You can take the girl out of England, but you’ll never take England out of the girl. It’s home, and always will be.
At least, that’s what I thought until Oliver and I landed at a major British airport at stupid o’clock yesterday morning, after a night flight with a cranky four-year-old and two wailing five-month-olds in tow.
“Welcome home!” the uniformed bloke on passport control said to us. “This is your first time back in nearly eighteen months? Well, it’s great to have you in the country!”
OK, I’m lying. He said nothing of the sort. He scowled at me and Oliver, then shot a death-glare at Beth and George. “They’re American,” he said suspiciously, holding Beth’s blue passport by one corner as if it were radioactive.
“Well, technically they have dual–” I began, before he interrupted me.
“No UK passports?”
This visit was planned quite quickly, and although we’d got the twins official and legal as US citizens, they didn’t have the British paperwork yet.
“No, I haven’t got around to registering the birth with–”
The uniform held up one hand to silence me.
“How long will they be in the United Kingdom?”
Oliver passed him our travel itinerary which stated we would be going back to America in two weeks’ time.
“And you’re all travelling together for the duration of your visit?” the uniform asked.
“That’s right,” Oliver said.
“They’re five months old,” I said, sotto voce. “We thought we’d give them another couple of years before we sent them InterRailing round Europe on their own, but if you think they’re up to it now…”
Oliver trod heavily on my foot, and I muffled a squeal. My feet were swollen after a six hour flight with George asleep on my lap.
Another official wandered up to the booth.
“Have you got a problem, Derek?” she asked.
“He certainly has,” I muttered, and Oliver trod on my other foot.
The second official looked from Beth to her passport photo. Good luck to her trying to find the resemblance between Beth’s two month old self and as she was now, three months later. “They’ll need to be registered as UK citizens as soon as possible,” she said, “or it could cause a lot of problems.”
Goodness. The grilling now was not, therefore, classed as a “problem”?
“OK,” she said reluctantly to the first uniform. “Let them in.”
I gazed at my blameless infants as their passports were stamped and grudgingly handed back again.
“Poor little things,” I cooed at them as we walked away towards the baggage carousel. “You came home for a little light espionage, and they spoiled all your fun.”
Thankfully, I had run out of feet for Oliver to tread on.
* * *
So here I am, back in England, in the Cotswolds. It’s an unfamiliar region to me, as I’ve never been farther west than Reading before, so it isn’t technically “home”; but they still drive on the left, and I can buy Crunchie bars in the corner shop. It’s home enough for me.
You’d think that, given my extended absence, I’d have some introspective observations to bring you — Libby’s Thoughts On Returning Home — but all I can observe is how small everything is. The roads are Victoria Beckham-slim, the cars are like Matchbox toys, and as for the bed Oliver and I are sleeping in…Well. Give me King Size over Cosy, any day.
But the bed has to be cosy. King Size wouldn’t get up the narrow staircase in our rented cottage which, according to the plaque over the door, was built in 1723. It’s a tiny chocolate box house, all honey stone and honeysuckle on the outside, and low ceilings, plaster walls, and unexpected beams inside. Oliver is already sporting a lump on his bald patch.
Egg-sized lumps aside, though, it’s an idyllic place to spend two weeks. The front window looks out onto the high street, with its ancient market square cross, medieval church, and Ye Olde Gifte Shoppe selling tea towels and corn dollies to gullible tourists. For a real village — as opposed to Harry Potter’s Hogsmeade — this is as escapist as they get.
Better make the most of it before Mum and Sandra arrive next week, though. Thank God the house is too small for them to stay overnight, and they will be forced to sleep at the bed-and-breakfast down the road. For this first week, however, Oliver, the children, and I are on our own in this little Wiltshire backwater that has managed to bypass social evolution for the last 200 years.
OK, maybe not social evolution. They wear jeans and T-shirts, not smocks and straw hats, which is how everyone in Milton Keynes imagines West Country types. But they’re a bit behind in the technology race in Chipping Magna. There’s still a working red phone box in the High Street, which I thought was very quaint and sweet, because most red phone boxes have been bought up by Hollywood luvvies and converted to shower cubicles.
After half an hour in the cottage, we discovered the reason why the last non-shower phone box stood in this village. There’s no mobile phone signal in Chipping Magna.
“This is a disaster!” Oliver held out his useless cell phone in one hand and raked his — decidedly thinning, I noticed — hair with the other. “I’m supposed to be on a conference call with Seattle on Monday! How am I supposed to check my emails? Does this house have wi-fi?”
I gave him a pitying look. “I’d say this place has only just been hooked up to the national grid, wouldn’t you? Think yourself lucky that we’ve got electric lights instead of tallow candles.”
Then I turned away before Oliver could see me smirk.
I could be helpful and tell him that there was an internet cafe in the supermarket five miles away, where we stopped to get bread and milk. But here’s the thing. I don’t want him to be on the phone or emailing — and it’s not just because he’s on holiday and shouldn’t have to work for the next two weeks.
No. You see, if he can’t phone or email, he can’t communicate with Melissa Harvey Connor.
Bet you thought I’d decided to let that one lie, hadn’t you? Come on. You know me better than that. I’ve been doing some quiet investigations back in Woodhaven. That she started working for Oliver at precisely the same time that we were having marital problems, together with her husband Jeffrey stomping out of the house two weeks after she began, did little to allay my suspicions. No wonder the Posse had decided that she and Oliver were an item. But still — this is Oliver we are talking about. He’s no saint, but Melissa just isn’t his type. He might be OK as her boss, but I know that in a social (or more) situation, she would terrify him. I just can’t see it. He’d be mincemeat.
And yet — as my dad would say — there’s no smoke without fire. The question is: where did the fire start, and who lit the match?
I’m hoping that these two weeks with limited social opportunity — no phone, no internet, no texting — two weeks of Oliver and me being forced to sit and talk to each other, in other words, might give me a clue about what’s going on.
Because when the next coffee morning rolls around, I need to be able to stand up to the Posse and say, “Guess what, ladies? You owe me and my husband an apology.”
The jobsworth at the airport, worrying that our baby twins were here for some 007 spying, was barking up the wrong tree.
I’m the queen of espionage round here.
* * *
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Image: Travel – Map of the World by Salvatore Vuono / FreeDigitalPhotos.net