Hampton Court looks simply beautiful this Christmasmas-tide, with people skating and a children's old-fashioned carousel with proper music, the mellow red-brick of Wolsey's palace glowing in wintry sunshine. We met friends, Alenka and John, from America, at the Tiltyard restaurant. I have known Hampton Court all my life, and first learned about English history through visits here, feeling slightly oppressed and scared at all the Tudor parts which somehow still reek of intrigue, nasty plots, hints of the Tower to come....but loving the wide grounds and the shining Long Water, the walk across the bridge with the Thames below, and - far best of all - the excitement of a boat trip.
We had planned a walk along the towpath to Kingston, and lunch there, and it all worked out beautifully....anyone who has seen the film A man for All Seasons will know this stretch of the river: it is used for the approach to More's house at Chelsea, because modern Chelsea is too urban, and here it is all green grass and old walls and glorious trees. And it is also used, absolutely truthfully, for the scenes showing More arriving by boat at Hampton Court itself, for meetings with Cardinal Wolsey. Remember the little set of steps running up and down again at a low wall? And the trees on the opposite bank, dipping down towards the water?
Today the river was high, and the tide running extremely fast. Only a couple of boats went by, and they were finding it quite hard going. We walked and talked: Alenka's weekly column from America is in the Catholic Times along with my weekly feature about celebrating feasts and seasons of the Church's year, and it was fun to be able to catch up with one another in person and not just in print! We paused to admire the gates - they are beautifully gilded, (I think for the Queen's Golden Jubilee - not sure?) - that link the newer part of the Palace, the William-and-Mary bit, with the river.
The Canadian geese along the riverside at Kingston look extremely fat and overfed - they get so much from all the families who come for riverwide walks with bags of bread to feed them. As they waddled about, and the great river surged along, and we talked and relaxed with great delight.....it was growing dark as we finally said goodbye and Alenka and John caught the train back up to London whole we caught a bus back along to Hampton Court, where J. had left the car. It all looked even more magical in the dusk, with the carousel lights glittering, and the gargoyles by the main door looking extraordinary, and the Lion and Unicorn at the front gates still standing proud. As we walked to the Palace from the bus-stop we passed the house where Sir Christopher Wren once lived - I've never noticed that blue plaque before - and the big Green where there is always a Fair at Whitsun and where, long years ago, I had my first taste of candy-floss.
Here at home I did some work, brewed some tea, and - as we are still in holiday mood - we settled down to watch a film on our DVD. Jamie got The Battle of Britain from Blockbusters: made in about 1969 or 70, stars Susannah York and Chrisotoher Plummer and Kenneth More - remember? Very good, especially having the German bits in authentic language etc. It also lists accurately the information about those who took part in the Battle - interesting to see how many Poles, a fact not emphasised in the version of the story I got as a child.....
Tidying up in the kitchen, my eye fell on an item from yesterday's newspaper: the Royal Air Force has linked up officially with Stonewall, the homosexual-rights lobby group, to establish a homosexualist agenda within the Air Force. We speculated for a moment about what the Battle of Britain era RAF chaps would think of that....well of course we laughed and so on but.....what lingers after a conversation like that is a sort of heartache.