Rural South Bucks
My first day in my new school and Dad had gone to the airport. I thought that the airport was located in a town called Heathrow. I later learned that Heathrow was the name of the airport and it was London’s airport. Everyone says it is in London, technically it may be, but I believe it is actually situated in Hillingdon. Doesn’t really matter, all those little boroughs are what make up the greater metropolitan area of London anyway. Let’s just stick with calling it London. We’ll say it’s in London.
We were new to England. My dad had arranged a house in an idyllic little town to the west of the city. It was know as Marlow, in South Buckhinghamshire. The town is small; with one cinema, several pubs, a bookseller a DIY shop and a market. There was the usual assortment of businesses that you would expect to go along with that, a betting shop, video rentals, garages, and clothing stores that looked like boutiques. Oh, did I mention that there were several pubs. The high street runs from the river bridge in a roughly northwesterly direction for about a quarter mile.
On the North side of the river is the church and the village green. On the South side sits the rowing club and a well known hostelry with origins dating back to the 1640’s. That small Hotel, originally known as The Riverside, took its new name from Izaak Walton’s famous book on fishing. His book, known as The Compleat Angler, first appeared in 1653. It is believed to have been written while Walton was staying in Marlow.
Oh the brave Fisher’s life, It is the best of any, ‘Tis full of pleasure, void of strife, And ’tis belov’d of many: Other joys Are but toys; Only this Lawful is, For our skill Breeds no ill, But content and pleasure.”
Sorry, I digress. As I told you Dad had gone to the airport. He was going to spend a couple of days on a business trip. My parents, my younger sister, and I had arrived in England on Saturday afternoon, from LAX, picked up the rental car and travelled to Henley, not far from Marlow. Our house in Marlow would not be ready for about two weeks so we were staying at the historic Red Lion Hotel, in Henley on Thames. Not too far from George Harrison’s home.
On Sunday, Dad had driven us to Marlow. We got the quick tour of the village. Everything was so different, so strange. Traffic circles, known as roundabouts replaced stop signs and traffic lights. Drug stores were called ‘Chemists’. Old stone and brick houses lined the road. From time to time they would be replaced by newer homes and buildings as we drove, only to shift back to the old again. I wasn’t used to seeing such old buildings. Dad pointed out a row house with a brass plaque mounted next to the door. “That’s the house where Mary Shelley wrote Frankenstein.” He told us.
We got to see the new house and we drove by my new school: Burford School, in Marlow Bottom. A dark brick building, relatively modern architecture, situated next to a field, it looked foreboding to me. Being Sunday, it was closed up so we kept moving. Marlow Bottom Road is not a through street though so when we reached the end we turned around and got to drive by the school again.
Monday morning there was a light rain falling. It fell to Mom to take me to school since dad had gone to the airport. It was my first day at a new school, in a new town, in a new country. I was nervous but, it turns out Mom was even more nervous than I. Henley is about an eight mile drive from Marlow. She had never driven on the left before.
Henley Road is narrow. One lane in either direction it roughly parallels the river. For the most part the road is bounded by hedgerows that hug the traffic lanes tightly. There are not a lot of places to pull over and let others pass if you are going too slowly so… pretty soon we were leading a parade that stretched back as far as I could see on that winding strip of pavement. The drivers behind us were, for the most part, patient though. Some passed with a sudden burst of acceleration, when they could. Mom pulled over, the first chance she got so the others could pass and she flexed her fingers so the colour would return to her white knuckles.
Eventually, we made it to the school. Classes were already underway so I was late on my first day. I got to attend that first day in street clothes and while I was there Mom followed the directions provided by the head mistress to the shop on the High Street where she purchased grey skirts, white shirts, and maroon sweaters that I would wear from then on when attending Burford School. By the end of the day, I had a bunch of new friends. They liked the way I talked. My accent amused them. The feeling was mutual.