Yesterday I awoke to a familiar sound. Tires on wet pavement.
For a moment, I thought I was back in the Salem house on Summer Street. And I almost was. Or the next best thing.
Instead of drizzly Oregon, I was in drizzly Oxford. Or, more accurately, drizzly Abingdon, where my friend Julian lives. This was my first opportunity to visit him since his wife Andrea died almost two years ago.
I met the two of them at RAF Upper Heyford, just outside of Oxford, in the mid-1990s when I was there to assist in shutting down the base. Andrea worked for the Crown Prosecution Service. She and Julian were there for one of the occasional social functions between the Service and the base legal office.
It was the start of a great friendship. They came to visit me in Salem. (Being dog people, they became fast chums with Professor Jiggs,) And I stayed with them in Abingdon when I would visit England.
Yesterday we had grand plans of taking the boat into Oxford, doing a bit of sight-seeing and shopping, and taking the bus back. But those singing tires on the pavement provided anthem enough that an alternative plan would be a good idea.
I lived in this area of the kingdom for two years in the mid-1970s. There is always something to do and see. And we did.
We were off to Tewkesbury in western England, primarily to see its massive church. To get there, though, we passed through some of the country's most beautiful countryside in the Cotswolds. Before I moved to Mexico, I had seriously considered retiring to a cottage in one of the hamlets tucked into these softly-rolling hills.
But retirement was not our destination; Tewkesbury was -- the site of one of the most important battles in the War of the Roses in 1471. That was the battle that finally decided (at least for that round of battles) that the Yorkist contender, Edward, would sit on the throne of England until his younger brother Richard frittered it all away in a manner that would give Shakespeare great fodder for one of his propaganda pieces to appease his Tudor queen.
The prize tourist stop in town is the abbey church. To look at it, you would think it was a cathedral. After all, it is the third largest church in England. But no bishop sits here. So, the place serves as a parish church.
A huge parish church. When the Normans conquered England, they peppered the countryside with massive buildings that could easily be mistaken as fortresses. This place was consecrated in 1121 and is mainly Norman in style -- with a central tower reputed to be the largest Romanesque tower in England.
Walking through the church is to literally walk through medieval history -- and Shakespeare's plays. Which may be the same thing.
Edward, the last Lancastrian Prince of Wales, who fell at the Battle of Tewkesbury, is buried here. As is the Duke of Clarence -- the benighted, murdered brother of the first York king. There are Warwicks and Despensers and Beauchamps and de Clares. Enough extras to populate sufficient productions to amuse generations of groundlings.
I am never too impressed with massive churches. The notion that God can be housed in stone simply does not comport with my view of him.
But it is undoubtedly a lovely building. Not only is it worth a visit; it is the type of stop that needs hours to fully enjoy.
And I am better for the stop. Reacquainting myself with this era of history and its attendant beauty helps to put some context in our rather troubling, but still beautiful, world.
As was true in Blackpool, though, visiting this part of England has been an opportunity to put another row of bricks on my friendship with Julian.
It was also my opportunity to remember Andrea. I will miss her.