On Monday 19th July, I travelled by National Express coach from Derby to Milton Keynes, my first experience of travelling by long distance bus in the UK for many years. Whilst the journey went smoothly, it did include a tour of the campus of Loughborough University, (where actually nobody got on or off!), as well as passing through the centre of Leicester where we stopped for about thirty minutes.
The drop off point in Milton Keynes was fortunately not far from the main Central Milton Keynes Shopping Centre. I was glad that I had chosen to take my clothes etc in my large rucksack which made walking from there, to and then around the shopping centre, very easy. I was also pleased to be able to finally purchase three packs of six ‘Thank You’ cards from the John Lewis Department Store. This is an extremely rare example of something I needed which I just could not find anywhere in Prague. Normally, having both Marks & Spencer & Tesco in the Czech Republic means that within reason, most things any Brit might want can be found.
After my brief foray around this familiar old shopping haunt, I then caught the X5 Cambridge – Oxford bus which took me from outside the CMK Shopping Centre to outside the even more familiar Tesco Supermarket on the outskirts of Buckingham. My good friends Mike and Nikki Geelan, had kindly offered me a bed for the night in their home in the village of Tingewick and Nikki picked me up from Tesco as she needed to do some shopping there.
Just after 6pm that evening, I set off to walk out of Tingewick, up the hill, to visit another old haunt, ‘The Red Lion’ at Little Tingewick. ‘The Red Lion’ is effectively the pub of Finmere, the village in which I used to live from January 1993 until September 2008. But whilst Finmere, together with the other nine villages of which I used to be Rector, are all in Oxfordshire, Little Tingewick is in Buckinghamshire – the county boundary runs down the middle of the road in front of the pub. Therefore I could always claim, as I did when drinking there, that I was at least six feet/two metres outside my parishes!
I caused a nice surprise to a few of the regulars as I walked in. The accompanying photograph is of three of them enjoying their respective pints in front of the pub. But for my pint (0.568 litre) of Staropramen, I was charged £3.75/112 Kc. In Prague, I will rarely pay more than 25 Kc for 0.5litre of Staropramen. I’m glad that one of the regulars kindly bought me my second pint!
Afterwards, I walked back down the hill to Tingewick and shared a thoroughly enjoyable evening meal with Mike and Nikki, together with our mutual good friends, their neighbours Marc and Donna. As we all said at the end of the evening, it was very much like old times.
An unwritten but most important rule for Anglican clergy is that they should not interfere in anyway in their former parish(es) to enable their successor to minister freely. This is one of the reasons why I’ve stayed away completely from the UK until now. My successor as Rector of the Shelswell Group of Parishes is Rev’d Christobel Hargraves who came into post in August 2009, nearly a year after I left. Chris and I had been in contact with each other by email on a number of matters, but we had never met. Recently she emailed me about a particularly tricky legal matter in relation to some land owned by a Church Trust. In my reply, as well as answering her query, I said that I would be staying overnight nearby on Monday 19th July and would she like to meet up with me. Her reply was positive with an invitation to coffee at Finmere Rectory on the morning of Tuesday 20th July.
On the Tuesday morning, I walked up the hill from Tingewick, past ‘The Red Lion’ and into the village. Seeing the familiar houses and roads did seem somewhat strange, as did walking across the gravel to the front door of my former home. I was greeted warmly both by Becky, my former part-time benefice administrator, and by Chris. Inevitably, a combination of redecoration and Chris’s own possessions, have put a different style upon my former home. But I had to admire the garden which, courtesy of her husband (also called Chris!), was in far better shape than Sybille and I had ever been able to get it!
My other reason for visiting my former home was because I had accidentally left some personal papers in the back of the bottom drawer of a filing cabinet in the Benefice Office. They all related to the education of my two (now adult) children including various school reports. I was able to sort through them all; rescuing what I thought was worth keeping and consigning the remainder to Cherwell District Council’s paper recycling service.
I had arranged to fly back to Prague from Luton Airport with the Hungarian low-cost airline Wizz Air. The flight was scheduled to leave at 20.10 on Tuesday evening meaning that I should have got back to the Chaplaincy flat by midnight CEST. As I queued at the check-in desk, there was an unwelcome notice that my flight was delayed 00.40 which I wishfully thought meant by just 40 minutes. The check-in clerk kindly broke my illusion telling me it meant the flight was now scheduled to depart at 00.40, four and a half hours late. As you can see from the pictures of the departure board, this eventually extended to 01.50.
When I and the rest of the frustrated passengers did eventually get on board our flight, we were finally offered some explanation for the five and a half hour delay. The pilot explained that earlier in the day, (by now, the previous day!), the aircraft had experienced a bird strike and had to be pulled out-of-service for safety checks. The flight was uneventful and once reunited with my rucksack; I walked out of Prague airport just after 05.00 on Wednesday morning and by means of two bus journeys, reached my home at about 05.50.
Whilst I enjoyed my trip, spending roughly seven hours sitting in Luton Airport did rather take away some of the pleasure. The experience was uncannily similar to what happened to Sybille and I the last time we both flew in September 2008. Then we were stuck in Corfu Airport for several hours by a combination of bad weather and the returning Easyjet flight being overbooked and overweight. Thus, instead of getting back to Finmere Rectory just after midnight as scheduled, we got there at 07.00, just an hour and a half before the removal men arrived to start packing up our belongings to transport them to Prague! I will certainly be thinking twice before booking flights with a low-cost airline in the immediate future.