I have spoken before about how my American friends have saved my life in this, my time of mourning. Now I need to tell you about what my British friends have done for me; but before I do so, a little background is necessary.
We met Mr. and Mrs. Sorenson (their online nicknames) back in the late 1990s, enjoyed each others’ online company, and on our next trip to England, Connie and I met up with the “Sors” in Bath (yeah, I know: I was then and now too lazy to type out “Sorenson” in full). We spent a couple of wonderful days together and made a friendship that has lasted to this day. Every single time we flew to Britishland thereafter involved visiting with them, even if just for dinner or shopping. One trip even included a day of shooting clays at the Royal Berkshire Gun Club; and they in turn hooked up with us on a vacation at Disney World and later, a trip to Plano which involved the firing of thousands of rounds through various of my guns. (Yes, I turned a pair of hoplophobic Brits into gun nuts, and damn proud of it I am, too.) Both Sors have been regular visitors to my various websites over the years, and Mrs. Sor has been a constant, and very welcome commenter at this new incarnation of my online ramblings. Mr. Sor is also an enthusiastic not to say dedicated beer drinker, and so much of our time together on either side of the Atlantic has been spent in a blissful alcoholic haze. As is also the case with my other two Brit friends.
I met The Englishman through his blog, An Englishman’s Castle, and having several common interests (hanging liberals, shooting criminals, burning down government buildings along with their inhabitants, etc.), we struck up a very cordial online friendship. Then one year la famille du Toit went on an actual vacation (the first in years, as opposed to business trips with a few days tacked on), and for our sins we picked Portugal’s Algarve coast, about which I’d heard so much, and had seen many beautiful photos thereof in the distant past when I was involved with the advertising account for TAP, the Portuguese airline. Because neither The Mrs. nor I knew much about the place, we decided to play it safe (for once), and booked two weeks at the Club Med outside Albufeira. I won’t go into details, but it was a total disaster and we were miserable — to the point where The Mrs. and Daughter were actually prepared to leave the group and go somewhere else, like England or Scotland, all by themselves.
Of course that wasn’t an option. At a family meeting, all decided that we’d go over to Britain, but the cost of additional accommodation was quite beyond our budget (canceling our stay would entail getting no partial refund from the chiseling Club Med bastards), and we were waiting for a client check to clear before spending any more money. So in utter desperation, I called The Englishman and begged for a few days’ accommodation (which he’d once offered to us) so we could catch our breath and figure out what to do next. Please understand that we had never met in person before, yet when I told him that we were miserable and worse, surrounded by Frenchmen, his response was immediate: “Surrounded by Frenchmen? Oh dear no, no, no, we can’t have that: come on over and we’ll put you up for a couple of days.” So we left the Algarve and flew to England. We stayed at the Castle (actually, an old farmhouse), and fell in love with the place — yes, that’s where The Mrs. is going to be laid to rest — and in love with the Englishman Family. Then after a brief visit to Bath (just a few miles away) we went on with a new vacation plan — bidding a sad farewell to Mr. and Mrs. Englishman and their delightful children.
In parallel, I’d likewise met Mr. Free Market (Mr. FM) through his blog at Free Market Towers (actually, an ancient “cottage”) and discovered not only a similar affinity to those same interests as The Englishman, but a common deep and abiding love of firearms and shooting. Here’s the funny bit: although at the time he lived literally down the road from The Englishman, they’d never before met in person — which they soon remedied, and another friendship was established. Anyway, we met Mr. and Mrs. FM in person on a later trip and all got on like a house on fire — to the extent that our families have spent much time with each other on both sides of the Atlantic, the Free Markets coming over for Thanksgiving one year, several trips involving visits to sundry shooting ranges, stopovers at the Castle en route to other destinations, and what have you. And I should point out that along the way, my American friends Doc Russia and Combat Controller have become buddies with Mr. FM too, and have shared several adventures together (details to follow some other time).
So Mr. FM called me up a short while ago to see how I was doing and what my plans were. When I reminded him I was staying at Doc Russia’s house, his next words were:
“So what are you doing there? How do you spend your time?”
“Writing. Grieving. The occasional trips to the range and the pub with Doc, I suppose. But mostly just writing and grieving.”
“Ah. Well, the War Office [Mrs. FM] has just told me that your bed is made up and ready for your arrival.”
“My dear boy, if all you’re going to be doing is moping, writing, drinking and shooting, then you may as well do some of that in England as in Texas.”
“But I can’t afford to fly over to the U.K.”
“Don’t worry about that. I have BA Miles to spare.”
“Mr. FM, seriously: I have little or no money, especially when it comes to Expensive Britain. All I could do is stand the occasional round of drinks.”
“Your money’s no good over here, old chap. Just leave everything to us.”
“But, but… I don’t want to abuse your hospitality. How long could I stay? ”
“As long as you like. A couple months or so should do it.”
“That seems like a hell of an imposition.”
“Dear heart, it isn’t at all. Frankly, I’m going to be out of the country quite a bit on business, and I’d feel better knowing that Mrs. FM won’t be all alone in the house while I’m gone. Also, we’re going on holiday for a week or two, and I’d definitely feel better if FM Towers wasn’t standing vacant during that time. So you’d actually be doing me a favor.”
“I don’t know what to say…”
“And you can go and visit The Englishman and your other friends while you’re here, of course. Just use the Range Rover. We’re also planning a hunting trip in Scotland and some high-bird grouse shooting later in the year, so you may as well join me for those.” Pause. “Oh, and as you know, Doc Russia and Combat Controller are coming over for the Scotland deer hunt too, so we can all get together and have a good time. There’s also Goodwood [Festival of Speed] and trips to Royal Berkeley and Bisley for some shooting, but we can work all that out later. I almost forgot: The Englishman wants us to do a tour of historic pubs in the West Country, so put that onto the schedule too.”
Then came the killer question which decided the whole thing.
“And Kim: exactly when were you thinking of interring Connie’s ashes in The Englishman’s Long Barrow, anyway?”
When I’d picked myself off the floor and could speak again, I looked at the calendar and made the travel arrangements with Mr. FM. Circumstances permitting and catastrophes aside, I’ll be leaving for Britain in late June. And wow, it looks like I’ll be getting to do Bucket List Entry #2 a lot sooner than I thought.
So there you have it: I now have yet another reason to live — just one in a long line of reasons to live, all made possible through the unbelievable generosity and kindness of friends.
I don’t know what I did to deserve all this, but to quote the silly Rogers & Hammerstein song: “Somewhere in my youth, or childhood… I must have done something good.”
And for the first time since I whispered good-bye to Connie on that dreadful day in February, I absolutely know I’m going to survive this thing, and it’s all thanks to my friends. Amazing.