Around England


On the day that oil prices soared to $140 a barrel, (a 40% rise this year), inflation moved to above 3% (with dire warnings from Alister Darling of Britain’s rising cost of living), I collected my Mercedes-Benz CLK 320 Cabriolet from Essex, and drove down the motorways of middle England to Oxfordshire. It was a dream of a drive, successfully quashing rational doubts as we moved, smooth as an ironing board, round the M25. It was either this or wait for the Green Rocket – Tesla Roadster – arriving at E99,000 next year. So here I was, was the once Gandhian environmentalist who campaigned against plastic expansionism in India, railing against the material created to be thrown away, born from the finite resource of oil, now driving a gas guzzling luxury piece of ever dwindling metal. ‘Well you’re recycling’ observed my friend Gill. Indeed it is 8 years old.

Gottlieb Daimler and Carl Benz, founders of two distinct car empires, developed their automobiles at the end of the last century. It was the Daimler group that produced a special car for Emil Jellinek, who named the car after his 10 year old daughter, Mercedes. ‘Lighter and smaller, the new Mercedes had 35 hp and a top speed of 55 mph’. Rivals from the start, it was sheer economic necessity that drove Daimler Benz to merge in 1926.

I was travelling to visit the new born baby of my young cousin, Berenice. Tilly was 7 weeks old when I saw her.
‘The desire to protect is so strong in these first weeks’ Ushi, her mother, put into words the overriding feeling of the day with them. Unable to relate to this extraordinary ordinary experience, I found in these words a connection. As I nursed the dieing Sugata, feeding mashed up strawberries into his bird open mouth, I felt that desire to protect. I even jealously guarded it.

‘Would you mind washing your hands after your cigarette?’ Berenice asked (sheepishly) before I took the baby into my nervous arms. Of course her body is so pure now, so perfect in its creation, the world its oyster before any imprint. While I am pitted and scared by sun and monkey bites from India, Golden Virginia cigarette smoke layers my lungs, hair loosing rising oil and colour, sight diminishing.
‘It is a miracle, Berenice said, this process of growing another human being’ She told of the giving birth as she nurtured the new life with such tenderness, peaked by unknowing, and finding her way. My young cousin. Through her I was feeling this miracle for the first time in my life – all night long I felt filled with this intense atmosphere.

Ushi was delightful company, revisiting her time as a mother, to me she was open hearted, rhymically turning whisked egg whites into a warming souffle, feeding, challenging, and laughing.
‘It does not surprise me,’ she said of Sugata. But she did not know him, had never met him. ‘I read the book. Don’t forget I am a German too!’

I progressed on to Sofi, my fellow smoker, who had moved to Oxford since I last saw her a year ago. Our year of catch up uncovered striking similarities in our lives. Both of us involved with legal battles, both of us shocked at the audacious cunning of our opponents, and ashamed at our own gullibility, blindness to see. But she had always had a keen nose, how had she not smelt the rat? She had, but had not journeyed down that instinctive path and throttled herself now.

Our talk meandered, as we did, around Rousham, a quintessential perfect English garden, on a puffy cloud summers day, roses light with perfumed bloom. Smell magnetised us around. Vanilla, old rose memories from our past, sweet pea, Linden tree, grass being cut. a flower smelling of arm pits, hairy too. The garden was conceived and planted by William Kent and remained the same, three hundred years later. Kent “leaped the fence, and saw that all nature was a garden”. It was timeless, as was the gardener, hand clipping around the spangled apple trees. Forty years he’d worked in this garden. Since he was a boy, he’d seen seasons change around him, trees grow and some die, but the structure was the same, the family the same, the certainty of it all, along with his future death, and after his death the continuation.

We sat in the seats, given to us by William Kent: “Where you set down and view, what and where you walked along”.

Completing the surprising day, we found a pub down a dead end lane leading onto the canal, called the Boat House, and ate a perfectly warming lamb curry washed down with red merlot wine.

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