Walking down that cobbled street, I started to wonder if I had become a cliche of that kind of American who cherishes the historic. What was Upnor High Street in the grand scheme of things? Little more than an obscure lane leading down to the Medway - a couple of old pubs and some homes clad in traditional Kent weatherboarding. The Old Post Office was just that. The days when letters were sorted here were lost in antiquity. We posed for a picture. We put it on Instagram. We moved on.
There was a smart model of a sloop beyond a crumbling window sill. Daffodils were pushing their way out of the earth in the boxes set out in the shady areas beneath the buildings and we could hear subdued laughter from a pub garden, although it was cold to be outside on that April day, cold but stimulating for the spirits. If you listened carefully maybe you would hear the shoots pushing up through the thin soil.
Upnor seemed like a strange place for a family get together. It also seemed as good a place as any. The street was unremarkable compared to Rye, Stamford, Lavenham, Shaftsbury or a host of other places. It only merits a few lines on Wikipedia and its castle is understated. Even so there was a temptation to don a pair of bright green flannel golfing pants and a pair of white sneakers and yell out "Gee this is so quaint."
What do you expect when your leisure hours are haunted by too many strip malls, too much concrete. Functional is ugly but it is the utilitarian future. What use have we for cobbles anymore? The old sea captain's sloop will rot with the windows. The castle will be shunned and its curtain walls quietly closed off from visitors. It had been five long years since I have been back to Britain and the few days I was there opened and closed and now it's as if I never visited.
But there's something reassuring about finding things the way they are. The old people. Still there for now but just older. The same strange but reassuringly familiar oddities. The same family units, intact and at odds with the fragmented ones I have grown used to. I walked slowly down the high street. I breathed in the thin spring air and the fragile flowers and graceful windows and castle towers. And I wanted to hold onto a slice of it, to bottle it up and take it away with me like the most crass of American collectors.