then, in the imagination of Virgil, and of Virgil alone, that the concept of
Arcady, as we know it, was born that a bleak and chilly district of
Greece came to be transfigured into an imaginary realm of perfect bliss. But no
sooner had this new, Utopian Arcady come into being than a discrepancy was felt
between the supernatural perfection of an imaginary environment and the natural
limitations of human life as it is.
Et in Arcadia
How are we
going to get home? Lisa asked, as we sat in the tiny café, the
owner banging about behind us, I dont fancy getting even
There is bound
to be a quicker way than back along the river. I suggested hopefully, but
perhaps less than convincingly.
You and your
impulses, and her laugh tinkled like the sound of a small bell, and then
fades away. That is the problem with ghosts; they disappear.
We had gone to bed
early that Christmas night, our first as a married couple, to make love and to
that a year ago I did not even know you existed she said, beautiful and
naked, and then she kissed me, a kiss that was at first affectionate and then
swiftly became passionate.
We were awake by
Shall we go to
Chester? I suggested, I dont think it is far.
What with making
love again and a long breakfast, it wasnt until after nine we set off,
but the roads were quiet, so that it did not take long to get there. After
parking the car, we walked down to the River Dee.
We should have
brought sandwiches she said, her hand on my arm, I doubt anywhere
We crossed the
bridge over the river and began to walk along the riverbank.
Do you know
where we are going?
Nope. It will
be fun to find out though.
It had rained a lot
over the last few days, and the further we walked away from Chester the muddier
the ground became, a few times one of us stumbled or slipped, but we held each
other up laughing, so that anyone who saw us would have thought we were two
drunkards returning home after a night of debauchery.
And then we pushed
through some trees and came into a glade, and on our right, looking down upon
us, was a villa; pink and white with a large garden sloping down towards
That is my
type of house I told her, close to the river, a good size and not
far from Chester.
I tried to walk up
the slope towards it, but then I felt a pain in my left leg, and I realised
that there was wire stretched out to stop intruders and the curious.
pity, Lisa said laughing.
Oh well, if
one of us becomes a millionaire then we can buy it and take down the
Definitely. And we kissed, pressed hard
against each other, her breath smelt of chocolate and coffee. Perhaps we all
have a tendency to romanticise the past, but I cannot remember ever being so
I ring my daughter
Day she says.
Day to you. How are my grandchildren?
just been sick after eating all her selection box for breakfast this morning,
whilst Dan is looking at the book you got him.
Still in bed,
he had a bit to drink last night, well we both did, but the children woke me.
How are you?
Okay. Off out
for a walk in a moment.
Oh good, I
hope Christmas wasnt too dull.
No it was
fine, I like it quiet. I watched a couple of films.
You could have
stayed with us.
I know, I
But their house is
small, and I find the children hard work after a few minutes. I try to love
them, but I much prefer the thought of them than the tiresome reality and my
son-in-law Pete clearly makes my daughter happy but goodness he is dull, as
only the well-meaning can be. I often wonder what Lisa would have made of him,
I imagine our lying in bed together discussing him, Lisa urging me to be more
patient with our daughters family.
They are your
grandchildren, she says, Esther could be difficult, dont you
But you were
with me then.
Where are you
going for your walk?
I might go to
Chester and walk along the river.
Oh well, have
fun. Come and visit us before school re-opens.
Of course I
I put the phone down
and finish my coffee before getting into my car and driving through the Mersey
Tunnel on my way to Chester.
The river was on our
left, occasionally we could hear voices echoing from a distance, and then once
we saw a boat go past us with a man and woman leisurely rowing, whilst at the
front was a little girl shouting with glee. Lisa did not need to say anything,
we hugged and I stroked her bottom through her jeans and for a moment we
pressed tightly together before carrying on, the girls cries of delight
gradually fading away. It was very muddy now and the path was becoming narrower
and rising away from the river.
We might have
to go back soon said Lisa, we could end up slipping down into the
worry I will rescue you.
But would I be
able to rescue you? I dont like getting wet, and you have definitely put
on a bit of weight over the holiday.
And then we saw it,
the back of a large stately home.
thats my kind of house Lisa told me.
I think it is
Eaton Hall I told her, I am sure that it is somewhere near here,
owned by the Grosvenor family, the richest family in England I
There was a fence to
keep out the plebs, but Lisa was afraid of nobody then, and she hauled herself
over it into the grounds, and so I followed her over, as I would follow her
anywhere in those days.
If we see
anyone just run I told her.
Oh we can tell
them we wandered in by accident.
We squelched on the
muddy grass, water bubbling over our boots.
The house was
beautiful, symmetrical and with sandstone brick covered with ivy.
I wonder if
anyone is in?
Let us hope
so, I could do with a cup of tea.
Hand in hand we walk
along one side of the house, peering into the windows, trying to see into the
rooms behind their heavy curtains.
think anybody is here. Lisa said.
are servants upstairs. The family will be in London.
Who would want
to be in London for Christmas?
She ran ahead of me,
she would be twenty-five next year, and probably would never be as healthy and
fit again. I ran after her, and when she stopped suddenly, I caught her,
my arm round her middle, and she pressed herself into me, and for a moment we
wrestled, laughing. There was an orchard at the side of the house, and we
walked in through the gateway and admired the bare trees.
we have apple trees? She asked. You could make us toothsome apple
crumbles whenever we felt like it.
see why not. I will go to the garden centre and see what they have.
you steal a tree from here? I am sure that their apples would be
In fact I never did
get the apple tree, I always meant to, but a few days later Lisa told me that
she was pregnant, apparently she had already suspected it that day, and then we
had a house to prepare for our new arrival. Sometimes I look out at my pristine
garden and wonder if I should get an apple tree, or maybe grow raspberries like
my dad did; it would be easy to arrange and I have plenty of time, but I have
never can be bothered, and who have I got to make apple crumbles for now?
In a shady corner
close to the orchard, we came across a row of gravestones.
To the dear
memory of Katharine Caroline, 2nd wife of Hugh Lupus first Duke of
Westminster and daughter of the 2nd Baron Chesham, born Dec. 3rd 1857, died
Dec. 19th 1941 and underneath Melissa read aloud, her voice losing
her usual cockney tinge, and sounding proper and precise her ways are
ways of gentleness and all her paths are peace.
Sounds a bit
boring she told me, I bet her husband was more exciting.
She lived a
And gentle and
peaceable the whole time, how dull. I bet she wasnt, not really, she was
probably a horror, in her own set of rooms, making her childrens lives a
misery, and then when they had died, their children.
I laughed, slightly
shocked at Lisas disrespect for the dead.
killed her in the end; banged her on the head with a spade when she was doing
At least it
The fence is larger
than when Lisa and I had visited almost thirty years ago, or perhaps I am older
and less athletic, certainly there is no way that I can climb over it now, and
there is a faint humming coming from it, suggesting it is electrified; perhaps
our incursion all those years ago had caused them to bolster their security. I
am wearing wellington boots, remembering how muddy it was on our last trip, but
it is much drier this time, and come to think of it, it hasnt rained much
this holiday, and the paths had been improved with gravel added. With a shock I
realise that I have not done this walk since that Boxing Day so many years ago,
and yet that day seems so recent, as if I could touch it and be back with Lisa,
the succeeding years disappearing into oblivion.
And now I am lost, I
dont remember that happening last time; it had been an easy walk; just
following the river, until we reached Aldford, but now the path stops suddenly
at a fence, with Agricultural Land. Please Keep Out written on it.
A cow stops her grazing to stare at me curiously. I wonder what has happened
and if the village is cut off from me, like Eden. Frustratedly I retrace my
steps until I see another path leading away from the river, which I follow less
than hopefully. The path becomes concrete and there are Private
signs on my right, and a cottage, which seems familiar, and then there is the
small, hump-backed bridge that I remember us walking over, which lead us onto
more land owned by the Grosvenor family.
We were quiet as we
followed the tree-lined path, slightly awed and not sure where we going, but
then we were out in the open and for a moment the Winter sun dazzled us and we
both shielded our eyes. There was a church ahead of us, outlined against the
white sky, and we headed towards it and behind the church we discovered a
village, which proved to be Aldford, a Victorian model village built by Sir
Richard Grosvenor, 2nd Marquess of Westminster about a hundred years earlier.
We wandered around
the church for awhile; admiring the stained-glass windows and the memorials
(more Grosvenor family dead) and then, tiring of holiness, we explored the
village itself, which consisted of large houses with extensive gardens, and
then further out farms.
Would you like
to live here? I asked her.
maybe, but I am not sure about this village. I imagine that it would get dull
pretty quickly, although it does look lovely, and much quieter than
Just as we were
beginning to get tired and hungry, we came upon a small courtyard and there was
a café, which doubled up as a bakery. I ordered coffee and tea
beautiful village Lisa said to the old man who served us.
We were just
closing he muttered.
wont be long.
It was already
getting dark, and the air had the smell of Winter afternoons, which I have
always loved so much.
should ask him to make us some sandwiches? suggested Melissa with a
mischievous grin, and maybe cake and another coffee?
Or even a hot
We sniggered over
our coffee and then when we finished, we left him a generous trip, and walked
away, hoping to find a quicker way back into Chester, we could hear him locking
the door as we left the courtyard.
The café is
now a small supermarket, which is closed, there are incongruously
a couple of boutiques too, which are also closed. I wander about the
village; it is smaller than I remember it; whichever way I walk, I am soon out
of the village, and on roads without pavements, and I wish I hadnt come,
even a day spent with my grandchildren and son-in-law would have been better
than this, and I am overcome with self-pity; a poor old man, as full of
grief as age.
she told me, that sign says Chester and so we followed a
narrow, but busy road, cars swooping past us, a couple of them sound their
horns as they do so, I let her walk ahead of me, so that if one of us would be
hit, it would be me. Every so often she looked back at me with a mischievous
grin, and I smiled back, and that is how I mostly remember her, an image as
firmly fixed as if it had been a photograph.
And now I walk
back the same way, and for a moment I see her ahead of me; her long black coat,
which she had had ever since I had known her, and her straight red hair,
reaching down to her waist, which I had watched her wash that morning, long
ago. I try to catch her, I run until I am breathless, and for just a moment I
am so close; I can feel the touch of her coat as I reach out to hold her, I can
smell her shampoo and hear her laughter, and then I say her name and she is
gone and the road is empty in front of me, and as I stand there, a car drives
past me almost knocking me into the hedge.
I walk the rest of
the way back to Chester, breathing in the cold air, and wondering if Lisa would
recognise the rather old man, puffing along, that I have become. Once I have
driven back home to Liverpool and made myself some cheese on toast, I ring my
daughter again, and she tells me what they had done that day, and then we talk
of previous Christmases and I tell her that I love her. She seems
surprised by this announcement, and then says she loves me too but that she has
to go and put the children to bed, and I stifle the urge to tell her to get
Pete to do it. Before she hangs up she says that she is looking forward to
seeing me tomorrow, that the children will be excited to see me, and that after
dinner Pete will take me to the pub to watch Everton play on the widescreen
television, and I tell her that it will be fun, which it might be. They might
not be perfect and long before the day has ended, I will be desperate to come
home, but at least they will be company for the day, and at my age that is
Now lying in bed I
hear a cat miaow from my garden, and I go down to let it in from the cold, but
when I open the back door there is a scrabble of claws, and the cat is gone
into the night, so I get a drink of water and go back to bed. In the dark I can
see the photograph of Lisa that has been there for a quarter of a century, and
I give her a smile and she smiles back at me through the dark.
Et in arcadia