Sunday, October 30, 2016
Savoring the Country Pleasures of Suffolk
Friday, October 28, 2016
Having gone to bed last night assuring Loulou that although I wake up usually at 5. 30am, I would find ways to amuse myself until breakfast at 8.00 am, I was stunned when I opened my eyes and discovered that it was already 8.00am This was the longest sleep I have ever had since my arrival in the UK this time--and it has to be the extreme silence of my surroundings that accounted for my undisturbed slumber. There was no time for a longer lie-in. I had to wash and dress and go downstairs to meet her for I could already hear her pottering around in the kitchen.
But before I went anywhere, I headed for my window for I could not wait to take in the view that she had promised was the finest in the house. And there it was in all its splendor for me to feast my eyes upon--wheat fields stretching down to the River Alde at the far end and closer to home, three metal sculptures by Lawrence Edwards in the style of Anthony Gormley. And just as I reached for my camera to immortalize this scene, a flock of black-faced white English sheep moved obligingly into my frame! I was completely enchanted.
For the rest of the day, I surrendered myself to the delights of the Suffolk countryside. I could not have had an abler guide for Loulou has lived in these parts and has owned this vast estate of 700 acres for over thirty years. Her Stanny House Farm is a working farm on which sheep are reared for meat and grain is grown--corn and rye--and crops like onions and potatoes. In addition to being passionate farmers, Loulou is a keen gardener and, over the years, she and her husband Paul have created tour-worthy gardens. Sadly, Paul was on a business trip in Australia--so I lacked the pleasure of his company. But I shall see him, hopefully, before I return to the US.
Loulou had breakfast already laid out for us--it was to be her regular dish of oatmeal made from scratch with milk, yogurt and fresh blueberries sweetened with honey made by bees in hives on her estate. It was delicious and we ate companionably as we sipped really good coffee. Not too long after, her cleaning woman Linda arrived. I had met her many years ago when I had last visited Stanny House Farm and, surprisingly, Linda remembered me, albeit vaguely.
While Loulou attended to urgent email and sorted out her day, I returned upstairs to my room to take a shower and get ready for a long morning's sightseeing. For Loulou had in mind a few places she wanted me to see. Also, since she knew about my scholarship on Anglo-Indians, she had thoughtfully arranged for us to meet with Diana Quick, the British TV actress, best-known for her role as Lady Julia Flythe in the BBC TV version of Brideshead Revisited--which is one of my favorite TV series and indeed one of my favorite novels of all time. Diana has written a memoir called A Tug on the Thread about her attempts at finding the Indian side of her family in modern-day Pakistan. I was aware of this book and was thrilled that Loulou had arranged for Diana to meet us for lunch in Aldeburgh where she lives.
Sightseeing in Suffolk--Blythburg and Wenhaston:
Loulou's expert driving along rural country lanes took us to hamlets that Time seems to have forgotten. We passed by Snape Maltings where the famed Summer Music Festival in held in memory of British composer Benjamin Britten who lived in these parts his whole life. Lovely red brick cottages flew past as did the occasional village pub. It was all delightfully bucolic. Finally, we arrived at the cute village of Blythburg which has a very interesting Gothic church dating from the 1300s. It is a fine piece of architecture and Loulou thought it would be particularly interesting to me. We arrived there to find the car park full--it happened to be the day for the monthly mini-mart which gets retired villagers together over a cup of coffee and cake to sell some of their hand crafted wares.
Loulou and I did our sightseeing first. We walked up to the altar, past the Rood Screen, to take a closer look at the very interesting crucifix which is fashioned out of metal by Lawrence Edwards--the same sculptor who is responsible for the male figures in her garden. Modern and ancient are juxtaposed against each other in this lovely old church for the collection box called Peter's Pence dates from the 1200s. We saw a Chantry Chapel with a lovely tomb--closely and beautifully carved. And as in Ely Cathedral, the timbered ceiling was held up by angels with a wide wing span and arms outstretched. Also noteworthy were the figures of the saints carved under the choir stalls and on the pew ends--each representing the seven deadly sins or the seasons.
After I said a prayer, Loulou thought it would be nice for us to patronize their coffee morning--so she bought us coffee and hazelnut cake as we sat down and had a natter. I noticed that one of the ladies was selling her home made pies--I decided to buy us one perhaps for dinner which we could eat at home instead of going out to a restaurant which is what we had said we'd do. We left with a Chicken, Ham and Leek Pie. But before we left the car park, we took a little walk through the village to admire some of the thatched roof, half-timbered houses and the pargetting (stucco designs) on the walls--a common feature in Suffolk villages.
Since we still had time on our hands, Loulou then drove me to another village where a much smaller and far more humble church contains a very significant Medieval painting. The village is Wenhaston and the work is called a Doom Painting. Of course, we do not know who painted it--it might well have been a joint effort of a number of villagers in the Middle Ages. It is a very primitive painting on wood that was intended to teach illiterate people about the rewards of Heaven and the tortures of Hell--hence, there is St. Peter welcoming souls at the Gates of Heaven and on the other side, many devils and demons assembling the wicked and throwing them into the flames. It is a very powerful painting indeed and, thankfully, is still in situ. There is nothing special about the rest of the church...but what always strikes me when I visit these churches and cathedrals in Britain is that every single one of them seems to have one unusual feature that separates it from the rest and makes it worthy of a visit.
Off to Aldeburgh for Lunch:
We arrived at Aldeburgh with time to spare and Loulou suggested that we park the car in the church parking lot and stroll through the village. I loved the idea. We arrived at the beach front where, because it is half-term holiday, the sands were filled with children and their parents. Further down the beach is the famous shell sculpture by the Suffolk artist Maggi Hambling but we could not see it from this vantage point. We did, however, see the old Medieval Town Hall right on the beach with its red brick façade.
It was not long before we were throwing open the door of The Lighthouse, a lovely village eatery that was far more sophisticated inside than I expected. On the beach, we had seen fishermen take hold of their catch--much of which was lobster. Loulou also informed me that Aldeburgh is famous for its seafood--and so that was what I had for lunch (which was Loulou's very generous treat). I had a starter of grilled scallops with bacon in a light vinaigrette with a few greens and a main of crab salad which was served in its shell with boiled new potatoes. Indeed, it was a very delicious meal but the best part of all was the conversation I had with Diana. She was friendly and articulate and deeply willing to share stories about her personal quest for her ancestors in India--not with much success. Much of her evidence is based on anecdotal accounts of people with whom she has managed to connect. Our interaction was very stimulating indeed as we have a mutual interest in the research we are carrying out. At the end of the luncheon, I took pictures with Diana and Loulou and then we were calling it a day and saying goodbye.
Loulou had to get back home as the painters had already arrived. We paused briefly so that I could get some chocolate ice-cream and then we were off along the peaceful country lanes to Stanny House Farm where Loulou took care of the painters and I was left with another crisis concerning my credit card. Calls to Llew and his calls to my bank in the States resolved the issue.
A Long Walk Around Stanny House Farm:
With these items attended to, Loulou went on to the computer to try to find out the timings of the train that I could take back to London tomorrow. She discovered that there was going to be major track work on the railway line and my commute would be convoluted and probably stressful. I made the decision then to return to London later in the evening on the 7.09 train.
With about two hours left on our hands, Loulou suggested a walk on the estate. Sunset would be about half an hour ahead of us and we caught that lovely late evening light when the birds are making their way homewards and the waning sun streaks the western sky with salmon pink and gold. We walked very slowly through the fields past many stiles and blackberry bushes with some late fruit still on them. Loulou suggested that we stroll all the way to the river--which we did. The tide was out, however, so that the water line was far away. We did hear bird song and pheasants getting ready for nightfall. She spied a few stray sheep that Loulou thought were part of her flock--but when she tried to bring them towards the rest of her flock, she realized that they belonged to her neighbor.
Back home after our walk and with nightfall well and truly upon us, Loulou cut me a slice of the pie to take home for my dinner as I was much too full to eat anything at that hour. She then drive me to Wickham Market station from where I jumped into a train that took me to Ipswich from where I connected into another train to Liverpool Street Station. I arrived there at 9. 25 and took the Tube and the Overground train to Ealing Broadway to arrive home at about 10. 15 pm. I was hungry by that time--so I did enjoy my pie for dinner with a salad and some ice-cream for dessert.
I'd had an incredibly good time in Suffolk. It is always a pleasure to spend time with Loulou but to do so on her own turf while living close to the land is not an experience I have on a regular basis. So it was with many happy memories that I returned home to watch some TV, finished up my dinner and go straight to bed.
Until tomorrow, cheerio...