My week with Julia was rapidly drawing to a close - just a few short days left and I'd be heading back to my home planet. Julia had some work to attend to Saturday morning, so entertaining the crazy American fell to Charles for a bit. Charles wasn't the least bit daunted by the prospect, instead proposing we motor about the countryside in his wonderful old open air '74 Land Rover. I eagerly donned my scarf and gloves to fashion a protective barrier against the cold March air as Charles fastened the ecstatic dogs securely in the back cargo area.
We pulled away from the Malt House and began rumbling along narrow country lanes that bisected vast plains of green dotted with the forms of creamy white sheep grazing contentedly on a late winter afternoon.

After we had ambled about the area a bit, Charles turned into the driveway of a place he thought I might like to visit that purveyed local produce and other goodies. Being an unashamed food snob, I was thrilled when I walked through the door and saw all the quaint delicacies for sale that never quite make it to the other side of the pond: free range quail eggs, rendered duck fat for cooking, local cheeses, smoked trout and a colorful assortment of old fashioned sweeties. I selected a perfect little steak and kidney pie to heat up in the AGA for lunch when we got home and it satisfied an itch I’ve carried for many years since it’s not very easy to find a good steak and kidney pie in the U.S.

We piled back into the Land Rover with our sacks of plunder and headed back to the Malt House for a late lunch. Julia soon returned from her afternoon assignments and suggested that we go and visit a friend of her’s named MEM that she thought I might like to meet. (MEM being an acronym of her given name, but a moniker that has stuck and absolutely everyone uses). I had been regaled earlier in the week by the tale of how MEM had recently been kidnapped by gypsies(!), so I felt certain I DID need to meet this woman.

Moments after we'd settled at the table in her cheerful and comfortable kitchen, MEM’s tea kettle was whistling merrily. Her hypnotic voice - a buttery confection of English toffee and Australian honey with the rumbling tremor and dignity of Charles Laughton thrown in for good measure - held me in thrall from the moment she began to purr the lines of her first teatime tale. I listened contentedly to local gossip, stories of recent wildfires in Australia and all sorts of other fascinating ephemera - and of course a first person narrative of the kidnapping! The teapot was almost drained by the time Julia and I thought to excuse ourselves. Tea with MEM had been beyond perfect, but it was frightfully close to dinner time.

Julia and I rushed home and then joined Charles at the local pub (mere yards from The Malt House, mind you) and threw back a pint whilst eyeballing the locals and chatting with their affable friend Nancy. We returned to the Malt House for some dinner, which inspired Charles to volunteer to make a nice lamb dinner for our Sunday luncheon.

Charles, as it turns out, is an excellent cook. He roasted up a wickedly good lamb loin, served it with homemade mint sauce and a variety of delicious side dishes. It was a real treat. I'm happy to report that Julia adhered bravely to her vegetarian regimen even though Charles and I made strange noises relating to the deliciousness of our roast.
Sunday afternoon, Julia took me to one of my favorite places in absolutely any city I visit - the grocery store. I filled a small handbasket (the one I'm taking to hell) with essential English provisions, a little something to extend my visit into the coming days. I've found that a cup of strong black tea and a nice digestive biscut go a long way toward soothing the teatime withdrawal pains once I'm back in type A America. As we pushed our basket along, a woman carrying a clip board wrangled us into joining her in the laboratory for a taste test. Julia and I had the great fun of trying to act serious about tasting sour cream from little fluted paper cups with miniature spoons and making helpful comments. I think our exhuberant attitudes probably cheered up the data gatherers a bit.

Sunday evening there was just enough time left to get in a few last visits before I departed. Julia and I enjoyed a splendid tea with her parents in Ascot and then stopped by her friend Sue's for a quick goodbye. Nancy hosted us for wine and dinner and dog petting. We had to make an early evening of it, however, as Julia would be driving me to the airport early the next morning.

Just before we left for the airport, a bit bleary eyed and on edge, Charles took this picture of Julia and me:

When I look at it, I'm amazed by how extremely like and utterly different at the same time those two girls are to the ones seen sporting lampshades in 1973. They cling to each other in reaction to the same exact event: putting a good face on parting. What's clear to me is that the ready ease and deep bond have not altered, even if tresses and dresses have. Our oppositeness is still in evidence, but our common bond is much more assured.

I feel certain there will be further portraits with which to watch this marvelous friendship develop.

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