Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Au Revoir England!

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Last days in a city are meant to be frenetic but I was seized by uncontrollable nervousness as the day wore on--partly because I realized that my hosts did not own a weighing scale and I was afraid I'd have overweight baggage. Cathedral bells woke me up on a weepy morning in time for a quick wash before I left for the 8 am Mass at St. Etheldreda's Church at Holborn Circus--my 'parish' whilst I had lived in London.

Regular readers of this blog will know how delighted I'd been to discover that my parish is considered the UK's oldest Catholic Church. Built in the 1200s as part of the London headquarters of the Bishop of Ely (near Cambridge), it grew into an important ecclesiastical center in the Tudor and Elizabethan periods (Henry VIII and Elizabeth I are both known to have worshipped in it). After the Dissolution of the Monasteries in 1536, the church fell into disuse and the vast land surrounding it, bordering Hatton Garden, fell into the hands of the Crown. Only the chapel remained with its exquisite stained glass windows. After the Reformation, it became the first church to be restored to the Church of Rome and is, therefore, considered the country's oldest Catholic Church. Although I love attending Sunday service at Anglican churches when I am in England, it is always a pleasure for me to return to St. Etheldreda's, for old times' sake, and to revel in its marvelous history.

Today, that pleasure was enhanced by the fact that I got to meet my friend Barbara once again. I recall Sunday mornings in my Holborn flat when at precisely 8. 45 am, I'd hear the door next to mine shut gently as Barbara made her way, unfailingly, to St. Etheldreda's for the 9 am Mass. And sure enough, there she was, like clockwork, in the church at 8. 55 am. It was heartwarming to see her as well as to discover that not much has changed in two years. There was still only a sprinkling of people, Fr. Tom Deidun is still around (and said the mass), the Lector is the same lovely white lawyer with the impeccable British accent and beautiful voice and the man who sits besides her (partner? husband?) still wears his cardigan around his shoulders!

This Sunday happened to be one on which the mass liturgy has changed in the UK so a laminated leaflet was available to illuminate the way. Changes are subtle but took me back to the responses of decades ago for many phrases were familiar to me from yore. After listening to a very interesting sermon by Fr. Tom, I was glad I'd opted to attend Mass at St. E's. When Mass ended and we trooped out into Ely Place, Holborn was still asleep, having a lazy Sunday morning lie-in. Barbara invited me back home to her place for coffee and since Cynthia and Michael were headed to a later service at the Cathedral, I accepted. "But we need to get the paper first", she said, revealing her fondness for routine--for indeed, walking to Holborn Tube Station for the Sunday Times has also been an unfailing part of her Sunday morning. We stopped at Paul's Patisserie for croissants upon our return.

By the time we arrived at her flat, Tim had put out all the fixin's for a very nice Continental breakfast--our croissants, butter, preserves and honey, fruit, coffee. An exquisite bowl of plump red cherries (the only ones I ate all season) were irresistible. We chatted, we munched, we chatted some more and then it was time for me to leave--but not without discovering that they owned a weighing scale that they were willing to lend me. Deeply grateful, I put it in a bag and hauled it home to Amen Corner.

I spent the next hour and a half attempting to distribute my stuff in two bags and a carry-on. The scale proved to be very useful and soothed my troubled nerves. Aidan was very helpful in converting stone into pounds with the calculator on his I-Pad. After a quick shower and lunch of chipolata sausages and spicy tortellini that I ate with Aidan, my mini-cab (nicknamed The Afghan Hound by the Colcloughs!) arrived at my door and in the pouring rain, I bid goodbye to my kindly and very generous hosts and left.

Rain streamed down the windshield all the way to Heathrow, as Barbara put it, as if London was weeping to see me leave. My driver, a very chatty young chap called Mo, did not go along Cromwell Road as I requested because traffic, he assured me, would be bad as a result of a bike race. Instead we took the more boring Euston Road and then the West Highway. We arrived at Heathrow where I discovered that my carry-on was overweight. Good job I'd arrived early for the traffic assistant permitted me to redistribute weight in my larger bags and once that was accomplished, I sailed through to security.

Of course, I could not leave London without browsing in the duty free area--I have my favorite shops at Terminal 3 (Jo Malone, Cartier, Harrods) where I ended up buying a Plum Pudding as I usually do. That's it, I thought. Christmas well in advance sorted!

The skies over London were overcast as we took off and climbed higher. Although I had a window seat, my view was obscured by clouds and haze. I realized that I was eager to get back home to Southport and although my UK stay had been, as always, much to write home about, I was ready to leave.

Kennedy airport was chaotic, as it usually is, upon my return. In a few minutes, I reunited with Llew after three whole months and as he took the wheel upon our long drive homewards, I thought to myself, it is so good to come home again!

Until the next time when I return to my London Roost, I say Au Revoir--and thanks again for following me.


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