A few days after moving into our townhouse rental, I stopped seeing chipped paint and carpet stains and started noticing the doves on the rooftops, the sweet perfume of summer blooms warming up in the sun, and the fruiting cherry tree in our front yard. We've only just started exploring our town. C has taken a different route to the train station each day and has settled on a path of optimal quaintness and shortest duration. I've figured out how to get to the town center through cobblestoned passageways, past the stately cathedral, avoiding the traffic choked main artery through St Albans. It's not clear to me why the Romans, Saxons, Plantagenets, Tudors, etc etc, didn't have the foresight to lay their towns out on a grid so one could pop onto a side street and get around jams without ending up in a horse stable.
After our first week here I'm more in love with this place than when I was first beguiled by its cathedral bells and wavy half timbered walls back in March. It's the kind of place where a market vendor who sells crystallized ginger bounces ever so slightly on his toes when you tell him how excited you are to find the secret ingredient to your homemade granola. It's a place where the grandmotherly East Indian postal worker will patiently help you count out exact change from coins completely foreign to you. It's a place where you can find another ex-pat, scooter-riding Mama with a 4 year old boy who gets it that you had to run late for a play date when you became deliriously distracted in Waitrose, very nearly like Whole Foods but 1/3 the price.
What really sent us over the top was the letter in the mail yesterday saying Z had been given a place in the nearby St Peter's Primary School. It was our first choice school and a mere 7 minute walk from the house. We were shocked because only two days before we had been assigned to Mandeville Primary School, much further away. Z and I went to the Mandeville "Reception Year" orientation and I felt pretty good about it. His attitude was buoyed by the fact that the play area had a figure 8 race track where he spent his time channeling Lightening McQueen in a pink Little Tykes coupe. But it's a distance relative to everything else in our lives now, and Z sleeps like the dead past 9 if you let him. I had twinges of chest pain thinking about our school mornings.
We don't know why we suddenly got a spot at St. Peter's. We're not asking questions. I'm stashing the letter in a safe place in case someone claims it was a mistake. We had assumed we wouldn't get a spot at such a good AND nearby school since we were so late applying. You can't be considered for placement until you are physically residing at an address nearby, and when I say nearby I mean, like, 300 meters. Unlike the US where the school is obliged to give you a spot in the catchment area of your school, England literally steps out the front door of the school and starts taking pupils from the smallest circumference to that reference point and closes the door once they've got their 30 students. And that's after they've given priority spots to foster kids, special needs and siblings. So it's actually possible to live across the street from a school and not get in, especially if your application wasn't tendered in February.
To celebrate we went out to eat at an Italian restaurant located next to the 15th century clock tower. Z got his favorite Marghertita pizza and apple juice and we toasted him with the house Chianti. He was given a balloon by the server on the way out and we walked home under the lights along the winding path of the Abby. He ran ahead, laughing to stay in front of his balloon. I looked up at the 900 year old cathedral, illuminated from below and set against the deep azure blue of a perfect summer sky. My heart felt as though it was radiating moonbeams in all directions. I got a whiff of jasmine and a hint of pastured cow. I live here now. Somebody pinch me.