What do we do all day over here in England, some people wonder? Well, we live here. Mostly. Most days, the weather being somewhat uninviting, Demetrios goes to the library at Edge Hill University and does his reading and writing, working on his book. I amuse myself with my groups, my friends and acquaintances, knitting, etc. But we are always prepared for a fine day. England doesn’t just have fine days. When she has good weather, it’s downright glorious. In summer, we’re nearer the sun than our more southerly neighbors, and the sunshine and blue skies and super-concentrated green of the vegetation make the English countryside radiant. And on days like that, we set out in our new car in search of adventure. You wouldn’t expect the little Liverpool suburb of Crosby to hold much adventure, but we found it there anyway. We went to Crosby because that is where Demetrios stayed the first two weeks he was ever in England. He had been invited here by the family of John Coventry, an English friend he had met in camp. The family were especially kind to him and Mrs. Coventry, in particular, took some trouble to introduce Demetrios to the English ways of doing things. Dr. Coventry helped Demetrios find his first job, here in Ormskirk. So off to Crosby we drove, our objective being to find the Coventry’s house on Moor Lane, the main road. We found it without much trouble, actually. Nobody was home; the neighbor, who had never heard of the Coventrys, said the occupants were away on holiday. So we wrote a quick note and slipped into the letter slot of their door. (We haven’t heard from the people since, so apparently they can’t provide us any information on the Coventry family.) That objective accomplished, we next noticed, across the street, a windmill. Well, it was what had once been a windmill, now minus its sails and several stories high. So we thought we should go have a closer look. The windmill was on a green side street, the quiet very surprising, given it was right off the main road. All the houses were very large (by English standards) with gorgeous, lush, colorful gardens. “Millionaires’ Row,” I said. A man walking in the opposite direction to post a letter greeted us and we paused to chat. We told him we wanted to see the windmill. “Och, no, ya don’t want that old windmill,” he said, “It’s full of damp. Now if you want to see a really nice house, have a look at mine. Last one on the left.” Was the windmill occupied, we asked? Oh, yes, sometimes. It’s owner was a porn star, who was no doubt already regretting his purchase of the place. “See there where the paint is peeling? That paint was only put on 18 months ago, and already the damp is makin’ it peel off.” We thanked the man and continued our walk down the charming lane, pausing to admire bushes and shrubs and the lavish flowers – and enormous houses. We had gotten most of the way down the lane when the same man, returning from the mailbox, overtook us. “Here,” he said, “have a look at my house.” He swung open a pair of massive, wrought-iron gates with gilded knobs and finials, to admit us to about an acre of garden, its most prominent feature a full-size tennis court. We oohed and ahhed over the garden and that appears to have encouraged him to invite us inside. There was a charming, antique-looking entrance hall with a definitely antique wooden spiral staircase to the first floor. “There is a proper staircase as well,” said the man, “but I liked this one so much I’ve kept it. Found it in a museum.” The living room was amazing, an enormous room that fulfilled every stereotype of affluent English living 75 years ago. It was full of big, overstuffed furniture and had a very high ceiling and tall windows dressed in heavy and elaborate drapery and swags. We were amazed, and the man quickly realized it. “Million and a half,” he said. “Beg your pardon?” “I’ll sell it to you for a million and a half pounds.” “I will certainly buy it from you,” I said, “the next time I find a million and a half quid lying around.” That seemed to have cleared up the misunderstanding, but the man, Robbie, showed us around the rest of the ground floor anyway, both to be polite and because he was so proud of it. The dining room, an extension of the living room, comfortably contained a dark dining table that could easily seat 16, and at least that many chairs with it. Past the dining room and the proper staircase was – are you ready? – the pub. Yes, it was a complete pub with a bar, well-stocked, including connections for the casks of beer and the levers you pull to fill the pints. There was even a dartboard. But the pub’s main feature was the biggest billiard table I have ever seen. There was a brass gizmo on the wall with sliding tabs for keeping score, and around the room were signed photographs of all of England’s greatest snookers players. “They come here for the professional size table,” said Robbie. “You don’t find that in so very many places.” He then regaled us with stories about several of them and how he had met them. But the wonders of the house were not yet finished. Past the pub was an indoor, heated, lighted, swimming pool, complete with changing room. Robbie explained that he and his wife were separated, and although it now seemed likely then would soon be back together, they definitely wouldn’t live in this house. The boys were now grown up and the place was far too big for only two, and he really would sell it. I really might have bought it, too! If I were as rich as Robbie. And how had Robbie made his money? Well, he ad begun literally shoveling coal into hoppers. He’d had various other similar jobs before going into used cars. And from there into buying and fixing up and selling houses. Why aren’t we all millionaires? If Robbie can do it, so could we all, in theory. On the way out, Robbie showed us something special about his very ornate, wrought-iron gates. “You see these initials? The initial ‘J’ is for Jane, my wife. The ‘R’ is for me, Robbie. And on the other gate, the two ‘K’s are for Karl and Keith, our sons. And if you look over here” – showing us another set of matching gates we hadn’t noticed before, but should have, as the driveway is circular – “My sons made me send this gate back to the manufacturer to have the C added. It’s for Cindy, the cat.” Then he inquired where we were headed next, and we said to Formby, to see the beach. He said we ought to check out the iron men closer to here before continuing to Formby. Iron men? We had never heard of them. They’re sculptures of men, three of them, wading out into the surf. You can see a lot more of a lot less of them, depending upon the tides, as they are quite dramatic around here. So off to see the iron men we went, stopping en route at a charming pub for some lunch. The iron men, well, looked just like men; more interesting were the houses at the waterfront, ranging from quintessentially traditional English to art deco. Lots of fun. By time we got to Formby, it was time to stop again for a bit of refreshment, so we had afternoon tea in a delightful little shop, newly opened, and oriented mostly to children, birthday parties and so forth. I had my first Victorian Sponge Cake, a yellow cake with clotted cream and jam in between the layers. Yummy! The waitress, a friendly young lady who quite delighted us, told us how to get to the beach, telling us the route lay through a squirrel preserve. Squirrel preserve? The very idea sounds strange in American ears, doesn’t it? We so often consider squirrels a nuisance. But it seems that here, the Red Squirrel is threatened by the more aggressive Gray Squirrel. So this preserve has been established for the Red Squirrel. You walk about half a mile through it, and then you come out into a desolate landscape containing nothing but sand dunes as far as you can see, sand dunes capped with vegetation and full of birds, the only ones of which I recognized were starlings and magpies. It was beautiful in a wild sort of way. It’s a fabulous place, laced with trails, good for jogging, flying a kite, running around, playing hide and seek, and having fortresses. (You don’t have to built one; each separate dune is one already.) We saw all of these things going on, yet so large was the area that it still seemed all but deserted. You walk a full mile, more like a mile and a half, before you catch sight of the Irish Sea beyond the last dunes. Then of course there are two miles to hike back to the car. We reached our car in the late evening, time to head home, tired but exhilarated. The drive was only 25 minutes. It’s the people you meet make outings into adventures.
(1) In Wessex
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