To the House of a Friend, The Way Is Never Long
01.06.2004 - 19.07.2004 -5 °F
IT’S GOING TO BE A BLOODY HOT DAY!
June 1: Naomi had a relaxing day planned for us. Fearing we would have jetlag from crossing the ocean the day before, she had decided to keep it low key and local, taking us to the town she lived in not far away, Guildford. She told us it was going to be “bloody hot”, and to dress accordingly. I was a bit skeptical, so we wore jeans; I brought along a sweatshirt for Vidal and a jacket for me, just in case. We wore both all day long. I got in the driver’s seat that had no steering wheel; it had been moved to the passenger side, where Naomi the driver sat. Vidal sat in the back, wanting to give us girls room to chat. Naomi decided to take the long scenic road to Guildford… On a very windy narrow road that looked like it was carved out of the huge hedges that canopied around it, Naomi whipped the car around the curves like a pro, telling us that it was a 2 way road and occasionally it would get so narrow that 2 cars would not fit. Not two seconds after she finished that sentence, we saw an oncoming car, and there was not enough room for both of us… Naomi quickly put the car in reverse to a point where the road was just slightly wider with room for the other car to pass, and we continued on to Guildford. The countryside was absolutely gorgeous; the gray sky took nothing away from it. We passed through lovely rolling green hills in the rain and quaint English cottages (which had names, such as April Cottage, in lieu of street numbered address) and villages- my favorite being “Shamley Green” –the kind of village so small you’d miss it if you blinked- and I just loved the name! I later read that Shamley Green had lent its name to Alfred Hitchcock's company which produced the movie Psycho: Shamley Productions…
YOU CAN PARK HERE ANY TIME YOU LIKE, BUT YOU CAN NEVER LEAVE
Our first stop was a Car Park (parking lot). Vidal was a strange shade of green when we got out of the car…The back seat and the winding road had been too much for him; he unfortunately gets motion sickness easily... We followed Naomi around the car park, unaware that we were taking our first English tour. There did not seem to be an exit or escape route, and for 20 minutes we were all convinced that we had either parked in the Twilight Zone or had landed a spot in Candid Camera, with the car park stairs leading up but not out...
GUILDFORD: THROUGH THE LOOKING GLASS
Guildford, 50 km southwest of London, is the county town of Surrey, in southeastern England. It is believed that Guildford was founded by Saxon settlers around 410 AD. One could say Guildford is the place of legends: In ‘Le Morte d'Arthur’, Guildford is identified as Astolat of Arthurian legend (Lancelot rode there to receive nothing less than a sleeve). There is even a pub by that name to prove it. Famous people who have lived there (before Naomi, that is) include Lewis Carroll (1832–1898), author of Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass. Famous people that have passed through there (before Vidal and Sandy, that is) include William the Conqueror, who, after his victory at the Battle of Hastings swung by via the Pilgrims' Way to sack Guildford and its neighbors; and Alfred Atheling, brother of Edward the Confessor and son of Aethelred the Unready (ya gotta love these English nicknames!) -Nickname-less Al had been living in Normandy around 1040 during the Danish invasion of Saxon England. After Canute the Dane died, Alfred, the Man Without a Nickname, returned to England, where he was met and entertained in Guildford. What? That’s it? The dude ‘came to town to be met and entertained’ and was put on the wall of fame for that? No wonder he had no nickname! Oops, I left out the part where he was handed over after dinner to Harry the Harefoot who had him killed. Maybe he commented on Harry’s wife’s cooking or worse- made fun of Harry’s foot?
A SWEET LITTLE HOUSE IN GUILDFORD
Before heading to the historical center of Guildford, we stopped to see Naomi’s house, a few minutes away. A darling little home with 1 bedroom and bath upstairs and tiny kitchen and living room below, with a lovely garden that Naomi was very proud of. All in all quite sufficient for one person or a couple, with the added bonus of being very convenient to public transportation. We did stay a couple of nights, along with several visits to her charming home; most importantly on June 17, Naomi’s birthday. When planning our side trips out of England, there were 4 specific dates we wanted to make certain we were in England for; Naomi’s birthday was of course top priority. She had invited her family and a few close friends for her special day with champagne, mouthwatering prawns, salads and other delights. When it comes to friendship and entertaining, Naomi is without a doubt Numero Uno!
YOU TAKE THE HIGH ROAD..
Naomi took us straight to High Street; to our delight it was the farmer’s market day. Fresh everything; farmers brought everything from fresh fruit, veggies and flowers to wine, sausage and cheese, cheese, wonderful cheese! There was fresh cow cheese, goat cheese, sheep cheese, and if it was not fresh enough for you, then by all means walk a few stalls down to the fresh animal department so you can milk and churn it yourself; there was homemade soaps of course for sale to wash your hands after playing with the cows, sheep and goats. Let’s don’t forget the Organic Chicken: ‘We sell chicken that tastes like chicken used to taste’. So what did it used to taste like- frog legs? We ducked out of the rain to dry off at a lovely old pub above High Street, before heading down to walk around town a bit more.
THIS WAS ONCE A GREAT CASTLE, I SWEAR!
The sun came out for a bit; we passed by a red phone booth for my first really English photo op- couldn’t pass that up! I was excited that our next stop would be the Guildford castle, which overlooked part of the Pilgrims' Way-the pass through the hills, but disappointed when I saw all that was left was a ruined tower; and even that was closed for renovations. The castle itself is thought to have been built by Willy Boy the Conqueror, after he had sacked the area in the 11th century. After the 14th century, inland castles were no longer required (anything with more than 400 rooms was considered excessive; nobody likes a show off), which resulted into it falling into disrepair. By the 14th century, everything had fallen down except for the King's great chamber. It was for a while used as a jail, then used for farming and rented out to various people. The ruins were later bought by the city who turned the castle into a park and gardens. The grounds- ahem- the GARDENS, were absolutely lovely and we enjoyed a peaceful stroll through them. Naomi told us the Guildford College horticulture students took care of it, I can say they did an impeccable job and are welcome any time to do my garden!
WAY DOWN BY THE RIVER WEY
We walked past Lewis Carroll’s house, before heading once again to get out of the rain and a bite to eat off the River Wey, at the Weyside Inn. Afterward, we took a pleasant walk along the Wey, watched the canal boats go lazily by; Naomi showed us the locks and explained how they worked. It made sense at the time and was fascinating, but my somewhat blonde brain did not retain that information long enough for me to later jot it down…
A STOP AT THE GUILDFORD CATHEDRAL: NOW THAT WAS DEFINITELY A REAL OMEN
We headed back to the car (found our way to it no problem, but again, finding the exit was a joke!); our next stop was to be the Guildford Cathedral. Towering on a hill above the town with a spectacular view, the cathedral only dated to 1933; the outside architecture reminded me of my old high school. The inside was another story indeed. What struck me first upon entering was not the impressive gothic vaulted aisles straight out of a horror flick, but the woman who, upon entering, got up to greet us with a sunny smile as she handed us pamphlets and welcomed us; I was totally thrown by that. Having travelled extensively in Latin America, visiting many Catholic churches, cathedrals and basilicas, I had come to expect somber, stern women in dark clothing to remind us to be quiet in hushed tones, not a happy peppy perky lady dressed in tan reaching out to warmly greet us in a normal voice. It was, well, very Christian. An excerpt here from the Guildford Cathedral of the Holy Spirit pamphlet says it all:
“Here on Stag Hill, our Cathedral of the Holy Spirit stands as a beacon to bring, with our surrounding churches, the knowledge and love of God to all who visit. …there are seats for 1200 and room for 1500. Please sit down and stay for a while and let the beauty of the interior of the building speak of the wonder of God and His love for you and all creation.”
Although we really did speak in quiet voices, we wandered through the treasury/exhibition room, admired the altar, chapel, nave, and lastly walked through the eerie North Aisle, reminiscent of something…
The hallway leading to the wizard in the Wizard of Oz? No, it was literally something out of a scene from the first Omen movie, partly filmed there. As we left the cathedral, both Naomi and I could hear the theme song from the Omen going through our heads… You know, one of on those strange things where you could not for the life of you recall a single note of a particular song, and suddenly, there it was, playing in your head, refusing to leave you in peace…
GUILFEST: DON’T YOU FORGET ABOUT ME
We would return once more to Guildford on July 15, after a 17 day side trip to make our 4th date in England, Guilfest. Guilfest is a music festival held in Guildford every July that features music such as jazz, rock, folk, blues, and pop. Besides music, there’s the Cosmic Comedy Tent, Kid Zone, campground, showers, tofu burgers, mushrooms and the obligatory beer tent. Naomi and her friends traditionally got weekend passes and camp out the whole weekend. Between being wiped out from our side trip and the Guilfest weekend pass being a bit out of our budget, we opted to go one night with Charlotte and Shane and just meet up with Naomi. The headliners for 2004 included Blondie and UB40; the night we went it was Ricki Lee Jones (Chuck E's in Love) and Simple Minds (Don't You Forget About Me). We had an interesting experience getting in, being told different stories about where to get tickets (‘…go to the booth at the far end.’ ‘ Who told you that? No, you get the tickets at the entrance first and bring them to this both!’ ), needing a bracelet (‘You just need a ticket to enter.’ ‘Go back to the booth at the other end and exchange this for a bracelet or you will be thrown in the Tower!”); it felt like we were back in Mexico. We only caught the tail end of Ricki Lee Jones, but saw Simple Minds, a blast from the past of the 80’s; we also had the pleasure of hearing the very talented up and coming English jazz singer, Katie Melua. A fun time was had by all…
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