Wednesday, February 11, 2009


Stephen rattled down the bed-and-breakfast stairs, plucked a parish magazine from a pile on a table by the front door - and followed the scent of frying bacon into the breakfast room.

It was Sunday - and he was three days into a meander round the English countryside - a sort of re-acclimatisation tour after his return from America.

It was Stoke-Upton, a hamlet ten miles short of King's Hampton and he'd come across it the evening before just when darkness was falling and he was beginning to panic. (He'd prefer not to be lost in the lanes till morning!)

And he'd struck lucky. The cottage was peaceful and old. The sheets were heavy and cool. The blankets warm. The eiderdown heavy and the curtains thin. The cups flowery. The tea strong. The biscuits plain. The air chill. (As was the water in the hand-basin.) The floors uneven. And the welcome was as welcoming as a welcome is when the landscape is otherwise empty of paying guests.

Mrs Jenkins brought toast in a rack and asked if he was planning to go to Church, it being Sunday, and him reading the parish magazine.

“Because, if you do, you’ll have to go to Thorncombe. We’ve got ‘amalgamated’. Would you like eggs with your bacon?”

"Eggs and fried bread. How far is Thorncombe?"

"Holy Communion at ten," she said. "Albert went at eight. Not far. About half an hour's walk. Lunch at one?"

He hadn't planned on lunch.

“Beef," she said, encouragingly. "Local. Yorkshire pudding . . . roast potatoes . . . ." She was wondering what might tempt him best. Broccoli from the garden and our own peas from the freezer. Blackberries. Custard?" she added hopefully. "And tonight . . . will you be staying tonight?"

Yesterday evening, he'd seen big hills with rocky, thorny tops. Pastures and woodland on the lower slopes. He’d driven through narrow lanes lined with ancient trees and thick hedges. There were streams in the ditches and a river in the valley. On his bedside table was a list of local attractions. Post Office. Bus stop - market days only. And a map to show where the library van parked once a month. There was a list of local produce on the back and a box advert for an art gallery in King's Hampton. He knew it - and smiled.


The England he'd missed.

Why not?

"One night."

(Mrs Jenkins smiled too!)