Invincible Summer |||

How green is my valley

Teme valley from Stanage

This is Powys. England starts at the river. Mephistopheles in Knighton:

Why this is Wales, nor am I out of it.

Tits, robins, house sparrows and a wren check my terrace for scraps, the wren bobbing about at the bottom of the fence.

What I forgot or did not think to bring:

  • walking stick
  • binoculars
  • field guide to birds
  • hiking maps of the area
  • Lost Lanes Wales

So that’s not what this trip is about.

Sorjonen: Muraalimurhat

A scene from Sorjonen: Muraalimurhat, a Finnish thriller. A colleague visits the detective in hospital, where he is being treated for depression, and asks how he is doing. Sorjonen considers the question.

“What’s your educated guess?”

Turned off the M40 and followed the A40 past Oxford and Witney. In a mournful and elegiac mood, listening to Kate & Anna McGarrigle attentively for the first time in years. I doubt “Heart Like A Wheel” has ever touched me like this before.

I like these old roads. The A40 is the Great West Road, the continuation of Cheapside into Oxford St, through Notting Hill Gate, and on to Fishguard on the Welsh coast and the ferry to Ireland. The route is older than history.

Motorway driving is two-dimensional space travel. It lacks any sense of place. You leave the real world’s network of ancient roads for a confected space of broad, fast highways and identical service areas, with only blue signs to tell you where you might be.

“What’s your educated guess?”

Resisted an impulse to stop at Minster Lovell to pay homage to the Windrush but past Burford – where George Smiley contemplated retiring? – and turn towards the Barringtons for lunch at the Fox Inn.

Fox Inn, Gt Barrington

Another lieu de mémoire – lunches over many years with friends and family on the terrace beside the Windrush. A perfect country pub – and unassuming, perhaps my highest compliment. There are cars in its park today, but the place is very quiet. Too quiet. Outside a bar entrance, a man in his sixties asks if I am a customer.

Hoping to be.
— Not today, I’m afraid. I’ve sold it. After twenty-nine years. Signed the papers ten minutes ago. New owners have closed it for a month. Refurbishing. Don’t know what they’re going to do.
You have to walk away.
— Yes. Their place now.

He looks a bit shaken. As he might. I am privileged to be here with him in this moment. I congratulate him. Memorable day. End of an era. No, I don’t say that. We are both too moved to bear platitudes. I ask him what his plans are. Right now he must find a place to live. Beyond that, the future has once more morphed into a secret.

As we all need it to become from time to time.

I offer him lunch, but a woman in her thirties has just arrived to pick him up. I ask him where I should eat; he thinks and says the Inn for All Seasons as it’s getting late, back on the main road. I thank him for everything he did here. He grins ruefully. We all leave.

Back on the A40, I turn for Cheltenham and Wales, driving straight past the Inn. I’m not actually hungry. So that wasn’t what the trip to The Fox was about either.

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