Farewell to Phil and Banbury

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Monday 4 May 2015

Farewell to Phil and Banbury

When we arrived in Banbury after a pleasant week in Beeston we had few fixed plans in mind for the weekend ahead. After some weeks of busyness and administration necessary to extend our adventure (alongside lots of family visits and fun with friends) we were both starting to flag a bit.  We'd also had some unnerving news when in Durham, that Esther had a very grumbly appendix and may require surgery, so wanted to take stock, look into our options, before deciding what to do next.

We continued our journey South to visit our wonderful friend Phil, a generous and gracious host, who happily took us in and made us very welcome. It's always a lot of fun and very relaxing to stay with Phil, who we'd known for almost 14 years and we were very excited to be visiting, having last seen him in Lausanne last August. Little did we know, as we carried our overnight bags up into his flat that first Saturday lunchtime, that we'd end up staying for 2 weeks!

After a trip to Banbury market together on that first Saturday afternoon we took a peaceful stroll along the 'Oxford Canal Walk', following which Phil and I enjoyed a pleasant evening meal together (Esther was staying on just vegetable juice at this time). Before we knew it Sunday had arrived and the weekend was well underway. Following another stroll into Banbury centre together, it was nice surprise (for me and Phil at least) to find that the snooker world championship was also getting underway which allowed us to take it easy.

Although we'd originally planned to stay just for the weekend, as Monday dawned, we were still uncertain about Esther's health and options. Kindly our brilliant host allowed us to stay and use his flat so that she could start a therapeutic fast and have somewhere to rest up during it.  While Phil was at work, Esther in bed, I sat down to see what we still needed/wanted to get done before we could cross the channel once again. The list was still (frustratingly) quite long, with lots of little jobs, phone calls, things we needed to buy/repair and paperwork to still deal with.

Each day a few jobs on our list got ticked off, I made time to go for a short jog along the canal path and then would prepare a healthy vegan evening meal for Phil, always making sure it was ready for when he got back from work or band as well.  With Esther out of action, I was quite the little 'housewife' and I think I provided a good snooker watching buddy service as well (or maybe that was Phil)!

Before we knew it Friday had arrived and we realised we had been with Phil for almost a week. The days had just flown by and it had been an unplanned stay due to Esther's health, unexpectedly it was nice that things had fallen into a little routine without feeling like we had half a dozen appointments every day.  With the possibility of Esther having a scan early the following week and with Phil having some time at the weekend with concerts in the evening nearby, we were kindly put up for a few more nights.

Our second weekend in Banbury saw us make a small excursion (longer than a stroll into town or along the canal at least) and Esther's first time outside in for several days, to Deddington farmers market around 6 miles away. We love a market and with plenty of local produce on offer, including lots of freshly picked vegetables we filled our bags with tasty green goodies, before visiting the local church to enjoy a cup of tea. Deddington was such a peaceful place to be that we felt very at home in this picuresque rural village, reminding us just how much we had enjoyed the Oxfordshire countryside many years beforehand when we had lived in this part of the country.

We even managed to squeeze in a second market on the same day, further topping up our shared fruit and veg' supplies at Banbury market that same afternoon.

Sunday, with Esther starting to feel a bit better and venturing out of bed a bit more, her and Phil took another sunny stroll along the Oxford canal path, before this time Phil cooking some tasty parsnip, beetroot and carrot rostis (making use of Esther's leftover vegetable pulp from all her juicing).  As that second weekend drew to a close, we began making our preparations to set off having already spent much longer than we had planned, thanks to Phil's kindness and hospitality. However, there were still a few jobs to do and a big decision to make.

Esther was feeling better following her theraputic fast but weakened and we needed to make sure we had discussed her condition with her consultant and made the 'right' decision regarding what to do next. We also didn't want to miss Esther's parents who were due to come back to the UK that week, however following an accident in Holland and Esther's dad breaking his leg, their plans were uncertain. So, with Phil insisting we were welcome to stay on whilst our plans were up in the air and Esther still not fully on her feet yet, we stayed a little longer.

So went our second full week in Banbury, picking up a similar routine to the previous one. Phil was working very long hours with a looming paper submission deadline and we did our best to make sure there was a meal waiting in the evening and keep the flat tidy as we made our own plans and decisions. The good news of the week was that Esther's consultant finally cleared her to travel, comfortable that things didn't require intervention at the moment. Plus, as luck would have it, all of the supplies we'd ordered arrived as planned. Esther was feeling better with each day and it looked like our plans of setting off might come together after all! (With Esther's parents needing to stay on in Holland, she was particularly keen to get across there to see her family at a difficult time for them).

Suddenly, Friday had crept around again. Fortunately for us, this third and final long weekend (with the May Bank Holiday) saw Phil spending a weekend at home including Friday as well, having submitted his paper very late on Thursday night.  The farmers market arrived in Banbury town on Friday morning we paid a little visit there for some fresh greens, which would be supplemented by Phil's regular trip to the Banbury market on Saturday once more. Sunday saw us travel out of Banbury, just passed of King's Sutton to pick up the Oxford Canal walk at another point on the river a little further south. Strolling in the sunshine along the calm waters of the canal past many narrow boats was very nice.

We didn't go to far as Esther wasn't feeling 100% and so found a lovely spot to sit by the water, before a slow walk back and pausing at the Pig Place farm shop and enjoying the farm animals.  We once more got that feeling of how wonderfully quiet and rural this part of Oxfordshire can feel.

Esther and Phil even found time to get our Finnish Skittles set (a game we had enjoyed and been introduce to by Dereck & Christine back in Cabo de Gata) out of the motorhome for a brief game on a green close to Phil's flat (no winner can be reported due to a curious case of 'children stop play').

Bank holiday Monday, our 18th day in Banbury, really was to be our last though and as luck would have it there was a great event to mark the occasion with Phil conducting Chalgrove Brass Band at the Chalgrove Festival that afternoon. As Phil set off to the venue we began loading our bags and boxes back into Homer and said our farewell to our Banbury base before heading over to join the fun. Looking back now it's hard to believe that just over 2 full weeks in Banbury sailed by and it felt like the blink of an eye. Of course, we'd got lots of little jobs done (and a few big ones), but alongside the breakneck pace of the month or so before that we'd been very sedate in comparison and although unexpected, it had been precisely what we'd needed given Esther's health concerns. I'd cooked dozens of healthy vegan meals, introducing Phil to the delights of our cooking (we think he liked it), he and I had watched hundreds of frames of Snooker (or I had anyway), read, talked and delighted in good company and been made very welcome.

Sadly, loading Homer and a few things conspiring against us, driving over took longer than we had hoped and we arrived after the performance in Chalgrove had finished, finding Phil in the pub with some bandmates instead. We both felt sad to have missed it as we so rarely get to see Phil perform, so we'll have to mark it on the calendar as one for next year.

For our last few hours together we moved back to Homer, parking by the side of the village green at nearby Stadhampton and sharing one last meal, this time at 'our place' and the first meal we had really cooked in Homer for over a month!

As dusk began to close in we said our final goodbyes and we went our seperate ways, waving Phil off into the drizzly night. It was hard to say goodbye; Phil had taken us in when we needed a bit of stability and a place for Esther to heal and rest and although it hadn't been part of our original plan, we'd shared some great times and made wonderful memories.

One one hand it did feel good to be back on the road, suffusing us once more with the elation we feel every time we board our moving home, however, there was also a lot of sadness to be saying farewell to Phil reminding us that one of the few hard parts of the touring life is saying goodbye to our loved ones for long periods of time.  As with so many of our friends we had spent time with on our trip back in Britain, we are continuously reminded how lucky we are to have such wonderful, supportive and welcoming friends in our lives.

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