how to reach the correct street. Both were kind enough to walk with me to the correct street and give me detailed instructions on how to reach my B&B. Thanking them, I started to walk down the street I had crossed at least 7 times without realising it. Ten minutes later, I arrived at the Bay Tree Bed and Breakfast. The owners were most helpful with the husband insisting on carrying my suitcase to the third storey. We had a friendly chat for a bit and made sport of my uncanny ability to get lost in a Dorset market town. Breakfast was arranged for 7:30 the next morning and I spent the next few hours having dinner at a pleasant pub, the Trumpet Major, and enjoying the freedom that England permits. That is, I watched music videos that are blocked in Germany.
The following morning breakfast was prepared as promised. Two toast – brown bread: one with marmite, one with strawberry jam. A pot of yoghurt, Weetabix, two rashers bacon, mushrooms and a poached egg. After scarfing the lot down, I walked to the high street for a haircut. Five months had passed before more previous cut, a valedictory performance by my favourite barber in California. After nearly breaking a comb trying to straighten a tangle, my dire need for a sheering had becoming unmistakably apparent. After being shorn, I went to train station to meet with Araminta.
Araminta was kind enough to take me to Wimborne. The Minster is remarkable – one of those under-rated sites our much beloved Sceptred Isle is full of. The Minster also houses Wimborne’s chain library, one of the three remaining in the world. The librarian was an erudite, jovial hostess who kept both of us entertained. She was kind enough to show us books printed in the time of the Commonwealth, books printed in multiple languages with a perfection that contemporary publishers could only dream of. For lunch we went to a small but excellent restaurant which used the freshest ingredients. The waitress was superb, the food was superb and the coffee – flat white – was superior to any I have recently had in Germany. The staff were also terribly accommodating and forgiving of my pulling the emergency alarm handle in the convenience thinking that it was part of an archaic toilet. We also went to the Priest House Museum – a small, but interesting place re-creating life in Dorset at various times over the last few centuries. Araminta is an excellent companion and the day went by far too fast.
After a pleasantly uneventful evening in Dorchester I prepared to go to Bath, but not before purchasing a few boxes of tea and two puddings to bring back to the benighted Germany. I remain convinced that with some effort we will be able to civilise the Hun. After an unremarkable train ride, I arrived at Brunel’s Bath Spa Station with over an hour to spare before my allocated check-in time at my B&B. Not wishing to grow overly ambitious, I went to a friendly Thai restaurant near North Parade. The food was decent and the ambiance excellent. The staff were friendly, cheerful and engaging. After checking-in, I spent the rest of the afternoon walking the streets of central Bath. Janus’ promise that the city was a fine tribute to the Empire was not unfulfilled. Bath is a beautiful, atmospheric city. While perhaps not quite Dorchester, at least in my opinion, Bath grabs a hold of the visitor and never truly lets go.
One day, I took a guided walk. The Mayor’s Honorary Guides take visitors and Bathonians alike on a free, 2-hour walk through the city. It was an experience worth having and the guide ensured that we saw the finest Georgian architecture – and some of the few remnants of the mediaeval city. After the walk, and a visit to the Assembly Rooms and Fashion Museum I gave in to temptation and committed the terribly touristy act of going to Sally Lunn’s. The tea was unremarkable and the bun was, while pleasant enough, not terribly inspired fare. Still, the atmosphere and experience of taking tea in Bath’s oldest building was somewhat worth it. I also bought more tea. Including 5 packages of Edinburgh Tea & Coffee Company’s delightful Whisky Tea.
London was as it always was – London. Arriving in London is arriving at the centre of the world. Whatever pretences New York has, it is nothing but an overgrown provincial town affecting to be London’s superior without ever matching it for history, aura, atmosphere or ambiance. My hotel, a simple, basic, yet clean place was fortunately in Belgravia. It’s a beautiful neighbourhood – one to stay in if ever the opportunity arises. After checking-in, I went on a pilgrimage to Golders Green. Among my favourite writers, Austin Coates, the only son of Eric Coates and his wife Phyllis, was interred at the crematorium with his parents. Or, to be more accurate, his ashes were spread in the garden. But such things are irrelevant. After getting lost yet again, I arrived and in short order found the Coates’ family memorial plaque. It was overwhelming for me. I nearly shed a tear, but that would have made me a bit wet so I refrained and simply stood there for nearly half an hour.
The following morning I met Sheona and Collin at the Tower of London. Both have already given many details, so I will simply say that both are the most gracious of companions. Collin is a true gentleman, Sheona is a true lady. After some seven years, at least I think it was seven years, of acquaintance it was a great pleasure to be able to meet them at last.
After parting ways, I slowly worked my way through London. My day pass not valid at peak hour, I walked the streets in occasional rain. Accidentally, I found myself walking through Brick Lane. Was I in London, or was I in Dhaka with terribly cold weather? One wasn’t sure, so one simply walked forward looking for the nearest tube station. And a grocer. One cannot return to poor, benighted Germany without a few pounds of cheddar.
I returned to Germany the following day. My flight was once again delayed. My aunt met me at Luxembourg Findel and drove me to my small flat in Konz. I found out during the drive that Germany, in my absence, had been effectively shut down by a train strike for four days. It was bloody well that I was in England at that time – one can be provoked to justifiable homicide by such impertinence.
And so, a tremendous week ended. That job in Bristol? I did not get it, so I am presently pursuing a lucrative opportunity in China. With many thanks to Araminta, Collin and Sheona. I hope that we have the chance to meet again.