Gillian Bouras
An Australian
Writer
Living in Greece

July 2014

People’s attitudes to travel are usually quite fascinating. I once rang a friend from a Melbourne tram. ‘You’re always going somewhere,’ she said, although as it happened I was not going anywhere very exciting. In a London supermarket long ago, a man once told me that you could walk from Hampstead Heath to Oxford Street in about an hour. Via Regent’s Park. ‘But of course,’ he remarked, ‘we are not going anywhere; we are already here.’ On that fatalistic note, he left.

I suppose I am always here and there, and often somewhere in-between. I certainly do a good bit of gadding about: well, there is always so much to see.  And life, although we don’t want to acknowledge the fact, is short. Just recently, after a long gap, I visited England. The green and pleasant land was very much so, and enjoying almost perfect weather: that is to say, there was no rain, and balmy sunshine blessed the place on most days. ‘You’ve been very lucky,’ friends said, and others said that I had brought some Greek weather with me. Now I’m back in that same Greek weather: it’s about 30 degrees C at present: a temperature I really like. Much to the amazement of various people, including my brother, who start to wilt when the mercury gets past 25.

What to say about England? There’s no end to the comments, actually. For Australians of my generation, England was where real life (whatever that may be) was happening.  England in general, and London in particular. It’s the weight of time, apart from anything else: the walk along Piccadilly, for example, takes in the church of St James, designed by Sir Christopher Wren, and Hatchard’s, the bookshop that was founded in 1797; it was there that our very own Sir Joseph Banks helped to set up the Royal Horticultural Society, which has been soldiering on to excellent effect ever since: although Napoleon deemed England as a nation of shopkeepers, it is also a place where gardens flourish with  great style and beauty. Thanks to the gardeners.

I dashed about a fair bit, in my usual style: Northumberland, Cornwall, and West Sussex add up to not a bad tally in just under three weeks. John Wesley also dashed about a fair bit, I learned. Well, I knew something about him, but had not realised that the longest attended Methodist church in the village of Ireshopeburn, County Durham, had been established because of his efforts. He visited the place thirteen times, and you can still see the hawthorn tree under which he preached his first sermon there in 1752. By 1760 the chapel was established.

And has been functioning continuously ever since. The Sunday my friends and I went, we were so warmly welcomed we could hardly believe it. I confess to a childhood -conditioned prejudice (just a slight one!) against women ministers, but the woman in charge impressed us all with her closing prayer, as it listed practically every current international worry, and did not omit the more personal concerns that most of us have about family and friends. I was not raised a Methodist, but the chapel, with its simplicity and warmth, was a place I recognised.

Then there was Cornwall, home of my ancestors, or one such home. There is a stirring of the blood, I confess, when I am in Cornwall and in Scotland. My brother and I are the Cornish physical type, short and dark, which leads us to conclude that Cornish genes are very strong: they had to be, I think, in order to survive the copper and gold fields of Australia, not to mention the daunting sea voyage necessary to get to such places.

This time I stayed in Penzance, and had a perfect day at the gardens at St Michael’s Mount. The great rock itself creates a micro-climate, and acts as a radiator, so that the gardens are surprisingly tropical. The mount is linked to the mainland by a causeway; when we arrived we had to take to a boat, the causeway being under water, but in three hours’ time, we were able to walk across to the beach. Not surprisingly, St Michael’s Mount has firm links across the Channel: it was Mont St Michel, built on a rocky island off the coast of Normandy, that established the twin mount: St Michael was the archangel who was dedicated to fighting evil while on hilltops, apparently. He’s been doing this for a long time: both sites were established round about the 12thcentury.

In Sussex I visited Chichester Cathedral once again. And paid my respects to the Arundel Tomb of Richard FitzAlan and his second wife, Eleanor of Lancaster. Philip Larkin wrote a beautiful poem about the tomb, and said it is a proof of

Our almost-instinct almost true

What will survive of us is love.

Words after my own heart,  and after a great many other hearts. 

Gillian Bouras

 

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