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December 18, 2012 / annakpf11

Reflections on Life in England

“…We shall not cease from exploration/and the end of all our exploring/will be to arrive where we started/and to know the place for the first time…”

From The Four Quartets, by T.S. Eliot (Little Gidding)

Claydon Hat Car

1. Politeness and Courtesy have not gone out of style. The most obvious examples occur behind the wheel, and they happen all the time, as if everyone is vying for some tacit national award of Most Considerate Driver. For instance: It’s five o’clock rush hour on busy cross-town surface streets. You signal your intention to turn across a long, slow-moving line of oncoming cars, expecting an interminable delay. Except that very soon, an anonymous driver stops and briefly flashes his headlights in invitation for you to go ahead. You acknowledge his courtesy with a smile and a wave—or a reciprocal headlamp flick—and zip in between the endless string of cars you didn’t have to wait for. This is no anomaly; it is standard code of behavior, and it elevates driving to a cooperative human endeavor.

Speaking of zipping, merging traffic is another thing that works really well here. Everybody takes his or her turn, slotting into place like teeth in a giant zipper. UK motorists seem to come out of the womb knowing how to do this. Nobody pretends they don’t see you just so they won’t have to let you in. In contrast with the American character of Rugged Individualism that can morph into an ethos of “Every man for himself; you snooze, you lose”—the British culture seems infused with a sort of Rugged Solidarity, an attitude of “Best just get on with it, and for goodness sake be civil about it.

Timber at overlook

2. The English countryside is Canine Paradise, and the next best thing to having a dog of our own is borrowing Timber, the neighbors’ friendly Chocolate Labrador Retriever. Eager to please, impervious to mud, wet, or cold, and friendly to every man, woman, child and beast he meets, Timber is the perfect walk-mate, and he accompanies me on many a ramble through wood and field. He also enjoys doing yoga. His favorite pose is Pigeon.

Doga

3. Opportunities for Amateur Sheep Herding Abound. Returning across the field from a morning walk, Timber and I come upon two black-faced sheep grazing in the open meadow behind Long Barn. Dark heads bent to the sweet grass, they act as if they own the place. But I know better. Lamb Chop and Mint Sauce—named for their shared destiny—are not “free range;” they belong to our neighbor and have somehow escaped their pen. But before I can even think of how to lure them back through the hole in the fence they’ve slipped through, the two turn fluffy tails and bolt down the lane.

Timber gives chase, thwarting any slim chance I might’ve had of redirecting the errant grazers. But he, at least, returns to my side when I whistle and call his name. (Amazing what a thimbleful of raw meat can accomplish.) Chocolate lab safely stashed in Long Barn, I hop on my bike and pedal out the driveway in pursuit of Chop and Sauce.

As if waiting for me to catch up, the wooly ones are loitering on the sidewalk. I croon instructions back to their fenced enclosure, which motivates them to break into a gallop in the opposite direction.

Spinning on two wheels, I pursue them onto the Village Green. A neighbor catches sight of us whilst washing runner beans at her kitchen sink. She rushes outside to help, clutching her mobile phone and calling for reinforcements.

Meanwhile, Lamb Chop and Mint Sauce are on the move. The are trotting down Brookstones Lane toward open fields. Perhaps they sense the presence of kindred sheep spirits grazing there. One thing is certain, if they aren’t rounded up soon, things will get a lot trickier. Luckily, the grass must be exceptionally tasty on the verge of the lane, because the two fugitives have pulled over to sample a few mouthfuls. I see my opportunity and glide past them.

Once in the lead, I let my bike fall to the ground, then turn back and stalk the sheep on foot, arms outstretched with palms facing forward. To my surprise and relief, this maneuver actually works. The startled twosome reverse direction and scurry back the way they came, right into the waiting arms of neighbors and villagers summoned by cell phone. Five humans execute a pincer movement and herd the two animals through a farmyard gate. It takes another half hour to coax the shy but nimble creatures into a temporary holding pen. Then we all go back to whatever we were doing—sheep to grazing, villagers to daily routines. In the evening, the grateful owner of Lamb Chop and Mint Sauce treats us to a pint at the pub.

rose blue door detail Lassco

3. Continuing Glossary of British English:

Hosepipe vs. Hose: As our neighbor reasonably explains to me: “hose” means ladies’ stockings, thus a different word is necessary for the long tube that relays water from faucet to garden: ergo the term “hosepipe.”

Homely vs. Homey: If a British person says your house is “homely,” it is not an insult. It means they find your place comfortable and cosy, what might be described in the U.S. as “homey.” (Not to be confused with the American inner city vernacular referring to a young male residing in the ‘hood.)

Flu Jab vs. Flu Shot: When flu season looms, there’s no need to make an appointment with your doctor, no need to stand in line, no need to fret over a fear of needles. Simply request a quick flu “jab” at your local Boots pharmacy.

Lacock Cloister

4. BBC Radio offers an astounding wealth of listening options, from concerts broadcast in their entirety, to in-depth analysis of world and local news, to the annual butterfly census. Interview programs such as “Private Passions” and “Desert Island Discs” keep me entertained while on the elliptical trainer or doing housework, and I’ve even downloaded a four-part special called Farmland Guide to Birds, complete with examples of bird calls. And I’ve only begun to tap the online archive of “In Our Time” a program about the history of ideas; so far have listened to discussions about the ethics of Plato and Aristotle, the Victorian poet Christina Rossetti, and the age of the universe. And then there’s the “Shipping Forecast,” a meteorological mantra of offshore weather presented in a distinctly soothing, abbreviated format (“…Faroes, Fair Isle, southeasterly gale, variable 4, perhaps gale 8 later, occasional rain, moderate, occasionally poor…”), a daily ritual for fishermen, sailors and general public alike. 

stained glass

5. No matter what one’s religious affiliation or lack thereof, the ancient stone churches—from country chapels to soaring cathedrals—inspire awe and reverence for the creative spirit which enlivens us all.

IMG_0378

6. Each season brings a change in life’s rhythm, like a changing tempo in music. Winter is a fierce and stately hymn of praise. For the way bare branches reveal twig-sewn bird nests, secrets kept since springtime. For the way heated towel racks and on-demand electric heaters are standard in every bathroom. For hoarfrost, crystalline landscapes of white coated cobwebs, sugar spun shrubs and ice-glazed fields. For the way the wind blows through the keyhole and whines in the woodstove flue, but we stay warm in Long Barn. For the lucky cognitive dissonance—or selective attention to units of temperature measurement—that allows 28 degrees fahrenheit to seem downright balmy, since zero (centigrade, but never mind) is freezing. For the way winter light stays low, deep and clear all day long. Even for the way the sun slides toward the horizon at 3:30 p.m., because you never miss a sunset, and each one is a heart-catchingly beautiful ending. And of course, a beginning.

“…And the end and the beginning were always there
/Before the beginning and after the end.
/And all is always now…” 

From The Four Quartets, by T.S. Eliot (Burnt Norton)

sunset St. Mary's

3 Comments

Leave a Comment
  1. Linda Hollenbeck / Dec 18 2012 5:26 pm

    Oh so beautiful. Well written, I feel, hear and smell through your words.

  2. Breathtakingly beautiful, extremely well written, I wish I were there to experience it with you. Always a joy to read your thin slices! Bee

  3. Arch Meredith / Dec 18 2012 10:42 pm

    You write exceptionally well, Anna… And the photos are great too! I’m still looking forward to taking some yoga classes in the Long Barn conservatory and eating out at the Crown Inn. Hoping this finds you and D well and thriving. Happy Christmas. Shelly & Arch

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