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August 15, 2006 > Across the Pond

Across the Pond

by Frances Payne

Holidays-hooray! Time to catch up with family, friends and do what you really want to do. Mine got off to a brilliant start: spending the weekend with friends Elaine and Mike at their stunningly beautiful 17th century house in the relaxing rural county of Norfolk. Elaine and I were school pals from the age of 7.Our paths diverged when she went into medicine, became an extremely young and successful professor, played an important role in the National Health Service (she was responsible for the redistribution to hospitals of the thousands and thousands of flowers following the tragic death of Princess Diana), and was recently elevated to the House of Lords as Baroness Murphy of Aldgate. I went into education, a fact I sometimes ponder as I sit by the lily covered lake at her Norfolk home.

Actually it's not a lake, but a moat which surrounds an island upon which the original house stood in the 12th century. The "new" 17th century version with its distinctive Dutch gabled roof, so popular at that time, oozes history but is also cosy, warm and welcoming. Modern features and conveniences have been expertly integrated so as not to detract from its authenticity (no, they don't have sand or rushes on the floor!). From the en-suite bathroom adjoining my bedroom I look out onto a Disney-like scene of ducks waddling out of the water, squirrels darting up trees, rabbits scurrying away and doves cooing gently on the dovecote. I sleep in a 17th century four- poster bed (new mattress); this proved a hazard when I got up in the night to open the window and stumbled into one of those posts in the dark. Fearing I may have broken my nose I considered that it may have been wiser to have switched on the light first.

But all was well as we breakfasted around the table outside and I made the mistake (another one) of feeding one of the ducks (Mrs Freckles) gazing up expectantly at my feet. Like a hungry dog, after the first morsel she wouldn't leave me alone, until with a flurry of her wings she flew up to perch on the back of my chair and almost on my head until Elaine escorted her away with dark threats of cooking pots and "Duck a l'Orange."

We spent the day on nearby Holkham Beach, renowned for its beauty and unspoilt vastness. The tide was so far out that Mike practically disappeared when he went for a swim. "It's really warm." he shivered on his return. "Yes we believe you, that's why you're the only person in the sea," I commented as we sheltered behind the dunes (the parasol having blown inside out) on the notoriously windy beach. However, there was enough sun to make it a truly glorious experience, particularly as we crunched our way through the delicious picnic sandwiches containing just the right sprinkling of windblown sand.

The following day we set off across cornfields to the village church that was holding its annual flower festival. I felt as if I'd stepped back in time into an Agatha Christie play as we entered the rectory gardens behind the church for coffee and cake. Stalls selling everything from homemade chutney and jam to plants, bric-a-brac and old photos were manned or "womanned" by mob-capped ladies offering cups of tea from a giant tea urn and slices of delicious homemade cake. I staggered home with a giant rhododendron bush and a selection of ancient photos of the village of Brockdish.

It was all too soon time to return to Newark. I attached my newly acquired satellite navigation system to my car's dashboard; very new to me (anything invented in the last 20 years). I'd returned three times to the place of purchase for help. They were very patient, telling me each time, "It's very easy to use." After I had managed to find Elaine's place in Norfolk I packed it away for safety as Elaine showed me to my room. We had paused to chat about the 20 plus workmen who were milling about, working on the new conservatory due to be completed last month. Suddenly, a woman's voice announced clearly from my handbag, "You have arrived at your destination." If only she had known!

No such navigation problems as I took youngest family member, Georgia age 5, to our nearest seaside venue, Skegness, yesterday. Another windy beach, but perfect sand for sand pies, a wide safe expanse full of warm rivulets, rock pools, and sand dunes for climbing and hiding among. A generous smattering of shells, smooth pebbles and feathers add to the perfect mix for Georgia and friend Jessica to spend an idyllic day of splashing and squealing; the latter being essential if you're a little girl. Following another crunchy sandwich picnic most of the afternoon was spent digging a moat around the sandcastle, deep enough to reach water ... or possibly Georgia's friend Katy who's recently moved to Australia. The car journey home, always potentially hazardous with requests for washrooms; "Are we there yets?" and "I feel sick;" was filled with a marathon "I Spy" session. Just as we  had exhausted all the "W for windmills," "H for haystacks" and "T for tractors," we were home.

Here in Newark there have been more developments concerning the now infamous arch to celebrate the Queen's Golden Jubilee (four years ago). It remains tucked away, storage costs now inflated to over twice the original amount. The proposed new site cannot be provided with continuous security camera protection; essential now that people who know about these things have suddenly realised that vandals might graffiti it, climb on it and fall off, or break pieces of the coloured glass -- yes glass -- and use them as weapons. Recent suggestions from the public for its location vary from, "The bottom of the River Trent" to "The bottom of the Queen's garden." Meanwhile I'll continue to enjoy my holiday.

I'm off to Paris next weekend with son Joe and lovely daughter-in-law, Cat. Daughter Lucy returns from holiday with friends in Las Vegas and somewhere further south that's even hotter. Then son Tom and family will be full of tales of their Mexican adventures when they return ... a long way from Skegness or "Skeggie," where I'll happily continue to put up the windbreak, eat the crunchy sandwiches and dip my toes in the attractively brown North Atlantic Sea.

Dear fellow Newarkers, enjoy your holidays/vacations; will be in touch with more tales from "Little Old England" soon.

P.S. Daisy the basset hound, now wearing a flea collar due to recent regular visits by a hedgehog that's taken to sitting in her food bowl of an evening while Daisy protects us by putting her face very close to aforementioned hedgehog and barking loudly.

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