Saturday: I felt a bit bad about leaving the cats on their own for 3 days, but I managed to assuage my guilt by leaving them mountains of food, lots of water and a clean litter box, and close the door behind me with a clear conscience, or almost.
Unfortunately, when I got to the airport I found that my flight had been delayed by an hour. Hanging around airports is not my favourite pastime, which is why I always check in late. Be there 2 hours before departure time? What nonsense! 30 Minutes is time enough as far as I'm concerned...so I wasn't best pleased to get to the gate only to hear I still had to wait an hour before boarding would commence. But it worked out fine in the end. The flight itself was uneventful, and the train to Sutton was just pulling in when I arrived at Luton Parkway, so I really couldn't have timed it better. Half an hour later, coming out of Mill Hill Broadway, I was just in time to see the 221 bus leaving, and decided, as the weather was so balmy, to walk the 20 minutes to Edgware; arriving at my destination around 2:30 p.m., long before my hosts were expecting me. Anneke busied herself to prepare a late lunch for me, and then we sat out in the garden enjoying the sunshine and each other's company and making plans for the rest of my stay. When her husband joined us later that day, we went out for a nice long walk to Stonybrook farm, taking the dog with us -- an unexpected treat for him, as he doesn't normally get taken out on the shabbos. Sometimes, having a goj around does have its advantages!
After we got back and had a light meal, we (Anneke, Bobby, their 2 youngest daughters and me) opened our books and sat around reading, and I realised a childhood dream had finally come true. I'm the only voracious reader in my own family circle -- neither my parents, nor my sister, nor my aunties and uncles, nor my grandparents have read more than a handful of books; and most of them worried when I, as a little girl, seemed to read incessantly. My Mum was the only one who indulged my passion for books, getting me a library card and gifting me with books for my birthday for years; but the rest of my family kept saying things like "she'll ruin her eyes" or even "how will she ever find a husband? men don't like their wifes to be smarter" (I kid you not, that's the worry my grandfather's 2nd wife once expressed, in all seriousness -- she was a dear, but hardly emancipated). Now, I was part of a household where everyone read! I couldn't have felt more at home...
Shabbos ended, and we ended the day by watching a play on TiVo.
Sunday: I shocked Bobby by coming down at 7 a.m.; as their guest, and one who had complained of exhaustion the day before, they'd agreed to let me sleep late, and here I was, up at the crack of dawn. The weather had turned and it was cloudy and overcast, occasionally rainy...we wondered whether we would have to change our plan for the day, but decided to stick with it. And so after the usual household chores and grocery run had been gotten out of the way, we drove a few miles to Whelpley Hill and got onto the Chiltern Heritage Trail there, traipsing through the fields roundabout for an hour or two and getting parched as the sun decided to put in a late appearance after all. So we stopped for a pint at the local, unaware that there was a private birthday party just getting underway in the garden. And so we crashed it. And so everybody there was too polite to say anything. And so we got offered a plate of pork scratchings, which we, having just realised our error, and finished our beer, politely refused before beating a hasty retreat. On the way back, we drove through Hemel Hempstead, and I remembered that that's where you are, bogwitch, so I gave it a little wave in passing.
Sunday evening was, of course, the reason for my visit. The varnishing started at 6:30 p.m. and Anneke had been getting steadily more nervous ever since I showed her the invitation I'd received just before leaving home the day before. She's used to nicely printed cards that have her name and usually a sample of her work on it, but this was just a piece of paper with the line 'The Ben Uri Gallery and the Jewish Museum have the pleasure of inviting you to the opening of the Jewish Artist of the Year exhibition' -- and we were both worried that the quality of the invitation would reflect the quality of the exhibition. When we got there, we were ever so pleased and relieved to find that it didn't.
The gallery is tiny, but the works are exhibited well and much thought has gone into the presentation. With 27 finalists, it's impossible to like or appreciate everybody's work (certain choices have been made there that I think are questionable and some that I suspect of being political), but most of the selection made certainly has merit and some works are really outstanding and interesting -- including that of my friend, which received some serious attention from the company assembled...and rightly so. It's a video triptych, showing the making of kreplach on a continuous loop, showing the laboriousness and the endurance of Jewish traditions (or something). Kreplach are dumplings, that are eaten at Purim and a few other Jewish holidays, and they look mouth-wateringly good, but since I haven't been at Anneke's for Purim (yet), I can't tell you what they taste like.
The opening was a complete success, and we decided to celebrate by going out to dinner. Unfortunately, most of Jewish London seemed to have had the same idea and so we couldn't get a table at our kosher restaurant of choice. Instead, we had to content ourselves with take-out Iraqis (i.e. huge pita bread wrappings stuffed full of shoarma), supplemented with champagne, coffee, and cake when we got home.
Monday: To please my hosts, I feigned a lie-in, and stayed in my room until 8 a.m. before coming down to breakfast. The day was one of glorious sunshine, and I couldn't wait to get outside. Bobby had to go to work today so we said our goodbyes then and there, and then Anneke and I took the dog for a quick walk in the park before going into town as we had planned, giddy as two schoolgirls. Originally, Anneke had suggested we drop in on one of her daughters who has taken a summer job at Jigsaw, but as soon as the daughter had gotten wind of this little plan, she'd put the kibosh on it and forbidden us to set foot inside her branch, and no amount of pleading and promising we'd behave in exemplary fashion, pretending we didn't know her at all, could sway her. Children can be so cruel!
Our fallback plan consisted of a visit to the Design Museum, to see the Saul Bass exhibition (film opening sequences); coffee at the National Portrait Gallery, where the BP Portrait Awards 2004 just went on display, and Selfridges to look for a nice little suitcase for Anneke. We didn't find what we were looking for (or we did, but none of it in the sales), but we did find the most gorgeous skirt for me: brown with gold embroidery and a belt with lovely golden tasseling and beads, £120, and a lovely little brown leather and gold handbag to go with it, marked down from £99 to £29,95. I hadn't wanted to spend any money, but this skirt was just so me I couldn't walk away from it.
On our way back home, we bought cherries and raspberries at a roadside stall, and I popped into a Starbucks for a caramel macchiato, and munched our way through them all on the tube back to Edgware. Then there was just enough time left for tea and the Sunday Times crossword before I had to catch the train to Luton and the plane back to Holland, where I arrived tired and well, and as far as the cats were concerned, not a moment too soon.