Saturday, June 5, 2010

England's Green and Pleasant Land

H’ok boys and girls, lets go back in time now. Back in early February, Adrianna’s mother Donna and her husband Roy hosted us for a working-weekend at their place in Hook Norton in Oxfordshire. To give you a little context about that illustrious town, I firstly want to bring the information from the town’s Wikipedia page to your attention. Hook Norton has a population of 2000, and within the encyclopaedia’s pertinent information is listed the amenities that this village has to offer, including: a primary school, a post office, a veterinarian’s surgery, and four pubs. A post office, boys and girls, not to be sneezed at! The biggest town nearby is Chipping Norton, which has a population of about 5000. The metropolis of the region is Banbury, whose population figures skyrocket towards 41,000.

So, as you can probably glean, this weekend sojourn was EXCEEDINGLY English.

Adrianna, Ariana, and I arrived on a Friday afternoon and were promptly picked up from the Banbury train station and whisked away to a farmer’s market to gather supplies for the weekend (I assure you we ate like kings). We were then dropped off at our room at the pub that Adrianna’s mother had so kindly put us up in. After settling in there, we trekked down a little path and crossed a brook to get to Donna and Roy’s place for an evening of immeasurably warm, generous, kind, and enlivening hospitality. There is a van that comes through the town on Friday nights to park on a back street and dole out the finest fish and chips I have yet to eat in this illustrious nation. The fish was done to perfection, not too oily nor too batter-heavy, the chips were of course sublime, and the fried mushy-pea fritter was la pièce de résistance of the meal. I defy you to concoct a better meal out of a van in the country. I defy you to find another nation where such a phrase could be uttered with pride.

Donna and Roy’s home is my dream home. Their part of the house is the converted servants’ quarter of what used to be a sort of upper-class asylum. When the well-to-do started tending to rabbits and sticking straws in their hair (if I can borrow from P. G. Wodehouse), these manor homes in the countryside were just the sort of places for them to while away their twilight years without causing too much embarrassment for the family. The livingroom and kitchen had the original stone and brick walls, exposed wooden beams, and stone floors accompanied by an extension out the back for the office. They even had an aga. Can I tell you. I can barely put into words how much I wanted to live there for the rest of my life; drinking tea and listening to the World Service in front of the fireplace. Eugh, just look at the pictures, I can’t do its charm justice with this paltry language of ours.

On the Saturday, Roy and Donna kindly invited us out. And by saying that they invited us “out” I mean that we were allowed to accompany them and the local walking club on the hunt. And honestly, boys and girls, this could very well be one of the highlights of my year here. This hunt was the epitome of the England I grew up with and still want to exist in. We were formally introduced to the master of the hunt over sherry, whilst wearing our wellies, waiting in the farmer’s field for the dogs to get ready. There are very stringent laws nowadays about the rules of how much game these animals are allowed to catch and by which methods, but these hounds were so lovely and goofy and foolish that I’m pretty sure they couldn’t catch a duck were it to land on their noses nor a rabbit were it to crawl into their lolling mouths.

We were introduced the dogs, who promptly got mud all over our fronts, and then it was off to follow them and their keepers across the fields. The sky was grey, it was misting, and by the end of the day we were in mud up to our ankles. Which is to say, it was absolutely perfect. We followed the hunt around acres of fields and watched the rapscallions mainly be interested in their handlers, any passing bush, and oh my! is this grass, why let us investigate rather than try to catch any animals. Of course, Ariana and I fell in love with the masters of the hunt (the one that looks like an English student was for Ariana and the one that looks like Mr. Darcy was for me), and had an absolutely thoroughly enjoyable and thoroughly English time. On our way back to the house, Donna and Roy took us to the town church where some of the Mitford family (!) is buried. I am a sucker for all English churches, but these jaunty tombs here really put me over the edge when combined with the quite interesting and quite sordid history of the Mitford girls. That evening, we re-joined Adrianna back at the house for some light homework and wonderful conversation that whiled away our time into the small hours, soaking it all in.

On our last day in Hook Norton, we went for a walk through some fields (I LOVE rambler’s rights) down to the old Victorian Brewery. The Hook Norton Brewery is one of the few remaining fully functioning Victorian breweries left in England. Unfortunately it was closed the day that we went there, but out behind we found the dray horses and went and exchanged some light conversation with them. It was then to meander back through the town to collect our things, and then stand for the entire train-ride back to Bristol.

Don't make me leave,

Your friend Lina

No comments:

Post a Comment