Monday, January 30, 2017

Beautiful Bishop Stortford

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Stanstead Mountfichet and Bishop Stortford, Essex

            I am still jetlagged and on Bombay time—so I am still awaking at 4.00 am. However, I am able to return to sleep after I have spent an hour on my phone with Twitter. When I do surface, it is after 7.00 am. I wash and shower and join my newest little friends at breakfast which I eat with Rosa: Dorset Muesli with milk. It is delicious. We then focus on getting the kids dressed for school—only Jacob will go today while Daniel will hang out with us.

Off to Jacob’s School:

            School is about a seven minute walk away but it is simply freezing and I do not enjoy getting out into the cold at all. Although layered warmly, smoke is pouring out of my mouth every time I blow air out—I feel like Puff the Magic Dragon! We arrive at the school where Jacob, who is thrilled I have accepted his invitation to come to his school, bounds off. Daniel returns home with us and Rosa immediately gets a fancy DeLonghi coffee machine ready to make me a cappuccino that is delicious when eaten with her homemade banana bread. We simply do not stop talking—there is so much to say. Next, we plan our day and after Daniel has watched some TV, we get ready to go out into the cold again.

Exploring Bishops Stortford:

            The last time I had stayed with my friends Rosa and Matt, they lived in Bishops Stortford but had taken me exploring in Thaxted and Saffron Walden instead. They live now in a sprawling new gated community in Stanstead Mountfichet, but since we had not really explored Bishops Stortford, one of the oldest communities here in Essex, Rosa decides we must go there. Matt had suggested a visit to the Rhodes Museum (also known as the Bishops Sortford Museum). It turns out that the Rhodes family (of the famed Rhodes Scholarships in Oxford) hailed from Bishops Stortford and established themselves as colonial entrepreneurs from this hamlet.

Visiting the Rhodes Museum:

            The Rhodes Museum is free to enter. We park our car and make our way, past the Theater that offers some fairly decent shows, to the museum where we are the only visitors for the day. The most striking elements of it are a wonderful Mural—which is actually an embroidered panel—very similar to the Bayeux Tapestry—that tells the story of the town in patchwork applique and embroidery. It is in glass cases high up on a wall but there is conveniently a gallery from which one can scrutinize it carefully at eye level. It is fantastic as one looks at its Tudor beginnings to its present.

            Inside, the biggest attraction for me was the Domesday Book—my first time ever seeing one. This is a facsimile, of course, but it is fascinating, as I do not believe that I have ever seen one (not even in the British Library). The page is open to the entry on Bishops Stortford—which indicates how old the town is for the Book was decreed to have been a record of all land holdings in England under orders of William, the Norman Conqueror from France, who had just taken over England from the Anglo-Saxon King Harold. The script is unfamiliar to us and we guess that it is Anglo-Saxon.

            There are also exhibits on the Rhodes’ family contribution to the area and to the world—heavy emphasis on colonial mining works in Africa (which would make any post-colonialist shudder), as well as memorabilia and articles that belonged to Cecil Rhodes. There are also section on Gilbey’s Gin (made in the region) and information on a prominent family known as Pye. I do wish I had more time to read everything but it is simply freezing in the museum—it is true that these places do not believe in wasting money on heating in the winter as there are so few visitors. We used the rest room and leave.

Lunch at Bills in the Town Center:

            It is almost lunch time and we drive off to the Town Center past the Mound which is all that remains of a castle that once stood here. We also see a huge windmill that is also featured on the embroidered mural in the museum. Finally, we arrive at the car park at M and S where Rosa gets a parking voucher and we go off in search of lunch at Bills, where she has a two for the price of one voucher. There are lot of thrift shops on the main streets and I am sorely tempted to enter a few—I will do so after lunch.

            At Bill’s, I order the Fish Pie (I have spent 6 months in England and not yet had fish pie—I realize that I must remedy that immediately!). It is haddock, cod and prawns smothered in a white cheesy sauce and blanketed with mashed potato flavored with chives. It could not be more delicious and I savor every mouthful. It is also huge—so I ask for half of it to be packed away for my lunch tomorrow. Rosa has a Bacon and Avocado Salad with a Chicken Skewer and Daniel has Bangers and Chips with a Chocolate Brownie and Ice-Cream to follow. It is my treat and I am sorry that Matt and Jacob are missing to enjoy it but we simply could not swing things to include them.

            After lunch, I leave Rosa with Daniel as he finishes his dessert and I hurry off to the thrift shops. Alas, nothing catches my eye. Rosa catches up with me and I nip into M and S for some Battenburg Cake to take back home. Alas, they do not have the tinned tongue that I crave and always take to the US where it is not available. I shall try to get some from Oxford Street tomorrow.

            Since I had booked a train ticket online to get back to London tomorrow, Rosa makes a short detour at the station so that I could print out my ticket and receipt. Armed with this treasure, I can arrive at the platform at the last minute tomorrow morning to board my train.

            We hurry off to the car as we have to pick Jacob up from school. Daniel dozes off in the car and is dropped off home with me as Rosa hurries off to get Jacob. His friend Ryan returns with him and together they make a merry din as the three of them play and leave Rosa and me to nurse a cup of lemony tea.

            This is the time Llew decides to Facetime with me as he needs my flight details. I chat with him for a while and give him the information he needs. He also chats with Rosa and with Daniel whom he meets online for the first time. I am pleased to be returning home to the US but loathe to imagine what the country will be like under the new Prez.

Soon enough, Ryan leaves, I go off for a short nap, the children spend time coloring, watching TV and playing with Rosa. Then it is time for their ‘tea’ (supper). They eat ham, cucumber, tomatoes and tiger bread and finish off with milk. They are such good children—I am struck by their obedience. Their parents will brook no nonsense and I can see that when Rosa tells them to do something, they know she means it and they comply. Most impressive! All the while, Rosa is busy turning one of Nigel Slater’s tagines into what will become a princely meal for us.

            Another hour later, after they have watched some more TV and Matt returns home, their daily bedtime routine begins—baths, stories, prayers, bed. I watch some of the news on TV myself as I get more and more depressed at the thought of returning to Trummpppphhhh’s America. When they are both settled in for the night, their parents return to the kitchen. The aromas emanating out of the oven where Rosa’s casserole bubbles briskly are very comforting indeed.

Dinner with the Fradleys:

            It is not long before I am settled with a delightful glass of white wine which I sip as we lay the table for dinner. Rosa gets out some couscous and we are about to eat it with boiled sweet corn and the chicken tagine that is fragrant with the addition of cinnamon, cumin, turmeric and smoked paprika. Rosa brings the heavy casserole to the table and over the couscous that has cooked beautifully, we sit down and eat a most delicious meal. The meat is so tender, it is falling off the bone. There are apricots to lend sweetness. Overall, it is a meal to remember—I can still recall the amazing Boeuf Bourguignon that Rosa had conjured up, eight years ago, when I was last at her home one Mother’s Day. She is a superb chef and we do justice to her cooking.

            A little later, after Matt helps clear things up and stack them in the dishwasher, we call it a night. I am sleepy again and at 9.30pm, I say thanks and goodnight and leave to get settled in my room. I shall pack my little back pack tomorrow. For the moment, I am ready to sleep. It will be the last night I will pass in the UK and in a bed different from my own…

            Until tomorrow, cheerio…



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