Thursday, 26 August 2010

The last day of the holiday - at home

No regrets about getting home early. Slept soundly in own bed. Started reading William Dalrymple (unopened during trip) who says travel writers should write down interesting things they hear from people along the way. I fear that I didn't do this in the Denmark travel accounts, because we spoke to so few people about anything other than the mundane matters of checking in or out of our accommodation. Being in a twosome can isolate you from everyone around you, though there were many moments on this trip when I thought how very nice it was to have a hunky bloke with me (my h).
So, some recollections of people along the way:
the chef in rainy Belgium who gave us free frites as we were his first ever English customers; the helpful girls who opened up the Information office for us at Mol, Flanders, to find us a bed for the night; the very camp young men who sat beside us at dinner that night in the square, only to be joined shortly afterwards by their girlfriends; the Vietnamese man (with no English) selling fresh and smoked fish from a stall in the grounds of a supermarket, who chopped up a delicious eel for us for our picnic - we communicated in smiles and handsignals; Ingse and Thomas at Varde who gave us a bed for the night: Thomas speaks no English and was out playing bridge when we arrived. In the morning he shook hands and then fled to the TV to watch the news, but two days later when we met them again at the party he tolerated a hug and a kiss and seemed pleased to see us again. Their son Nicolai is 40 or so, still living at home, and no-one seems sure quite when he'll move on. Ingse with her lovely inherited things from Falkensteen: the silver, the Royal Copenhagen, the oak furniture and paintings. At the party, seeing John Turtle and Jenny again... he gave me my very first BBC job in Manchester when I started at university, showing me how to use a Uher and sending me out to gather stories from students. He is still 'the same' as he was in 1966, just a bit thinner and with glorious white hair. Meeting Fionan again, who used to hang about at Chris and Bente's in Stockport when I was a studenty-refugee at their house the same time. All the cousins - Claire, Fiona and Helen all very plush and with new men in their lives, looking happy and renewed. The Danish cousins: Louise, John and Emma with their families - all so tall and yet I can see them still as they were when they were little round things, clustered round their mother and good as gold. How wonderful to see a cousinly similarity between John and Nicolai, too. Obediently they let me photograph them together. The contingent from Guernsey, not looking as rich as they must be to live there, but all good at connecting, and looking as happy as larks. Then, out from Espergaerde - the fat young man in the farm shop who said he found his wondrous little flour mill in the barn kitchen: the place is run as an educational establishment for local schools, so they can grow their own food. He and Jamie Oliver would have something in common I think.
In Gentofte, Per and Anne-Margaret in their half-done house, perfect though it is they have plans to continue to improve it. Per laments that the new floor was wrongly laid with a tiny step up instead of a smooth sweep through from sitting room to kitchen: the workmen got it wrong, it was too late and too expensive to do it properly by the time the head man realised, and to Per's bitter disappointment it went down exactly as he did not want it to be. The man never pursued the bill. Outside, Per leaps onto a flat roof to hack away at a huge magnolia, and later tells us he nearly loses his grip and falls, swinging out on the ladder and then gently swinging back to safety. He also has a selection of electric tennis-racquets for killing wasps, which come to our lunch on the terrace on Saturday. His mother hates the wasps but is keen on pruning huge magnolia trees, so she leaves the table and goes after her great tall son to help him in his gymnastic gardening.
Anne-Margaret shows us the cellar or basement of the house, equipped with utility items (freezer, washing machine, etc), and Per's workshop which has tools identical to Andrew's here at home. He finds the basement a bit shallow, but he is 6'5" or something. Then at the front it two lovely well-lit rooms which are meant to be office-space, but (all-too-familiar) these are piled with papers and files and unwanted furniture. I am seeing my own life in front of me in someone else's house, and my resolution to have a proper clearout is strengthened.
On the road again: in Lubeck, being seduced by the waiter into ordering a cooked meal instead of a salad, and then not being able to eat it because of the colossal amount of food on the plate.
In Holland, the billiards players so businesslike and intent, sharp as can be.
I didn't say how I changed my bra as we sped along the Dutch motorways yesterday, stripping down to nothing and then dressing again to get more comfortable, and giggling all the while about the lorry-drivers. In the event, no-one saw, nothing happened, but it was funny all the same.
So, really there wasn't anything momentous about all this, just a series of little vignettes. It was a successful trip, and full of wonders. It gets clearer to me that it's not what happens to you, it's how you react that matters. William Dalrymple is writing about how some things have not changed for thousands of years (a fish cult in Anatolia for instance, which arose as a form of Venus-worship, became Christian, Islamic and is now just a quaint oddity which nonetheless has huge carp in deep pools being fed by visitors and NEVER EATEN). We have been visiting towns and churches which have been lovingly kept or rebuilt after wars, to keep them the same. We saw flour milled on granite stones and in a little electric mill, and we met the farmers whose crops are near-ruined by this prolonged wet August: the harvest is what keeps everyone alive. We have seen thousands and thousands of little farms on the flat lands, some sparkling and some dreary, but all full of families working away doggedly at their task. The villages and towns and cities have their churches and cathedrals, some with runestones and burial mounds in the grounds, some with modern stained glass, some with cafes inside them, and some just quiet. Everywhere now there are the dark faces of new residents, settling in to become Danish or Flemish or German. In the pub at Coevorden is a print on the wall, showing what Holland used to look like: the archetypal wooden windmill with canal, bare trees, watery dykes, muddy fields and tall sky. Holland today has the new windmills, churning electricity out of the air, steadfastly facing into the wind and whirling, whirling. Below them, the bright clean suburbs of red brick spill out over the immaculate fields. Some old mills survive of course, but the old look has gone forever. I feel I have lived to see a really great change, as if Europe has shifted from one era to another almost imperceptibly, day by day, year by year. The new gadgets like iPhones and apps beckon us onward, but underneath the old ways are still functioning. It's just that they look different and slowly that different look will make the old ways seem almost unbelievable. The horses in Holland are now pets, whereas they used to be the engines of life, for work, travel, war, etc. This is all happening faster than we think, and spreading across into Poland, Russia, India, China, Africa too, at last. The mobile phone is transforming everything. But we still need the harvest home.

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