UK: Day One
Half of us arrived Thursday just after noon, bleary eyed but glad to be back in England. Cars hired, we wheeled onto the motorway (M25 then M40, for those keeping count) and flirted with Oxford by following that city’s ring road for eighty degrees or so before shooting off for the West.
I own a house in Oxford, but generally have others living in it, either renters, or family. Which is fine, because I’m constitutionally incapable of city life, being allergic to tarmac, intimate conversations in easy earshot, and late-coming neighbors in high heels.
This means that whenever we want to stay in England, I get out my catalogue of offerings from my friends at Cottage in the Country and drool over their offerings. Which this year: a lodge house on the Cherwell River (punts by request)? A 17th century farmhouse within walking distance of the Stone Age settlement at Whittenham Clumps, the Roman town of Dorchester, and the cooling towers of the nuclear plant at Didcot? Or a converted barn (stone of course—everything old here is stone) between the medieval market town of Burford and the ever-delightful Chipping Norton?
This year, accompanied by two family members who haven’t been to England before and one who has only visited briefly, it’s that last.
In a country like this, everything is new, from the instant the visitor steps out of the airport doors and sees in huge letters aimed at jet-lagged American eyes: LOOK RIGHT. That’s right, the cars are coming at you from the wrong direction. And roundabouts! Auugghhh, we’re all going to die!
I stopped in Whitney to load up on everything from coffee to Kleenex, knowing well the habits of the local houses to have a good stock of stale tea bags and weird seasonings left by former residents, but nothing in the way of coffee or actual edibles. I walked up and down the aisles at Sainsbury’s (Look—weird foods and interesting breakfast cereals! Rhubarb flavor[u]red yog[h]urt! Garbonzo beans [chick peas] in boxes instead of cans!) and loaded up the cart (UK carts are blessed with wheels that go any direction rather than in a line, which explains the number of back problems among its citizenry) with enough to keep an Arctic expedition of largely vegetarian health food maniacs from starvation for 24 hours, had a lively conversation with the check-out lady about roundabouts, the weather (in the UK, it’s always the weather) and how odd many Americans find it to have to load their own groceries into the bags, and staggered drunkenly across the car park (it was the cart, I swear) to fit a hundred bright orange plastic bags into the space left by luggage (two of our lot are going on to Europe for a year’s sabbatical) and rejoined the A40.
In Burford, I hit rush hour, taking a good ten minutes to east through the town because of the one-lane bridge at one end (it was good enough for medieval Burford, and we’ve added a light, so surely it’s good for another few centuries?) and then into the glorious Oxfordshire countryside.