So we had a slight whirlwind with herself coming home from France on Sunday, 2 October and leaving again on Tuesday morning. I was due to drive her to England and had a nasty cold that developed over the week from when I had flown back from Paris and confined me to bed for the weekend. Honest to God, if I had Covid again and couldn’t take her back to England, the logistics would kill us all. With some trepidation, I took a Covid test. It was negative.
Despite her expertise based on a summer of travel she came into Dublin airport and left her hold baggage behind her on the carousel which, as we discovered, is a more difficult problem to remedy than you might think. Eventually she was reunited with her luggage and got home.
I was slightly dreading Monday as I was still a bit ill, there was her packing to organise and, in a fit of madness involving failure to consult my calendar, I had volunteered to host book club. We managed but it was a little exhausting.
Tuesday October 4
I must say, the ferry was pretty painless. I would definitely do it again. They didn’t even look at passports and tickets, just asked for my name, looked at the car reg and waved us on board. It was so much less trying than the airport equivalent. Herself was a bit less taken with the ferry than I was.
My only quibble was that somehow, even though I hadn’t used it at all, my phone racked up a 60â‚¬ charge at sea. Maybe something was downloading in the background but it’s pretty sharp practice to connect you to the wifi without any notification and then charge you a fortune.
In a stroke of genius, I left the three books I had intended to take with me on the hall table. I bought the Telegraph for old time’s sake – my father was a daily reader – I thought it was pretty poor. Opinion pieces and so on quite thin. But look, some reading material is better than none.
We stopped in Conwy in Wales for lunch. It’s a lovely little seaside place. It lashed on us though. We visited the smallest house in Great Britain, very small and answered a survey being carried out by local school children on multi-lingualism. It was all very thrilling.
Notwithstanding the poor weather, I can recommend the views on the North Wales expressway. I find the roads and signage in the UK pretty good. This was necessary as both of our phones were dying and I was relying on them to get us to our destination. There was some tension in the car. “Daddy,” she said unhelpfully, “would never travel abroad without a hard copy map.” I had her jot down the directions from google maps. In fact, the phones lasted a good way. Herself was not delighted though.
“Why is this drive taking so long?” she asked grumpily. “Because it’s a long way,” I ventured. “It’s taking all day,” she said. “Yup, but I would definitely do it again, it’s not very stressful,” I said. Looks like if I do that I will be doing it on my own though as she said bitterly, “I will never do this again” Part of her difficulty was that she had an essay to do for the following day and thought she would get it done on the car using my hotspot and/or that we would arrive in the early afternoon and she could do it in college. I had thoughts but in the interest of maintaining the limited harmony left in the car I did not voice them.
When we arrived at the hotel (lovely), I went down to the bar for dinner and she had room service with her essay. A certain crankiness pervaded the scene. By bed time though she was in better form having made reasonable progress.
Wednesday October 5
We moved herself into her room which was surprisingly painless. Although she is lucky to have accommodation, it was pretty grim. It had the vibe of an 80s designed assisted living facility and for reasons best known to the authorities, a large tree was growing in front of her window which made the ground floor room dim and gloomy. I feigned enthusiasm. It compared very unfavourably to her room from last year and her friend’s room for this year which we went to visit. I say this because just yesterday, the authorities moved her into a much nicer room with a lovely view so she only had to put up with danksville for a month. Oh happy day. But she was not happy on the day she moved in. In fairness to her she turned around and did the wretched essay while I had a lovely day wandering around.
We went for dinner together after the submission deadline and her mood was vastly improved notwithstanding her accommodation.
Thursday, October 6
After a big breakfast with herself, I began the drive to the ferry. I stopped off in Stratford-upon-Avon for lunch. I thought it was a bit grim and depressed. I picked up the paper with some difficutly. There seem to be fewer cornershops in England than we have at home. I went into WH Smith’s which was just grim. Half empty shelves and self-check out tills. Not somewhere you would linger to browse.
Stratford-upon-Avon is popular for Irish school tours. I didn’t go myself but a group from my year did. You could say, I was making up for lost time. There were at least two Irish school tour groups around the Shakespeare’s birth place shop. I looked at them indulgently and overheard one girl say to her friend indignantly, “Why is that woman staring at me?” A friend of mine suggested that I should have answered, “Because I think I know your Mammy.” Sadly this did not occur to me. Here is a montage of photos from Stratford:
Here is a photo that more accurately sums up the vibe.
I noticed this shop which seems to be part of a chain. I’m unsure whether there’s an Irish connection but if yes, well played people
I drove on to stay with my friend in Shrewsbury. She had dinner ready for me, I settled myself in with enthusiasm.
Friday, October 7
Well, isn’t Shrewsbury quite the delight? Of course, it is nice to stay with friends who have planned a delightful weekend for your entertainment but still, I do think that Shrewsbury has lots of money knocking around and it does make it nice. Even in the lashing rain.
We had a lovely, lovely day poking around the town. I bought a fantastic lampshade. I hummed and hawed a bit as it was pricey notwithstanding Liz Truss’s best efforts to collapse sterling but in the end I bought it and I am delighted. It doesn’t look great in the photo so you’ll have to trust me that it looks good in the flesh as it were.
I bought some books in a secondhand bookshop. We went into the museum and there was some truly lovely stained glass by Margaret Rope of whom I had never previously heard.
My friend had previously worked in the Abbey and we went in for a look. Honestly it was like being with a minor celebrity as everybody rushed up to say hello. The denizens of the Abbey were also keen to share the latest gossip about the authorities which I enjoyed very much.
The housing stock is lovely and I can see why it was used as the set for a Christmas carol – grave stone, charmingly, still in situ.
There is a big statue of Clive of India in the centre of town. I’ve been listening to the podcast Empire (which I would truly recommend) and it honestly seems like Clive was a psychopath. I can see why some of the townsfolk are a bit unsure about the statue.
The Shakey Bridge (actually Daly’s bridge but nobody calls it that) in Cork is a big thing. I know it came in a kit but it was still a bit of a shock to see the exact same bridge in Shrewsbury. I sent a picture to my brother and sister and asked, “Guess where I am?” My brother replied, “You’re presumably not in Cork?” It also shakes like the Shakey Bridge. Disconcerting.
We went out for a very nice dinner in town. I forget, when I am not there, how very polite English people are, the service was amazing including presenting a reduced bill for my sardine keftas which I did not love (I dunno, not an idea whose time has come in my opinion but maybe a win for others).
Saturday October 8
In the morning we went for a walk along the river. Charles Darwin’s house was nearby. Though not right on the river as the owners of this house were keen to emphasise.
Happily, the weather was lovely. It felt very rural and quite idyllic. This photo doesn’t really capture it but I was scooting through the more rural bits at speed to avoid the bullocks.
Then, back to my friend’s for a lovely brunch and I was on my way. I feel I will be back. If she and her husband can face it.
Inspired by the Empire podcast, I stopped off at Powis Castle on the way to the ferry. All very pretty. The interiors (extensively remodelled in the 19th century, less successful than the exteriors in my view).
Though I was amused to see that despite the doubtless vast resources of the National Trust, the electrics and plumbing still needed some work. Also a gratuitous shot of the bells needed to call the servants. We had one of these in the house I grew up in but sadly moved out of (long story, told elsewhere). I don’t think we had quite the range of rooms though and it was never used as far as I can recall. Also, my memory is that it was in what we called the telephone room, a square room with a waxed floor near the front door and very little in it aside from the telephone and a large chest freezer (no, I can’t say) so I can’t imagine that people would have been sitting around waiting for the bells to ring. I digress.
Clive married in and a lot of his stuff is there in what is called the “Clive Museum” basically an extraordinary treasure trove of material looted from India. I overheard another visitor ask one of the National Trust Guides, “What here is problematic?” And she answered gloomily, “All of it is problematic.” You betcha.
I had a late lunch at the castle – a little underwhelming although a lovely setting – along with loads of English pensioners. In the queue for lunch I was behind an elderly woman and her husband who tried in vain to tap their bank cards. “It’s more convenient to put it in and put in your code,” said the pleasant though slightly harassed teenager behind the counter. “More convenient for whom?” said the older man grumpily. “For…the machine,” she said. Indeed.
I pushed on and drove to the ferry – the North Wales expressway again providing spectacular views. The whole thing was quite peaceful and uneventful. Ferry for the win, I tell you.
Herself came back for two days on October 22-24 so it felt a bit like my epic farewell was slightly overdone. But very, very glad to see her all the same.