There is an emanation from the heart

which cannot be described,

but is immediately felt and puts

the stranger at his ease.

~Washington Irving


Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life.
It turns what we have into enough...

.........and more.

It turns denial into acceptance,
chaos to order, confusion to clarity.

It can turn a meal into a feast,

a house into a home,

a stranger into a friend.

~Melody Beattie


Don't be satisfied with stories,

how things have gone with others.

Unfold your own myth.
~Rumi


May my life be like a great

hospitable tree, and may

weary wanderers find in

me a rest.

~John Henry Jowett


Saturday, 28 June 2014

Brooms and Ballgowns

"Oh well.  What's a royal ball?  After all I suppose it would be frightfully dull and.......boring and.......and.......completely, completely wonderful!"
                                                       ~Cinderella


Tonight all of our rooms are occupied by former students attending the The Merton College 750th Anniversary Ball.  It made me feel a little bit like Cinderella today as I carried laundry up and down the stairs, but I didn't mind at all.  They excitedly checked in this afternoon and I helped carry up the long dress bags that were carefully protecting the ball gowns. The dress code for the ladies is floor length ball gowns, and I oohed and ahhed over the gowns as I hung them in the wardrobes. For men it's formal white tie and tails, so the men were off immediately to secure their white ties for the evening.

The Trinity College Commerative Ball was last night, and the Exeter 700th Anniversay Ball is tonight, along with the Merton Ball. Tonight the streets will be filled with students who are normally a little bit on the scruffy side, dressed elegantly and from another era.  Last night as I was out in full Cinderella mode sweeping the front walk, girls in beautiful velvet gowns and fur capelets, and guys in tails, canes, scarves, top hats streamed down Holywell Street on their way to Trinity.  It was as though they had just stepped out of Brideshead Revisited.

Ball revellers and fireworks
over Christ Church College
The balls start with a formal dinner and move on to DJ's and dancing, and marquee tents transformed into elegant cocktail lounges.  Around 10pm the fireworks begin, just like last night when Holywell Street was lit up from Trinity's fireworks. Tonight I imagine it will be duelling explosions of color between Exeter and Merton.

The dancing and merrymaking lasts all night until around 4 or 5pm, when breakfast is served to everyone who survived the night.  They'll ring in the dawn with a bacon sandwich and a 'survivors photograph'.


Around 6am, just about the time Stuart and I will be getting up, I'll start to see those same people walk back down Holywell from the other direction.  The girls will now be in bare feet, shoes or glass slippers in hand. The white ties will be undone and the men's jackets now around the girls' shoulders.  From years past, I know they'll be a groggy but happy crowd, and sometimes they might be arm in arm singing 'Jerusalem'--again like they just stepped off the set of Brideshead.  Sometimes I have to shake my head and look again to make sure I'm not actually watching a movie, but it's real and it's very, very Oxford.



Cinderella just finished setting the
breakfast table for our ball revellers.

Friday, 27 June 2014

Six Years On

"I sit in my garden, gazing upon a beauty 
that cannot gaze upon itself.  
And I find sufficient purpose for my day."  
~ Robert Brault

Six years ago last week Max and I (and a 40 foot container), arrived in Oxford to settle in permanently.  There have been so many changes in the six years and our garden is one of them.  Very slowly over the six years it's been turned into our haven of peace and calm . There are a few weeds in the lawn and it doesn't come close to rivalling so many of the perfect English gardens I've admired over the years, but it's our sanctuary set right in the heart of Oxford.

This is what I inherited that summer of 2008...............




And now in 2014.............
Stone steps leading up into the garden.
The stone steps that lead into the garden are left from the cottages that were part of No. 14 Holywell up until the 1920's, when they were torn down.  Nearly every time I dig, I find beautiful pieces of transferware pottery left behind and have a little collection gathering in my summerhouse.

St. Francis still stands watch.

Max keeping a watchful eye on squirrels and birds.
The tower of Harris Manchester College is through the trees
in the upper right hand corner.
It's more difficult to see in the summer
through all the leaves,
but the beautiful new clock tower
of Harris Manchester rings out on the hour.
A Cotswold stone bench and bird bath,
 found in Lower Slaughter.
A view of New College from the garden.

Picnic spot.
"In search of my mother's garden,
I found my own."
~ Alice Walker




"I don't like formal gardens.
I like wild nature.  It's just wilderness
instinct in me, I guess."
~ Walt Disney

The summerhouse came with
the garden.








Wednesday, 25 June 2014

Tea and Ballet

The Mall, June 18th,
just after the celebration
of the Trooping of the Colour


You find no man, at all intellectual, who is willing to leave London.  No, Sir, when a man is tired of London, he is tired of life;  for there is in London all that life can afford.  
~ Samuel Johnson


You know London is so sprawling and you can sometimes forget 
that anybody else is on a  stage
anywhere else.  ~ Alan Rickman





I first came to Oxford 21 years ago and since then it's felt like Britain's centre to me, placed as it is in the heart of England.  Drive an hour west and you're in the western Cotswolds and nearly to Wales; drive an hour south and you're at the seaside on the south coast; drive an hour north and you're in Shakespeare country; and an hour to the east lies London.


A view of the Chilterns as we travelled to London
on the 18th.  Stuart hasn't grown out of always
wanting to sit at the front of the bus--but you can see why.

I love London in short spurts and Oxford is perfectly placed to travel to London for the day. You can easily travel by train in an hour, into Paddington Station, but Stuart and I prefer to go by bus. After several journeys home from London, packed into the train car like a sardine, we decided travelling by coach was the way for us.  Oxford has two choices of buses running directly to London, the Oxford Tube and the X90. There's WiFi on-board, the seats recline, and the Oxford Tube is a double-decker, so you can enjoy the view as you make your way to London.


This week we made a trip to London to see my favourite ballet Swan Lake, at the Royal Albert Hall.  For this performance, the entire floor of the Hall is used as a stage in the round, so it's a production on a grand scale in classic Busby Berkeley style.  The thought of 100 tutu'd swans floating gracefully in the expanse of the Royal Albert Hall grabbed my fancy immediately.  We bought tickets last January when June 18th seemed a world away, and planned to make a day of it in London.

Both Stuart and I are afternoon tea devotees, so any trip to London involves afternoon tea at one of the grand and elegant hotels.  We hadn't been back to The Savoy Hotel since their 'grande rénovation', so we decided that afternoon tea at The Thames Foyer of the Savoy would be perfect before the ballet.  

After serving breakfast for seven people and making sure the laundry was moving in the right direction, we changed out of our bacon infused jeans and shirts into our finery, caught the Oxford Tube on the High Street, and were off to London. 

We got off at Victoria Station and had enough time to take a leisurely walk past Buckingham Palace, up The Mall, through Trafalgar Square, and up the Strand to the Savoy. It was just long enough to work up an appetite, but short enough to manage in our afternoon-tea-ballet-going-finery (and my not-really-made-for-walking-in-shoes).  

The Savoy is set back off the street, so once you circle through the revolving doors into the foyer, you feel as though you've stepped into another world.  It's elegant and quiet, with an old Hollywood, Art Deco feel, without being garish.  After a long walk through sooty London streets, the first order of business is of course a visit to the powder room.  If you ever want to experience how the other half live (actually it's closer to 1% than 50%, but who's counting), and don't have £12,000 for the Junior Suite, just visit the bathrooms at Harrod's, The Savoy, or The Ritz.  You'll want to move in, or at least stay awhile. There are attendants whose job it is to quietly and discreetly clean and refresh things, along with lotions and potions to pamper with.  There are even elegant and poufy vanities to sit at, that always make me want to sit and powder my nose like Jean Harlow or Greer Garson. Unfortunately I don't even own a beautiful compact for powder, much less wear powder, but one day I think I might buy one, just so I can powder my nose like an elegant movie star.

I lingered in the Ladies Room far longer than I should have, but finally emerged unpowdered yet refreshed. I found Stuart sitting, waiting patiently for me, so I gathered that the men's room wasn't as interesting as the ladies'.  As we were escorted to our table, I tried to channel Greer Garson and float down the long steps that led into the tea room. A pianist was playing old show tunes on the grand piano in the gazebo, and the only other noises were quiet tinkling of teacups and hushed conversations. We took our seats and ordered champagne, since whenever possible Stuart and I start our afternoon tea with champagne. It was whisked to our table immediately, and so with our glasses of bubbly, Afternoon Tea began.


I have to admit that the next two and a half hours are a hazy blur of jam, clotted cream, sandwiches, many cups of tea, glasses of champagne, pastries, and cakes. Everything melted in our mouths and the waiters were constantly whisking things away and replenishing everything, until we couldn't eat one more bite, not even a crumb.  We wished we could have lingered much longer, and it's the kind of place where lingering is encouraged, but we had to make our way back down the Strand, down The Mall, and the entire length of Hyde Park, to get to the Royal Albert Hall--it quickly became clear that we were going to require a taxi to get our heaving bellies there on time.


But we made it on time, and took our seats just three rows back from the stage.  I was enraptured and even Stuart was enthralled. One hundred beautifully elegant swans were the perfect end to a very elegant day, and a day we won't soon forget.  Our Oxford Tube coach rolled down Oxford's High Street about 1am, we got off at Queen Street, walked down past New College, the narrow lane quiet and dim, through the Turf Tavern, eerily empty of students and noise, and then back up Holywell Street and home.  We had to be up in 5 hours to make breakfast, but neither of us cared--I was still caught up in a world of tutus and the pas de beurre.  And, I have no doubt that Stuart was reliving our three hour tea, bite by bite--and dreaming about our next one.

Tempting the senses before 
we even sat down.

The gazebo with a pianist playing showtunes
on a grand piano--and a little fellow
having tea with his Daddy.

Royal Albert Hall just before the performance.

The London Eye from The Mall

View of Big Ben from St. James's Park

Stopping by Buckingham Palace to say hello, 
but Q.E.II was not in residence.  She was at
Windsor while attending Ascot.


Saturday, 14 June 2014

The Place It All Began

In a recent post I mentioned that I was away from Oxford this spring, which meant Stuart had five weeks of running the B&B without me.  We try to bring in extra help but it never quite works out how we hope, so Stuart takes over as head gardener, cleaning supervisor, office manager, head cook, and handyman. While I was languishing on a sail boat and dancing at a wedding, he was putting up with extra work and eating ready meals, or many evenings being served what we'll fondly remember as 'old-lady vegetarian food' by our well-meaning helper. Stuart suffered in silence but let's say, even though we both normally love vegetarian food, it will be a very long, long time before he'll be able to face rice and beans again.

The Bibury Court Hotel
June 12, 2014
But ready meals, and rice and beans aside, Stuart did an amazing job of coping with my absence and kept everything running smoothly. Once I was home though, I took one look at him and knew what he needed, beside a good meal. Even though my bags were barely unpacked, Stuart was ready for some time out of Oxford, and at least one night away. Luckily we live only a half an hour away from the perfect get-away spot in the Cotswolds, the Bibury Court Hotel, and within 48 hours of my return home our get-away was booked.

Arlington Row, Bibury
Getting out of Oxford and away from our businesses takes a lot of strategic planning--escaping phone calls, emails, bookings, laundry, and room change-overs is no mean feat. An early morning escape usually isn't possible, and we didn't roll out of Oxford until about 1:30pm, but once we headed west on the A40 we felt like we were leaving it all behind. After a quick stop at the Burford Garden Centre we wound our way to the village of Bibury and the Bibury Court Hotel.



We were lucky to get a corner room which looked out on one side to the River Coln and the hotel gardens, and to the other side more hotel garden and the churchyard.  Max was ready to settle in right away but we had other ideas, quickly changing for an early evening walk.


We chose one of the circular walks and Max led the way, down the wide expanse of lawn, across the river, and up to a farmhouse.  Max was desperate for a paddle in the river, but I didn't think the hotel would appreciate muddy paw prints on the beautiful white duvet, when he invariably snuck up on the bed in the night.



Cotswold scenes immediately unfolded as we walked.



A small, wooden footbridge
lined with impatiens and roses.






Houses and barns soon gave way to grassy tracks, sheep, and fields lit up by the setting sun.  (Max is the little black dot on the right side of the track.)

We finally circled back to the hotel and were ready for a cold drink and a hearty pub meal, which we found at the New Inn in Coln St. Aldwyn. We settled in, Stuart with his Hook Norton ale and me with my cider, Max curled up at our feet under the table, and ordered the hearty meal that would put Stuart to rights.  The pub was filled with friendly people enjoying a warm summer evening and dogs wandering in and out, saying hello to one another and checking on what people had ordered.



We lingered over Bailey's and coffee (me), and a fruit crumble (Stuart), and then made our way back to Bibury and the hotel, where we were met with the full moon streaming into our window.



The next morning we had a leisurely breakfast, that we didn't cook (!), and a stroll through the gardens before winding our way back home.  The drive back into Oxford came far too soon but just the one night away was enough to set the world to rights for Stuart and close the gap of my five weeks away. We drove back promising we'd return very soon to the place we first fell in love, the Cotswolds--and knowing us, it will probably be next week.