A ruddy-faced bald man wearing soft shoes, khakis, a red shirt and blue sweater entered the cafe where I was writing this morning. He took a copy of The Daily Telegraph from the rack and asked the waitress, “Where’s the place to sit that would be least disruptive?” As he was getting settled, he asked her, “And where’s home?” I saw scenes of similar politeness throughout the day today in Chipping Campden, and I felt myself becoming more polite, too, settling into the rural decorum of the stone village and surrounding fields. Darlene found a ring at Hart Gold and Silversmiths on Sheep Street, where the business has been located and staffed by the same family since 1888. We drove out to Hidcote Manor Garden, maintained by the National Trust. Even this late in the season, the grounds were filled with blossoms and rich scent, mixed in with smoke from nearby brush or trash fires.
With everything so perfectly English and polite, I gratefully observed a sharp little exchange at the café. An elderly woman and her son, by the looks of it, came in for lunch and settled in with mild discussion about the choices on the menu. After they had ordered, she handed a 20-pound note across the table to him, and he demurred, gesturing that he did not wish to take it. “Yes, please take it,” the woman snapped, her eyes flashing. He relented, and she subsided to a gentle question: “Will it be enough?” “I doubt it,” he replied. Then the meal, without a ripple, resumed its genteel pace and tone. This approximate area is the one my ancestors left to emigrate to New Hampshire in the 1600s, and English rhythms beckoned me today, affecting my speech and even, it seemed, my thoughts. I found it pleasing to imagine that, in some essential way, not much has changed around here since my forebears set out for the new world.