We had to go to Oxford and from there to Stratford upon Avon. My friend Tiwari’s daughter used to be in Oxford working, if I recall, in a research establishment. Tiwari had told us that his daughter, Bela, had bought an apartment and we could conveniently spend some time with her. When I rang her number from Margate I was surprised to get Anne on the other side. She had come over for a few days.
We took a bus from London’s Victoria Coach Station and were in Oxford in under two hours.. As we had made it rather early I deposited the bags in Left Luggage. As I came out I saw somebody peeping out of a window from the Coffee Bar and calling out to me. It was indeed Anne. I had met her in Delhi in 1972 when the entire family had travelled to Gwalior and was staying while on their way in YMCA at Delhi. Bela was around 5 or 6 years old then. There were two other children – Nila, almost of the same age as Bela and Anil who was four months old. These two were adopted children and were neither of East Indian nor of Caucasian descent.
Ever so irreverent about social niceties, my mother asked Tiwari why did he have to adopt two children when he already had one of his own. He explained to her how things were different in Canada and that everyone had to share the societal burden. I could see his point. Having decided to live out his life in an alien land it made an enormous lot of sense to adopt its ways. He had done just that.
We spent just about two days with Anne. Day One was meant for sight seeing and day two for Stratford-upon-Avon. I think on the third day we moved back to London on our way back to Brussels.
Oxford is basically a medieval town and the architecture is likewise medieval. We took a conducted tour in an open top bus. The city has numerous spires and towers and each one is very well maintained. I couldn’t help wondering at the upkeep of these old buildings that could well be more than 500 years old. I think pride in their heritage that drives the local people to maintain the buildings in the best possible manner. It is a matter of attitudes. They have the right attitude while we seem to have no attitude at all. I took a few photographs. No Swachchha Mission can keep cities as clean as you see Oxford in the photographs. I must also mention what a pleasure it was to see boys in white playing cricket on local greens.
Another bus ride and we were off to the Bard’s place. The bus seemed to move between a sea of yellow. The fields were full of rapeseed flower which yields oil used as cooking medium. Stratford I found rather unremarkable. The only places worth seeing were the house that was Tudor in style where Shakespeare was born. The house he died in, however, no longer exists. The other worth seeing place was the cottage of Anne Hathaway, Shakespeare’s wife. She appeared to come from a family of substance and, perhaps, that is why her house is relatively much bigger.
One must, however, mention that one cannot do justice to Stratford-upon-Avon in a day trip. One needs to take in the Shakespearean atmosphere by visiting at least one theatre, say the Royal Shakespeare Theatre or take a weekly Ghost Walk in which guides are all professional actors. I wish my father could visit the place. He used to teach Shakespeare in the College having been taught at the Presidency College, Kolkata by English professors who used to be experts either in Shakespearean comedies or in tragedies. That was in the first decade of the last Century. Then the Avon River offers beautiful sights on its banks. A boat ride should have been a must. But, alas, inadequacy of cash made it impossible to spend more time.
Next day we were back in Brussels. We crossed the sea in the catamaran nullifying the anxiety of the Belgian Immigration officials displayed during our out-bound trip. We rounded off this visit of ours to Europe by taking day trips to Antwerp, Cologne and Luxemburg.