Friday, January 9, 2009

Little England

(This is by way of filling in the details... just in case you ever need to stay in or eat at the places we did...SS)

Having never previously really seen outside of London, middle England was a revelation. Suddenly all those BBC dramas made a lot more sense... AND it completely explained Tolkein (especially his naffer things such as 'Leaf by Niggle.)

What a teeny-tiny beautifully designed and prettily coordinated place! Of course JB has made all the clever quips, so I'll just fill in the details.

A complete lack of accommodation in London saw us continuing on to Oxford following our 25hr+ in the air... less said about that the better. Our train was delayed by someone lying on the track... apparently a reasonably common occurrence if the telephone calls made by passengers around us were anything to go by. We stayed on the top floor of The Falcon, a B&B outside the centre. Tiny rooms, relatively expensive, on a main road... the best that can be said about it was that it was clean and the breakfast was... edible.

Oxford is even prettier and even smaller than I'd imagined. it isn't gobsmacking, whack you around the chops gorgeous... rather it's a slow accumulation of details that subtly seduces the susceptible colonial. It's the golden-stone high walls and ancient buildings embellished with arches and gothic whatknots, a menagerie of real and mythical beasts carved/incised/painted/cast on to every protruding surface; it's the ancient libraries and numerous museums, the willow-draped duck-dabbled waterways, greenest-green geese-grazed playing fields and sun-catching quads; and it's the flocks of gorgeous multi-cultural young swooping about on bikes...

No wonder academics dream of going to Oxford... it's paradise without having to die first.
Of course all the things I really really wanted to see were either closed or ruined by 'improvements'. (I could go on and on about the shame that is the Ashmoleon...)

Ali's mum Pat, and her partner Dudley, had very kindly offered to put us up and give us the opportunity to explore the Cotswolds. We had accepted with alacrity, and hired a car in Oxford to make the 'short' trip to their home near Kingham, apparently 1/2 an hour from Oxford. Somehow we managed to fall into a rift in the space-time continuum (in which telephones also refused to function), and it took us at least four hours before we found Chipping Norton (a place that I had, hitherto, firmly believed was fictional). Soon we were drinking mulled wine at the Kingham Plough and doubling Australia's trade deficit by paying huge sums of money for a couple of bottles of wine, before finally arriving at Pat and Dudleys' incoherent with relief.
Following Pat and Dudleys' excellent advice, we spent the next 3 or 4 days tootling along narrow country roads from one tiny village of golden-stoned, thatch-roofed, cuteness to the next. They are all essentially identical... beautifully-preserved, churches minded by friendly garrulous locals, ancient pubs serving mulled wine and local sausages and mash or pies (generally delicious by-the-by), which we had tp sacrifice Cade's inheritance to afford (sorry honey!). We also, as JB has noted, zipped about once-Roman urban centres, myriad churches, wool-road market towns, saxon earthworks and various other bits and bobs. We had an excellent meal at the Shaven Crown in Stowe-on-the-Wold (lamb shanks and more local sausages but of a very superior kind, mash, gravy, etc etc), although we did feel as though we had accidentally stumbled into some kind of audition for Eeling studios... the other punters were so 'on script' that we kept looking about for the cameras. Another, involving duck to which delicious things had been done, at Checkers in Churchill. And Bubble-and-squeak at The Bell (I think) somewhere near Uffington... (it wasn't as good as mine, I have to say).
Too soon we had to leave Pat and Dudleys' very generous and delightful company, and drop the car back in Oxford (this was a hellish undertaking in itself...btw Oxford railway station DOES NOT have a baggage-storage service), and then a train to London. We stayed at ANOTHER B&B called The Falcon in Paddington (don't ask!). It made the first seem palatial. We spent our last evening in the UK paying our every last pence (19pound as it turned out... ie more than $40 dollars!) for a small serving of kebab, some over-cooked bread and a cup of tea....

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