26 April 2014

Mirror, Mirror, on the wall...

Queen: Slave in the magic mirror, come from the farthest space,
through wind and darkness I summon thee. Speak! Let me see thy face.
Magic Mirror: What wouldst thou know, my Queen?
Queen: Mirror, mirror on the wall, who is the fairest one of all? 

When I was very small, and would visit my paternal grandmother's house, one of my favorite pastimes was standing on a small stool to look into her "Snow White" mirror.

It wasn't a "Snow White" mirror, of course, since no one spoke back to me despite my conjuring. All I saw was my own round, freckled face peering back at me.

But it certainly looked like the mirror that the wicked Queen questioned in the faery tale.

When my grandmother passed away, my aunt asked if there was anything of hers I would like.

"Her Snow White mirror!" I said, knowing she would know immediately what I meant.

At times I have been tempted to paint it... perhaps a soft white for more of a cottage look. But then, you see, it would no long be the Snow White mirror. And so it remains as it was. Gilded, baroque, perhaps a bit forbidding, and magic in its own way.

Mirror, mirror, on the wall
Who is the fairest one of all?

25 April 2014

A bed's history

When I was fourteen years old my parents purchased a maple bedroom suite for me: a Boston rocker, a cricket stool for my feet, a dresser, and a four-poster bed with a canopy.

Over the years I have brought this suite with me to any number of dwellings.  A third floor walk up apartment; the cottage I was raised in; a two-room basement apartment; a bungalow near the bay; a second-floor flat; another second-floor apartment; a first-floor apartment; a two-floor townhouse in a late 19th c. Queen Anne revival Victorian; and finally to my little cottage.

They are still, to this day, the only pieces of furniture in my cottage that are not second hand. I am their original owner.  That cannot be said for any other furniture I own, given my penchant for foraging flotsam and jetsam from family cellars and attics, church sales, sidewalks on trash day, second-hand stores, and garage sales.

Sometimes I have the canopy on the bed, usually when I feel the need to be cozy and enclosed, and most often in winter. Indeed, I once fashioned bed curtains out of lace panels and felt like a faery tale princess in her trundle bed whenever I'd pull them aside and creep under the sheets. Other times I remove the canopy, giving the bed and the entire room a more airy and simplified look.  (If, indeed, any part of my cottage could ever masquerade as simplified, given my tendency towards happy clutter.)

The mattress has been replaced, of course, and the latest structure is so thick and high I actually have to use the cricket stool to get in and out of bed. An occupational hazard for those who barely tip the tape measure at 5' 1".

I rarely, if ever, read in bed.  It's not for lack of trying, simply a knack I could never master as I would invariably end up either with a sore back or, worse still, a sore chin from books falling onto my face when I nodded off.

I have conceived and then nursed a child there, welcomed lovers, soothed little ones who were ill or having nightmares, gathered grandchidren under its covers (they always tend to sleep on the diagonal for some reason, making sleep nearly impossible), and recuperated in its comfort after surgeries and long illnesses or the random winter 'flu or cold.

I have prayed or cried myself to sleep in its folds. I have rested on my side and watched films, hockey games, or my chuckle-headed Red Sox. I have dreamt there, both good dreams and bad. I have lain awake and gone through lists in my head or watched the moon creep past the window or listened for the haunting whistle of trains bound for New York or Boston.

It has been lovingly dressed with vintage bedding belonging to my ancestors, carefully pressed and laundered, and depending on the time of year, its underbelly has been a hiding place for Christmas presents, Birthday gifts, or Easter Baskets.

In short, it has been the one physical constant in my life since I was a young girl, a concrete reminder of my adolescence, young adult years, and middle-age, a touchstone hearkening back to every intimacy, every child I cared for, every dwelling I inhabited. A possession that I, and only I, have owned.

23 April 2014

The Stonehenge Incident

Our train trundled over the British Channel (The longest rail bridge in England, he told me proudly) leaving behind the grey, stern hills of Wales and crossing into gentle mounds of English greenery. We had been spending time with his family in the rolling green of Shropshire, so this rail journey had been revelatory. How much rougher the Welsh countryside had seemed with rock jutting menacingly from the earth.  

The town of Newport seemed particularly grey and forbidding and  I felt warmly embraced by the lush gentleness of Southern England as we drifted back to her.  

Passing through Bristol, we soon found ourselves rolling through the historic city of Bath, our faces pressed to the window as we watched as the crescent-shaped marble buildings dissolve behind us while our train glided into the welcome verdure of Wiltshire.  

We had left Shropshire early in the day, stopping in Church Stretton for a picnic by a creek before riding on to our destination: the cathedral city of Salisbury. Our plan was to arrive late in the evening, check in at the guest house where we'd reserved a room, and then find a pub or cafe where we could enjoy a late supper. We would tour the city and the cathedral the next morning and then take an early-afternoon trip to Stonehenge before setting out on our return journey to Shropshire.

We were only 45 minutes away from Salisbury when he suddenly turned to me. "How reckless are you feeling?" 

"Why...?" I countered, already dreading his response. 

I'd already been the victim of several of his 'adventures', including an unplanned journey to Paris. He shifted his weight and peered at me with an intense conspiratorial look.

"How's this...?" he began, ticking off the items on his fingertips, "We arrive in Salisbury at around nine o'clock tonight.  We find a chippy for supper and then go off to a pub and have a pint, staying until closing. Then we buy a few tins of lager and some crisps and hire a taxi to take us to Amesbury." 

Amesbury is about eight miles north of Salisbury, I thought to myself, fearing why it might be in any way significant to our plans

"Go on," I said, growing more anxious as the scheme unfolded and wondering why he hadn't yet mentioned our room at the guest house.

"According to this map," he whispered, struggling to unfold the BTA guide and nearly decapitating the people in the seats directly in front of us, "... according to this map, we have only to walk another ...eh, two miles..." He ran one finger over the map.  "...yes!  Just another two miles further west from Amesbury and we'll be at Salisbury Plain!" 

He looked at me triumphantly and I stared at him, waiting for the other shoe to drop. 

"And.....?" I asked.

"AND," he said with a grin, keeping his voice low, "we can find a nice dry place under a hedgerow or a tree—something really cozy—and we can spend the night there together!" 

My eyebrows shot up in horror but he continued before I could protest, patting our sack of leftover picnic supplies with relish.

"We'll have something to drink, and a bit of food to nibble on, and we've got that wonderful dustbin liner to lie on to keep out the cold and damp...” 

I’d had the inspired idea to purchase a dustbin liner at a shop in case the ground was damp for our picnic. I feared now that this 50 pence purchase might have been a tragic mistake.

“.. and we've got our coats to put over us so we'll be quite warm and cosy...." he continued cheerfully, ".... it's a lovely June night, after all." 

I blinked and stared at him, incapable of getting out little more than his name. He cannily ignored me, working himself into a frenzy of hoarse enthusiasm with each detail, trying to keep the nearest of our rail companions ignorant of what was, no doubt, an illegal plan on a variety of levels.

"We can wake up at around three o'clock in the morning—in time to see the sun rise over Stonehenge.  I mean, think about it! Seeing those prehistoric stones at dawn! We can tell our grandchildren!" he sputtered.

He perched on the edge of his seat with excitement while I brushed my hand over my eyes, hoping I was dreaming and that when I looked up again, I'd be staring at him across the breakfast table in our B&B.  His voice continued as if in the dim distance. 

"There really aren't any terribly negative points to it, if you think about it..." 

Right, I thought, unless you count possible arrest ... or death from exposure. 

“...and tomorrow morning,“ he continued, “I promise we'll come into Amesbury and have a slap-up breakfast somewhere.  My treat!  What do you think?... " 

I looked him in the eyes to see if he was serious.  He was. 

"You don't want to know what I think," I warned. 

He winked and nudged my arm with his. 

"No really... what do you say..." 

"I say you're completely mad," I murmured, snatching the map out of his hand and folding it deliberately. 

He nodded and looked out the window, biding his time. He knew when all was said and done I was no match for his Hardy Boy adventures.

When we arrived in Salisbury and exited the rail station a fine mist began to cover us. I could see the lights of a Fish & Chip shop several blocks down the road. 

"It’s raining," I said, hoping that would put an end to our plan.

"No," he assured me, taking my arm and steering me down the road to the Chippy, "it will stop.... it's just a mist." 

"This isn't 'mist'," I insisted, huddling against him, "in America we call this rain!

"If it gets worse by the time we leave the restaurant," he soothed, "we'll go on to the B & B as planned.  I promise." 

I looked up at him skeptically, wanting to believe him.  Walking into the restaurant I ordered two large helpings of fish and chips and then sat and waited while my lunatic dinner companion scouted down the road for a pub. Within moments he returned with a small box of cigars, sliding into a booth next to me. We both hungrily tucked into supper. 

"I've found a pub," he announced between mouthfuls, "we can go there afterwards and have a pint and relax before we set off for you know where.

I swallowed another pieces of fish and peered out the rain-soaked window, wondering what the inside of our Bed & Breakfast suite looked like.  Was there a fire on the grate? Chintz curtains? A short plump landlady ready to bring us cups of hot tea and plates of biscuits?  

Finishing up our dinner, we walked down the road to the pub, a heavy "mist" still falling about our ears.
To be continued....


20 April 2014

The Invitation

I leave this notice on my door
For each accustom’d visitor:—

‘I am gone into the fields
To take what this sweet hour yields.'

Radiant Sister of the Day,
Awake! arise! and come away!
Where the lawns and pastures be,
And the sandhills of the sea;
Where the melting hoar-frost wets
The daisy-star that never sets,
And wind-flowers, and violets
Which yet join not scent to hue,
Crown the pale year weak and new;
When the night is left behind
In the deep east, dun and blind,
And the blue noon is over us,
And the multitudinous
Billows murmur at our feet
Where the earth and ocean meet,
And all things seem only one
In the universal sun.

— Percy Bysshe Shelley


I am from God and shall return to God.
The loving God will grant me a little light,
Which will light me into that eternal blissful life.
—from Des Knaben Wunderhorn

16 April 2014

An Ideal Weekend

I so love the scent of the steam and the quiet that ensues when I'm ironing.
(It's a very good time to problem solve, daydream,
or contemplate where each item came from.)

  Great Aunts....  dear friends.... jumble sales.... antique shops.

Despite the danger of fraying and wear
they are routinely used, washed, and ironed.

Better to be pressed into service than languish in a drawer or trunk,
their beauty never seen or enjoyed.

The more mundane towels are left out and at hand,
ready for dish-drying or cleanups.

There is a lovely satisfaction that comes from indulging
in all those relatively mindless tasks
that leave me feeling I've actually accomplished something.

Carry on.

15 April 2014

To the Moon

Our moon on Sunday evening was shrouded in mist,
but she was beautiful nonetheless.
My bedroom used to be at the front of the house, 
and my den was at the rear of the house.
Since the bedroom was larger and was filled with light during the day,
I switched the two rooms.
But this meant I could no longer peer through the bamboo shades at night
and watch the moon's progress across the sky.
So now, once a month, I slip downstairs with a pillow and a quilt,
to sleep on the sofa and watch her as she sails slowly past.   

April is the month of the Full Pink Moon

The Full Pink Moon was given its name by the Algonquin tribes from New England to Lake Superior.  This is the name the Colonial Americans adapted.

A full Moon in April brings frost. If the full Moon rises pale, expect rain.

The Full Pink Moon heralds the appearance of the moss pink, or wild ground phlox—
one of the first spring flowers. It is also known as the Sprouting Grass Moon,
the Egg Moon, and the Fish Moon.

Old Farmer's Almanac

CCLXIV. To the Moon

AND, like a dying lady lean and pale,          
Who totters forth, wrapp'd in a gauzy veil,          
Out of her chamber, led by the insane          
And feeble wanderings of her fading brain,          
The moon arose up in the murky east,                 
A white and shapeless mass.

  ART thou pale for weariness          
Of climbing heaven, and gazing on the earth,          
    Wandering companionless          
  Among the stars that have a different birth,—          
And ever-changing, like a joyless eye                  
That finds no object worth its constancy?

The Cloud

That orbed' maiden
With white fire laden
Whom mortals call the Moon.

—Percy Bysshe Shelley

11 April 2014

For lo, the winter has passed

Yesterday was the sort of day we have been waiting for, here in New England, and—let it be said—it was a day we have earned, after the winter we've had.

Yes, there was more snow in previous years, and there were colder winds in past seasons, and I recall a winter where I felt like I was a character from an Ice Age film.  But for some reason this most recent winter has left everyone I've spoken to in these parts feeling grumpy, exhausted, and yearning for a day like yesterday.

By midday it was sixty-two degrees, the sky was a soft blue and utterly cloudless and the breeze was invigorating.

Robins have been hopping about here and there, plying the earth for worms after the rain we had a few days ago. The squirrels have been up to their antics as well, chasing one another in dizzying circles up and down tree trunks.

Wherever I look there are swollen buds on the flowering trees and shrubs, just waiting to burst. The Witch Hazel is already in bloom, its fragile golden filaments a welcome burst of color in what has been, until recently, a barren landscape.

It was thirty two degrees on Wednesday night, but it didn't feel that cold.  Not after the sunny afternoon we'd had only hours earlier.  But, as they say, it's all relative.  Clear the streets and sidewalks of snow and ice, bring out the sun to coax green shoots from the earth, and then throw in cloudless skies and a nice spring breeze, and thirty two at night doesn't feel quite so bad.

In fact, I experienced an unexpected sensation yesterday evening.  I opened the French doors that lead from the dining room onto the verandah, something I rarely do in winter, and a soft rush of stifling warmth greeted me. All that day's sunlight and heat had been trapped within the glassed in space. I sat there for awhile, reveling in the closeness and in the sense that a new season had arrived in earnest.

08 April 2014

When the trees sing

Ah me... on early spring days like this I love to imagine my garden
at the height of summer. It won't be long until the trees overhead
will be looking this way again.  I simply cannot wait!  

When the trees sing,
It doesn't really matter
If you know the song,
Or if you know the words,
Or even if you know the tune.
What really matters is knowing
That the trees are singing at all.
—Mattie Stepanek

Matthew Joseph Thaddeus Stepanek, known as Mattie Stepanek,
was an American poet, who published five books of poetry and one book of essays.
His volume Heartsongs reached The New York Times bestsellers list.
He was born in July of 1990 and died in June of 2004.

07 April 2014

Spring Idyll

We sat outside yesterday for most of the afternoon, soaking up the sunlight as it beat against the front steps. I left the front door open wide enough to let the warm air creep into a cottage that is still shivering now and then with the built-up cold from the winter we've been through.

Oh, but winter was so far from my mind, yesterday, as to be a mere memory.  

The children played in the garden, digging holes and then filling them again, occasionally coming across a worm ("Good") or a grub ("Bad").  

Everyone, children and grownups alike, sat around on mis-matched chairs, or on the steps, or on the ground, eating pizza, sugar cookies, chocolate milk and watermelon, in no particular order.

The sidewalk chalk was brought out, along with toy car and story books. There were trips into the cottage now and then, to gather maracas and old walking sticks and some of my hats. Another trip to the shed to get a trowel. And then a request for seeds.

Oh, it's such a perfect day
I'm glad I spent it with you
Oh, such a perfect day
Problems all left alone
Weekenders on our own
—Lou Reed

It won't be long now...

04 April 2014

The Lure of a Cottage

There were several things that won me over when I first looked at my little cottage.

One of them was certainly the black-and-white 1930s bathroom.
I fell in love with the large set in tub, the pedestal sink,
the vintage etched glass medicine cabinet,
and the step-up shower on the other side of the room
with its old-fashioned ripple-glass door.

Another aspect of the cottage that wooed me was the 'verandah'.
I call it a verandah but it's more like an old porch you find on a beach house.
It didn't have an exterior door, which I liked,
and you entered it through french doors from the dining room.

I immediately envisioned this little oasis filled with green plantlife
and white chipped wicker furniture.
It had enormous screens on three sides, offering a perfect view
of the rear gardens I was already planting in my mind.

I knew that once the fair weather arrived each year,
it would become my official thinking post.
A place to stand first thing in the morning to watch the birds,
a place to sit at at mid-day with lunch or a cup of tea,
and a place to curl up at night to listen to the crickets.

Even on chilly days, I could picture myself wearing a shawl or sweater
and taking my tea out there, just to feel nearer to my imaginary gardens.

And then there was the fireplace. Enough said.
It had a lovely mantle I could use to display family treasures,
and a hearth where I could enjoy fires in the autumn, winter, or early spring.
It would, literally and figuratively, become the heart of the house.

And perhaps at no time during the year is a fireplace more useful
- or more iconic - than at Christmas time.

 I would certainly put it to good use during the holidays,
with boughs of holly and festive candles.

 There were other things I loved about the cottage, of course.
A kitchen that reminded me of the one I adored in the film Green Card. 
A laundry chute with tiny doors in the upstairs hallway and the kitchen.

An ironing board that pulled down out of the wall in the kitchen.
A narrow pantry cupboard with lots of shelves.

Interior shutters throughout the house: on the side-lights by the front door,
on the windows on either side of the fireplace, and on the stair landing.
 But it was the bathroom, the porch, and the fireplace that sealed the deal.  
Odd things, perhaps, to inspire someone to buy a cottage,
but there you are.

03 April 2014

Eagerly Impatient

verb: wait; 3rd person present: waits; past tense: waited; past participle: waited; gerund or present participle: waiting

1. stay where one is or delay action until a particular time or until something else happens; stay where one is or delay action until (someone) arrives or is ready; remain in readiness for some purpose.; be left until a later time before being dealt with.

2. used to indicate that one is eagerly impatient to do something or for something to happen.

01 April 2014

Accidental Tourist

It's not every day you find yourself in a place you didn't expect to be.

It happened to me one summer when I was staying at college
with a friend in Oxford, England.

It started innocently enough.... a random conversation about travelling down to Canterbury for the day, to investigate the cathedral, enjoy a walk along the river, stop for a pub lunch somewhere and then travel home again by nightfall. It would require taking the Oxford coach into London and then boarding the train to Canterbury which left from Victoria Station.

The morning's journey was going quite well until we were just about to pull into the Canterbury Station.  My friend, who has a penchant for upending excursions with his spur-of-the-moment schemes, turned to me and said, "What if we stay on the train and go on to Folkstone?" Folkstone is just south of Dover, on the coast of eastern England.

"Why would we go to Folkstone?" I asked, a bit alarmed.

"Because then we could take the ferry to Boulogne," he replied, "have lunch and then come home.  You'll get your passport stamped and be able to say you'd been to France!"

He said this as if it was the most logical thing in the world and I'd be a fool not to agree.  By the time we hashed this out, the train had stopped in Cantebury, dropped people off, collected a few more passengers, and resumed it's journey. To Folkstone.  Paying the extra money to the conductor as he ambled down the aisle, and committed now to this whimsical plan, we settled back and discussed what we might have for lunch in France!  Oysters?  Mussels?  Pate?

When we arrived in Folkstone, we were told that the next Ferry was entirely booked and there would be an hour's wait for another one.  A bit disappointed to have our journey interrupted this way, I was starting to have second thoughts... imagining our walk throughout Canterbury which now wouldn't be taking place.  But within minutes the ferry master beckoned to us and said we could board after all.

Happy to have the extra hour on the other side of the Channel, we boarded with what seemed like at least 246 school children and travelled towards the continent. The journey wasn't as long as I'd imagined and soon the coast of France loomed and we landed at the Boulogne-sur-Mer Hoverport.

While the town of Boulogne-sur-Mer is incredibly picturesque, the terminal was decidedly not, being a veritable maze of counters and ticket agents, with options for taxi cabs, coaches, or trains, and it was difficult at first to know where to turn to find a conveyance into the little town. Motioning for me to wait, my friend dashed to up to an agent and used his best school-boy french to purchase some tickets for what I'd assumed would be a coach or commuter rail. 

"Hurry!" he said, grabbing my arm, "It's leaving now!"

I ran beside him, managing to mount the steps of a train mere seconds before it started its slow crawl out of the station.  Walking down through the cars he found an empty private carriage where he slid the door open and guided me inside. I collapsed next to him onto one of the seats and smiled with relief as the countryside started to pass us by.

"How long will it take?" I asked.

"A few hours," he smiled.
"Hours...??" I realized our train was picking up speed. Too much so for the brief journey into Boulogne. "Why? Where are we going?"


"PARIS????  Are you serious???"

I looked down at my clothes:  a black and white cotton print dress, white canvas flats, and a tapestry carry bag with my journal, a camera, a shawl and my wallet. Audrey Hepburn may have looked adorable in such a simple ensemble, but I looked like a charwoman.  And he was no better off, sporting jeans, a worn jersey, and heavy boots.

I then did the math in my head. We would arrive in Paris just before the dinner hour, which meant all of our day-return tickets for the ferry back to Folkstone, the train back to London, and the coach back to Oxford wouldn't be worth the paper they were printed on. It also meant we either had to stay up all night (not a difficult thing to do in Paris, I was certain) or find a hotel room.  Apparently, he was thinking the same thing.

"I think we should either find the grandest place we can, or the most seedy...." he mused,  "we need to see the city one way or the other."

Our penury notwithstanding, I was secretly opting for grandeur over bedbugs or being knifed in my sleep.

We arrived at Gard du Nord and after considering our options purchased Metro tickets for Place de l'Opera. Why we chose this arrondissement escapes me now, but it seemed like a good choice at the time.

When we climbed out of the Metro station into daylight, the Paris Opera loomed over us like a rococco dream, while the Paris traffic whizzed around us like a video game in which the objective was to annihilate as many pedestrians as you could.  (Pedestrians, I soon learned, never have the right of way in Paris. Ever.)

We somehow managed to cross the road to the Cafe de la Paix, where we indulged in cup after cup of rich coffee and crunchy baguettes with creamery butter.

We people-watched for over an hour, trying to let the glorious reality of our situation sink in, and smiling at one another periodically with disbelief. We even found ourselves being serenaded by a busker who wandered from table to table playing his violin. Soon, however, we knew we had to seriously discuss our options for a hotel. Paying our bill, we arose and wandered around the corner, intending to investigate some of the hotels we'd been told were down the road; but within moments we discovered that the Cafe de la Paix was on the ground floor of Le Grand Hotel. In terms of grandeur, it fit the bill perfectly. The lobby alone was breathtaking.

"If we're going to spend the money, " I suggested, "then why not here?"

He agreed and we walked in and stood at the desk looking for all the world like we were applying for housekeeping jobs.  But once we'd proferred our credit cards, we found ourselves in a luxurious room, heartened that the exorbitant price would include supper in the cafe, a wake up call, and breakfast in their gorgeous palm-laden dining room.

Not knowing where we might end up for the night, we had stopped earlier at a pharmacie where we purchased soap and toothbrushes ... all of which we found in abundance in the elegant bath quarters of our hotel room, which were nearly as large as the ground floor of my cottage!

After freshening up we deciding the best plan was simply walking as much as we could and enjoying whatever we saw along the way. We rode the Metro to the Palais Royale and then gradually found our way to the Champs-Élysées, strolling the length of the magnificent avenue to the Arc de Triomph, all the while marvelling at our being there at all.

Eventually we ambled down a side street and crossed the river to le Tour Eiffel, where we paid a modest sum to travel up inside the iron masterwork to gaze out over Paris. The city sparkled like diamonds in the night and we could see the streets spidering outward from the Trocadero up to Sacre Coeur at the top of Montmatre.

Thoroughly elated but feeling a bit tired, we journeyed back to our hotel where we enjoyed a late supper in the Cafe's glassed in restaurant.

The next morning, we had a wonderful breakfast in the palm room, squirreling the extra croissants, pots of jam and pats of butter into my carry bag for an impromptu lunch afterwards along the Seine.  We then boarded the Metro for a brief but memorable day in Paris.

Despite a compressed schedule, we managed to wander through Notre Dame, pick our way through a labyrinth of market stalls, investigate the booksellers along the Seine, and ramble around the Louvre where my friend stood in front of the Mona Lisa for what seemed like hours, while I paid homage to Le Jeune Martyre on the other side of the gallery.  We enjoyed our makeshift lunch by the fountains at the glass pyramids, studying the Louvre's façade and grinning at one another.

Le Jeune Martyre by Paul Delaroche (1855) - Musée du Louvre

Sooner than we'd hoped it was time to return to the Gard du Nord rail station where we purchased one-way tickets for Boulogne. Settling down for the ride to the coast, we consulted the ferry schedule and realized, too late, that we would never get to Boulogne in time for the last ferry.  What to do?

There were really only two options. We could wait in the ferry station overnight until morning, which was hardly appealing. Or we could remain on the train and continue on to Calais where the ferries ran to Dover long after midnight. This was much more sensible, surely, but our ferry tickets were not good for the Calais to Dover run... and our London train ticket was only good if we left from Folkstone. Two more tickets to add to the unused pile!

We hesitated, not making the decision really but simply letting the train pull out of the Boulogne station. Too late now. We were bound for Calais. We waited for an agent to stride through and ask to see our tickets so we could pay for the extra journey.  No one came.  We watched the scenery flash by in the darkness.  "I'm fare hopping," I thought to myself with chagrin.  "I'm a grown person, and I'm fare hopping..."

When we arrived in Calais we detrained quickly and ran to purchase tickets so we could board the next ferry.  (Despite not having paid for the journey to Calais, there were no police sirens awaiting us and no handcuffs or jail sentence in a foreign cell, for which I was mightily grateful albeit feeling terribly guilty.)

It was midnight as we slipped away from Calais towards Dover. Unlike the hovercraft that runs between Boulogne-sur-Mer and Folkstone, this was a proper ferry, its bottom securely anchored in the choppy waters as it plied the Channel waters with a lumbering grace.  It was misting slightly so I wrapped a shawl around my hair and shoulders, standing by the railing and looking out as the lights of France faded to a mere glimmer in the night. So many people had taken this journey over time: Historical figures who had either escaped to France or were returning to England, in secret or in glory; literary icons who'd found their way to the continent; artists who sought the inspiration of Paris for their canvases. Mary Queen of Scots, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Charles II, John Singer Sargent, Gertrude Stein. All had travelled over these same waters, and perhaps all had stood as I was now standing, peering out at the distant lights that grew smaller and smaller.

Soon all was darkness and while it didn't last long, it was strangely peaceful to be adrift in the black middle-night on the deep waters of the English Channel. And then, like magic, the chalk cliffs of Dover appeared in the night, and the lights of England beckoned us home.

We had to wait at the ferry landing for nearly 2 hours for the next coach into London.  (The trains weren't running until much later and we couldn't bear the thought of staying longer than we had to in the ferry station.)  Sleeping for much of the journey, we arrived in London quite early in the morning, catching the first coach to Oxford and barely able to speak for exhaustion and lack of sleep.  As we rolled into the City Centre, we stumbled to the nearest cafe on St. Giles street and tucked into an enormous breakfast, smiling at one another idiotically over our bacon, sausage, fried toast and eggs.

Were we just in Paris? Was that possible?  Had it all really happened?

A pocket full of useless rail, coach and ferry tickets in my pocket told me it had.
And they were worth every penny.

The three hotel photos are from Le Grand Hotel site; all others by the author.