Across Continents

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Brief respite

"Have more than thou showest, speak less than thou knowest, lend less than thou owest" King Lear Act I Scene 4

Back out in the courtyard it was bitter. Much colder than when I’d wandered into the pub an hour or so earlier. There’d been clues. Most of the clientele in the back bar had kept their woolly hats on. And the publican had lit the open fire in the Saloon. Shakespeare Inn in Harbury. I’d gone in for two reasons. I liked the name. And it was open. Suppose the weather was a third.

Inside was simple. Unfussy but welcoming. A few Shakespearian quotations neatly painted on the walls and some of the exposed wooden beams. I liked the one from Twelfth Night about Greatness but couldn’t bring myself to jot it down in my pocket book. Too pretentious. Coffee and a sandwich. They had ham or cheese but I wanted both together. How much I’d asked. Same price had been the word from the kitchen.

Finding myself a seat by the window I’d stared at the simple comings and goings in the main street outside. I’d missed England. I liked the ordinariness. Comforting familiarity. Old ladies with their little wheeled shopping trolleys. I’d scribbled carts in my notebook before realising it wasn’t an English expression. Struggling a bit to expunge overly familiar foreign terms. Cell. Gas Station. There was also a radiator.

It was, said the BBC, going to be the coldest night in Britain. Since the last time they’d said it. At least the roads were clear. Nothing to freeze. More worrying was the forecast for the latter part of the week. Snow. Hoping that by sticking to main roads I’d be able to reach Taunton on Friday without too much difficulty. But Saturday’s final few miles along the lanes out to Fitzhead. Could be tricky.

A short run from Harbury in the afternoon – ten miles at the most – and I’d finally made it to Stratford-upon-Avon Youth Hostel. It was actually in nearby Alverston. Short day in any case, no more than thirty miles in total, but it put me in a good position for the morning. I liked the place immediately. Imposing country house. Friendly staff. Breakfast cooked to order and irresistible bar snacks. Cumberland Ale. Tempting.

Few other guests. A young woman enquiring as to whether there’d be any annoying young children staying. I’d chipped in to say I’d be gone in the morning. Nia. She’d spelt it. Visiting from Malaysia but originally from China. I’d guessed the name she offered was a fictitious English one. She seemed pleasantly surprised I knew of such things. Small group of friends in the games room whose vocabulary sounded as limited as my Mandarin. Dominated by a tom-boy with a very masculine haircut. Her assertiveness, I thought, masking some deep insecurities.

West of the previous night’s stop in Daventry the fog had eventually lifted. Steady riding into Southam. There was a cafe in the town centre. Flashing neon sign close up against the steamed up windows. But nowhere I could leave my trusty steed safely in view. A woman had suggested I try a place next to the Balti house. Blue sign she said. It didn’t sound promising so I’d left. Decided to try my luck in one of the villages ahead. Harbury it turned out.

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