“You can never have sex with anyone.”
“That’d be terrible.”
“I wouldn’t do that to anyone. I told my girls, I’m going to be the only one in the family not having sex.”
“Oaky or non-oaky?”
The last quote was from my waiter, who was asking me what flavour chardonnay I wanted. Everything preceding it belonged to the table of grandmothers sitting in the booth next to mine—they were proper grandmothers, too (meaning, they weren’t 32 and from Louisiana). Unfortunately, I couldn’t hear anything else they said...those few quotes seemed to bob up within my reach as if on an isolated sea swell.
I asked the waitress at the register, which way to Runnymede?
She pointed to the toilet.
When I mentioned I was walking, she adjusted her directions so that she was pointing between the toilet and the window. “It’s straight that way. But it’s quite a distance.”
I thanked her and then went off to find the Windsor information bureau...maybe a map would be useful. Several signs pointed the way, until I found myself ricocheting between two signs that pointed at each other. The only buildings between them were an unmanned parking lot kiosk and a public toilet. I gave up and set off in the direction of the waitress’s metaphysical toilet.
About a mile along, I heard a clopping behind me—a man and a little girl came past on a cart pulled by a pony. The girl was eating an ice cream cone; she had long, curled hair (much like the pony) and a surly expression. She stared at me, as if daring me to grab her ice cream cone.
Eventually I wound up on the Thames Path, and the walk became very pleasant...through meadows and such, until I reached Old Windsor, where cute houses with beautiful gardens and sad dogs front the river. (The river is more like a tarted-up stream at this point.) I stopped at the Harvester Pub and Grill (subtitle: Bells of Ouzely Pub) and asked the young barmaid, “Is it far to Runnymede?”
She got a sour look, as if Runnymede summed up all that was wrong with her life and this place.
“Yeah, it’s just up there.”
“Is it a town? Or an estate?” Her expression encouraged me to keep downgrading. “Or a place?”
“It’s a place you drive through.”
“I don’t have a car.”
“It’s just at the round-about. You can’t miss it.” She emphasized “can’t” as if she’d tried many times and failed.
Just beyond the round-about, a sign announced:
“Welcome to Runnymede Borough.
Magna Carta sealed at Runnymede 1215 AD.”
It reminded me of the sign back home in Illinois:
“Welcome to DeKalb.
State Champions Pole-Vaulting 1994.”
I got back onto the Thames Path, where I passed a big, brick house with a garden full of stone nymphs clasping towels to their bosoms, as if surprised in the act of drying off. (When I walked back on my return trip, a middle-aged, mu-mu wearing lady so fat she was almost square got out of a red sports car and entered the house. I wondered if she bought another nymph for every pound gained...or perhaps it was her husband.)
I turned right at a dirty old boat-house with purple cornice—it looked like a wedding cake from a wedding where the bride never showed up.
About 100 yards away, a cement block stood at the side of the road:
“In these meads on 15 June 1215 King John at the instance of deputies from the whole community of the realm granted the Great Charter, the earliest constitutional Documents whereunder ancient and cherished customs were confirmed, abuses redressed, that administration of justice facilitated new provisions formulated for the preservation of peace and every individual perpetually secured in the free enjoyment of his life and property.”
It somehow made more sense when I read it then than when I read it now.
Anyhow, I waited for a break in the traffic to dart across the road to the the Magna Carta Tea House. A girl, who looked like the twin of the girl in the pub, said, “We’re closed.”
“Is there anything besides this tea house?” I couldn’t believe the only memorial to the birth of democracy would be a closed tea house and a cement block.
“Yeah, up at the top. It’s quite a distance.”
It was only about a quarter mile further of traipsing through meadows (or rather, meads). Even more moving, almost, than the memorial was the neon green inch-worm inching its way up the memorial gate. “Inch worm! I haven’t seen you in ages!” I went into rhapsodies, as inch worms were a childhood favourite. Then, I opened the gate, forgetting all about the inch worm...until I heard the gate slam shut. Poor inch worm!