England Part VIII

Invitations had come in through the pub phone, one while I was sipping my Adnams the evening before and taking notes about my little adventures on my iPad.

I slipped behind the bar to see who it was. “Tassie here.” “Tassie, so good to hear from you!” Of course I had spent days before the trip to England trying to track this little blond curly-haired agile girl down–her family our next-door neighbors in the village. What did she look like, now? “I’ll pick you up at the pub round 11:00,” she said with her clipped, crisp English accent. “We’ll go have coffee at my house in Snape. You can see my studio. Then we’ll drive to Aldeburgh so you can see Mum.”

I was excited to see Tassie, to see her art, to see her mother Diana–a favorite person to my whole family, and to hear some memories of my family from them. My friend, Ann, and her husband Tiggy had also come through with an invitation to spent the night with them at their farm in Stowmarket, which is not that far from Aldeburgh. So with somewhat mixed feelings, I made the arrangements to leave Walberswick a day early. Had I really seen everything and done everything I wanted to do here?

After dinner that night, I walked up the main street a ways, then down a side street to check out Grandmother and Anna Freud’s house. My footsteps were slow; I sort of dragged them along, like I did as a kid. The end of the lane was unfamiliar because what was once one large property is now divided into two, one new house standing where their garden used to be. I spent a moment staring into painful memories, these two spinsterish ladies who had–in a way–provided Walberswick, at the same time they had–in a way–taken my father away by claiming him for themselves. No wonder, I wanted to avoid them as a kid.

Yes, I thought, I was just about ready to leave Walberswick, its simple obvious joys; its complex hidden jabs, after one more night…to spend some hours in new places with old friends.

England Part VII

“The ghost of Ibn Gabirol over my shoulder as I wrote!” Professor Loewe influential scholar of Jewish studies and a poet had said. Well, the ghost of Grandmother and Anna Freud over my shoulder as I played in Walberswick village is somewhat how I felt as a kid. For who knew when they’d come clopping down the street on their horses, intruding on a child’s free time, looking like NO ONE ELSE, so sort of strangely embarrassingly not with the times back then–two spinsterish plain Janes.

My gut in a knot, I would wave from my bike, shout, “Hello!” but not stop. I did not want their constrained behavior to constrain me.

It was after five on June 27th. I was thinking of taking the ferry run by Dani Church across the River Blyth to Southwold to see if this seaside town was how I remembered it. Discovering I was too late for the operation of the ferry, I asked the pub’s bartender if a bike was to be had. He lent me his and off I went pedaling down the main street to the river, along the ridged path to the bridge, across the bridge following the sandy path overlooking marshes to the large field and a golf course that led in to Southwold.

In Southwold, I zipped along the narrow streets to the view of the North Sea. Put my feet down and snapped a photo. The bathhouses seemed larger and fancier than in the past but other than that the view comfortingly the same.

I wended my way down side streets, admiring the flowers and quaint shops in alleyways. Passing a pub or two where people were sitting outside enjoying the sea air (no seating outside when I was a kid), drinking no doubt the local acclaimed Adnams, I began to long for a sit down at my pub, The Anchor, with a cool refreshing Adnams of my own to sip. I glanced at my watch. It was seven. I had to admit my legs were sore; time for me to go home.

Pedaling slower now, I made my way back towards the River Blyth to Walberswick.

England Part VI

Not mentioned in the five England blogs before this one–all about my visit back to the Walberswick village in Suffolk from my youth–are the ghosts of two elderly influential women relatives: Grandmother and Anna Freud.

Grandmother was the person sort of hiding in the background of our village life, but the person who pulled strings. At first living just three cottages down and across the street from ours, her presence was “in the air.” Later, she moved into a more ample house at the end of a sidestreet near The Anchor.

We were invited to garden parties at her cottage, rather constrained gatherings; with the stronger hidden yanks coming from Grandmother’s live in companion, Anna Freud. For, if we were trying to please Grandmother, it was Grandmother who was trying to please Anna Freud. In any case, the parties felt like false performances; something we HAD to participate in. We would have much rather been on our own having fun in the village.

But, Grandmother was Dad’s mother. She had bought our cottage for relatives. She owned it, so to speak…in that way, we owed her the time of removing our jodhpurs and adorning ourselves with dresses (my sisters and mother), or smart shorts and ironed shirts (my bothers). My father, if memory serves, could get away with his same old brown corduroy jacket. He could get away with a lot!

Anna Freud is, of course, The Anna Freud, the daughter of Sigmund Freud. It was really Grandmother who was Anna’s live-in friend and companion, Grandmother who had become a colleague of Anna’s back in Vienna, Austria before WWII, not the other way around.

You see this trip back to the magical village of Walberswick is not as simple as it looks; for it has a strong undertow.

England Part V

What would a visit to the past be like without actual people being a part of it?

I was just lying down for a nap on my bed at The Anchor around five or so, when there came a knock on my door. And there was Ann, my gadabout friend from my Walberswick childhood, 40+ years later!

We eyed each other in a friendly manner, eager to get to the root of each other and erase the 40+ years as quickly as possible.

“Shall we go down to the pub?” Ann said. “My husband, Tiggy’s, down there and so is my sister Rita and her husband. Perhaps you’ll remember, Tiggy?”

And as soon as I saw Tiggy, I knew him as that good-looking village scamp he once was!

We sat in the corner seat reserved for locals and Ann and Tiggy treated me to wine (The Anchor has a good selection) and fish and chips (also excellent) while we told stories on each other from the past.

Before they left, Ann made me promise I would visit her mother in the village the next day. I had planned to do this anyway. And she invited me to come and visit them on their farm in Stowmarket.

Next morning, I walked up the village green and down the little street to see Ann’s mother, Vida.

Vida was the person who would welcome me into her family fold on a Sunday after her church and insist that I be included in their special Sunday dinner–usually a roast of some kind, even if it meant her own portion was diminished. Now, living alone in her house since her husband died, she gets many visitors because she was always so kind to everyone in the village in her younger years.

The door to Vida’s house was open, the morning sun lighting the path in. Within a very few moments we were sharing stories and laughing together. And Vida, sensing I think that I like literature, told me about how her mother had not had an easy time of it and had not been able to give her a lot of attention when she was growing up, but that her mother had written her a poem for her thirteen birthday, which meant a lot to her. At eighty-nine Vida proceeded to recite the poem by heart with beautiful diction in the most heartfelt proud manner:

We may write our names in albums
We may trace them on the suns
We may chisel them in marble
With a firm and skillful hand.
But the pages soon are sullied
Soon each page will fade away
Every monument will crumble
Like all earthly hope decay.
But my child, there is an album full of leaves of snowy white
Where no other name is tarnished
But for ever pure and bright.
And in this book of life, God’s album
May your name be penned with care
And may all who herein may write how their names forever there.

England Part IV

June 27th, 8:30 a.m.

I came down to the empty Anchor dining room to sun flooding one table, so that’s where I sat.

Breakfast:

• Anchor full English Breakfast egg, bacon, sausage, fried bread, tomato, mushrooms and baked beans.
• Lowestoft smoked haddock with poached egg
• Scrambled egg on homemade brown toast
• Local kippers
• Choice of fresh fruit, Suffolk pressed apple juice, organic orange juice, cereals and muesli
• Selection of teas and fresh ground coffee
• Anchor made white and brown toast. With homemade jams, honeys and marmalades

I chose Lowestoft smoked haddock with poached egg and added in fried tomatoes and mushrooms.

It was divine!

The Daily Telegraph handy, I picked up the morning copy to see what English newspaper writing was like while I ate. Here’s a sampling:

Obituary:

Professor Raphael Loewe, who died on May 27 aged 92, was an influential scholar of Jewish studies and a poet, as well as a translator of medieval Hebrew verse.
“The ghost of Ibn Gabirol over my shoulder as I wrote!” Professor Raphael Loewe said.

Twenty thousand pounds to train as teacher…The brightest students will be handed 20 thousand pounds to train as teachers under Government plans to improve state education standards.

Middle class families are being priced out of traveling by train.

Ahem…English priorities a little more civilized, perhaps?

England Part III

In my aloneness, I looked about me. Six English children were huddled over a book smiling and communing excitedly over pictures of some sort. It was hard to see the book from my spot, but I enjoyed the chirpy POLITE TONES to their voices.

A little later, I went over to their table and asked, “What do you like about this book? What’s it called? They chimed in, “Top Gear, Where’s Stig?” Then one girl immediately took up the leadership. “It’s all about finding Stig. See here,” she said pointing to a cartoon page of funny looking robot-like people, thousands all busy doing something relating to current events. She looked very hard at all the faces and figures, but couldn’t find him. “One of the other children said, “He’s the one who’s different.” So we all looked like mad with no luck. So another kid said, “Turn to page 28. We know how to find him in that one!” So we all looked again. And there he was hiding behind other robots on a balcony…the little bugger!

I returned to my table. I suddenly or maybe not so suddenly felt quite old…more of an observer than a doer. But, I remember when we gadded about all day on our bicycles to Major Bug’s stables, to the village green, down to the ferry, across the marsh to Southwold and back to the beach where we jumped cement blocks, out to the old windmill. It was our village back then. Now it was everybody’s village. I sighed. The kids had put away Stig. Five of them were now eating sausages, but one was eating fish. They all had chips.

England Part II

No family members live in the Walberswick village anymore, so I had booked a room at the largest of the local pubs called The Anchor.

Rodney deposited me in the gravel driveway of the pub on this partially sunny Sunday in June where some sort of “tapas” was going on to the left side of the entrance; smoke emanating from grilling meats with freshly made salads already laid out on a welcome table. It looked and smelled very good, but I wanted to get settled in my room.

And what a room…a light filled room on the top floor of the pub overlooking the Anchor’s garden with the North Sea in the distance.

After setting in, which meant putting down my suitcase and immediately taking iPad photos before I messed the room up, I walked up the village street to see what I could see. Oh dear, it is the same, But SO NOT THE SAME. Once a remote retreat, it now bustles on a Sunday in June with lots of walkers, bicyclists, and zippy expensive cars; school is not out yet. Walberswick has become positively trendy and moneyed! But still with a lovely away-from-the-city to the quaint English seaside/country village feel. Adrian Tierney Jones writing for The Daily Telegraph said, “The village is so pretty it hurts: roses around the doors, a pristine village green, waves gently lapping against the beach.”

Up the village street, I did not stop long to look at our old cottage; all of its simplicity in architecture has been altered to do something modernized and rather ghastly. Its old world 500 year-old unique charm GONE!

Suddenly, I was hungry and thirsty.

Back at The Anchor, I found a table on their back patio and ordered a pint of lager and fish soup with rouille and croutons. I was alone. Everybody I could see was with somebody. I sipped my pint a, dipped into the delicious soup and was somewhat revived.

England Part I

I’ve been working on the first draft of a little book. My mornings have been devoted to that, so no blogging.

OVER THE ATLANTIC OCEAN TO CHASE GHOSTS turned out to be England, France, and Norway. So I thought I’d begin with a few “ghost” scenarios from England.

Traveling by train from London towards the village Walberswick in Suffolk, East Anglia–where we used to own a cottage–familiar stops greeted me differently than I remembered them because nothing seemed as lush somehow. The vista seemed more flat, although after Ipswich the sun came out to at least brighten up some views of the shore with sailboats and millions of yellow flowers laid out in the fields. After Saxmundham trees appeared that looked like giant bushes with their tall round tops. As I watched from my seeming rolling seat, they started to sway in the wind. Ah, a breezy, partially sunny day in the English countryside in June.

Rodney Fosdike, whose service as a taxi driver I found on the Blyth website, was nowhere to be seen as I alighted from the train at Halesworth Station. I trundled my suitcase bumpily down the cobblestone street to a pay phone, but couldn’t figure out how to make it work. Two oldish English ladies with large patterned flowered dresses came down the street. I asked, trying to sound friendly like the English, “Do you have a mobile with you? One said, “I do, but I haven’t used it before, so I don’t know if I can make it work.” She carefully pressed in Rodney Fosdike’s number from my piece of paper and handed me the phone. It rang and rang but, alas, there was only voice mail so I left a plaintive message and paid the lady a pound. She gave me change and said, “It doesn’t matter that there is an extra sixpence over.”

Now what to do? I turned round and headed back up the little street towards the station and just then down the road came a teency weency car. I hoped and hoped, turned my head round and kind of peered through my sunglasses to see if perhaps there was only one person in the car. And there was! And it was him! 20 minutes late! Whew!

A Place I Loved

My cousin Dorothy recently sent me a photo of a pastel painting by our cousin Annie Heller. It shows the back of what was once our family cottage—Thorpe View—in Walberswick, Suffolk, UK.

The painting made Dorothy cry. The painting made me cry. It is so lyrical and emotional in its rendition of a beloved dwelling. The pigs lived right next door over the stone wall. On rainy days, the smell of pig manure would permeate the air. We got used to it. Thought of it as part of the aromatic atmosphere. Okay, maybe we lit out on our bicycles on “those” days, farther away from the pigs, to catch tadpoles in the marshes. We took in a different earthy smell, one with squishy grass—lots of it—and if the sun chose to come out, that grass would light up, a bright Kelly green.

At Thorpe View, when the weather called for it, which it often did, there would be a constant coal fire burning in the fireplace. When you looked out the living room windows, you could see who was coming and going in the village, there being only one main street. I liked to be in that room and hear the horses clop by, and glance out to see who was on top.

At Thorpe View there was a long rectangular wooden table in the living room where we ate meals and played games. It had all sorts of little nicks and notches in it, which gave it character. I liked to feel the grooves with the tips of my fingers, imagining how they got there.

When you went out the door of the cottage, you would find yourself exactly in the place my cousin Annie painted.

Here is her pastel painting of Thorpe View: