Monday morning I was back at work. Except, my guest was still with me and so I was still on holiday…and, appearances aside, much of the holiday too had been work, though of another kind. My job is my son… life has a tendency to be a bit blurred round the edges sometimes. I am lucky, very lucky… I love my work, both the paid and the unpaid. On both counts I am in service to love and there is no better master. So Monday was a day of resting for my guest after the haring around the countryside while I caught up with my son, both as Mum and as servile house-hobbit. I also retrieved an ecstatic small dog from her minders and spent some time inevitably playing ball. The evening was simply spent at the excellent Indian restaurant in the village.
Tuesday my guest came to work with me. She and my son had met last year, of course, but had really had little time. On the other hand, social media has allowed them to get to know each other a bit better in the interim so I left them to talk while I got on. They were still talking when I’d finished, and that showed no sign of abating for the next few hours. In the end I bundled the pair of them into the car and took them to the Bell for a late lunch… a quiet, village hostelry once famous for providing guests like Elizabeth Taylor, Richard Burton and Jackie Kennedy with a hideaway. We took the long way home, through pretty villages like Dinton, where we stopped to look at the magnificent doorway of the church, some 800 years old and the remains of the old cross, weather-worn and eroded in the churchyard.
Wednesday we had arranged to go out together for the day and the weather continued to oblige us with sunshine. We headed off to the Ashridge Estate to play in the woods. First, of course, we had to fortify ourselves, and the humungous jam and cream scones there are enough to fuel a small army. We had one each. Of course.
Next we borrowed a golf buggy from the National Trust as I didn’t fancy my chances pushing a wheelchair through the woods. Nick took a trial run at driving it, but graciously ceded the wheel to Diana, rather spoiling the effect by pointing out he would be wanting to take photographs every couple of minutes. Which, of course, is precisely what he did… which allowed the little hobbit trotting along behind to not only keep up, but even overtake occasionally. For me the highlight of that trip was the shot I got of Diana, bent over the wheel, being used as a tripod….
The woods are beautiful. Largely beech woods that were recently carpeted with bluebells. There were occasionally patches where the blue lingered, but great swathes of wild garlic starred the green shade as we followed the pathways through the trees. There was bugle and cuckoo pint too, buttercups in the meadows and the hawthorn and chestnuts in bloom. Sycamore seeds dangle from the branches, hazelnuts cluster around them and there are birds singing in the canopy. Even a cuckoo. A fox pranced through the spring green and in the fields below, where the trees parted to allow a view across the Vale, herds of deer rested in the sun. Zooming in on the pictures I can see the budding horns of the youngsters who, even from that distance, were watching the watchers.
We were reluctant to go back when our time with the buggy was up, pushing our time to the limits to see as much as we could. In the end Diana turned back, put her foot down and disappeared into the distance while I made my way back through a verdant wonderland alone. I could understand the pleasure the pair of them had in their drive… it isn’t easy to get out in the woods when the body no longer wants to play as much as the mind. I have a feeling Nick and I will be going back. You don’t think about the fact that a wheelchair can’t go offroad, that getting out into nature alone is something completely different from seeing it from car or sidewalk, or with someone pushing you along. Whether through injury, illness or simply age there are many who cannot enjoy simply being alone in the green horizons and leafy halls.
So when we had driven through the woods to see Ashridge House, and parked where there were a pair of deer feeding close enough for the camera, squirrels playing and where a red kite sailed up from the ground too quick for the lens, I drove to Ivinghoe Beacon and parked the car where we could see across to the Dunstable Downs and the great, chalk cut figure of the Whipsnade Lion. There is no way to get the lightweight wheelchair across the grass, so, being the right height for Nick to use, we did something we have not done before. We walked across the grass together, down to a gate where he could see across the valley, surrounded by green and the flowers of the hawthorn trees. And I left him there.