Every year or three, I visit my old school friend, AP. Last time it was in Toulouse, just before he relocated to Dorset, my venue for the August bank holiday weekend. If I had a pound (sterling) for every year we have known each other, I could treat my whole family to a slap-up meal at The Arbuturian’s favourite restaurant (grain and grape excluded). On re-meeting, we fall into each others’ arms like long-lost brothers; then within forty-eight hours we are planning ways of discreetly disposing of each other. From those initial cordial and warm shared reminiscences, to the final frosty breakfast before the first available plane or train whisks me back to the Smoke, the pattern is usually the same but one that we recognise, embrace even. Ultimately this kind of childhood intimacy breeds understanding, tolerance – at least of a limited kind – shared remembrances and a great deal of laughter for the first day or so, just so long as an appropriate distance is kept for the remaining three-hundred and sixty-three of the year.
I am also there to test my latest toy, a digital Canon 5D (mark 2) which I realise, as I toss it nonchalantly onto the backseat of AP’s beautifully preserved, elderly and elegant Jaguar, is worth much more than the car itself. So from Sherborne station we make our way to a nearby local hostelry, The Queen’s Arms, where a home-reared pig is gently circulating on a garden spit (‘Bank Holiday pig on the spit with all the trimmings: £8!’), and resting on the bar are a stack of still-warm homemade pork pies. Heaven!
Here, in this delightfully sunny garden, I realise that from my own age and perspective, women fall into two distinct categories – that’s right, two only, there really seems to be little room for middle ground. The first appear to be well under thirty and are, without exception, beautiful and attractive. The rest are, quite simply, old bags. Now logic dictates to me that this is not at all the case, but age can play unusual tricks with and upon us, and I am here to assure you that two categories there indeed are, and two only there remain. Suffice to report that in this idyllic pig-roasting garden, I saw only the first, aided by a couple of pints of local bitter, which seemed to be called something like Old Goat because it contained hops from New Zealand (?). On leaving and making our way to the village where AP now resides, we bypassed the Cerne Abbas Giant, which you may recall is famous for his large and threatening member. So here I have to crave the indulgence of those readers who are still with me, for it could be that the Giant has cast both his club and his spell over these musings. If so, it’s to he and his upraised weapons that I lay the blame for what follows.
Now the best way, in my experience, to avoid the ‘irritant quotient’ when visiting an old friend, is to organise a whole stack of things to do. So we poured over Landranger, Explorer, Tourist and Historical Ordinance Survey maps of the immediate area, in search of woods, particularly those that avoided the ubiquitous Scandinavian pine. Here we achieved an initial and triumphant early success, for in seeking out Thomas Hardy’s cottage and birthplace on bank holiday Tuesday (‘Open Weds, Thurs, Fri and Sat, closed Mondays and Tuesdays’) we stumbled upon a glorious beech wood which simply made me long to live in the country once again. I had specifically requested of AP that we avoided crumbling ruins at all costs and that what I wanted to see, and indeed photograph, were trees – and now here they were in all their late summer glory.