Chapter 25      Elizabethan Dinner

One of the teachers had two children, the same ages as Jacqueline and David, and she invited us to have dinner with her one weekend. We arrived on our way back from having the van serviced.

"How was Canterbury?" asked Anne, as we took off our coats, and brushed the snow from our shoes.
"Canterbury is always marvellous. It's my favourite place. We went on a row boat on the Stour, and got drenched in a sudden downpour!"
"That doesn't sound so marvellous."
"Well we had already done some shopping and been to the Weavers' cottage."
"And saw the ducking chair, where they ducked disobedient wives," said David.
"And bought tiles with our names on them," said Jacqueline. "We wanted to get one that said 'The Necessarium' or 'This is It' or 'The Loo', but we couldn't decide which one, so we didn't."
The children went off to play upstairs, while I helped Anne with the dinner.
"I suppose your children will be glad to get back to their toys?" asked Anne.
"Yes, but it's not as bad as when we first arrived. They've got used to the sorts of things they can do indoors. They've been helping me go through all our postcards and brochures, getting rid of the things we've duplicated, and putting the rest in order, ready to paste into scrapbooks. I always got a heap of tourist pamphlets before we went anywhere, bus tours and so on, to get an idea of the main attractions in each country or place. Another way is to study the postcards in a town before going sight-seeing."
"You've got it down to a fine art. I don't expect we shall ever see half the countries you have. We mostly go to Spain or Greece."
"Those are two places I would love to see and won't be able to. We had hoped to go home via Greece, but that's impossible. We won't even be going back to Germany. Grandma is much worse and isn't expected to live, so we'll go back the easiest way, stopping at Florence, because we didn't do it justice coming over."
"What about your plans to stay in London? Have you got tickets for the shows you wanted? Where will you stay?"
"I've booked four days after school finishes at the Youth Hostel at Kensington, which should be handy. We're going to see 'Peter Pan' and 'The King and I' on stage, and we're going to the Waxworks, a stamp museum and the geological museum. The boys have seen the 'Tower of London' with the school, but I'll take Jacqueline while the boys look at stamps."
"My children loved the geological museum, the simulated earthquake, the working models of volcanoes and so on. Allow plenty of time. You could spend a whole day there. I've heard that they are inspecting all handbags and luggage because of the recent bombings in London."
"I expect that is a necessary safeguard. We heard in Canterbury this morning that the post office in the town was evacuated because of a scare. It seems unreal and hard to believe it is actually happening. The petrol shortage is very real though, and getting worse. I wanted to go and see my friend in Watford again, but I've had to cancel it, it would take too much petrol."
"I believe coupons have already been printed for rationing if it comes in."
"Have you seen your friend Alan lately?"
"He lent me his projector to see my slides, and he stayed and saw them himself when he brought it over."
"And your cousin?"
"She went on a tour of the Continent with a Youth Group, then went to visit relatives in the Lake District. She came the other day and collected the rest of her things, and has left for Canada, where she has friends."
"When's that Elizabethan dinner you were talking about?"
"Next weekend. It's in London too. We'll camp while I've still got the van, although the camping area is a long way out, and the train service back to Abbey Wood is not good at night."
"I expect there is such a lot in London you want to see. It isn't very far, but we don't get up very often. It takes a couple of hours to get there and the fares are not cheap. It's so much easier to go to most other places, but London has so much to offer."

Winter approached rapidly, which reminded us that the end of our stay in Britain was also approaching, and the number of things not yet seen or done was becoming alarming. So during the day in London we tried to remedy this, then I took the children to see the film 'My Fair Lady' while I was at the Elizabethan dinner.

On approaching the building, medieval heraldic emblems could be seen hanging around the doorway, where a doorman in livery waited. On the ground floor was a bar, somewhat twentieth century, but the decorations and the costumes worn by the staff were definitely not.

Lacking an authentic Elizabethan costume, I wore my best mustard coloured dress, with a string of red beads, which Uncle Willi had given me at Christmas. After a couple of drinks, we climbed the wooden stairs to the dining rooms, and sat at rough wooden tables, set with chipped candlesticks and wooden crocks. Fortunately we were not expected to spend the next three hours on benches, solid chairs were provided for all.

"We try to make everything as authentic as possible," explained our chief serving wench, in a full skirted, tightly laced, low necked dress, who doubled as compere.
"The first thing we must have is a King and Queen, so whom would you like to elect for this position? They will sit here in the place of honour, by the salt."

Our king and queen hastily installed and informed of their duties, we could begin the feast. Just then a latecomer arrived.

"My lord," cried the serving wench. "Here cometh one of your guests. Do you wish me to ask him for apologies?"
The king agreed and the tardy guest, with quick thinking, said:
"My lord, many apologies. I crave your pardon. My horse lost a shoe and forced me to walk through the mire."

Everybody was in high spirits, and ready to cheer and clap, but we were reminded that Elizabethan people never clapped with their hands, rather they thumped on the table. Drinking our mead and eating the first course of highly spiced meat and pickled cucumbers, we were informed that it was polite to leave something on the plate for the poor who clean up later. One man failed to do this.

"My lord, may I inform you of one of your guests who has forgotten the poor? Do you wish him to pay a forfeit? Shall he entertain your company, my Liege?"

Luckily the errant diner could remember a good story. Another who was found out in some misdeed, sang a song about a lady's chastity belt, and we all joined in a chorus of 'hey nonny no'.

"I wonder if he was prepared with that, it is too appropriate to be quite spontaneous."

A young Canadian teacher sitting opposite me, who looked very demure, offered to entertain.

"There was once a beautiful maiden who was visited by one of the Gods one night. As the god was leaving next morning, he thought he should reveal his identity.
"I'm Thor," he said.
"You're thor?" she answered. "I'm so thor I can't thit down."

The main course was Boar's head. When borne in on a large wooden platter, it had a stronger resemblance to papier-mache than meat, however what we ate was definitely meat, a kind of brawn. Those who required salt had to beg the king to let them have a few of the coarse grains, which were in a crock at his elbow.

Between courses, a minstrel sang and played a lute, beginning with 'Greensleeves', followed by a succession of ballads, each one more saucy than the previous one, with everyone joining lustily in the choruses and thumping on the table for more.
There was some rivalry between teachers from different countries, trying to outdo each other with national jokes, until someone flattened all Australian egos with a withering:
"You're not even discovered yet!"

I had to leave at eleven at the latest to collect the children from the pictures, but the feast was in full swing and it was impossible to drag myself away. However I could not have the children standing in the street, so forced myself to rush out at last, hail a taxi, which crept around in the after-theatre traffic, until we came to three forlorn-looking children, standing outside a deserted theatre.

"Sorry to be late. How was it? Are you freezing? Have you been waiting long?"
"Yes, for a while. A policeman came and asked us why we were here."
"Come along now, we'll catch an underground back to Abbey Wood. Tell me about the film in the train."
At the underground we learnt that the last train to Abbey Wood had gone.
"You'd better catch the train to Welling and get a taxi from there," advised the stationmaster.

This meant two changes before we reached Welling at one am, and found that the taxi fare was increased at that hour by a considerable surcharge. It had been a costly evening, but I did not regret it. There was to be a Farewell party, but that must be an anti climax, after the excitement and novelty of our excursion into the past.

I thought with sadness of our departure in a few weeks, the things I still wanted to do, and the things we could not possibly achieve, the friends the children and I had grown attached to and would be leaving. Because of the Middle East crisis, and trouble in Athens, I had to give up my idea for our return journey, which had included Germany and Greece. My van was now twenty thousand miles older, had to be sold in England, all our luggage packed, the house thoroughly cleaned, bookings confirmed. We would now leave at the end of the year, after a few days in London, and go by train to Florence, which I was determined to see again, then Rome and St Peter's and the plane home.

I thought with some apprehension of the daunting task of sorting the conglomeration of cards, clippings, tickets, brochures, receipts, which must be decimated, so that they would fit into the three large albums which I considered to be sufficient to remind us. I thought with trepidation of recording the events of the year, so that the children could recall it in the years to come. This undertaking was perhaps a more challenging project than any to date. Where could I learn to write a book?

I thought with pleasure of dancing cheek to cheek with Alan, and accepted his friendship, as offered, with no involvement, as an essential part of that wonderful year.

I thought with joy and hope of being home again.

A far croonin' is pullin' me away
As step I wi' the sunlight for my load.

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