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2022: the Circle of Life

I turned 70 in December, a multifaceted event. On the plus side, I’m still here, having outlived both parents, and on the minus, well, what exactly am I writing about now?!

The center of my 70th birthday celebration was a steam train trip from Banbury to Bath and back, hauled by this gorgeous beast, seen here at the platform in Banbury, built in the Great Western Railway’s Swindon works. Great grandad was the GWR’s Goods Agent in Reading until he retired in 1939, and his uncle Walter an engineer at Swindon works until 1921, the year before the works started building these Castles.

It was always a milestone worth celebrating, and we celebrated with a week based in Marlow. A few miles from where I was born, the town was the Stocks’ home for about seven years during my prolonged adolescence, and the only home that my parents ever owned for a decent length of time. In a lifetime full of incessant movement, Marlow-on-Thames still feels like roots.

But of course, as one ages, friends and family fall by the wayside, in more ways than one. Some are recoverable with a little effort, but increasingly others never will be.

Gez, me and David Milsom in front of the Sir William Borlase’s playing field railings in 2004.

About a week before Lisa and I arrived in Marlow in December, Gez Kahan died: don’t know the details. Gez was one of the few people there whom I still knew. Lisa and I visited him and Jenny most recently in early 2022. He lived for many years right next to the school where we met in 1967, Sir William Borlase’s.

I had shared a few cigarettes with him and others at smokers’ corner on the footpath behind the school, and one day he offered me my first whole cigarette. He smoked one, and I smoked one, an abundance at the time. Then he clucked sympathetically as I lay down on the playing field half way through because it made me feel so sick. Of course, I did finish the bloody thing!

Gez on stage with Oye Santana, from the band’s Facebook page.

Gez managed to live most of his life directly or indirectly from his real passion, music, which I always admired. For the last few years, he has been playing keyboards for Oye Santana, an English Santana tribute band which has had success on the pub circuit.

Death has felt more present than previously this year. I guess it’s that time of life.

Jacqui and Keith Rayment at home, taken by their daughter Natalie during Christmas 2021 and posted this Christmas: “I miss you two like crazy,” she wrote.

Steve Winning, another Borlase’s friend, lost his mother to Covid early in the year. She still lived in Marlow. Paul Marigonda, one of the judges who oversaw my Santa Cruz divorce, died of cancer late in the year. And three interesting and erudite Facebook acquaintances, none of whom I had ever actually met, also left us.

The Queen died after reigning since the year I was born.

Closer to home, first Keith Rayment and then Jacqui, his wife and my second cousin, died. Lisa and I visited Jacqui in May shortly after she lost her husband. Needless to say, she was crushed, but seemed as tough as ever. Although the medical explanation of her cause of death seven months later was sepsis, I suspect that it would be more accurate to say that she never quite recovered from losing Keith.

Natalie, Rob and Holly Rayment, Jacqui’s three children at Rob’s wedding in 2017. Her heritage.

She was an extraordinary woman, constantly thumbing her nose at the brittle bone disease which made her life much more than a challenge. She had several entrepreneurial ventures (my favorite was her doll’s house furniture), two husbands and three children. Now that’s a full life! Her children got it right when they said in their invitation to her memorial service, “after, we will be going to The Three Horseshoes to celebrate Mum!”

On the friend side again, George Parr also died late this year. I had met him in 1970 as an exchange student in Cambridge Central School in upstate New York. In 1972, he had driven west in my pink 1959 Chevy with Adrian and me along the Trans Canada Highway to Alberta, a trip with one too many adventures! George led a happy life as a fisherman in Portland, Maine.  

Across from one of Carol and Adrian’s favorite pubs in Headingley, the Skylark.

Adrian himself lost Carol, his wife of 15 years, at the end of May. We had more warning of this one, and made it all the way to her memorial service in Leeds. I posted earlier about how sad we felt. Adrian himself has been in and out of hospital all year, and flips easily from hearty to ailing. As he put it himself in an email: “This aging business is unexpected as I never expected to live this long … so it goes!” There’s a positive side to everything, right?

Bouncing Eliza up and down while laying on the lawn at Charlotte and Nick’s place in Nantes during a summer visit!

Indeed there is, and to prove it my first grandchild, Eliza, arrived in January in Nantes, courtesy of Charlotte and Nick, my oldest. They duly got married after the birth; it’s the French way! The family lives less than two hours down the freeway from us in an apartment with terrace and garden which they bought themselves for the baby. Eliza is adorable, with a ready smile and a sweet and open disposition. But of course, she does assert convincingly her need for the freedom to crawl around.

As grandparents, Lisa and I were able to allow her that freedom. We looked after her in our cottage for a couple of days in the fall to give her parents a little free time. Living in an apartment, she promptly made a repeated bee-line for our wooden staircase, with its 180 degree bend. One of us was then obliged to go up the stairs on our knees right behind her. It took her very little time to learn how to climb all the way up to the top and into the bedrooms, and the limits on her ability to continue her explorations were our knees, not hers.

Rosamund, Lisa’s daughter Shannon, and Mabel in their Christmas finery at Greg’s dad’s place in Maryland. This is a growing family!

We also spent ten days this year with Lisa’s granddaughters, Mabel and Rosamund, in Connecticut. They are now six and four, the perfect ages to spend time with, and call Lisa “grandma Lisa” and me “grandpa Ian.” Shannon and Greg, their parents, were showing them their first post-pandemic Halloween – last year featured “trunk and treat” at the Community Center, with vendors and merchants putting candies in the baskets that the girls held outside the car window – “ouch!” This year the little children were all free to run around: “fun, fun, fun!”

Part of this Connecticut visit was spent attending my law school class’s 40th reunion, already blogged about here, and we added on a few days spent strolling around Manhattan: how could we not! Living in the country has enhanced our enjoyment of the great cities. And visiting them is easier than living in them.

During one of our long New York City walks, Lisa is on a breezy Brooklyn Bridge with lower Manhattan in the background.

We walked everywhere from our hotel on West 14th Street, to the Met and back, to the New York MOMA and back, and across the Brooklyn bridge and back. Blisters, yes, but not one subway, bus or cab!

Crossing Soho on the third day, I realized with a shock that we were passing in front of the first building I lived in upon arrival in Manhattan in the summer of 1983. It felt cool to live in a loft as a newly-minted attorney, and living in the only other loft on my floor was an up and coming young Greenwich Village musician with the unlikely name of Madonna!

John Fore and I sitting at the dining room table during his and Toni’s summer visit to the cottage. Most of the newly-renovated kitchen is behind us.

For the first time, Lisa and I spent most of this year ensconced in our little granite cottage in Brittany. We renovated the kitchen, installed a new wood-burning insert in the chimney, demolished the decrepit garage and built a hardwood deck where it had stood. Well actually, we did very little of that! Tony, a skilled English ex-pat in the village, did most of the work. Same effect: the home now feels like ours. 

Despite our rural location, we benefited from several visits from family and friends. My four grown sons each managed at least one visit, which was more rewarding because of their respective geographical challenges: Alex lives with Haley near San Diego, Arlo in Athens, Charlie with Gabriella in London and only Nick with Charlotte and Eliza in Brittany.

They even managed to time their visits such that three sons came together for one summer night, complete with significant others and Eliza: red letter day!

Arlo visited three times during the year, but couldn’t make it on this occasion because he was escorting his maternal grandmother during her visit to Crete. He did send us from Athens this musical Christmas greeting.

Lisa took this great pic in the cottage living room. Gabi has her hand on Charlie’s shoulder (just noticed that!), Charlotte and Eliza are behind me and Nick, and Haley is behind Nick and Alex.

Alex, my youngest, brought a pretty big rock with him. He popped the question to Haley as they explored their favorite spots in Europe, and Lisa and I now have a wedding to go to in Southern California late next year!

Tracy and Jim, now engaged, on either side of Lisa on a very steep medieval street in Dinan.

In the same vein, Jim Coats, a Cal friend, brought his girlfriend Tracy to visit on their way to Paris, where they surprised us by announcing their engagement! John and Toni Fore, New York and Palo Alto friends, dropped in for dinner in Dinan at the end of their Breton bicycle trip. No surprise announcement from them: married with four grown children already!

Drew took this selfie of the three of us in an Irish pub in Dinan. Why can’t I take selfies like that!

Still hosting, we had the pleasure of coming to the rescue of the Spicers. Amy is the older daughter of one of my best friends from Borlase’s in Marlow, David Milsom, and Drew Spicer is her San Diego-raised husband. They have two boys, and the younger, Noah, eleven, was booked on a school trip to a summer camp in Normandy not too far from us. Obtaining his new passport (needed again since Brexit!) in time proved problematic in the pandemic, and Drew was obliged to zoom up to London to intercept it at a FedEx warehouse!

Another well-taken selfie, this time by Arlo outside the kitchen door in the cottage. He stayed a couple of nights before Christmas. Where we are standing used to be the site of a decrepit garage.

Long story short, because of the passport silliness, Noah missed the ferry taking his classmates across the channel, and so father and son flew into Rennes later the same day. I met them at the airport and drove them to the summer camp. It was dark when we arrived, but I had the definite impression that there were more girls on the prowl than boys! Drew and I left after Noah found his classmates; he seemed happy enough!

A visit to Paris brought us another feel good story, this time over dinner in a favorite restaurant. Frederico, the able Maître d’, seated us for some reason at one end of a longish table, and then seated an attractive young couple at the other end. They were American, and we were chatting when Frederico arrived at the table with an enormous bouquet of red roses.

I was stunned when he presented them to Alice, the young woman, and not to Lisa!

Frederico, the Maître d’ who helped Rob set this lovely scene up, with Lisa on his right and Alice on his left. Great dinner! Great restaurant! (Au Vieux Paris d’Arcole, near Notre Dame)

Well, it turned out that this was a set up. There was a small box buried in the bouquet, and egged on by Rob, Alice found it and opened it. Lisa is bouncing up and down in her seat, clapping and laughing joyfully, and I’m beginning to regret teasing the couple earlier in the conversation about the length of their relationship and when were they going to commit!

Sure enough, the ring is in the box, and Rob is pushing our table aside to get down on one knee and propose. And Alice says “yes!”

Lisa and I walking on the fall leaves in the Connecticut woods. Photo by Greg, her son-in-law.

As ever, we visited Paris a few times; such a wonderful city, and only two hours away by TGV!

We lunched with the amazing Karim Medjad, a friend since 1989 when we worked together in a now defunct Paris law firm. Karim gave us a tour of the Musée des Arts et Métiers, a tech museum housed at the University where he now is the law professor, CPAM. We brunched with Sally Katz, a Yale friend who helped us register to vote in the US and who, it turns out, was raised just down the street, literally, from where Shannon and Greg now live. And we grabbed a coffee (dinner next time, Chris!) with Chris Mesnooh, a Yale friend who does more then earn a living in Paris. He recently helped seven young Vietnamese men who had been the victims of a perverted French doctor in Hanoi to prosecute the doctor in his absence in Paris. Thanks to Chris, the Criminal Court sentenced that sicko to 20 years in prison, the maximum for his crimes.

Marlow Parish Church (C of E) taken from the lock. The weir is on the left.

Marlow started this post for more than one reason. Britain is a very crowded country, and Covid brought in all kinds of nonsense, in particular absurd travel restrictions. Because of their cost, I was unable to return to the UK for two years.

Our three visits this year were most welcome. We visited Derek Stock, our diligent family geneologist, and his wife Milli in Norfolk as his town celebrated the Diamond Jubilee of Her Majesty. We unintentionally visited Bob and Vicki Green (Bob is a second cousin on the London side of the family, the Burrells) on the day before they expected us, and had the pleasure of his expounding on Burrell history for us in his dressing gown!

The dynamic duo at a restaurant in Dinan, our local market town, dining with friends.

Steve Winning, another Borlase’s friend, put us up in Bury St Edmunds, showed us the town where he spent much of his life, and gave us a tour of its beautiful abbey and grounds. Ian Summers (a friend from Solihull School) and Stella Tripp shared their Devon home with us again and took us hiking on Dartmoor, along a disused railway line no less! Amy and Drew Spicer fed us and her parents, David and Janice Milsom, a lovely brunch in Oxfordshire. Thanks to all.

And with great timing, we visited Gez and Jenny, and Carol and Adrian.

Visit your friends, people; they may not be there next time.