Friday, January 02, 2015

Christmas Over There

from Jacqueline

Well, three hours in the emergency room (or Accident & Emergency - “A&E” - as they call it in the UK) of the local hospital is not exactly how one wants to spend Christmas Eve.  I joked with my husband that my mother had deliberately slipped on the doorstep so he could experience the National Health Service up close and personal, but seeing as he had been in the country less than 24 hours at that point, my quip fell a bit flat. First of all though, before you ask - my mother is doing fine now - no broken bones, though she would probably be doing better if she followed doctor’s orders and rested.  But here was my husband’s assessment of his brush with the NHS, “It’s pretty much the same as being in the emergency room in the States - you sometimes have to wait a while, and everyone waiting is anxious about their own health or the health of someone else.  The only main difference is that in the States, pretty much everyone is wondering how much the whole thing will cost, and how they’re going to pay for it!”

My mother was seen by a triage nurse first, then another nurse came to take her for an x-ray, after which she saw the doctor, who gave her instructions (rest!) and prescribed pain meds, but also said he was sending the occupational therapist down to see her.  Though we had to wait for the occupational therapist on duty to finish with another patient, she soon came along holding a brand new walking frame for my mother, and did not let us leave until the frame was mastered. “How much would this visit have cost in the USA?” asked my mother.  Based upon my own recent experiences of my local ER here in California, I replied, “I daren’t even think about it."

My mother lives close to Rye in Sussex, and (for US readers) if you don’t know much about it, chances are you will soon - if the new TV adaptation of E. F. Benson’s Mapp and Lucia comes to the USA.  

The fictional town of Tilling is a very thinly disguised Rye, where Benson lived between the wars. I love Rye, and have spent hours on end in the town at every opportunity since childhood. The cobbled streets, small shops, galleries and beamed cottages all conspired to draw me in. I once lived in the Old Town in Hastings, in a house built in 1450 and very similar to many of those on Mermaid Street in Rye, where we stayed at Jeakes House, a small hotel just oozing character.

Jeakes House is the perfect retreat for a writer, with each room named for a famous author who had visited when the house was privately owned by the American writer/poet, Conrad Aiken - in fact, we stayed in the Aiken Suite, the uppermost room, which I really enjoyed, not least because it had a window seat with a view out towards the Romney Marshes.  I love window seats. I’m not sure why, but I think it started with the illustrated copy of Little Women I was given as a child.  I can remember a line drawing of my heroine, Jo, sitting on a window seat with a book in her hand.  I wanted to be Jo, and I wanted a window seat and whatever book she was reading.  And the window seat at Jeakes House was perfect, because I have also loved the Romney Marshes since I was a child, captivated by the dark smugglers tales of Doctor Syn by Russell Thorndike.  Of course, smuggling still goes on in those parts - though over the years the rum, spices and silks of medieval smugglers have been replaced by hard drugs, and more recently, human cargo.

I picked up my mother and brought her to Jeakes House for breakfast on Christmas morning - and it was a very good start to the day.  A huge Christmas tree graced the dining room, and it was not long before Santa made an entrance, bells and all.  And what a great Santa he was too!  We discovered later that Santa was a local fireman - apparently the firemen of Rye don their red coats and white beards to do Santa appearances at local venues, with all remuneration for their work going to charity. God Bless ‘em, every one!

We had Christmas dinner at The Mermaid - another former haunt of smugglers in days of yore, though I am sure there were no 6-course dinners with champagne served in those days. A secret staircase leads from one of the bedrooms back down to the bar.  I stayed in that room once, many years ago - never ventured down that staircase though.  Pity, it could have been fun!

But here’s the loveliest thing I saw first thing on Chistmas morning, as I walked up Mermaid Street after parking my car - a little boy, still wearing his onesie pajamas, came running down the street towards me.  His red woolen dressing gown ballooned out behind him like superman’s cape, and his slippers slapped against the cobblestones as he sped past me.  He was giggling, holding a teddy bear in one hand and a Christmas stocking in the other. I wished him merry Christmas, and he returned the greeting. I wondered what a boy so young was doing, rushing around on a cold Christmas morn as seagulls wheeled overhead, and I imagined that perhaps his grandparents lived nearby, and he was off to their house, ready to run into their arms, his little cold nose and red cheeks seeking the warmth of their faces as he was scooped up with love.

Here’s what else we did “over there” -  for our three days in London I scored great seats for War Horse at the New London Theater on Drury Lane (the second time around for me); we visited the Sherlock Holmes exhibit at The Museum of London - fantastic, followed by a walk across the Millenium Bridge and a tour of The Globe theater.  Breakfast at The Wolesley on Piccadilly (originally built as the showroom for Wolesley motors in the early 1920’s) was a treat, followed by an hour or so meandering around Hatchards, the UK’s oldest bookshop, founded in 1797 - oh, I defy anyone to come out without a book!!  We then made our way to the new remodeled Imperial War Museum (my second visit since the reopening, so at least I knew where I was going this time), and finally rounded off the sojourn in London with the loud, wonderful, energetic stage production, The Commitments - I was dancing as I left the theater!

Oh, and I forgot to tell you about seeing off the Boxing Day Hunt in Tenterden, Kent. Never mind, just whip along to this link (and sorry, I have tried and failed to upload the video to this page, so perhaps you can cut and paste the link).  Watch for the small girl with her mother at the end - heaven only knows how that child and her pony made it over the hedges!:

When the events of Christmas 2014 are consigned to the memory box that resides in my heart, I think it was the little boy in his onesie on a cold morning in Rye that will stay with me - for in that boy’s face, filled with excitement and joy, I felt the spirit of the season, of Christmases past coming together with the magic of a special day spent with those I love, and it filled me with a warmth no winter chill could extinguish.

Here's wishing you all a good 2015.  May you be blessed.

Until next time ....


  1. Rye sounds like my kind of place. It reminds me a bit of Shrewsbury, which I love (to live there for a year is on my bucket list!). My husband and I were there in November, and we also saw the Commitments in London while in England. They were excellent! We were dancing by the end, too. If you haven't seen the movie, it's really good as well. Glad your mums well!

    1. from Jacqueline: Thank you for your comment, Gwen. Shrewsbury is a bit bigger than Rye, but shares some of the same architecture. And yes, I have seen the movie of The Commitments, but really loved the stage production. Happy New Year!

  2. So sorry to hear about you mum! I trust you both will make a speedy recovery. Loved the video and the clip-clop of the horse's hooves. Loved your telling of Christmas 2014 adventures.

    I've been searching for my past on and have discovered an ancestor who was born in London in 1609. That almost makes us related, eh?

    1. from Jacqueline: Well, hey there cousin! I don't know how anyone has the patience to go back and look at their ancestry, so I take my hat off to you, Patty - that's a lot of looking back!! London in 1609 was pretty small, compared to the sprawling metropolis it is now - and a bit smelly, so no wonder the dear relative moved on to the Colonies. And I loved that video for the clip-clopping of hooves - it's a lovely sound! Hope you had a good Festive Season (I shall call you "Cousin" all the time now - "Cousin Patty").

  3. Indeed! Cousin Patty has such a lovely ring, especially coming from you.

  4. A lovely post, Jacqueline! I enjoyed reading about Rye. Can I ask if Rye is where they have the famous bookstore? Or am I thinking of Hay on Rye?

    Now I want to visit these lovely places you mentioned.

    Your story about getting seats to see a play in London reminded me of my summer in England. I managed to get a ticket to see the Royal Ballet at the Covent Gardens. I happened to sit next to a family whose son was in the ballet. They invited me backstage to meet the ballet dancers. And they insisted on driving me back to Oxford from London so I would not have to take the train at night.

    Happy New Year!


  5. oh the memories! rye, kent, london, the theatres, museums. it all come flooding back again. you can take me there any time, jackie. good times! best times!
    i'm glad you mum is okay and your christmas was so magical.
    Happy New Year to you and yours!