So there I was…
in the middle of the best couple of days I’ve had in years, trying to set fire to the Derbyshire countryside via Chinese lanterns (which are surprisingly difficult to light and astonishingly aerobatic in the inversions, funnels, and rip-raging, ricocheting, righteously roiling winds of a moonlit night on a hillside now named forever in my mind as Cowpie Rising) with friends I have known for years but had never met (except one).
The day had started at some ungodly hour, when Latestar the far traveller came knocking upon my door (because he had been there before and knew his way through the rolling hills and precipitous drops of my home country’s tempestuously tilted floor). I was ready, washed, trimmed, with bag packed (one of those Tesco bags for life…what? It’s a bag, it’s for life, this was life, I needed a bag, therefore it was an eminently suitable piece of luggage) and nicotine gums in my pocket.
I jumped to open the door, Latestar stood grinning, but there was somebody else with him. I stopped, I stared, I let the several cups of coffee I had already consumed, click over in my brain… “Good god, Mouldy,” I exclaimed.
He tutted, “Only said as a speech verb, PK.”
I nodded and agreed, “You’re right there, butt.”
We embraced like men, and — after another cup of coffee and the fortuitous discovery that Mouldy speed-smoked a pipe (I think it’s the sportsman in him, pipe, light, ready, set, go…gone. He smokes it effortlessly) which meant I could grab up my packet of tobacco (no, I smoke roll-ups, it keeps my fingers practised) without embarrassment at my fall from my wagon of deprivation (smoking is bad for you, yes. I know. Why do you think I have gums? Uh uh, look up addiction) — embarked upon our epic journey to the wilds of Derbyshire (think of it as like Wales only with slightly more manicured hills).
Wales is a beautiful country…I never noticed before. Bit of a problem that when they asked me if I knew where we should turn. “Duw, there’s a difficult one,” I said. “Where’s England, then?”
So with Latestar’s sat-nav quietly weeping, Mouldy picked up a map (no…not with street view…a map…on paper…you take this wood pulp and compress it into these thin sheets and…no, you can’t zoom in…no it doesn’t need a battery…no it doesn’t point the way…you know a flaming map, on paper, like…sigh…ask your granddad) and proceeded to guide us through the wild ways with no help from me, since we don’t actually pronounce those place-names like that. Welsh is phonetic — if you’re Welsh.
I’ll cut the description of the journey short because it isn’t actually the reason for the post. I will no doubt weave a tapestry of fictional truths about that journey at some point, but for now let’s just say, it’s a bit of a way.
Now we had to pick up 44 at the train station (we call her that (actually we don’t, I never use people’s real names in these things — they might well sue) because she shoots from the hip and always keeps her powder dry. Annie Oakley only went to the States because this ‘ere was 44’s patch.) but we were late, so we sent Mouldy to say hi because he can do spinning jump kicks and things, which is bugger all use against 44 (but we didn’t tell him that). Surprisingly he survived.
Hugs all around again, unmet friends meeting always involves a lot of hugging.
And onwards we went to Pollyanna’s home. I did have written directions, but unfortunately I wrote them, so we drove straight past the place.
Luckily, Pollyanna’s Number one daughter (there is a Number one son too. No names, no pack drill, and I ain’t about to instil a bout of sibling rivalry) was awaiting us on this rather grand portico. I didn’t think about it, plenty of columned places like that about. Just thought she was waiting there like. She told us to go around the back to park. I still didn’t twig (in my defence, chapel does not actually have quite the same meaning in Wales).
Pollyanna and (now here’s a difficult one, no variation of names and handles will work) Reki (so-called because she soulful, deep, and will probably break your arm if you use an Oxford comma wrong…reki’s like yoga right? No? Um…oh look cake) were waiting in the small car parking area. Hugs all around.
Up some steps to this small garden. Nice little place thought I. Through the back door. Oh look, lots of animals and stuff. Into a lovely little corridor (at this point the glimpse of the wrought iron spiral staircase should have given me a hint) dumped our bags and went up for some coffee.
Words really cannot describe the impact of that lovely home. Built into a decommissioned chapel, a vast space with…seriously, I honestly cannot (particularly in a ‘So there I was…’ post) do justice to the magnificence of that home. Stunning.
And…this is important…Pollyanna and her family were so welcoming that I instantly felt at home. I have never felt so comfortable, so quickly, in any place I have ever visited. I salute you, Pol, KB, Number One Son and Daughter, and I thank you with all my heart. And give that lovely little dog a scratch behind the ears from me.
Right wishy-washy (but entirely meant) emotionalising out-of-the-way.
So there I was…
sitting at the table in Pollyanna’s lovely kitchen in this stained glass, dark beamed (nope, no more, this is a ‘So there I was…’ only aspersions and diversions allowed)
So there I was…
in the middle of Firedance’s Books first ever AGM. Present: Mouldy, Latestar, 44, Reki, Pollyanna, and your illustrious scribe PK.
We had an agenda and everything…and cake. We worked hard, sweeping through each item on the agenda with speed, clarity, and precision (did I mention the cake…they were using that against me. I only diverted the conversation a couple of dozen times. ‘Any more,’ they said, ‘and no cake for you.’).
So after some time, we had managed to decide that yes, this is actually the Annual General Meeting, not the All Gathering Mooch, or the Amiable Georgian Megadash-bash, or the Arguing Gets Medals, and that using ‘that’ in a sentence is really quite okay.
Gratified, we broke out the wine.
We did have a few items on the agenda to deal with in the morning, but well…wine…we’d already had cake…so…you know…wine.
Oh and Guinness and some whisky, and…no that was it. Wine both kinds red and white, the black stuff, and the amber stuff. Seems about right.
KB, Pollyanna’s star of a husband came home from work and pretty instantly joined our merry company, a fine host and a lovely talker. He even laughed at some of my jokes.
Dinner was lamb, cooked the best way (garlic and rosemary placed in slits in the meat, then roasted. Yeah…I used to work the kitchens but Pollyanna sent me out to fetch some rosemary from the herb garden. I don’t actually know what Rosemary looks like when it is, like, growing and stuff, I thought it like came in little plastic packets — luckily Pollyanna did know the difference between lavender and Rosemary (I didn’t tell her I tasted it just to check. No, the lavender, before she arrived, it tastes like your grandmother’s curtains) and so the lamb was flavoured to perfection.
And then we settled in for a fun time, there were party pieces…a…um…did I mention the whisky…um…poetry, there was definitely some poetry read and some skilful paper cutting and…um…oh look, cake.
So we all, lovely family, cracking doggie, and rambunctious reprobates resembling a publishing collective, took some great Chinese Lanterns up to a hill and tried to set fire to Derbyshire.
Afterwards, we talked and laughed and I realised (though I already knew this) that these were my friends, no longer virtual, and I felt at home.
*Normally I would put ‘no truth was harmed in the making of this post here’ but this time. The facts might be slightly embellished, the names and character descriptions might well be fraudulent, but the emotions are true and honest and come from my heart to yours: Latestar, Mouldy, 44, Reki, Pollyanna, KB, Number One Daughter and Son, you know who you are, and you are my friends.