I woke up this morning, out of a dream set in an unfamiliar village school with Roger Simpson as the head-teacher [God knows why ?], thinking that: I shall never be happy again. And then I thought, unrelatedly, that today is our 48th wedding anniversary. But celebrations will be limited; as I am back in Chantilly, and Susie is in Watlington staying with Jem and Anna. From where she has just rung me up. Recalling that we spent our anniversary last year flying back from Kiev. I don’t have a photo to mark that, but I’ll paste a photo that Susie sent me recently, taken [I think] at Snake Canyon in Utah in 2016.
The last time I wrote on this blog, I had been commissioned by Joanna to go down to Paris to photograph the Foyer Notre-Dame du Bon Secours, on the southern outskirts of Paris, where she was born in March 1977. Which led to a long walk across Paris, a city full of ghosts and might-have-beens. But Joanna slipped quietly and peacefully away from this world in the early hours of December 21st, in Florence House hospice at Stoke Mandeville. Susie and I are devastated, and trying to come to terms with a reconfigured world. Her death leaves an enormous hole in our lives. I will write more about Joanna another time. When it is less painful.
Back at Wycliffe Hall in the late 1980s, David Wenham, our New Testament tutor, taught us about Inaugurated Eschatology. That we are living in the In-Between Times, between Jesus’s first coming, the Incarnation, and Jesus’s second coming, the Eschaton, at some unknown future date. The last couple of weeks have certainly felt like that. Joanna left this world a few days before Christmas, but the Committal and Thanksgiving service are not until January 25th. Which is quite a long gap. Susie has wanted to stay close to where Joanna had been, and is therefore staying not far away in Watlington. I decided to return to St Peter’s, Chantilly, wanting to tell myself that I could be of use here. Which may be delusional.
Marking Time in Bucks and Oxon
Buckinghamshire and East Oxfordshire are unknown territory for me. We lived in Oxfordshire for ten years, in Woodstock, but from there we always went north and west into the Cotswolds. I can’t tell Aylesbury from Amersham from Wendover; and I don’t know the difference between Great Missenden and Chalfont St Giles. High Wycombe must once have been an attractive market town, with the A.40, the London to Gloucester road, going straight through the middle of town. About ninety years ago my father drove up and down the A.40 regularly, sometimes on a motor-bike, sometimes in a bull-nosed Morris, going to visit my mother’s parents who lived in remote Radnorshire. Fa was station-master at Dolyhir, a long-gone station turned cement works just down the hill from Old Radnor. But Wycombe was ruined by urban planners a generation or two ago; what’s left is an inner city fly-over, a multiplicity of roundabouts, the Eden [shopping] Centre, and a couple of high-rise car-parks.
Susie knew the road by heart from Wycombe to Stoke Mandeville. And the weather wasn’t conducive to exploring much else in December. It rained pretty much every day while I was in Wycombe. One day Susie and I walked from Boulter’s Lock, just outside Maidenhead, to Stanley Spencer’s Cookham; and then back along the Thames Path along Cliveden Reach. It was very attractive stretch of the river. And also very muddy. Our walking boots, which would have been useful, are of course in Edinburgh.
I’d never really experienced the Chilterns before. Buckinghamshire is full of steep little hills and beech woods. And old churches. And what I think are mainly gastro-pubs. Thame is an attractive town, with an urban park for walking and a choice of cafes and an excellent OXFAM bookshop. In Princes Risborough we found a high-class shoe-shop with a sale on ! And an excellent cafe. On the other side of the M.40 we had an enjoyable lunch in a village pub owned by a Hungarian. And we looked at the village where Vicar of Dibley was filmed.
And we went back to Ewelme, where we went into the church for the first time. The church and the adjoining almshouses and the primary school were all founded by King Henry VI, and it is said to be the oldest still functioning primary school in England. St Mary’s Church, Ewelme, has a remarkable chantry chapel, which houses the tomb of Thomas Chaucer, five times Speaker of the House of Commons and the son of Geoffrey Chaucer. And the extraordinarily elaborate tomb of his three-times married daughter, Alice de la Pole, Duchess of Suffolk.
After which Susie and I, and Jem and Oskar, had lunch at The Shepherd’s Hut, trying hard not to remember that we last had lunch there with Joanna and Anna and the grand-children on a very hot day last May.
That is my least favourite current cliché. Susie is in Watlington, and I am back in Chantilly. I will go back to the UK for the Committal and Thanksgiving in two weeks time, and then return via Edinburgh to Chantilly. Susie’s plans are not yet clear, but she will be in residence in Wycombe to be with Craig and the little girls for February half-term. By the end of February we should both be back in Edinburgh and trying to rebuild our lives. [Though I did have an e-mail last week tentatively asking if we might be willing to go back to Ankara.] But life won’t be the same as it was before.