Thursday, March 21, 2013

A ‘Bucket’, not a ‘Cauldron’

After a bit of faltering due to icing problems on the electric rail system, causing delays on the Gatwick to Reading diesel-train line, I arrived in Reading. The purpose of the 25 minute train ride was to meet up with an old friend whom I had not seen since 1984. This was the man, who in the mid-1950s, used to shout across the garden wall at his bald-headed neighbor, Mr. Waldron, ‘Old man Waldron has a head like a cauldron’. For that, and other reasons, I have always remembered Christie Davies. We had shared an interest in geology in our schoolboy years – I pursued that interest into and beyond University; Christie studied it for just one year before switching to economics while he attended Emmanuel College at Cambridge University.
Christie and I had attended the same grammar in Wales but did not meet up again he stayed at my house in St Louis for a few days in 1984. Today, he recounted an event that day that I had long forgotten. Apparently, my youngest son (then 6 years old) was ‘not feeling too happy with his lot in life’ that day – until Christie suggested that he join the two of us on the day-trip we had planned. ‘His eyes lit up and he was happy as anyone could be after that’, said Christie. Funny how some things stick in one person’s mind but escape from another’s.

Christie is Emeritus Professor of Sociology at Reading University, so it was there that we began our day. After an excellent lunch at the staff diner, followed by a coffee in the library while he checked his email and we were off on our tour. We passed the place where Oscar Wilde was once imprisoned – on homosexuality charges – and headed towards Oxfordshire and the South Downs.  That is a sheep-spotted ridge of chalk deposits overlooking a broad, flat, valley of clays. The ‘Downs’ are often characterized by dry valleys that would not seem ‘out of place’ – except in this rain-sodden country!  

After a walk of a mile or so, clambering over stiles

and gates, we drove to see ‘The White Horse’. It is not a live animal, but an ancient carving some 200 feet across, in the chalk hillside – adjacent to several Iron Age fortresses. A flock of sheep, including 3 or 4 black sheep, scuttled before us as Red Kite’s circled above. The White Horse remained unruffled, and because the day was dreary, did not show off its fine white, chalky, color – but looked anorexic and rather as the song says, ‘The old grey mare, she ain’t what she used to be . . .’


We drove on to the quaint town of Wantage - one-time home of John Betjeman (modern English Poet) and of King Alfred the Great (born 849 AD), the daft bugger who burnt the cakes! But, thanks to him, we had many a laugh at the cinema when we were kids. I must have mentioned that in an earlier bucket-blog, didn’t I?

The statue erected in ‘ye olde towne square’ was NOT erected by the local baker’s society, I imagine! Alfred, you see, was hiding from the invading Danes (who did NOT arrive in a red car or a white van) which took his attention away from the cakes that the widow who was sheltering him had asked him to watch over whiles she tended to other household chores. 

In a quantum leap back to the future, we passed the huge coal-fired power plant at Didcot.

I was told that the coal that supplies the plant comes from Wales. I suspect it may be from the opencast mines just a couple of miles of where I once (1967-1970) worked when I was with the (then) National Coal Board.

A short distance away is the small town of Harwell – site of Europe’s first nuclear reactor in 1946. All 5 reactors have since been shut down. I did not see any 5 legged, green badgers running around the village, so have to conclude the area is safe!

It was shortly after this, that on the return drive to Reading, the first showers of the day started to fall. Another successful trip had been conducted without the need to break open the ‘brolly’. It had been a most enjoyable day visiting with a friend from the distant past. As we parted at Reading Station, Christie gave me an autographed copy of his 1990 book, ‘Ethnic Humour Around the World – A Comparative Analysis’.

After arrival back in Guildford, my brother took me to the local ‘Chipper’ where I ordered fish & chips and a large sausage in batter – just as in the old days. Back at his home, a mile away, that went down well with a much needed can of Foster’s lager.

To be continued . . .    

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