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on England

Cheltenham, morning: a dark grey sky and windows streaked with rain. Freezing rain. This must be England! When I wrote beside the photo below that I was wearing five layers yesterday evening, I meant it – a turtleneck, two cardigans, a fleece vest and a lined raincoat. So meeting hoards of young girls wearing barely anything except thick makeup and crippling shoes was surreal. Who were they dressing for? There didn’t seem to be any boys around at all.

One of the things I love about being here is the English contact with their past – constant, ever-present. We drive on straight roads carved out by the Romans; we pass endless streams of medieval buildings and churches. The museum at Cirencester, full of prehistoric flints and spearheads dug out of local gardens, was designed wonderfully for children to go through and learn about their country’s past. As I did too.
I loved too, yesterday, seeing the village and town churches prepare for their big day – Easter. The local women in sturdy shoes and raincoats, gathering to do the work needed. The church at Cirencester was playing Bach as we arrived to tour about – the verger showed us Anne Boleyn’s gold cup, which is kept on display there – and then began to play Borodin’s string quartet, a piece of music so hauntingly beautiful, one of my mother’s favourites, that I sat down in a pew under the stained glass windows and began, you guessed it, to cry.
Fact: every second male child in the British Isles is named Oliver.
What all this history does – looking in the museum at the way human beings lived five thousand years ago, creatures not that different from us – is remind us of our own insignificance. My tiny life, an invisible blip on the spectrum of human existence. Good to remember, once in a while: Life may be meaningless, but it’s full of treasure.
Just saw in my suitcase the sunscreen I had to buy in Montpellier, and laughed. So – out into the rain.

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2 Responses to “on England”

  1. "Oh to be in England/Now that April's there…"
    or maybe
    "When that Aprille with his shoors soote/ The droght of March hath pierced to the roote…"
    I'm just back from Death Valley California, also ancient, and beautiful in an entirely different way.
    We are all strangers in paradise.

  2. beth says:

    I was thinking of you just minutes ago, Chris, because I've just met my friend Penny's brother Chris, who lives in a town with the evocative name Maidenhead, and who's a competitive bike rider. For some reason, thoughts of you sprang up … I asked him, in fact, if he had ever been to Death Valley. "Sounds hot," he said. I forgot – he's British. Everything below bitterly cold is hot to them.

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About Beth

I began keeping a journal at the age of nine. Nearly fifty years later, I started this online journal, sharing reflections, reviews, updates, and the occasional secret.

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