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August 21, 2007 > Across The Pond

Across The Pond

School's out! Hooray....for some (mainly teachers) Oh no....for others (mainly parents). Some parents have already exhausted every park, bowling alley and activity area in the vicinity, and have the empty pockets to prove it; others are already hustling their offspring to shops advertising "Back to School" shoes and uniforms, hoping by doing so the longed for day will seem closer.

I belong to the group who loves the long summer break. Accompanied by Georgia (6), I enjoyed all the facilities of nearby Belvoir Castle yesterday. Some years ago, I arranged for your esteemed Mayor [of Newark] to meet the resident Duke of Rutland after watching a brilliant Medieval jousting tournament where 'Dave Smith of Newark California' was warmly welcomed via distinctly un-medieval loudspeakers, by the people of Newark England. Time passes, and with it, people.

Today the new Duke and Duchess of Rutland manage and live in the Castle. They have embraced increasingly commercial times. Paying visitors are essential if enormous ancient castles and surrounding lands are to be maintained. The interior of Belvoir has been skilfully and painstakingly restored to its original splendid state. Georgia gazed wide eyed at the enormous heavily draped four poster beds, rows and rows of shiny copper pots and pans in the kitchens and the breathtakingly beautiful heavily gilded main reception room with its stunningly painted ceiling. Outside, we wandered along hidden woodland walks and came across the Duchess's hidden garden; swathes of beautiful flowers looking strangely out of place in the middle of a wild and leafy wood; yet wonderful. We also stumbled across a real life money tree. An ancient and gnarled tree had grown and drooped over the walkway so it formed a perfect natural arch. Where the ageing bark had split, coins had been inserted over the years. Georgia was only too pleased to add her contribution to what she thought might be the Duke's holiday fund.

The Duchess has played a very active role in maintaining many parts of the beautiful grounds. Wonderfully scented rose gardens lead on to water lily ponds, fountains and statues galore. Resident peacocks strut their majestic way across the lavender bordered lawns to picnickers and their welcome crumbs and tidbits. They have become very tame. We were charmed by a little cluster of peacock chicks, complete with tiny coronets on their heads, who scuttled under their mother's wings whenever they needed reassurance. Tourist parties to the Castle are now a wide and wonderful international mix. Coach loads of eager camera-wielding folk of all ages come from as far away as China and India, sharing the experience once enjoyed predominately by "locals" (us) happily playing 'Frisbee' on the vast grassy areas and counting the medals in the impressive, historic military exhibition in the Castle.

On the subject of history; the infamous commemorative Jubilee Arch has finally been erected after five years of arguing over a suitable site in Newark; to a very mixed reception. Comments vary from, "It looks like the entrance to a Chinese restaurant." To, "Would it be possible to sell the arch and spend the money on a bench?" and, "How can this monstrosity represent my home town?" Oh dear. Perhaps those who do like it have chosen to remain silent.

I've just returned from a jolly few days in the lovely coastal resort of Bournemouth, right down in the South of England. I travelled by train, breaking my journey in London to watch daughter Lucy swimming a mile in the river Thames for charity, as part of the famous annual Canary Wharf Triathlon. I was so proud of my "un-sporty" daughter donning a wet suit (unflattering unless you're a 'Bond girl' but better than dying of hypothermia) and launching herself along the pathway of many an enormous ship that has made its majestic way along London's famous river; and so relieved when she finally climbed out safely at the end! It was the most fantastic sight. Thousands of people, including Lucy's supportive team of friends and family, watched and cheered from the huge Excel Centre as the sun sparkled on the Thames. An array of kayaks and rescue boats were alert in the water when the frothing foam appeared as competitors began their swim.

Once in Bournemouth, I related the experience to impressed family members who had made up a sizeable party in the seaside hotel. Lucy joined us the following day after a quiet night (not), closely followed by one of her brothers with a car full of new baby twins and things! This was an opportunity for young Henry and Maisie to meet some of the family for the first time. Cousins rushed off to bring them cherished toys and everyone wanted a 'hold' and a 'cuddle', which provided a welcome break for parents Joe and Cat. No shortage of volunteers to feed and rock to sleep. Not such a rush to change diapers though!

When all the family get together there is so much laughter and so much fun that I realise that I am truly blessed. To quote the words on a plaque that I saw at Belvoir Castle; "Life is not measured by the breaths we take but by the moments that take our breath away."

I wish you all many "take your breath away" moments.

Frances

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