Merrie Olde England

I have been in West Sussex since Friday evening. It's a little bit gorgeous, as Justine-who-is-now-Gabrielle would say. Sleepy, swollen, green and lush, damp now because of rains, finally. The houses are all made of old stone, and there is moss on the stone walls around the rolling fields. We walk in the fields at least twice a day, sometimes very long walks. J-w-i-n-G has a Visla named Josh who needs that kind of exercise, much like our Weimarraner Dilly did, when we lived here 25 years ago.

I have fallen in love. He's a muscular redhead named Sam. We get along very very well. He's gorgeous & has a wonderful personality, he's easy going but also has an edge to him. And I am trying to figure out how to get him to the states. Oh yeah -- better yet, he's a horse. ( I guess I should have mentioned he was into leather before now, eh? )

I rode him Saturday and Sunday, and Richard, this guy at the stables, kept telling me how no one could get a saddle on him, and he wouldn't walk through water. And honestly I thought he was totally joking. This is one of the coolest horses I have ever ridden. He has three-day evented, which means he does cross country and dressage and jumping, and yet he is really laid back about it all, until you point him at something and say it's ok, then he's off like a shot. Tons of energy! Gabrielle flatters me that it is because I am really relaxed on him, "his eyes are usually on STALKS" says she . . . but I think we just like each other. She has a huge thoroughbred / Irish draft showjumper named James. (all her animals are named like people including her three Siamese cats, Porgy & Bess and Oliver). She liked Sam so much she might buy him herself for a companion to James, until I can figure out how to make that happen.

That was what the weekend was like. Besides horseback riding through lush forests with ferns up to the stirrups, riding past Roman ruins that have mostly been torn down and reworked into the local structures, we went out walking through flax and linseed fields, with a view of the West Susan Downs, outside Midhurst, a sleepy little village mostly owned by the Viscount Cowdray (I probably have that spelled wrong.) You can tell their houses -- like the one Gabrielle lives in-- cuz the wooden window casements and doors are all bright yellow, in old brick houses. Inside, there are exposed black beams, and heavy iron fixtures on the doors and windows. And plank floors and fireplaces. They are all the estate cottages of what was once a Tudor holding.

Gabrielle's mum, Sheila, works for the old Dowager Lady Cowdray. Her husband's grandfather, I think it was, was an engineer from York. And an engineer. He was into tunnel construction. And designed and built the London Underground. For which he was given a knighthood and a Viscount's title, and lands. He then went off and drained the Brazilian something or other. And was a good investor. So now the family has more money than Midas, --not the car painting people, but the original Goldfinger - they own TV stations (which around here means one of three, right?) and Madame Tousaude's, etc etc. And they employ Sheila to look after a silly old woman with what sounds like a ferociously unladylike drinking problem. Poor Sheila has been supposed to be vacationing this week, but she keeps getting phoned up by a sotted Lady Cowdray who begs her to "Come down and sort me out."

I now possess the secret of the Maze in Hampton Court Palace. I always knew it as a kid, and my evil twin sister Amy, and her evil twin sister, Aldanian, would do horrible things to tourists -- especially American ones -- by leading them merrily into the maze and leaving them there, to perish. . . but now I have it written down, on paper, and possibly for sale if you're going over and the kind of person who paid for the clues to Myst . . .

Sheila came and picked me up this morning to take me on a tour of "MY Merry Old Englande" -- not the one you probably care about a bit, except maybe Hampton Court. We used to ride our bikes down the Thames from Walton-on-Thames, and spend afternoons in Bushey Park. And getting people lost in the maze. :) So Sheila and I went to the Palace, and took a full tour, and saw the royal apartments, and the painting galleries, and Anne Boleyn's Gate, where her ghost is supposed to run screaming through, searching for Henry, carrying her head under her arm. Which is mad, since she was executed in the Tower, and why her ghost would have haunted that place -- well, maybe there were too many ghosts already at the Tower.

Next we went to Claremont in Esher, where Alden and I went to school. It was once the home of Prince Leopold and Princess Charlotte. Charlotte died in childbirth, and the throne of England went to her cousin, Victoria. It's a pretty place, built by Incontinent Brown, or rather Promiscuity Brown, or any of the other wonderful names we gave the poor bugger when I lived there. I have never seen it look so good either. It was really good to see it so happy and thriving and full of life. Even my old dorm looked inviting and warm. The uniforms have changed and there are boys now, from Fan Court.

Then we went to Oatland's Park Hotel, another fabulous estate that we lived in -- before we moved to Lakeside and before I went to board at Claremont. It was where all the old dowagers lived. I think Alden and Richard and I were the only kids in the entire place. Dried up husks, Sheila remembered the old people that lived there. I know they weren't fond of us, but I don't think we cared a bit. The old Cedar of Lebanon, planted by Charles ! is still there. It is now a four-star hotel. And although sweet old Mac no longer pushes the tea trolley through the gilded tea rooms, they have two very cute boys who make a mean Earl Grey and dollop the Devon Cream on your scones. So Sheila and I had High Tea there, and talked about the woes of our respective countries' political leaders. She said Lady Cowdray had met Camilla Bowles, (the woman Prince Charles had thrown Diana over for) and called her " a grubby little woman who tells dingy little stories and has dirty fingernails."

Lastly we visited Lakeside, where we lived for years, and where I met Justine (now Gabrielle) -- and it too was better for the time passing. Nicely upkept and we went "down the back" -- a really steep hill of grass that tumbled straight down at a 45 degree angle-- great for rolling Weimarraner puppies and hedgehogs down -- and the old garage where Alden fell and broke her wrist has been replaced by a small playground, but the rhododendron bushes we played Robin Hood in are still there, as is the lake, and when I looked over, I even saw the swans. Or maybe their offspring by now...

Tonight we are going off for pub food in some place called Sutton. Some girl called Jane is trying to pick up the bartender, called Bruce at the Whlite Horse. The food was excellent, the wine was yummm, and the bartender was by turns terrified and gorgeous. I think he was mostly having kittens cuz Jane's a local, and completly OutOfControl.

Gabrielle writes: I"d Like to just to join in here cos I am here and It's important . We have just had such a good time and I'm going to move to CA just as soon as possible-I hope . If they will have me that is . Even if they won't have me I'm there any way . So I hope to meet you all someday . Well next year at least . [last bit snipped off.]

right, I've taken away the keyboard and sent Miss Thang to go talk on the phone to her boyfriend from The North who is an Aries like her (and me) and yet seems insecure about where he stands with her... I have talked them BOTH into Burning Man next year, but this years' Millennium I think will have to be in Edinburgh, cuz they really love a New Years' celebration.

He's awfully panicked that he might not see her again. It's sweet, but I told him not to worry about marriage ( on his mind now, of all times) until next year... this is just too weird of a time to want to get married...

I am home tomorrow, and Thursday off to the The Bindlestiff Family Cirkus, put on by the Burning Man folks, so everything swings in its own pendulum.... thanks for listening in. I know this was wordy. If you got this far, you're a trouper, and I love you -- me.

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