All has been quiet on the mahjong front of late, here in Hiroshima. What with marriages and holidays, everything else has been in abatement.
I headed off to England with my daughter for almost a month, during which time there was an earthquake and a hurricane, so in some respects it was rather like being back in Japan. Hurricanes apart, the weather was clement and the holiday was spent in the company of Grandmother and Great Aunt L., with visits from and to various other members of the extended family, including encounters with some who had not loomed upon my horizon for nigh on twenty years...
Our peregrination took us from London to the Weald of Kent, through Essex, to Norfolk, Lincolnshire, and Yorkshire.
The highlight of the trip was our week at Barnham Broom, where we established ourselves in a holiday flat overlooking the golf club and were visited by a family of ducks who set up their tents outside our window for the duration of our stay. The window had some sort of strange fascination for one of them, which indulged its leisure in pecking at the glass.
A Sociable Family Of Ducks, Barnham Broom, Norfolk
Beyond the fence you can see the 18th hole of the Barnham Broom Golf Club. I spent the whole week contemplating the golf course, observing various fellows and lady fellows hacking and slashing their way round, thinking how much better I could have played some of their shots.
The first shot I observed was one that filled me with a deliciously malicious sense of glee for the rest of our stay. The hapless golfer had only to execute a short chip to get his ball onto the green. I was out for a walk with my daughter at the time, and we stopped to observe his shot. Perhaps he felt our gaze upon his hunched back, but anyway, after dithering over the ball for half an age, he eventually stabbed at it, topped it, and sent it all of three feet, and short of the green. Satisfied with what we had seen, we moved on.
I distinctly remember reading something about how residents were free to play golf, but any resident proposing to disport himself on the course should be of "a reasonable level of competence"...
That brings us to the rub of the green, so to speak. That phrase, "a reasonable level of competence", had burnt itself into my brain and it was those words (and a lack of decent kit) that kept me off the course, to say nothing of the dismal prospect of slogging my way up the 18th past our living room, with Mother and Aunt L doubtless glued to the binoculars, and the whole company of ladies and gents gorping from the club house.
Remembering that it was Lent I thought it meet to take my ease in the refreshing arbour of abstinence rather than wallow in the sandy bunker of self-mortification.
It was not an arduous sacrifice. I spent my idle moments lounging in the health club saunas. Mind you, to do that, I first had to pay through the nose for a pair of swanky swimming trunks, although insofar as membership fees for the health club had been waived for us residents, I suppose it would be a tad churlish to be miffed about the price tag of the swim-wear.
So used am I to the Japanese way of the bath, in which men and women are naked and segregated, that I had not only neglected to pack my trunks, but I had also forgotten that A WOMAN might be in evidence in the saunas. I was somewhat perturbed, therefore, to find the steam of the steam-sauna clearing to reveal a pert and nubile sample of the weaker sex recumbent on the opposite ledge, tender in years and ripe in attributes, attributes accentuated by her skimpy bikini. Not that I thought it meet to feast thereupon. It being Lent, I lowered my head as fellows are wont to do in the heat of the sauna, or Puritans in the swelter of prayer.
Speaking of things spiritual, our journey through the eastern counties was something of a church and cathedral-crawl.
We visited St. Laurence Church in Hawkhurst, Kent, three churches around Barnham Broom, the impressive St. Margaret's Church in King's Lynn, Norfolk Cathedral, Lincoln Cathedral and York Cathedral, oh, and St. Olave's, also in York.
The aged aunt is fanatical about Jane Austen, particularly the BBC production of Pride and Prejudice. She also happens to be a member of the National Trust. The day before we left Grandmother in Yorkshire we surveyed the National Trust brochure for a suitable site to visit on our return to Kent. I suggested Hardwick Hall, one of the glories of Elizabethan architecture, but that other glorious piece of architecture, the aged aunt, who also happened to be the driver, hit upon a visit to Belton House, the setting for several of the scenes of the BBC production of Pride and Prejudice. Against so well fortified an argument Bess of Hardwick found it convenient to give way.