Thursday, January 8, 2015

Going Home to Maidstone

On December 22nd I excitedly flew home to England. It was an immense relief to know that I had nearly 3 weeks of no work, a long period of relaxation and the joy of catching up with Mum and dear old friends to look forward to. I was not going to think about art graphics or Maggi’s website for one minute but was going to focus on simply enjoying being with people I loved.
Even the crowded plane and the guy sitting next to me nursing a bad cold could not dampen my spirits. I had wrapped Christmas presents in gold paper and attached golden bells that jangled and jingled as I marched through the airport. Friends on Facebook had warned that these would be opened but I sailed through the TSA checks without a hitch. I popped Zicam pills every couple of hours to protect myself against the poor suffering man sitting next to me, and arrived at Heathrow early, finding my taxi driver almost immediately. Mum’s little house was the only one in the close lit up brightly when we arrived about midnight and it was the early hours of the morning that saw us finally going to bed after many hugs and cups of tea.
These cute little knitted critters were bought by Mum at a craft fair many years ago. Likely recognized only by British, these are boiled egg warmers.

 Our delicious Christmas dinner. I’d been looking forward and salivating over this for months before this moment. A Dorset leg of lamb with roast potatoes and parsnips, Yorkshire puddings and veggies. The lamb was amazing; unfortunately American lamb is completely flavorless compared to this. Only once had I been able to taste something similar to this when I found frozen New Zealand lamb cutlets in Trader Joe’s. Sadly I’ve never come across them again. But this dinner was superb and we had lamb to spare for another meal later. And of course we had Christmas pudding with cream afterwards, but for me the highlight was that lamb. Mmmmm.
A little penguin that Mum gave me, the light changes to different colors. We had a lovely slow and relaxed Christmas Day, watched the Queen’s speech and just enjoyed chatting with copious glasses of sherry. During my stay, we had 3 bottles!
We did run out to get service for my iPhone. It was great to be ‘live’ again but my joy was short lived. The reception was fine in Castlepoint where I got my EE SIM card but as soon as we got back to Mum’s house the bars dropped on my phone and the service almost died. Apparently underneath Mum’s house and the surrounding properties lies the UK’s largest military oil reserve. At the back of Mum’s property I could see an electric fence a few yards away and this circles the base. It’s put out that this is a fire training ground but no-one’s seen any fire trucks go in. There’s often guards at the entry point, helicopters overhead  and dogs are sometimes heard barking from within. A siren goes off at noon every Friday. I found a history of the site here. I think this site must affect my phone signal and internet but haven’t had the opportunity to ask neighbors. I met Godwin across the road who is friends with Mum, but forgot to mention it. I found it very annoying at first but after a couple of days I started enjoying my ‘technology break’. I just checked e-mails occasionally when we left the village.
 On Saturday, December 27, I was up bright and early to set off for Maidstone. I’d had one go at driving Mum’s car the day before and was amazed that after 16 years, my first time of driving back in England in a manual vehicle was so easy. I didn’t miss a beat, no wrong turnings or missed gears, so I was looking forward to the 3 hour drive to my home town. It was an easy drive with so many well placed signs, no maps or ‘sat nav’ needed, definitely not the case in America! I chuckled at signs I saw on the way up, ‘No racing by horse driven vehicles’, ‘Queues likely’, and ‘FREE cash here’, indicating no fee ATMs. I also stopped at a couple of places to snap quick photos of places I loved, Arundel Castle, a little house in Tunbridge Wells, the Folly at Hadlow and the once thriving little cricket ball factory at Teston.
 As I neared Maidstone I called Boo and also Phil to let them know I was near. A few minutes later I saw my dearest friend standing on the street waiting, and so together we began a whirlwind of a weekend filled with hugs, laughs, tears and more hugs. Americans don’t enjoy hugging, contact is usually an ‘air hug’ where arms circle around another, barely touching, and followed by a light tap on the shoulder. I had more bear hugs this weekend than in the 16 years of living in the U.S. and my arms were nearly dropping off on the drive back to Dorset afterwards!
Bett and I drove straight to Phil’s where I finally met his Mum, Joyce. We’ve been exchanging Christmas and Birthday cards with e-mails for years but never met. Yet it seemed like we had known each other for ages, it was lovely to finally see her. We all chatted over coffee, reminiscing on the past and laughing. Phil is in the photo above, dressed in his Fez Head Morris dancing gear.
The rest of the weekend passed in a blur of love, hugs, laughing over memories, more hugs, Kenny Cramps cider, and just an overall atmosphere of loving friends and family. I have 2 adopted families in Maidstone, Dad Derrick who has always been like a second father to me and the Bosmans, my dear friend Cathy who took me in when I was 18 years old and whose wonderful family treated me like one of their own.
 Boo and DD outside his garden shed. He was adamant that I would spend the night with him after my night in the pub and had to assist me in entering the house later that night when for some reason I couldn't get the key to work...
 His statue at the end of the garden. When buying it, the sales assistant had asked why he wanted it and he had told her he wanted to put it at the end of his bed!
 Me and DD.
 The dreaded Kenny Cramps cider. I had gone to the pub with every intention of having just 3 beers but Mouse led me down the wrong path and the rest of the evening has lots of cider induced memory blocks.
 Long time biker friends. Dear old Mouse on the right made sure I got home safely, bless him.
The next morning DD took me for breakfast then later saw me off dosed up with coffee and aspirin. I picked up Boo and we headed off to Cathy's house where she greeted me at her open door with arms held out even before I stepped on her pathway. It was lovely to hug my old friend again and before I knew it we were following her and Phil to brother Billy's house in Harrietsham.
 With Bill and Cathy. We laughed over old times and caught up on current events. I could have sat and chatted for hours and was sad when I had to leave to head back to Dorset, but I wanted to quickly whizz around Lenham, the next village, where I used to live, before heading back.
 Bill's awesome wreath on his front door.
 The fire station in Lenham hasn't changed a bit but it seemed like so many years ago when I'd worked there and had been the first female firefighter in Kent to become fully qualified. I also chuckled as I remembered the time when I was being tested by a 'whitehat', as we called senior officers, on knots and lines for my 22 month (and final) assessment. I had been told to tie an electrical fire extinguisher so it was ready to be hauled aloft and when he had tested the knots by lifting the extinguisher the damn thing had gone off, covering us and the whole bay (behind the red doors in the photo above) with very fine pink powder. Complete silence had followed as we looked at each other, me with extreme fear and him with intense anger, and then suddenly he barked, "Get out!". I scarpered, running to join my crew members and we waited for our station captain to come back with news. I didn't see the 'white hat' again but it was determined that the pin on the extinguisher had been faulty and I was let off having to clean up the station. I also passed my test.
 My old house in the square. Boo told me that the bluebells I planted still come up every year but once beautiful garden that I had planted and tended is now overrun and the old fashioned rose bushes are all gone.
 Just a small wreath on this house and a star fashioned from brussel sprouts on the door.
 We just sat and looked at this place with no idea what was going on here. Was this for Christmas or an all year round 'display'?
 I designed this sign for Lenham many moons ago and was delighted to see it still standing, but have to admit they need a new one now, it's a bit weather beaten.
We drove back to Maidstone where I had to drop Boo off. It was very hard to say goodbye but we did manage a photo before the tears started and we hugged goodbye. We've always used quotes throughout our friendship from my favorite book, Great Expectations, and they all came out as we parted. "What larks, Pip, old chap", and "Ever the best of friends".
 I drove past Paddock Wood on the way back to Mum's so I could see the Hop Farm and managed to grab this silhouette of the oast houses in the fading light.
This great graffiti artwork on a bridge was my last shot and then I had to concentrate on the road as I headed south. It was a great drive even in the dark and I still didn't need sat nav, I just followed the finger posts to Mum's front door where a welcoming hot pot of tea was waiting when I arrived.

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