Skip to main content

England in August

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.



Comments

Happy birthday, Christy! What a wonderful day you had. Your posts are lovely-it's so nice to see what you see.

Hope the next year is all you could wish for.

Rene'K.

Popular posts from this blog

The Private Life of the Diary

I’ve kept a diary since I was twelve. While I composed nearly illegible autobiographical scratchings in my first years of primary school at my teachers’ request, it wasn’t until I was on the brink of becoming a teenager that I felt I needed a more permanent arrangement. I suspect it had to do with reading The Diary of Anne Frank. My diary’s function has changed over the years – it once had a name (having discovered that Zoe was the Greek word for life, I thought my choice extremely clever), and I used to like my diaries in a variety of shapes and sizes, spangled with glitter, ruled with wide lines, shackled with locks and keys. For at least eight years my diary was the space in which to vent my feelings, and offered some form of therapeutic comfort. This meant it was largely about boys and is, as a result, very tedious to reread. But while the function of my journal has changed, each volume has been a solution to the manic desire to scribble. As I discovered reading Anne Frank, each e…

The Short Story Season I

The New Yorker Fiction podcast, which I’ve now gobbled up in its entirety, has recently been a lifeline while I’ve been travelling from house to house, city to city. It’s been responsible for kick-starting my renewed interest in the short story – more to come – and for introducing me to writers I’ve long known by name but never read: like Elizabeth Taylor.

Paul Theroux read Taylor’s ‘The Letter Writers’ this past January for the podcast and the story remains one of her best, alongside (and forgive the list) stories such as ‘Taking Mother Out’, ‘Swan-Moving’, ‘A Sad Garden’, ‘The Ambush’, ‘The True Primitive’, ‘The Little Girl’, ‘Hare Park’, ‘The Prerogative of Love’, and ‘The Thames Spread Out’. Travelling with the hefty paperback on planes, trains, and automobiles, I feel I’ve dragged round my little plot of England to keep me company.

(A quick note on editions: an NYRB edition of her stories has just been published but it is a selection, rather than Virago’s Complete Stories. Forgo t…

Blast-beruffled plumes

I’ve returned to Minnesota to find it transformed into a Brueghel painting.



Our hunters are gone north or even south, wherever there are more deer. This has been a bad year for deer, threatened by the cold of last year’s polar vortex and the high population of coyotes, which now carry a bounty on their heads.

So, while it’s still autumn in England (I’ve been assured), winter has come. The nights are long, the wreaths are out. I’ve been reading restlessly – Robert Walser and GB Shaw. But some nights, Thomas Hardy feels just right for November melancholia. Here’s ‘A Darkling Thrush’:

I leant upon a coppice gate
When Frost was spectre-grey,
And Winter's dregs made desolate
The weakening eye of day.
The tangled bine-stems scored the sky
Like strings of broken lyres,
And all mankind that haunted nigh
Had sought their household fires.

The land's sharp features seemed to be
The Century's corpse outleant,
His crypt the cloudy canopy,
Th…