Arriving into St. Pancreas station in London, we immediately commented on how clean things seemed, not the seedy steamy Gare du Nord we’d left over the channel. This was bright, there were snazzy shops; and to top it all, we spied a WHSmith, the bookstore chain, ga ga’d over the selection, queued to pay, and gorged on English magazines that didn’t cost a fortune in euros. Clipped English voices, we gorged on those too. French has a certain exactness, but English is musical, and when it’s your mother tongue, it’s as musical as can be.
Sometimes, you’re starved for a small taste of your own culture, and we’d chosen to come over to the U.K. to immerse ourselves in the green landscape, no doubt, but we were also looking forward to shooting the breeze jawing the local jive talk. On the train from London west to Hereford, two blokes sat behind us, talking for 2 choice hours about families, funerals, stuff like that. They said things like, “She’s got some sense, but he’s a bit common.” “My brother is a knob, he doesn’t agree with anything and he won’t talk to Father Michael.” Meanwhile a large lady across from them in a bright red sweater with very blond hair carefully unwrapped her breakfast buns and placed them on a decorative plate. In Slough, a man with very wavy hair, round wire-rimmed glasses, beak nose, narrow chin, wearing a mustard tweed jacket, with a red kerchief he put to his running nose boarded the train and walked to the middle of the coach. He got off at Oxford, clearly, a 60 year old Harry P.
Hay on Wye, Wales, is a small village of 1,500 people and 26 bookstores. Yep! Books galore and people to talk about them with. It sits on the River Wye surrounded by green hills dotted with sheep. A guy named Richard Booth, who was born there, educated at Oxford, returned home, got an inheritance from an Uncle that allowed him to open a bookstore and to start this book ‘movement’ to support his rural economy. We explored the nooks and crannies of many of the bookstores, but Booths Books is special – a good vibe there with the deep cushioned chairs, high windows that look out to hills in the distance, polished wood. And a cafe that offers a mean chai latte.
Wordsworth, the Romantic poet, wrote some of his best work around here, walking the Wye River Valley. Lines that I could quote in my 20’s, that spoke of nature as having no ‘slight or trivial influence on the best portion of a good man’s life’ essentially attributing to nature – the power to deeply restore and balance, to inspire and hold truth. Beautiful stuff well thought out. We were granted long chats with various local folks sharing stories of Wales, its land, the sheep, its economy. We ran into the same people again. We walked into a deep green glade of daffodils behind the Dingle church. A local told us about the footpath behind that we could follow up Cusop hill. The sheep hardly raised their heads from the meadow grass as we passed.