BRIDGE, England – Summer plans over the years usually mean that there is a need to pass through London which leads to a homecoming to this village which is roughly 65 miles east of one of the most lively and diverse cities in the world.
London street scenes, multicultural and invigorating, inviting and heady make you think of our founding fathers who once owed allegiance to the Union Jack, but chose to go in a different direction. That they had antipathy for the Crown is well documented. That the Crown flourishes today is unmistakable. I appreciate my Anglo heritage, I like the Queen, and I believe our founding fathers were something special. I can’t find fault with anybody. It is encouraging today that we and the U.K. are brothers on the world’s stage.
I like it here, which is why I keep coming back. First of all it is just an hour from London via high speed train, streamlined and swift. Longtime friends, Mo and Jasper Knight take me in with sustainable hospitality which has a warmth of an eiderdown.
Sleeping in is something that my system simply won’t allow wherever I land. I love daybreak and sunrise, proud to be a morning person. My hosts are getting their rest when my body clock tells me that it is useless to fight back. I walk down to the village for a cup of coffee, made possible by Betty Epps and Andrea Robson, who remember me from year to year. The coffee is exceptional, but I often wonder how much of it is the environment? I always buy a couple of newspapers. The London Times for me and The Telegraph for Mo and Jasper.
The day is relaxed and a renewal of routine. They know where I expect to enjoy lunch — the Griffins Head, the greatest country pub I have ever frequented. Proprietors Jerry and Karen Copestake keep hanging on although the survival of pubs in the United Kingdom has come in question. This classic pub dates back to 1275. I become bothered when I hear pubs may have difficulty surviving.
Europeans sound like worried Americans. Heath care, immigration and national debt. The European Union may not be broke, but it is in need of a lot of fixin’. Everything is expensive. Cynicism prevails. In Paris, a friend says that if we talk politics we are not going to enjoy dinner. Dinner with another French friend, Jean Cormier, and his friend, Isabelle, at “La Grille,” next door to “The Castille Club,” is where the performers from the past took their post-performance meals. A youthful Bridget Bardot, winks at me from the left, and staring down all during dinner was Gina Lollobrigida, photographed a half century ago. Jean Cormier and I lament circumstances the aging process has brought about for our friend Denis LaLanne, a sport writer from Biarritz which gave the University of Georgia Richard Tardits.
Riding the train into Paris earlier, I met a beautiful college-age girl, named Maria who had just arrived from Capetown, South Africa, to work in France all summer. I wanted more conversation (about South Africa today) that the train ride allowed. Same with the young girl, who, a week later, took a seat beside me at the Budapest Airport. She has two doctorates (Veterinary Medicine and Pharmacy) and wants to move from Budapest to Paris. “I am Persian,” she volunteered. “I hate my government.” I wanted more conversation with her, too. Her disappointment was that I am not a Facebook advocate. She is obviously into networking in a big way.
From London to Liverpool, a train ride led to a serendipitous introduction to a nurse, Louise Ferguson. She and her husband, Keith, invited me and my longtime friend, Tony Parker, to dinner. Louise and Keith are Irish. Cockles and muscles and a shot of Bushmills renew their spirits in a changing and frustrated world. They lifted our spirits, literally, a reminder that it is best to bend an elbow with the younger generation who remind us that the world is not yet going to hell in a hand basket.