Marion and her husband Brian and I had decided to stay overnight at The Red Lion Hotel after the first Elizabeth Goudge Convention. Before we parted on Sunday morning we walked to the bridge and the riverside, visited St Mary’s church and looked down upon the grave of Dusty Springfield in the churchyard, still festooned with flowers following her birthday on April 16th.
After hugs and farewells I took a walk along the tow-path and then started my journey home, deciding on a leisurely drive through the Chilterns. I drove through Stonor, turning off towards Turville Heath and shortly arrived at the village of Northend. Last year the blue plaque unveiling was held under cold, cloudy, wet and windy conditions and my demand to Deborah for better weather this time was duly delivered for this weekend. Despite Karen and Ken’s gentle hospitality I could not find Elizabeth in Rose Cottage or in the village of Peppard Common on both occasions. But on Saturday afternoon I found her in All Saints church and had melted into peace and quiet contentment.
My mother belonged to the Bronte Society and on a visit to the parsonage in Haworth commented to a fellow visitor that the one thing that remained the same through the years was the sunlight and shadows upon the walls and floor and furniture, the same now as when the sisters saw it. I took a photograph in Elizabeth’s church I was extremely pleased with and ran and showed a number of our group, like a little schoolboy proud of his latest achievement. I had not found her in Turville when I drove there last year either, the suggested setting of my favourite book The Scent of Water. In fact I could not see anything that had taken part in the novel. But when I drove into the little village of Northend I found the peace and contentment again.
And so I drove on homeward through the Chilterns, their wooded crests, sunlit vales, diving deep down on narrow lanes and climbing steeply up twisting roads, all between daisy and bluebell verges and beneath trees wearing their bright green sleeves of spring. For personal reasons I am always happy after the event. So I look back on my meeting again my lovely friends Marion and Brian, shaking hands with new acquaintances and being guided to here and there by Deborah and Nick, who never once intruded noisily upon our own quiet thoughts and contemplations and yearn for those few happy hours. But I also remember the peace and contentment I carried as I drove home through to Hertfordshire on the far edge of my lovely Chilterns.
Paul Dominic Gray 30th April 2009