Supper With Lord Lowther

On my last evening in Cumbria, I had supper with Lord Lowther. Remember him? It was his log I stole the week before on the grounds of his estate in front of his magnificent castle. He didn’t realize I was the culprit.

Our meal took place in The George and Dragon, an eighteenth century coaching inn. He owns the place. I had lamb, something I’d been craving. But when my companion wanted to know what I thought of the food, I smiled and nodded. I couldn’t disappoint him; he seemed so proud of the inn’s Finalist for Taste of England Award. The fact is, I didn’t enjoy the dish at all, perhaps because of the guilt I felt for eating a relative of all those dear sweet sheep I’d fallen in love with wandering the fields of Cumbria. We had a couple bottles of the inn’s best red and sticky toffee pudding at the end. It was a lovely ending to a lovely time in Cumbria. I vowed to return the following year.

It all started when John—an old friend of Joan’s from Kitwe—who she’s been seeing for a couple of years, called to invite us to dine at The George and Dragon on my last night. He’d take the early train up from Kent and Bob’s your uncle, I’d finally get to meet her “friend.” Except he missed his train and would be late. So Joan and I went ahead to keep our six-thirty reservation, with plans for her to pick him up from the station when he arrived. The pub was packed. It was live music night. Joan left for the station just as the group tuned up in the corner of the small pub. I took snapshots of all the dogs and had a pint. Check out red-eyed Dudley lying by his mistress’s chair. By the time Joan returned with John, I was enjoying the music, kind of a folksy rock at a small table close to the musicians. We were shown a table in another room away from the pub next to a couple all by themselves. He was young, fresh-faced, casually dressed, as was she, eager to talk about the pub they owned. The Lowthers. Too young to be the Lord himself, but hey, maybe he was a Lord in his own right? And yes his wife was there as well. I neglected to tell you that part. But the rest is all true.

Almost Time To Go

My last day arrived. I didn’t want to go home yet. I wanted to have tea in Morland’s kaf, see what their scones were like (it felt good to be able to say skon and not be corrected like I am in America where it’s pronounced with a long o). The scones I’d had in Cockermouth where Donna and I toured William Wordsworth’s house were rock hard. We joked how Miss Powell, our cookery teacher at Kitwe High, would’ve taken the cook to task; had she used her pinkies to gently nudge the dough into shape? I also wanted to return to the sweet shop in that same town to buy all the sweets of my childhood, those I thought I’d buy later then forgot: Wilson’s toffees, peppermint crisps, Turkish Delight to name a few. That’s Donna below ordering our Rock Scones.

I wanted to hike up Blen Cathra peak, also known as Saddleback (we have our own Saddleback here in California, not half as grand though). I wanted another train ride up to Scotland. This time we’d go to Edinburgh, spend a couple of nights, have some more haggis, as well as neeps and tatties, attend the Edinburgh International Festival, roam the highlands. I wanted to enjoy the rain for at least another month. I’d miss it, how the grass becomes an eye-popping luminous green when it stops. I’d miss seeing those sweet, heart-melting little lambs every day. I’d miss seeing buildings older than I am (what’s with most of America, especially California, the minute a building gets dirty they tear it down). I’d miss heading down the hallway from my bedroom to have tea in bed with Joan and our laptops, with her popping up to serve me another cuppa every now and then—the way I like it, two sugars and milk. I wanted to spend more time with Donna. I wanted to return to the Great Strickland pub for Quiz night. In fact, I wanted to hit every pub around just to enjoy the sight of dogs sprawled under tables or sitting next to bar stools, leash less, content. That’s how it should be. Well, at least we still had dinner to enjoy. It would be in a poob, to be sure.

Quiz Night

Three nights after I arrived in the U.K. I still hadn’t caught up on my sleep, so I was quite loopy, causing Joan to remark to Donna in her best imitation of a Cumbrian brogue that I wasn’t “the full shillin’” every time I did something goofy (like mistaking the giant squirrel topiary in St. Lawrence’s churchyard at the entrance to Morland for a rabbit). By now we were all having fun with the Cumbrian accent: summat for “something,” init for “isn’t it”—the latter is now a standard of mine. And then there’s Joan’s name which had become Jooawn, drawn out with a long awww in the middle. This became uproarious on our night out at the pub (pronounced poob) that Joan and her ex used to own in Great Strickland, a small village a few miles away.

Squirrel topiaryIt all started when the three of us walked into the small eighteenth century establishment to find a couple of young guys at the bar who recognized Joan from when she’d managed the place: beers all around and it was Jooawn this and Jooawn that. They got a kick out of three Zambian women imitating their accents; it was foony. Come to find out it was “Quiz Night,” which had already begun. A young guy in a checked shirt and glasses strolled up and down the narrow aisles between booths and tables posing questions from a list he carried. The four or so couples scattered around the small room quietly wrote down their answers. That is until I started playing, with the guys at the bar feeding me the answers through Joan, until I finally got one on my own—Ricky Gervais, don’t remember what the question was—and gave a whoop. And then I got another—the American TV show “Friends.” Another whoop. Couldn’t help it. Everyone knew what was happening and were grinning. I didn’t bother tallying up my score at the end, but the winner insisted we share in the prize, a jug of cider which was passed around. At some point one of the guys remarked that this was the most foon quiz night they’d ever had.