Following on from my blog of two days ago… In England on that first day, we passed Oxford and headed for Charlbury where I had arranged to meet with publisher Edward Fenton of Day Books. Sheila Stewart’s fascinating book Lifting the Latch: Life on the land (in which the single subject, Old Mont Abbott, tells his story for himself about his unusual life experience,) is a Day Books publication. Sadly, Sheila Stewart died late last year. Edward, whom I have communicated with for years via email, had kindly offered to introduce me to some of Sheila’s family and other people who knew Old Mont, and show me around Sheila Stewart and Old Mont country.
Below: Edward (right) is standing and talking to Martin Dodds (left), Sheila Stewart’s beloved son-in-law, about Sheila’s book. When we pulled up in the car, Martin had been in his workshop where he makes exquisite pieces of bespoke furniture in the old tradition. I had a good chat with Martin Dodds about Sheila Stewart’s portrayal of Old Mont in Lifting the Latch.
To my surprise, Charlbury was little more than a two-hour run by car from Heathrow; but since I had not eaten breakfast and it had taken us most of the morning to clear the car rental (not to mention the round-about at Heathrow), after an hour or so of driving my excitement at meeting with Edward face-to-face at long last, and visiting all the places Old Mont mentions in his story, was over-ridden by hunger.
For as long as I can remember I have known that England is an ancient land, old, old, old. Yet the full realisation of its “oldness” didn’t really hit me until we stopped at an old country pub, The Turnpike Inn, for a traditional (and very delicious) English lunch. The owner informed me that the inn was well-over 750 years old and was once called The Grapes, and, in past eras, had been a favourite meeting place for the literary greats and their circles of friends.
Coming from Australia, 250 years seemed old to me. I have looked at convict-built roads and buildings and touched their stones, feeling a thrill course through me along with the knowledge that by running my hand over old, old marble and sandstone surfaces which had been handled by convicts and touched by the gentry, I was making a connection with those long-dead people and communing with the past.
Above: Somehow, in England, I could not get my head around sitting in The Turnpike Inn, a place that was over 750 years old, a place where great literary figures had eaten and talked and downed their cidar or whatever they drank back then, and there was I, all these many hundreds of years later, a barely known writer, sitting in a room with the ghosts of many great writers while I was eating my lunch and gazing out the same windows they too had looked out from, and thinking to myself, “How wonderful is this?” And all the time wishing that they would all come back to life and stand before me so I could interview them personally at length. What a great piece of research that would be!