It's funny how one forgets how very English, England is. Yes, I'm afraid I'm still revelling in it all. The last few days, we've been traipsing between Rupert's parent's place near High Wycombe and Hemel Hempstead and everywhere we go, we pass roads and towns with names which are teeth achingly evocative of English history - Stocking Lane, Hollis Way, Water End, Spring Coppice Lane, Great Missenden, Little Missenden, Gadebridge, Chesham.at the Red Lion Pub, The Kings Arms, The Queens Head, The Green Man, The Fishery Inn. How can you look at these names without being reminded of May Poles, Morris Dancers, Knights of Camelot and Kings of old. And everywhere we go, we are guided by the Queen - or by a sat nav which sounds remarkably like the Queen anyway. "Bear slightly right," she says, in her high, clipped voice, which sounds as though she is talking through a mouthful of Prunes. "Turn slightly left, prepare to arrive at a roundabout." That last one is my favourite. How does one "prepare to arrive"? With a marching band, perhaps? A choral anthem?
a couple of days ago, I shamed myself when Rupert's father took us all up in his helicopter. It's a tiny little two seater - a green bubble with a tail sticking out the back and a rotor on the top. The windscreen extends from above your head, to your feet and most of the doors beside the seats consist of window. John took each of the children up first and they all came back with huge smiles on their faces, bouncing around with the thrill of it all - at least, the girls did; Sam deigned to allow a slight smile to crease the corners of his mouth, which was his version of being pleased. I had a fly in the helicopter a few years ago and thoroughly enjoyed it, so I was more than happy to go up again. But this time it was different. As the bubble lurched upwards, soaring above the trees and then on, up into the grey sky till all of England seemed to be stretched out below us, I felt nothing but panic. "Now, I'm just going to make a turn towards Princes Risborough," John said and the helicopter turned on its side, leaving nothing but a sheet of thin Perspex between me and a drop of hundreds of feet. I honestly tried to look out over the horizon, to enjoy the sight of the rolling fields, the tiny church spires and the crazed meanderings of ancient hedgerows and to remind myself that John has flown all over Europe without a single mishap. But instead, I found myself clinging onto the seat with both hands - as if that would help me in any way. In the end I had to swallow all my pride and plead with him to take me back, which he did, swinging the helicopter through another death defying turn to do so. I put my newly found queasiness down to a car crash I had a few months ago, when the car I was driving, complete with five little girls, suddenly went out of control, dancing and bucketing all over the road, before finally ploughing into an earth bank, a mere twenty yards from a narrow bridge. Or maybe it is just that I am a complete wuss.
Yesterday was New Years day and, in what I hope was a sign of things to come, the sun came out. Excited by this unusual event, we hot footed it to Ivinghoe Beacon near the Dunstable Downs. As children, we had oft frequented the Beacon - the top of which was used in pre Roman times as a place to light warning fires - and I had remembered it as something of a trek to the top, whereas, in reality, it was a mere ten minute amble through sticky mud to its windblown crest. It seemed that the whole of the Southeast of England was out to take advantage of the weather, but there was a lovely atmosphere - people all wrapped up tight against the elements, laughing and leaning into the wind to take photographs, flying kites and remote controlled aeroplanes, dogs of every description running and playing and sniffing around the many muddy wellies - a very jolly holiday. And the sunshine continued, lighting the fields up to glowing golds and greens, shining off the white-grey stone tower of Dunstable Church. Though we have been longing for snow, I, at least, was glad to start the New Year with a day like this.