Monday, June 16, 2008

Whitsuntide. Saturday 27th May – Monday 29th May 1939

This is written several days later; the “crime” was, I think, perfect. More than a mere crime however, it was a perfect holiday! The weather was exceedingly kind to us. Forecasts were bright for Saturday with slightly less sunshine on each following day. Actually, Saturday was the dullest day and the heat and the glorious sunshine increased afterwards.

We left Eastwood at about11 o’clock. Stayed a short while at Hawthorn Court, exuding a little camouflage about friends at Egham with whom we were staying. (I chose the Manbys – Koke and George – as known acquaintances whom my people did not personally know.) All this deception, though necessary, is a bit beastly and we’ve agreed that this shall be the last intrigue. They haven’t altogether been intrigues without purpose. This is 1939, modern times, and Lois and I both felt it was necessary to know each other before marriage rather than make a mistake and be unhappy ever after. Therefore the real purpose has been achieved and we know we can live together happily if and when there is enough money.

Drove aimlessly west wards, the “crime” being in operation as soon as we were beyond Egham.
Had an early tea at The White Cottage, Hurst – in the riverside country. Then ambled on to Wargrave, found a boathouse and took a punt on the river. When the evening breeze began to seem cool we took the road again. Lois navigated with a one-inch ordinance survey map through Henley and up into the Chilterns by Fairmile. We wandered among woods and isolated villages high in the hills until the petrol gauge was flickering ominously low. Came to the main road and Nettlebed. Plenty of petrol here but no digs. Returned to Henley-on-Thames. Everywhere full up. Eventually rang the Chequers Inn at Fingest. They could take us! Lois christened herself Stephanie Knight.

Jolly good supper at the Regal in Henley, then drove, in the falling shadows, to Fingest. Green wooded hills began to sweep on either side. Stopped to light my pipe and, in the silence, we heard many birds singing. I heard a nightingale for the first time. Angel knows the birds songs.

At the Chequers we had a quaint little attic with a window set in the slope of the roof and looking across at the old church, with a glimpse, through the trees, of a wooded hill skyline beyond.
In the morning that wooded hill seemed nearer and trees that crowded its crest were gloriously green. A pot of tea was brought in and set down on the table between our beds. We breakfasted beside an open window that looked onto the garden, beyond which rose more hills and woods. Beautifully, the slopes of light and dark green do not tower menacingly above Fingest; they roll away from it on three sides, whilst to the north runs the same valley with the road snaking at its bottom, like a river.

Sang and idled our way, vaguely, until at length we found Wargrave again and the same boathouse. Took out a skiff and after leaving the Thames battled for a mile or so up a swift-flowing stream, the Loddon. Lois soon became quite a skilful steersman or cox. This Loddon appears to be navigable for quite a distance, according to the map and would be worth exploring some day – if that golden Tomorrow ever comes. We eventually tried a very narrow brook which entered the Loddon and inch by inch, paddled the skiff upwards for about 25 yards.
This stream, or rather ditch – the water was brackish – then became quite impassable owing to low hanging branches and undriftable driftwood (that sounds paradoxical!) We could now neither turn the skiff or paddle it backwards out of the tight corner we’d reached. Nothing daunted, we hoisted the unwieldy boat clean out of the water and dragged it through hundreds of buttercups until we came to a clearer part of the brook, where we launched it successfully.

“She slid into the water, newly christened and a bride…” I quoted as we gave the final shove. The current helping, we moved lazily down the Loddon, then went up Thames to Shiplake Locks and paddled to within a few yards of the boiling weir waters. Angel cool at the tiller, showed no signs of nervousness, as most girls might have done, when I curved the skiff in a wide circle until we were moving swiftly away from the weir, the water rushing impotently after us. “I’d like to shoot rapids someday” she said with interest.

In the afternoon, we drove to Stoner, then eastwards up to the Common. Settled down in the lee of some gorse bushes and let the sun do his damnedest. We lay on my mackintosh and car rug. Read the paper; drank tea from Lois’ thermos; ate oranges. I puffed my pipe. Very peaceful!

Comfortably sunburnt we went back to Henley for supper at the Armistice Café. With our brown faces we made quite a splash of colour! Saw, when happening to glance at a nearby mirror -Lois, fair hair, scarlet jacket and navy blue slacks. Myself, dark hair, yellow, chocolate and brown blazer and tie, light blue shirt, dark grey bags.

Evening: We walked up into the 550’ Hanger Wood, that had been silhouetted for my eyes in that early dawn light. It was dusk in the wood but a white light shone through the western trees. Angel hurried on to the edge. I following slowly through deep dead leaves saw her moving outlined against the glow. Struggling from darkness towards the light! We threw ourselves down in a hollow and among dead beech leaves. We looked up at green treetops beyond tall stems, with a few patches of sky showing… We wandered through the wood in the gathering dusk and came to the edge near a wild laburnum tree in flower. In the valley below we saw a light in one of the attics of The Chequers Inn.

On Monday we returned, by easy stages. Between Marlowe and Maidenhead we ascended the steep twisting hill into Park Woods and to my joy Slinkys’ speed did not drop below 20 in top gear. At my last ascent, before the retarding, I had to change down to middle.

Searching (vainly) for my brother’s Sea Scout Troop, we spent the afternoon on the Thames in a skiff. Embarked at Lower Halliford and sculled up to within a mile of Chertsey. Passed through Weybridge Locks. This was quite an adventure for both of us. Returning, we were now accustomed to locks and handled the boat skilfully.And all the day the sun blazed down jubilantly! I felt damn fit!

Proceeded slowly homewards. Stayed to watch a cricket match in Twickenham and a fire at a shop in Ealing. Tea at hawthorn Court. Rapid journey back to Eastwood in the evening. Sixty! boomed Slinky on the double-track Arterial Road, with all the traffic going the other way. Driving, afterwards, to Stock, I saw the 26,000th mile tick onto the car milometer. In view of this, and the journey to Tilbury a week ago, the ascent of that steep hill this morning and for generally sprightly behaviour, Slinky B has been honoured and is now Captain Slinky B!

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