Our Travel blog
Tuesday 18 October
Our plan for today was to have a leisurely morning pottering around Henley before boarding a train and heading into London to watch a band. The plans however were scuppered by me waking up with a migraine of epic proportions. After getting up to bemoan my fragile state Nurse Alison sent me back to bed where I dozed off to the sound of her crochet hook stabbing away accompanied by the occasional profanity as the odd stitch escaped her clutches.
Late in the afternoon I was sufficiently recovered to take a slightly fragile wander into town where we ambled along the pleasant riverside admiring the variety of boats bobbing about on the Thames; to our absolute delight we watched Red Kites soaring overhead and swooping across the river and wooded bank opposite. Every so often we’d spy one of these elegant birds of prey gliding above the town’s chimneys and spires, oblivious to the townsfolk scurrying home from work and the ceaseless parade of high end cars squeezing through the bunting lined streets.
Henley has a lot to offer the casual visitor if prim shops, cosy eateries and olde world pubs are your kind of thing. I was quite interested in visiting the rowing museum until Alison explained away that it wasn’t, as I’d hoped, a monument to squabbles and quarrelling but all about paddling little boats so I happily allowed myself to be steered away to a tea shop instead. While enjoying a refreshing cuppa I took a call from the people who interviewed me for a job a few days ago. (See Tuesday 11 October – Thursday 13 October). To cut a long story short they offered me the position, thanks to their first choice candidate turning them down. It’s an unusual position to be put in, not quite good enough but good enough to still be considered. Anyway I politely declined as we’ve accepted other work in the meantime but it was nice to have had the opportunity to fall back on.
Henley is of course synonymous with the famous Regatta, which was first held in 1839 and has been held annually ever since, except during the two World Wars. It attracts huge crowds to the town every July; although I suspect few of those are rowing enthusiasts and fewer still actually bother to watch the racing. The event doesn’t have any commercial sponsorship; about 85% of the £3million it costs to stage comes from subscriptions paid by members of the 6,500 strong Stewards’ Enclosure. For which, incidentally there is a waiting list of 1000 at time of writing. It isn’t a poor parish. In fact one thing Henley has in abundance is money. It’s one of the most expensive places in the country to live and goodness knows where the many people who work in its shops, clean its streets and mow its lawns live.
Interestingly though one of the places it’s twinned with is Borama in Somaliland, a self-declared republic internationally recognized as an autonomous region of poverty-stricken Somalia. Which I think is most laudable and from a little light research Borama seems to be rebuilding itself positively in the aftermath of the awful civil war in the region. I hope that a fraction of Henley’s spare change has helped them in their attempts to rebuild the town. It certainly seems more laudable than some twinning associations that appear to be little more than opportunities for local bigwigs to enjoy subsidised holidays.
After our little wander we made our way through the crisp autumn air back to Mavis where I collapsed in a pathetic heap while Alison fussed around, juggling pots and pans, cutlery and crockery to make dinner. Exhausted from the effort of eating I again collapsed into a pitiable wreck just long enough for the washing up to be completed by Alison. If I was a doubting man I’d swear my adorable and patient private nurse/cook/housekeeper was beginning to harbour misgivings about my incapacity and so in a gesture of tremendous generosity and risking my fragile health I dried up 2 spoons and a cup before retiring shattered into bed.
Wednesday 19 October
This morning I was up and about in good health and we made an early start as we had a rummage through our storage unit to look forward to and an evening rendezvous in Cambridge. Driving away the area surrounding Henley looked most inviting, from the broad Thames plain and Chiltern Hills to the cosy villages and enchanting towns. As we rounded a corner a Kite took off from disembowelling some poor critter and swooped aloft to watch us pass as it rode on the eddies preparing to resume its banquet once we’d passed. We decided then and there that the Thames valley is somewhere we’d like to explore more of when time allows. For now though we ploughed on and joined the featureless motorway system which whisked us with minimal delays to our first destination.
I lived in Colchester for 30 odd years, some of them very odd indeed, and have many friends I am fond of there. The town though seems featureless and slightly moribund when approaching it as a visitor. What I miss, apart from friends, is the thriving DIY music and arts scene, the bustling little side streets and the odd little glimpses of its history that poke out from its years of thoughtless town planning. There are fragments of the Roman town walls embedded in the basement of a new shopping precinct, the Siege House with its bullet holes from the Civil War, the fine Norman Castle keep that appears from around an unpromising corner at the ragged end of the high street and the hidden ruins of St Botoph’s priory that conceals its grandeur behind a busy street of kebab shops and cheap supermarkets. Our furniture and other precious belongings still live in Colchester though so we stopped at the faceless warehouse which they call home to measure up sofas and shelving, ever hopeful that they will fit into our temporary accommodation via transportation in Mavis.
After some climbing, a modest ascent with a cheeky arête at mid point and a gentle traverse across the wardrobes I managed to get the measurements of the sofa and shelving unit to shout back to Alison, who stood poised with pen and note book.
“Sofa is 17.5” I called.
“Thingies…you know, little ones, err…Fahrenheits?
After an exaggerated sigh I heard “Right, just call out the measurements and we’ll work it out.” The whole process would have been easier if I wasn’t using my late father’s old 3ft ruler. Fortunately this gave sufficient information to get robust measurements and once satisfied we set about loading stuff back in using the time honoured method employed by people in these circumstances. Which is to start packing carefully and as you work grow steadily less precise until you end up with one of you throwing the last items in while the other slams the door quickly after it and you both make a mental note to ensure you let the other one open it first next time.
We drove on to Cambridge where I satisfied a hankering for a toasted baked bean sandwich for dinner. After such a culinary delight we settled into our established roles, me writing and Alison crocheting. I’m secretly hoping that she is crocheting me a pair of swimming trunks for Christmas.
And finally…Alison and I had a debate regarding a slightly risqué aside I was going to use in today’s blog. Despite completely impartial advice from a friend of ours (hello Belinda), I agreed not to use the following couplet:“I was excited today when I found my first grey pubic hair; but not nearly as excited as the rest of the people in the shop...”
So that’s why you won’t read it here, and also why Alison is unlikely to ever trust me again to post the blog without her having final approval.
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