What could possibly top a Saturday out at the Ricky Canal Festival with my boat neighbour Eddie? I’ll tell you what. A rap on the boat early on Sunday morning by a very aggitated Eddie asking a favour. I’ve said elsewhere that Eddie is many things and one of them is a professional photographer and a damned fine one at that. He calls himself a Digital Artist because he does things to his photos that require an artist’s eye. He also has the equipment to realise it all.
So, the knock comes. Eddie says, “Larry, what have you got planned for the day?” That generally means Eddie has a plan for me. “Uh, nothing really Eddie. Why?” “Well,” says Eddie, “You know that garden party I have to do for my hospice?” Of course I knew. Eddie had been in a state for weeks leading up to this event. He was not only running his own stall full of his digital art. He was also the official photographer of the proceedings. Dual responsibility weighs heavy. Eddie had burned the midnight oil more than once creating enough pieces for his display, cutting out the matting and mounting each photo. So, yes, Eddie, I know about the hospice garden party.
“Would you like to come with us,” says Eddie, “and help set up and, you know, help out a bit?” I look at my best friend and she chimes in, “Sure Eddie. When are you leaving?” Best decision we ever made in my humble opinion. Not only to help out a friend, but to visit one of the most beautiful sights in England, Ashridge House. “Did you see Eddie’s hands shaking, Larry?” asks my best friend when Eddie was gone. “Yes I did,” I said “He must really be nervous.”
This is not unusual for Eddie. He tends to be a bundle of nervous energy most of the time. It’s an energy that must find a task or some activity to assuage it. One day I was washing the roof of my boat and obviously wasn’t doing it quickly enough. I tend to do things at a turtle’s pace. Anyway, Eddie had obviously been watching me and came over with his power washer and said, “Move aside. It’s painful watching you.” Eddie had the roof done in short order. And he wired our new internet service and plugged a leak in our wood burning stove (long story…all safe). Good thing Eddie’s a certified shaman. It keeps him level-headed I think.
To the manor we went. A huge, sprawling place is Ashridge House that once was home to monks Augustinian, monarchy (Henry VIII and later Elizabeth I) and earls (of Bridgewater, one named Scroop….his son became Canal Duke after developing the inland waterways for transport, the wealth from which funded the building of the new manor house), but is now a place to train people for managerial positions….in other words, a business school. During the last century, it has been a hospital during two world wars, a school to train Conservative politicians, a finishing school for ladies in 1949 and then the business school. An evolving 5000 acres of some of the prettiest gardens, forests and and scenery anywhere. The great hall can also be hired for weddings and private events. I can’t imagine the cost.
Film companies have used the grounds of Ashridge House in the past. The Dirty Dozen was shot here. The woods were used in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. The lawn is so well kept, it could be used as a huge golfing green. Eddie took his shoes off as he strolled about to photograph the event, wearing his pirate bandana headband. It’s the shaman in him I guess. I was tempted myself….to go barefoot that is.
The lawn party was a fundraiser for The Hospice of St. Francis, a care facility for life-limiting illnesses. Eddie is a male nurse there. The man does it all. Apparently, according to the hospice’s website, this was the best attended lawn party yet. No wonder. The weather was great and the stalls displayed some of the finest crafts and goods I have ever seen at any market. Certainly a step up from the day before at the Ricky Canal Festival. Very hoity toity in fact. They even had a Pimms tent. Just Pimms. And a palm court music group playing under a gazebo on the steps of Ashridge House. Oh, swipe me.
When we arrived, there was confusion as to where Eddie was to set up his stall. Once that was established, all the equipment had to be brought to site. Eddie was a man on a mission. He never walks when a task needs doing. Putting up the gazebo was a semi-harrowing experience. Nothing seemed to fit and there were two different colours. Confusing. Eddie gets through it by talking to himself while doing what needs to be done. Best stay out of the way while that is happening. But sometimes things are missed and I quietly fixed this and that. Eddie left the displaying to us. Off he went with his camera, probably glad he didn’t have to think about putting out his photos. Miriam and my best friend worked the booth all day with creativity and efficiency. I went and got the Pimms.
Other than the stalls, other attractions included motorcycles, an antique car, kids’ area and beside Eddie’s stall, bee keepers with live bees and honey products. First time I have seen a queen bee. But my favourite stall (other than Eddie’s) was within earshot of us. All after noon we were serenaded by the dulcit tones of a local ukulele band.
Eddie flitted about with his cameras, stopping by the stall every so often, mostly distracted. He would not relax until the event was over, everything packed away and we were all home safe. That night 6 of us went to a Thai restaurant in Hemel’s old town. Very chic. Wine was served, Eddie had a big glass of red wine and for the first time that day….Eddie breathed.