We didn't have a lot of time there as it was getting dark and we were keen to find our way to The Compasses at Littley Green. It proved slightly more challenging than we imagined, as the address was a little vague and we wound up at the wrong end of the road. A phone call to the pub saw us back on track, although when we arrived the place was shrouded in darkness. As we tried the front door a head popped out of an upstairs window and the chap asked if we were the people who'd just called. It was about 5.10pm and the pub wasn't due to open until 5.30pm but as it was freezing and he was expecting some guests to check into the accommodation, he'd come down and open up for us. The pub was warm and cosy with low beams and that look of a much loved place.
It wasn't long before locals began to arrive and Ian and I had a great time chatting with a number of them. I think we were a bit of a fascination being from Australia. We met a friendly chap called Martin who runs an eco cab company with Smart Cars and Prius vehicles. Apparently he does a booming trade in Smart Car runs from Cambridge to Heathrow with single passengers.
Nikki and Neil arrived and we had a wonderful time chatting about this and that - lots about education and books and teaching reading (and teaching trainee teachers about teaching reading). Nikki is an amazing woman with a passion for her work and a deep understanding of her profession. Drinks continued to dinner and in no time it was after 9.30pm and time to get a move on back to St Albans.
The following day we left early for a school visit at The Bishop's Primary School in Chelmsford where two teachers I had met at Just Imagine worked. It was great to see Stephen and Helen again and meet the students in Years 3 and 4. The children were a very enthusiastic audience. Sam from Just Imagine looked after the book sales (she looks just like my dad's sister Aunty Terry). It was a great morning and I loved every minute.
The following day we had two events; a morning at Royal Masonic Cadogan House working with the Year 4 girls and the afternoon at St Helen's school. Shirley Drummond at Cadogan House is one of those truly inspiring teachers. The work she had done with her Year 2 students since my earlier visit was amazing. The girls had written fantastic stories inspired by Clementine Rose and the Pet Day Disaster and during a little break from Year 4 I popped in and said hello to them. The looks on their faces were priceless and they talked animatedly about their stories and showed them off. If I can work out how to make the pictures stay the right way around I will add some close ups of their work asap. The Year 4 girls worked so hard - their enthusiasm was unwavering. I was chatting with one of the Year 4 teachers, Eva Helm at morning tea time and mentioned that I had worked at Abbotsleigh in Australia. Eva looked at me and said, 'in Wahroonga'. Yes, I nodded. It turned out that when I arrived at the school midway through 2001, Eva Phillips, as she was then known was one of our Junior School Gap Girls. We had a wonderful time reminiscing about all the people she knew - Rosalie Geddes, Margaret Duke, Lesley Forbes, Merle Green and Murray Keating to name a few. Of course June Brown too. Eva is now married with a baby daughter - I know the Abbotsleigh connections will be thrilled to hear about her life now.
We spent the afternoon with Sheryl from Chorleywood Bookshop at another lovely school St Helen's. Librarian Elizabeth greeted us at the office and I was thrilled by the warm reception from the girls and staff. It was a fun afternoon and I signed books for ages afterwards.
Thursday was a late start - which I was really glad of. We headed to North London Collegiate School to meet the Year 3 girls. Another smart group with lots of questions and perceptive answers. It was a pleasure to meet them and their lovely librarian Sarah.
We had packed up our chattels and drove down to Surrey last night. We're staying at a gorgeous old mansion called Woodlands Park Hotel. It was first built as a private home but over it's 119 year history has seen different uses including an aged care facility and educational centre. As a private house in it's heyday, King Edward VII was a frequent visitor.
This morning I headed over to Dane's Hill. The largest independent Prep School in the UK, I've developed a lovely connection to the school through Jan Firkin. I had the pleasure of working with the students from Year 2-5 today and their enthusiasm was fantastic. I can't wait to see their writing and hope to post some on the blog too.
So we've now come to the end of the official tour. Two countries and almost 6 weeks later I've just tallied things up. 27 schools, 52 sessions, 3 newspaper articles, an interview with BBC Radio Europe (yet to air), an interview with Nikki Gamble from Just Imagine, a visit to the stunning Seven Stories in Newcastle Upon Tyne, finished editing Clementine Rose and the Seaside Escape, finished up the page proofs for Alice-Miranda in Japan, developed the new storyline for AM 10 and been in more bookshops than I can remember. Visited new places and met many wonderful people. Caught up with friends and made new ones. Also eaten too much and exercised too little! But that is about to be remedied. We're off to Portugal for a golfing holiday tomorrow - where I will endeavour to eat less and exercise more, read, relax and reflect on how fortunate I am to be doing something I love.