(This is the third in a series that begins with A Night in Steerage.)
Glastonbury is a mere 3 ½ miles from Butleigh but it takes two buses to get there. The main road is too dangerous to walk and even if one were to brave it, it would be unpleasant what with cars whizzing around corners and one having to throw oneself into the hedgerows because there is really only one lane and no shoulders. I needed more than a few days to find the circuitous route of footpaths that might make it possible to walk. I never got over the frustration of this and as I recall never let go of mentioning it.
So getting to Glastonbury without a car entailed taking a Nippy Bus from Butleigh and changing at Street, which was two miles away. There are only a few buses that go in and out of Butleigh every day. Prominently on the bus time table is information about the last bus out of Street, critical if one wants to get home the same day. Sue was much more interested in my making it home by the last bus than she was in finding the footpath scheme to Glastonbury.
So I caught my Nippy bus on Thursday morning and five minutes later I was in Street. (Before you ask, nobody could explain to me why a town was called Street.) I could have immediately hopped a bus to Glastonbury but I was side-tracked by a county market that was going on at Crispin Hall. I had to have a wander through and look at everything: jam, vegetables, crafts.
Then I had to wait a good half hour for the next bus. I spent a lot of time staring across the High Street at a bakery called Burns the Bread, thinking how clever the name was and what a shame I didn’t eat wheat. I chatted with a young mother who deftly changed a diaper and organized formula with one arm holding the baby. I listened to a loquacious woman going on and on about her “hiatus hernia” to a smiling old guy who responded with “Yesyesyesyesyes” just like Trevor Peacock in The Vicar of Dibley.
Finally I was in Glastonbury and I set off with the excellent directions Sue and Wendy had given me to see Pamela in the Glastonbury Care Home. Get off the bus at the Abbey, turn around, walk down the road between the two cafes. (Halfway down the road I stopped at the Tea and Chi for a restorative cup.) Turn right on Garvens Road, cross a highway, turn left on Drum Ave, wind through a little housing estate ending at Pikes Close and there is the care home.
I found Pam. I was prepared to be shocked but I wasn’t. She has shrunk to about 100 pounds and she’s bed-ridden because her body isn’t cooperating after the stroke. But her energy and her essence are sparkling. She was astonished to see me, then delighted and affectionate. She grabbed my hand and her grip was strong.
There’s been brain damage but she is slowly making brain connections and getting language back. We had comical exchanges. Pam tended to begin every sentence in English and to end in some other language.
“Hi Pamela. It’s Elena. From America.”
“We went to France and iffen da shento.”
“Yes, you and Mervyn came to Seattle. The Space Needle. The ferry.”
“The war. My grandmother is foken da hoosh.”
“Yes, there was a war. Tell me about the war.”
“Margaret my grandmother whoosh saken chee.”
“Pamela, remember when I came and we went to Looe?”
“I remember. I remember what fee ashen.”
The only really lucid thing she said –and she said it three times while clutching my arm—was, “Can you stay all day?” It nearly broke my heart. I stayed for an hour, promising to come back.
On the walk back into town I stepped into the Glastonbury Music Shop and met the proprietor, Hywel Jenkins. In our first exchange we became mates.
“I’m a music teacher from America and wanted to see what a British music store was like.”
“Where do you live in America?”
“Frasier Crane Country.”
We chatted for a long time about teaching music. It’s a little known fact that the English don’t have quarter notes, half notes and whole notes. They have crochets, minims and breves. Wouldn’t they just? But it doesn’t end there. The eighth note is a quaver, a 16th is a semi-quaver, a 32nd is a semi-hemi quaver and a 64th is a semi-hemi-demi-quaver. I am not making this up.
The conservatories have begun introducing the American terminology because as Hywel said, the English terms may be more imaginative but the American ones actually identify the notes mathematically. I was sorry to hear that. I bought a couple of books and Hywel gave me the teacher discount.
I walked to Magdalene Street and found the shop Earth Fare. I had been charged with buying gluten free pasta if I expected to eat dinner that night. Later I learned that the English are all over the gluten free thing and there are aisles in chain supermarkets with rows of GF food. The cakes are especially good; I did an exhaustive study. Sue bought me a loaf of the best GF bread I’ve ever had; it came from Burns the Bread.
I visited the Abbey ruins. I took my shoes off and walked on the grass. I was here once before, in 1980. I have a photo I took of the grave of Arthur. Glastonbury is one of the many, many places King Arthur is buried in the United Kingdom.
I got a tarot reading from Katie Player of the Goddess Temple. Tarot readings usually leave me feeling depressed or scared but this was centering and inspiring. I left feeling glad I had seen Katie but also thinking, “Goodness, money does slip through my fingers.”
I had tea in the Abbey Tea Rooms where Pam, Mervyn, Sue, Wendy and I had a meal last time I was in England. It was Wendy’s choice. She has a nose for the best tea rooms. I remember there had been some rowdy football players there and Sue said they were probably “from the north.” As I was paying I saw my bus pull up across the street and I rushed out, avoided being hit by a car and ran across the street to hop on.
Glastonbury is a tourist’s town. It draws a lot of wanderers in every sense of the word: drifters, but also seekers. I think there are posers as well as sincere spiritual pilgrims there. It’s a maze to negotiate the real from the fake and who even knows where that line is? Street is a regular people’s town. You can find a laundry, a florist, a chemists, supermarkets, and outlet stores. Still it was in Glastonbury that I found the music store and visited my cousin in a nursing home.
Both towns really ought to have a clearly marked footpath to Butleigh.