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.
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.
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.