Friday was my first English birthday, my golden birthday, and the day was as thoroughly English as I could have hoped. It began in a shower of rain. Disappointment tempered with the promise of Wellies. A and I went up the road, clinging to each other beneath my gaudy umbrella, to the Jericho café for a delicious English breakfast. There is nothing like being indoors and eating beans on toast with hot coffee and seeing all the poor passersby miserable and beans-on-toast-less.
From thence we braved the buckets of rain on a dirge-march to the train station, our launching pad to the morning outing to Gloucestershire. A had been to Stroud for a wedding a month before and her praise of the Cotwolds village’s sweetness and many virtues made for an excellent excuse to get out of Oxford. And who can avoid the pleasures of a train? (So fast, so transportative.) And who can deny themselves the experience of waiting at Didcot Parkway? (Or Didders, as insiders assure.)
We arrived in Stroud at mid-morning to a brief cessation of rain, and were greeted by a market with odd teacups and saucers for which we’d been hungering. Inside the Shambles, the indoor market, I found two of Vita Sackville-West’s gardening books which have recently been expensively printed. The titles, In Your Garden, and In Your Garden Again, drew snickers (especially given the relationship Sackville-West had with Virginia Woolf). I’m not a gardener myself – in fact I’ve just killed the basil plant I had high hopes for – but gardening literature, like culinary literature, is addictive. (Perhaps because of the gnostic knowledge within?)
Stroud is a treasure trove of china, books, prints, and fresh produce. The streets are narrow and steep. Though we never reached a lookout, its position within a valley promised sloping views. And sheep are never far behind. Perhaps it is on one of these hills that Gloucestershire natives chase wheels of cheese. We hiked up and down the high street visiting bookshops and antique shops and print shops. Lunch was an investigation in British cuisine with Gloucestershire beef, gravy and bubble and squeak.
We returned to Oxford – A showing me true English culture from the inside by a commentary on Heat and Closer magazines - to find the city still under a deluge. By the time I set off for a walk to Port Meadow with the Other A the rain had stopped and wellies were only barely necessary (but still worn). Along the river we spent far too long trying to photograph the Queen’s favourite bird, and then to the Perch, a pub in the minute three-house village of Binsey, for coffee & Guinness & apple-thievery.
But the slow and steady late afternoon pace was all a ruse. We reached the house near seven and I opened the door to the lounge to an eruption of friends from behind sofas and out of crevices and under blankets and the surprise Birthday Barbecue (jointly arranged by the two A’s) commenced! We had no idea our Cranham terrace house could hold up to eight in the lounge, but we were all more or less coamfortable and spent the evening eating, drinking, and dancing. If you'll excuse my sentimentality: It's hard to believe you can move to a new country and within a year have such a group of people around you, on a night like this, that you can't remember arriving, and you can't imagine leaving. Went to bed, delighted and thankful.