Monday, July 27, 2015

Oxford Idyll (with Tea and Sympathy)

Last fall, my husband and I were graciously asked by my friend and fellow blogger Mrs. Thomasina Tittlemouse to spend a week with her and her family in a bucolic village in Oxfordshire, England.  Oxfordshire is a place with winding lanes, thatched-roof cottages fringed by hollyhocks, medieval churches, and patchwork fields dotted with contented cows.  While my husband and I were undergoing struggles on the home front at the time of this invitation, we had hoped that by the actual time of our journey, some of the strains would have abated. 


This country church in Oxfordshire can be reached on foot, by wending through verdant fields.  

But, when we finally drove to the airport, we were tightly wound and exhausted.  Aside from ongoing strains, including a serious medical condition that had arisen in my husband over the past school year, we were worn out from orchestrating plans to get away, an activity that was akin to coordinating a complex military operation:  arranging for my reluctant fifteen-year-old son to fly by himself to New York State to stay with a family friend, obtaining care for my ailing 90-year-old mother-in-law, finding a student to drop by the house to water plants and to check on the cat and rabbit, and seeking out a responsible adult to touch base with my eighteen-year-old son (who would be staying in our home but whose behavior made us call into question his ability to feed himself, let alone provide sustenance and water for small animals).  Finding someone to handle this formidable task was not easy, but we eventually asked a priest who had previously served as a military paratrooper—as we figured it would take someone with his faith, courage, and vigor to tackle dealing with our headstrong teenager. 

This is the entrance to a church in Mrs. T's village.  


Cooler temperatures (around 68-70 degrees when I visited) make for shorter
growing seasons but much bigger plants.


We also organized care for our two dogs, creatures we felt would be better off at my sister- and brother-in-law’s farm in the country.  Since they (our relatives) spend most of their time in the mountains, we also had to contact their pet sitter to coordinate details.  My husband also had to meet with lawyers regarding two disparate situations that needed to be dealt with before our departure.  During these weeks of planning, record-breaking temperatures topped 100, a fact that added to the heaviness of our tasks and the weight of our spirits.  At the time, going on this whole enterprise seemed more and more a dubious proposition.

So it was with a bit of trepidation that we actually headed for the airport, especially when, after 25 years of legal tussles and delays, a road crew and heavy equipment showed up three days before our trip to begin demolishing my mother-in-law’s beloved blueberry patch and pecan orchard.  A new bypass is set to traverse the rural property where she has lived for over 65 years, and it will run very close to her house, taking away her driveway and her peace of mind.  Aside from stepping outside, cane in hand, to shriek at the workers--an action she took immediately--how would she react?  There seemed to be so many variables which could prove problematic while we were away.  And then there was the fact that in the course of a horribly taxing school year—one where I’d taken on a demanding new job and my husband had resigned from a part-time position due to mounting family stress and responsibilities—my husband's and my interactions had seemed largely to consist of acting like business rivals begrudgingly coordinating a deal as we touched base regarding domestic and family details.  Would we have anything to say to one another on this voyage?



Mrs. T's homemade scones served with homemade jam and clotted cream are a wonderful part of visiting her home.   

And then the airline had changed our plans—we’d originally had one layover, but now we had two, and ultimately had to deal with three delayed flights and four airports teeming with people in a hurry.  But after many hours (but somehow  no time for lunch), we took our seats on a nighttime flight to England.  The pilot informed us that the plane was not full—incredibly there were 16 crew members and 112 passengers on a huge jet!  The fact that we were starving made for an airplane meal that pleased our palates as much as any gourmet repast, and I savored  the added indulgence of viewing the new Shaun the Sheep Movie while dining.  I next put on my complimentary socks and eye mask, covered myself with two blankets, spread out over four seats with armrests raised, and was able to actually get some sleep. 




My romantic nature makes me imagine the generations who have passed through this churchyard gate.


Thatched cottages are very real but are expensive to maintain (and to insure).

                         
 



 The bantam rooster Vladimir adds to the charming
 atmosphere of Mrs. T's garden.



The following week in Oxfordshire was even more relaxed and restful—providing much needed balm to my husband’s and my troubled spirits and allowing us to interact as companionable human beings.  And, of course, our week--of being fed Mrs. T’s wonderful homemade meals, enjoying pleasant and erudite company, resting in an English garden, walking in the countryside, and sightseeing--involved a trip to a yarn shop and my obtaining materials for a future project that is thoroughly English, and, therefore, an apt souvenir of my week in Oxfordshire.  I was saddened when we left our friends, as I knew that it would be some time before we saw them again, and I also had a dread certainty that the renewing and peaceful part of our trip was over . . . .


On our second day in England, we spent a restful time, punting on the Thames.  Mrs. T's son and husband did the work.  




Mrs. T. also planned a crafting activity.  She and I made espadrilles, using soles available from The Makery in Bath or John Lewis in London.  (I also think Amazon in the UK sells these, but I couldn't find them for sale in the US.)  We bought our fabric at Darn It and Stitch in Oxford.

The finished product is surprisingly comfortable.  You can go to Mrs. T's blog to see great pictures
of the espadrille process and photos of her finished product, espadrilles with ribbon ties.


We made a day trip to Basilton Park, a country house where many films have been shot, including Pride and Prejudice (the Keira Knightley version) and the last Christmas episode of Downton Abbey.

.

I loved playing Lizzie Bennet and walking through the damp fields.  Wished
I'd had a Regency dress to wear.  (I really am becoming more and more eccentric!)



Aware of my Jane Austen obsession, Mrs. T. and her husband planned a pilgrimage to Bath.  We saw the Royal
Crescent and the Roman baths and also made a trip to the Makery, where I bought some pretty buttons and trimmings.






Mrs. T. arranged for a special trip into Oxford, as she knows that no holiday for me is complete without a trip to a yarn shop!  




I purchased a variety of Jamieson and Smith Shetland yarn at Oxford Yarn Store to make a sweater from Kate Davies' book, shown below.  



Davies is both a scholar and a designer, so her well-researched book makes for interesting reading.  



I diligently knit and blocked a swatch for the Foxglove sweater when I returned home,
and my gauge seems just right.



Next post:  Wild and Woolly Weekend in Cornwall (Getting There is Half the Fun!)

2 comments:

  1. Glad you had such a lovely and eventful time - hope the rest of the trip goes well! Judy.

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  2. Lovely to see your pics! I'd recognise that ear-splitting cockcrow anywhere! I won't tell Vladimir that he's achieved fame at last - it might go to his head and then I'd never hear the last of it! So glad the foxglove sweater has got off to a good start too - hope the remaining ball of yarn due to be sent arrives OK - it's going to be one gorgeous sweater. I'm so glad you came when you did because at least we had some days with sunshine - this week it's really awful - wet, cold and very grey and uninviting. E xx

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