“We’ll head gradually down to Plymouth over a couple of days” said Neil. Checking the Road Atlas and noting all the towns en route, that seemed right to me – it looked like it should take “a couple of days”. [With my Australian experience of driving distances, I had completely misjudged the scale of the map, and didn’t realize that if you headed West/Southwest it was possible to start at Heathrow Airport and arrive on Neil’s parents’ doorstep in about 3 ½ hours.]
The first place we investigated on our travels was Bath, in the Southwest English countryside. Here we visited the Roman Baths and explored the remains of one of the greatest spas of the ancient world – where people bathed nearly 2000 years ago. I was fascinated but un-nerved at the same time. On one wall was simply glued (not behind glass, or in any way protected) a number of coins which had been discovered in the water during excavations.
One showed the image of Julius Caesar. Considering that I had studied in detail Shakespeare’s play of the same name in senior school, touching the coin with my finger it was as if it was talking to me, mocking me: “Ha, Ha…I was here before Australia was discovered”. As a youngish girl from the other side of the world, I was quite overwhelmed by this sudden onslaught of living history, which I had never fully comprehended before.
We ate that night in an old Pub called “The Moon and Sixpence”, the first of a number of quaintly-named establishments I would subsequently frequent. We then stayed overnight in a “Bed and Breakfast” in an outer lying village, with a surrounding stone wall – made without mortar. To me, the stuff of fiction, not real life.
The next day the weather closed in (as I would learn is commonplace) so we decided to head straight for Plympton, rather than make further stops on the way. When we arrived at Neil’s Parents’ home, there were no obvious signs of life, despite our knock on the door, which we then discovered was unlocked. We let ourselves in. The kitchen door and back windows were wide open and a ginger cat nonchalantly let himself in through one of them into the back lounge room.
It was like the proverbial Marie Celeste.
Eventually, up the stairs we climbed, to discover Neil’s Mum Sylvia, on top the bed, fast asleep, surrounded by wallpaper and paste. It transpired she had decided to do a spot of decorating to make the house even nicer for the arrival of her Aussie guest, but had stayed up too late, and then thought she had time for a quick nap (as we weren’t expected until the evening). For years we teased her about discovering her in her tracksuit with Wallpaper paste in her hair. (But fortunately I had met her in New Zealand the year before, so she could rest easy this was not my “first impression”.)
The early days and weeks were, nonetheless, not without difficulty. It was wonderful being with Neil and I enjoyed exploring my new environment and gradually getting to know new people. I also, however, had to come to terms with the enormity of what I had done – moving to the other side of the world, and cutting myself off from everything that was familiar – and essentially grieve for all I had left behind.
Throughout this whole period, though, I was blessed with the love and care of Neil and his family, especially his Mum Sylvia who took all of my issues in her stride. I also had the benefit of what was, for me, to become quite the rarity – a Pastor to call my own. Pastor Kurt stood by me and gave gentle support when the chips were down. He retained a place in my heart over a number of years of our subsequent association in the Evangelical Lutheran Church of England.
One of the consequences of being “The Pastor’s Wife” is that you are effectively denied a Pastor – someone who has that particular relationship in your life. For those who feel spiritual care and support is important, this can leave a real void, which just cannot be adequately filled. In a couple of later parishes I have had someone designated as “My Elder” which has come somewhat close, but it’s still not the same.
Still, here I was in England, in the famed “green and pleasant land”. My first impressions were indeed surprise at how much greenery and space there actually was, as I had imagined, with its large population, that I would be facing a concrete jungle. But it didn’t take long out of London or Plymouth to see fields of grass, even cows and sheep, much to my initial astonishment.
Another fascinating thing, for me, was learning first-hand the truth of what I had imagined from the books I grew up with. As a child I owned literally 101 books by Enid Blyton (largely inherited from my Mother and Aunts) filled with stories of picnics on moors and bedding made of heather. Then, as a teenager I had moved onto Agatha Christie mysteries, one of my favourites being “4.50 from Paddington” so it was quite amazing for this antipodean to find out, that if you caught the train from Plymouth to London, it actually terminated at Paddington Station.
And in the 1980’s, I had become an aficionado of British author Douglas Adams. First I read his “Hitchhiker” series, and then loved “the Meaning of Liff”, a “dictionary of things that there aren’t any words for yet”. This beautiful little book took existing place-names and assigned interesting, often silly meanings to them. The listed words tend to describe common feelings and objects for which there is no current English word. For example: Shoeburyness (“The vague uncomfortable feeling you get when sitting on a seat that is still warm from somebody else’s bottom”) and Plymouth (“To relate an amusing story to someone without remembering that it was they who told it to you in the first place”). One of Neil and my amusements at this time was to drive around the countryside trying to find towns and tiny villages with obscure names (and meanings) as mentioned in “Liff”.
And I could describe further, but this Post is already rather long…
So, to reflect, I was 10,270 miles (in the “old money”) from Home.
I now knew what a Moor and Heather looked like. I was reasonably acclimated and had discovered the concept of central heating, (and that Wimbledon actually took place in the daytime and in the “Summer”). I had a new family including a potential future Mother-In-Law whom I loved. But up until now I had been on holiday.
The reality of day-to-day Life and Work in “the Old Country” was yet to begin.