Browsing Tag

Boylestone Show


Escape from London

The Boylestone Show and its giant vegetables came and went without us on Saturday. I wrote about my unforgivably blasé attitude in my last blog, but that wasn’t the only obstacle to our attendance. It turns out our longstanding hosts and pillars of the Boylestone community, B&R, abandoned their own village show and are currently cruising the Med. We were lucky, however, to be able to spend our Saturday afternoon in the company of B&R’s daughter-in-law, T., and grandson, J. They are friends from Los Angeles and were over to launch J’s boarding school career at Repton. It is a bold move for a 15 year old from Malibu to willingly launch himself into Britain’s public school system, and we celebrated with pizzas in south London.

It takes a lot to get husband to abandon the Cotswolds and drive into London on a Saturday, but seeing T&J was a worthy reason. In the process we proved that getting to south London from anywhere—even other parts of south London as friends who joined us from Greenwich proved when they hit roadworks—is painful. It took us three hours to navigate our way to Streatham from the Cotswolds, impeded on both they way in and the way out by traffic for the Chelsea match. (Don’t ask me why we went through Chelsea to get to Streatham from the Cotswolds. I blame the sat nav.)

In any case, we had anticipated as much effort and decided to make the most out of being in London by spending the night at the flat. We booked a film at the Electric for the evening and planned a jog around Kensington Gardens followed by brunch at Raoul’s on Sunday morning. Despite the Chelsea traffic, we made it to Portobello Road on time for the movie. It wasn’t until the film finished and we were wandering around the darkened streets that we realized our miscalculation. Most of Ledbury Road and Westbourne Grove were boarded up. Notting Hill was a ghost town, its residents all in exile in preparation for the annual Carnival that would take over the neighborhood on Sunday and Monday. We headed into Bayswater for some noodles and replanned the weekend. By 7:30AM the next morning our escape from London was underway as we bombed along the Harrow Road just ahead of the police putting up barriers behind us.


Familiarity Breeds…

In this case, familiarity is breeding a lack of blogging. It has now been two and a half years since we bought our Cotswold cottage, which equates to three winters, two springs, two summers, and two autumns worth of material about flora and fauna, fetes, shows, harvests, hunts, the wine bar, the pub, the church, and the characters that populate these colourful landscapes. The problem now is that I am losing my ability to observe. Today I drove past a sign advertising an upcoming Plough Championship in Mesey Hampton—an event that in the past would have been immediately committed to the diary—without even slowing down. I realized I know two women in real life, not a historical novel, named Georgina and have not had need to comment on it. And worst of all husband and I are not planning on attending this year’s August bank holiday Boylestone Show. It is the mother of all village shows, the birthplace of our rural idyll dream complete with tea and cakes, homemade wine, and giant leeks. But this year we are off on holiday to Provence a few days after the show, and, well, quite frankly I can’t be bothered to make the trip. Clearly I am a woman who needs to get her priorities in order.


The Boylestone Milestone

The Boylestone Annual Show has been a constant in my life since moving to England, so I suppose it’s only natural that this year’s, my fifth, felt like a milestone in my Great British adventure and put me in a reflective mood. Boylestone is, after all, where the seed for the Cotswold chapter germinated. It started as a rural escape from that annual summer calamity, the Notting Hill Carnival, that invaded our London neighborhood. In those Derbyshire hills husband and I developed our taste for the kind of deep sleep only possible between cold sheets in a lone farmhouse under silent starry skies, daytime vistas of green speckled with white sheep, and country pubs filled with eccentrics from British central casting. No wonder we felt at home when we first stumbled upon our local wine bar, a Cotswold incarnation of Boylestone’s Rose and Crown, way back when we used to rent a cottage in G.P. for the weekends.

It went unspoken, but when we first bought our Cotswold cottage husband and I both thought we were somehow buying our way into a less complicated, healthier, more certain way of life. Isn’t that what the rural dream is all about? (We should have just asked a farmer who surely would have warned us about the whims of Mother Nature.) Never mind we were both still working in London, merely sampling the country life on weekends. On the surface at least some things changed. Tweed and waterproof clothing took on an increased significance in our wardrobes. Vocabularies expanded to include a language of dogs and foxes and horses and guns and tweed clothing for doing things with dogs and foxes and horses and guns, a language that was once as impenetrable to me as my high school Latin book.

But even when I left my London job and started living here more or less full-time, rural life refused to play by the rural dream rules. The most notable example of this lack of karmic cooperation was when my nervous system decided to attack itself back in March, starting the flirtation with a diagnosis of multiple sclerosis. Even in the diagnosis stage, MS is a mysterious disease offering little in the way of explanation of its origin or prognosis. The process has been like engaging with a Zen koan, a medical imperative to embrace the Buddhist principle of living in the present and make friends with not knowing.

But even with a health scare encouraging me, I haven’t managed to embrace the slower way of life that was part of the rural promise. This became obvious to me a few weeks ago when, sitting in my boss’s boss’s boss’s office in a suburb of Boston I found myself telling him that I was “in a good place in my life” to take on more work. My awkward confessional was in response to a series of roundabout questions he had posed, a white American male’s politically correct way of asking a woman in her middling thirties if she had young children or was planning on announcing a pregnancy anytime soon. My response came without hesitation, which also proved to me I’d reached a milestone in my perception about the prospect of developing MS. I would be in denial to believe I was any less at risk having now cleared five months without symptoms, but I am relieved to find that the threat no longer hovers about my psyche exerting undue influence. My boss’s boss’s boss was thinking of kids not chronic disease, and I was clearly thinking of neither. I answered like I never managed to answer a koan, without a second thought.

Life in the country hasn’t done much to simplify husband’s existence either. He is still commuting between London and bliss, and the availability of bliss has only thrown the inhumanity of London life into sharp relief, an opinion which has recently found expression in his formation of a London is a Toilet Facebook group. Alas long walks in the woods may be palliative, but they are no cure for depression. As Horace wrote in Epistles, I, xi (courtesy of Harry Eyre’s Slow Lane column), “Those who cross seas change only the weather, not their state of mind.” (If only I had paid attention in those high school Latin classes…) Having crossed one sea to get here in the first place, husband is starting to suspect he is part of the problem — in his words, “everywhere I go, there I am.”

In Boylestone this year I found that, like my life, things had changed but somehow stayed the same. The show was joyfully familiar—mammoth leeks, tea and cakes in the village hall, Derek’s effective auctioneering techniques (sitting on one knee in front of the bidder and begging, “C’mon ladee, c’mon” to get another pound for that jar of lemon curd). But at the pub I learned that Dick, the father-in-law of the Rose and Crown landlady and enthusiastic domino playing regular who once taught me a joke about a Yorkshire butcher, died earlier this year. The better part of eight hundred people including the local hunt in full regalia turned up for his funeral, filling not just the village church but its lawn too. Of course life has gone on, as I was reminded when Peter, another Rose and Crown regular, told me about the pub’s runner bean contest we had missed the weekend before. Prizes were awarded for the longest and crookedest beans and cheating was gleefully rampant, ranging from grocery store bought entrants to, my favorite, a French import flown in the night before.


How to Make a Dry Martini

Saturday we made our way to Derbyshire to attend our fifth consecutive Boylestone Annual Show in which the village of Boylestone, pop. 123, exhibits its finest examples of giant leeks, home-brewed wine, marmalade, beetroot chutney, Victoria sponge, and such. There are first, second, and third place winners, plus a cup winner for each division, and any goods not removed from the hall by 4:45pm are auctioned off to raise money for the church and village hall. But before we got to any of that we made our way to the Rose and Crown for some mid-day refreshment.

The sky was blue which meant the smokers were out on the front lawn en masse. I was delighted to find one of my favorite regulars, David Double-Barrelled, among them. Imagine Prince Charles if he was mustachioed, always wore yellow socks, and had a shadow of alcohol-induced rosacea spreading across his face like errant ivy. DDB was drinking a pint of Pedigree from the crystal mug stored behind the bar for him, and before long he was regaling me with tales of his youthful years in NYC in the late sixties and early seventies.

Now I am accustomed to learning all sorts of useful things in the course of such country pub conversation, particularly that which occurs in the Rose and Crown. Typically the miscellany is of the how-to-make-elderflower-wine or shoot-a-game-bird variety, that is to say distinctly rural. But on this occasion DDB shared with me a rather cosmopolitan lesson from his time in Manhattan: instructions for making a dry martini, courtesy of Bill the bartender at the old Oak Bar at The Plaza. If you ordered a dry martini at the Oak, Bill would fill a glass with gin and finish it with a mere wave of the cap from a bottle of vermouth. If, however, you ordered an extra dry martini, he would fill your glass with gin then call the bartender at the Waldorf Astoria and have him whisper “vermouth” as he held the receiver of the phone over the top of your glass.

On Saturday the fanciest drink on offer at the Rose and Crown was probably a gin and tonic, but one day I hope to make my way to The Plaza and have occasion to ask the bartender to make that call.


Make Hay While the Sun Shines

The past three days have been sunny and dry, which means combine harvesters in the fields and tractors on the road well into the twilight. Over the next week the fields will transform from seas of grain to blond buzz cuts stacked with oversized sugar cubes of straw to the ploughed under rubble of earth and sticks and stone. Along with the early dusk—8pm I mournfully noted on my drive home tonite—this reconfiguration of the landscape is one of the more dramatic reminders that summer is nearly through.

Taking my example from the farmers, I will make hay while the sun shines, an attitude to which the late summer social calendar is being particularly accommodating. Friday night will be spent with Chloe the Midnight Story Teller, one of our many local eccentrics, on the grounds of the nearby 17th century Lodge Park. On Saturday husband and I are off to experience the giant marrow, damson wine, and homemade chutney marvels of what will be our fifth consecutive Annual Boylestone Show in Derbyshire. And on the holiday Monday, the Jacobean mansion turned hotel, Bibury Court, will host the local fête—the last of the season—which promises to reveal the mystery of the coconut shy, which I in turn will reveal on the pages of this blog for the benefit of other readers like me who are ignorant of the curious customs of the English at play.