Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Gatwick, 15.5.06: Up to Downe and Purgatory at Gatwick

Gatwick airport. Since Papa Ratzi has officially abolished limbo (hasn’t he?), I suppose it’s purgatory we’re in. These hotels at airports are particularly purgatorial—with a minimum of comfort disguised by a maximum of flash.

The Hilton was no exception. Though all brochures repeated insistently that we were paying for the privilege to access pay t.v., the feature would not work on our t.v.

We called the desk and got put into a squirrel cage of customer-service reps, an ascending hierarchy of technicians, and, finally, “the” electrician.

He told us the problem was irresolvable from his end, since it originated in how we had been booked into the computer system of the hotel. Which means it was resolvable—by one Karen, whom he called from our room and informed of the problem, and who was clearly unwilling to address it.

He suggested to her that she shift us to another room. It was clear that she wasn’t willing to do that. She finally and reluctantly provided him with a room number and he went and checked to see if the t.v. was fully operational.

It was, and we moved, Karen promising to send up new room keys. When they hadn’t materialized within half an hour, Steve went down to get them, finding a shift change was in progress and all was chaotic.

The reason all of this mattered was that we arrived about noon, were advised to turn in our rental car, and had nothing to do but pack for today’s flight, perambulate the less than scintillating airport, and rest. The rooms themselves were hideous: little boxes with worn carpets and smelly bathrooms. Heat was on to its maximum. We turned it to the minimum. Still stuffy.

After we had our stroll, returned to the room. T.v. problem had reappeared. Called for Karen. No Karen available. Ellen, a German woman, was the new Karen.

Came to room. Fiddled with t.v. No, sorry, it’s not working. How may I compensate you? Meal vouchers? No, sorry, I’ll give you vouchers for two drinks.

Beds were horrible, worst of the trip, with poly-cotton sheets. I spent a tossing-turning night dreaming of a disparate cast of strangely assorted characters—Jim G., Kathleen F., etc.

Now we find our flight delayed and our attempt to go and sit in our boarding lounge was soundly rebuffed by the airport or Delta official who is the gatekeeper, though we arrived at the time we were told to. And now we see from the flight board our flight’s delayed 45 more minutes—which means in airline lingo 3 hours, I suspect.

Yesterday: picked up the paintings we had bought from C.B. Betsy S. She informed us that the parish network had already told her of our brass-rubbing expedition the day before. Met us at her gate, spaniel in arms, tweed clad, apologizing for (well, no warning about) the dog’s tendency to jump on strangers.

We received the paintings and headed off. Bit of dog talk at the gate. She asked what kind of dog we had, thereby indicating that either she or the parish network recognized that we were a couple.

We told her that we had a corgi with an unfortunate tendency to nip. She said she’d had a similar one, also female, and it was the only one of her dogs she had frankly not been unhappy to see go. It met, she said, a tragic end—which she left unspecified.

Of anyone we’ve met on this trip, it’s clear to me that C.B. S and her husband are nearest to gentry—the kind of county families who once formed the backbone of the gentry across the nation, though I have no idea at all whether they’re an old Kentish family or simply people of status (and, clearly, education) who have settled at Old Romney.

Then on to Downe. Steve wanted us to stop, too, at Detling, but because the only information I have on that place is that some of the Epes lived there in the 1500s, I suggested we forego it.

So on to Downe. Though it’s very close to London, it’s deeply rural and village-like, accessible only by a narrow wooded lane that was lined by high banks of bluebells. On the drippy gray day—only the second such we’ve had in our entire trip—the color was gorgeous.

One climbs to Downe; one goes up to Downe. When we arrived, light on in the church, to which we walked through a fresh-mown graveyard wet with the recent rain.

Inside, a man who turned out to be a parson, a visiting priest, we gathered: we thought the parish has no resident pastor. Also an elderly woman Joyce, who must be churchwarden.

Had we come a moment sooner, services would have been on. A moment later, Joyce would have locked up.

She showed us around, obviously proud of the church’s treasures, and indirectly lecturing us on its history—the connection to Darwin, an Italian glassblower Elizabeth brought in to teach the English his art: Giacomo Verrazzano?

She was delightful, a true Kentish woman, sharp-nosed, short, buxom, plain-spoken. She said some of the Darwin records she’s locked away, and is not eager to let researchers know the church has—that Kentish secretiveness and distrust of “foreigners.”

She kindly brought a Manning crest—shield, she called it—out of the safe. One can still see the tomb of the John Manning on which it was affixed in the chancel floor.

We photographed the shield and the brass of that tomb and of an Edward Manning who was page to Charles II, which is in the nave. It was clear Joyce was reluctant to let us do a rubbing. It was her church, and we were going to abide by her rules.

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