It was the weekend. On Saturday, Ruth and Nigel took a day trip by train to Bath where they visited the Roman Baths, took a relaxing dip in hot spring water at Thermae Bath Spa, visited one museum and one gallery, climbed Bath Abbey’s Tower, had lunch at elegant Georgian Pump Room Restaurant where they each enjoyed a glass of water from the spa fountain.
They took an architectural tour of Bath and a stroll on the Bath Skyline Walk which was a short distance from the city centre where they hung out for a while before heading to the station to take the train back to London. Ruth loved Bath. It made her think of the Jane Austen book and movie, Persuasion.
The next day, they went on a small group day tour to Oxford, Cotswolds & Stratford on Sunday. Nigel drove to Ruth’s house, left his car there and they took a taxi to London Victoria Train Station where they met their guide and the rest of the tour group. At 8am, they were on their way.
The tour began with Stratford Upon Avon, the Tudor town set in the heart of rural England. Their first stop was Shakespeare’s Birthplace Museum where he and his brothers and sisters were born and brought up. Shakespeare’s family home was furnished in period style with rare artefacts on display and costumed guides.
After leaving the museum, they visited the Holy Trinity Church where Shakespeare was baptized and buried. Following a panoramic tour of the town, they had free time during which Nigel took photos of Ruth and another member of the tour took photos of them together. Then, they continued for a photo stop at Shakespeare’s wife, Anne Hathaway’s childhood home which was a beautiful timber-framed thatched farmhouse.
“I read that Anne was older than William. He was eighteen when they got married and she was twenty-six.”
Nigel looked at her. “I guess I’m not the only one who’s attracted to older women.”
Ruth blushed. “I also read that she was pregnant before they got married. So, he had to marry her because in those days, it was socially unacceptable for a woman of her standing to have a child out of wedlock. It would have been scandalous and she would have been disgraced. Everyone would have known that she had premarital sex.”
“I don’t think an unplanned pregnancy is a good reason for two people to get married.”
“I didn’t either until I got pregnant with Chelsey. When I told her father, he offered to marry me and to help me to raise her. I accepted his proposal because I was raised by a Christian mother who would have been very disappointed if she knew that I was pregnant. Chelsey was born seven months after her father and I got married. My parents thought she was premature because she was a small baby.”
“So, you didn’t love your first husband.”
“Is that why you and he didn’t have other children?”
“Yes. He wanted to have another child but I told him that I didn’t and he never broached the subject again. He was a doting father to Chelsey and she adored him.”
“What about Uncle Gideon? Do you love him?”
“He’s a good husband and step-father for Chelsey but, no I don’t love him either.”
“Why did you marry him then?”
“Chelsey needed a father.”
Nothing more was said about it and they boarded the bus. They headed down country lanes, through villages of honey coloured stone, passing Cotswolds Hills to Stow-on-the-Wold, Bourton on the Water. The countryside was breathtaking. In Stow-on-the-Wold, a beautiful market town in the Cotswolds, they stopped for lunch. They chatted with the other people on the tour. Some of them were from other parts of England and Europe. One couple was from New York. They explained how they had always wanted to visit the English countryside because of its stunning beauty.
After lunch, they proceeded to Oxford, home to the oldest English speaking University in the world. It was thirty minute drive from the Cotswolds. Their visit to Oxford began with a guided walking tour amongst the cloisters and quadrangles of the university, founded in 1167 when King Henry II banned English students from attending the University of Paris. The walking tour included visits to the Bodleian Library, the Radcliffe Camera, Sheldonian Theatre, Harry Potter film locations and University buildings. “I was never a fan of the Harry Potter movies,” Nigel remarked in a low voice to Ruth.
“I read that J.K. Rowling was a single mother on government benefits when she wrote the first Harry Potter book. When she was writing her first Harry Potter book she worked a few hours a week doing filing and typing at an Edinburgh church. The minister who was a woman allowed her to take her daughter to work with her. It was while she was working there at the church that she overheard a woman refer to her as ‘the unmarried mother’ She was stung by stigmatization she felt as a single mother. I wonder how that ignorant and insensitive woman felt when JK Rowling became famous and rich because of her Harry Potter books. I know what it’s like to be a single mother. It’s tough. And that’s why I decided that it would be best for Chelsey to have a father.”
“You don’t have to justify your two marriages to me,” Nigel told her quietly. “You acted in the best interest of Chelsey.”
“Yes. She grew up with a father she adored and after she lost him, Gideon came into her life. And now, they enjoy a very close and loving relationship.” Ruth didn’t mention that Chelsey’s feelings for Gideon were no longer those of a daughter for a father. That was something she would keep to herself. She hoped that Chelsey would soon get over those feelings. There was still a chance that she might become interested in one of the young men at the university.
She listened now as the guide explained that the Divinity School where they were now, was built in 1488 for the teaching of theology and that it was the University’s earliest purpose built teaching room and its first examination hall. After the tour of the university, they had some free time to enjoy the city, before departing and driving back to London. They visited The Covered Market, Blackwell’s book shop and Alice’s Shop. “Alice’s shop is the actual shop where Alice Liddell, daughter of Henry Liddell, who was Dean of Christ Church, Oxford and Lewis Carroll’s inspiration for his novel Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and its sequel Through the Looking-Glass. And that’s her childhood home just opposite.”
“I wonder how she felt to be the inspiration of the main character in one of the best-known works of Victorian literature. I remember Chelsey wishing that she could have adventures like Alice.”
“I like Alice in Wonderful for its imaginative, magical and timeless. I’ve read it several times. I also have a collection of Lewis Carroll’s poems. I just finished reading the ‘Jabberwocky.’“
Ruth stared at him. “What’s that?”
“The Jabberwock is an evil creature and the poem is about killing it.”
“It was included in Through the Looking-Glass.”
“I’ve never read Through the Looking Glass.”
Now it was his turn to stare at her. “You’ve never read Through the Looking Glass?”
“We’re going to fix that. I have a copy which I will bring with me the next time I visit.”
They returned to the bus and soon they were heading back to London. At Victoria Station, they bade farewell to the guide and the others who were on the tour. On the ride back to the station where they would take a taxi to Ruth’s house, they talked about the tour and made plans to go on another one the following weekend.
Sources: London Toolkit; No Sweat Shakespeare; Market Watch; Wikipedia; Barnes & Noble; Wikipedia; Visit Bath