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A not so traditional Christmas Carol, except her name is not Carol....Part 6
I couldn't believe the transformation. I could understand the joy of working and practicing her art, but she really seemed like a totally new person, at least from my point of view. Changed for the better for sure. But for how long? We packed our camera bags in the back of the car and took the direction of the village of Beaulieu. I had come here some ten years before and vaguely remembered a very nice pub in that village. Whenever you find yourself anywhere in rural England,pubs are the best place to have lunch. They offer the most picturesque interiors, combined with hearty food and a wide choice of draught beers. Quite a good combination for two foreign visitors on the go. The Montague Arms was no exception. It was also the only inn in the village and just as I remembered it.
We shared a quick ploughman's lunch with two small glasses of bitter, this excellent English beer, before returning to the car museum to which we leisurely drove back, me sucking on a tooothpick, something I could tell was irritating my passenger, so I broke it in two and threw the pieces in the ashtray. The things one has to do to maintain the peace! But on arrival, her professional side prevailed again and Chantal wanted me to park the Sunbeam at a certain angle, with the entrance of the museum in the distant background. She took all sorts of photographs : the car by itself, with one door open, with me inside (smiling) and the window rolled down. She even shot one of herself (smiling) at the wheel and another with a sexy pose, her legs hanging out of the car. I was secretely hoping to get copies of all her work. I would even lower myself and ask if necessary!
- "For someone who seemed to hate the damn car so much at first sight, you look like you have come a long way!"
- "Well, I have to admit, it grows on you and it's far less uncomfortable than I thought in the first place. Those bucket seats actually provide very good support".
- "You know what they say, never judge a book by its cover!"
- "All right, all right, I get your point, no need to gloat over it".
A short and unexpected ray of sun lit up the scene with a particularly beautiful, if short lived bright light. We decided to ride the monorail train which meanders through the grounds of the museum and the abbey. The little train actually runs through the car museum, providing visitors with an aerial view of the antique vehicles under. Quite a sight and I was glad to share the experience with my so hard to please companion. Much to my surprise, I had a terrific time with Chantal, who turned out to be quite pleasant that afternoon. And she seemed to be enjoying herself too.
We were way ahead of schedule, since I had planned to spend two days in Beaulieu, the following Monday and the major part of Tuesday. But it was only Saturday afternoon, and my work here was pretty much done. I had shot a few pictures of my own, as originally intended, to illustrate my article, as I didn't know if Chantal's work would ever be available to me later. There might be some copyright issues and legal crap I knew nothing about, so I kept my mouth shut on the subject. So, basically, we had three days to kill before her photographic session with Stella McCartney, the daughter of Sir Paul McCartney the ex-Beatle, and I was determined to make the best of the time available until then. If I had been on my own, I knew I would have headed to London right away, just because there are so many activities to do there. I had never been here before around Chrismas time and was excited to see the decorations. No matter how often I would travel to the English capital, I always discovered new interesting locations to visit, sometimes places I had never even heard of before. Like some used books shops in which I would immerse myself, one half day at a time, sometimes forgetting to eat in the process, a highly unusual occurence for me. Or getting lost in the South West section of the town, drooling over antiques and oil paintings. Or walking some Mews, daydreaming and wishing I could live here...
But I had a traveling companion this time around and I couldn't do exclusively what I wanted to do. So, I addressed Chantal :
- "Hey, Princess, I'm going to make you an offer you shouldn't refuse if you have any common sense!"
- "I'm merely a Countess, but go ahead, I'm all ears!"
- "Since it's quite early and we're finished here, I suggest we head towards London right now. I will have to make a quick stop, maybe half an hour or so, in Winchester, where I would like to visit an Aston-Martin specialist workshop. So, we could be in London by early evening, check in our hotel and if you can handle the pressure, I will take you to dinner to a nice place I know. You know, the whole thing about English food being so terrible is overrated. Then, tomorrow being Sunday, we could do some interesting sightseeing, like visit the city with an open double-decker bus if it doesn't rain, and possibly a cruise on the Thames River. What do you say?"
- "My, you sure have your ways to turn any ordinary girl into Cinderella, don't you? You even have the proper period carriage !" I wasn't too sure how to take the last part of her assertion, so I quietly let it slide away. Then, she continued :
- "That sounds really good to me. It seems you know your way around this country, so you may turn out to be a half way decent guide after all". Always this sarcastic undertone she couldn't part with!
- "Well, it's all business anyway, I just don't want you to report to our boss that I didn't even try to show you a good time".
- "That's a boy! Your mother trained you well!" I had a hard time to swallow the "trained" part of her sentence and its puppy-like implication, but again, I was not going to break the fragile truce over my bruised feelings, right?
As the pale Winter sunlight was quickly fading, we got on our way. I had pulled a Scottish wool blanket from the luggage compartment of the car and laid it folded on Chantal's seat :
- " Wow, I'm getting upgrades too, now. Gee, this car and its driver might get an honorable mention in the Michelin guide by the time this trip is over!" She set herself in the bucket seat, elegantly as ever, surrounded by a discreet but, oh so powerful mist of what appeared to be "Opium". But don't quote me on this, as my knowledge of female fragrances is quite limited. I closed her door, refraining from commenting, as much as I wanted to!
While I let the engine warm up at idle speed, my passenger looked inside the center armrest storage locker and discovered my little collection of music CDs. She looked at each one of them as if she knew what she was doing. She selected one out of its case and inserted it into the dashboard player. Within seconds, the warm and sexy sound of Stan Getz invaded the space of the car through the eight Bose speakers located strategically : two under the dash, inside the doors, inserted in the rear side panels and under the rear seat. She looked at me with a genuine surprised look on her face :
- "Who would have ever thought there would be a quality stereo system in here?" Ironically, the piece of music playing was named "It never entered my mind". I say ironically because despite her numerous flaws, and completely against my will, she was starting to enter my mind !
- "Sorry!" My right hand had accidentally brushed against hers while I was reaching for the gearshift lever. She just ignored me.
- "Not only the music system is decent, but the music it plays is out of this world too". She giggled in a way that I could only describe as sarcastic, or was it nervous?
- "As little as I know you so far, you probably think I don't kow the first thing about Jazz music, Ape man, but you would be very, very wrong. See, my late father was a fabulous pianist and Jazz was his favorite genre of music. It played it very well too. So, excuse me for blowing your bubble, but since I was home schooled, I grew up with Jazz in the house from dawn till dusk on a daily basis. Never judge a book by its cover, remember ?"
- "I wasn't implying anything!"
- "Oh yes you were, and I put you right back in your place, didn't I ? But considering the few recordings you have here, I would say you have an excellent taste when it comes to music. I mean, Count Basie, Chet Baker, Paul Desmond, Ella Fitzgerald, what's not to like?". Would it be remotely possible that we actually did have a little bit in common ? "I wish I had known earlier these treasures were there!"
- "Well, if you hadn't been so busy bitching about everything else all the time, maybe you would have!"
- "All right, maybe I went over the edge a little. But hey, it happens to the best of us!"
- "Not to me, it doesn't. I try to remain civil under most circumstances".
- "Yep, I had a taste of it all right!"
- "Listen, I don't want to argue with you. I'm just filling my end of the bargain, here. Hopefully, you will get a pleasantly memorable visit ot London with me. Honestly, that's all I care about right now. And if you don't, the way I see it, it will be your personal loss. I've been here before and I will be back again, no matter what!" And I left it at that, concentrating on my driving on the wrong side of the road, while the darkness engulfed the beautiful English country landscape...
To be continued
Copyright 2012 by Austinhealy, his heirs and assigns.
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