Five days after returning from France there is a treat in store. Fortuitously the family finds itself in the same country with a weekend to spare. Not always easy to engineer with the diversity of activities in which we, and particularly the youngest generation, are becoming involved. Climbing, singing, music gigs…… we pack our lives.
Happily Barns and Lukie live in a cottage on a farming estate in Oxfordshire, an easy destination at which all of us can converge. The cottage is small and we are fifteen souls. Because Barns is involved in the Scouting movement, our weekend will be focused on the great outdoors. When we arrive a fire is already alight, fuelled by logs from the adjacent woodland, wherein rootle the pigs from which source comes the giant joint of meet pot-roasting in an extra large saucepan. The fireplace is neatly constructed from bricks, a few courses forming a horse-shoe into whose opening logs are steadily fed as the fire burns.
Before we can eat this meat there is lunch; a cauldron of sweet corn soup is followed by cheese and pate with a fruit platter to finish. Our afternoon passes very amiably, the children range around………… rehearsing and filming dramatic antics, scampering around the environs of the cottage, dancing. The adults catch up with each other and amongst diverse topics the conversation reverts time and again to the unending pantomime of events that the Brexit vote engendered. At one point Lola comes up to me and says that as well as young people having the vote, she hopes I won’t be offended if she suggests that old people should be stripped of theirs; presumably at the point at which their selfish desires override the best interests of the population at large!
When we eat the evening meal it is a triumph of deliciousness. The slow-cooked pork is tasty and succulent, the large pan of dauphinoise potatoes cooked on the open fire yummy, and for good measure Lukie has made a spinach and mushroom niceness cooked in filo pastry. With crunchy bar ice-cream and berries for afters. We had hoped to have an outdoor viewing of The Martian before bed but suddenly it is all very late. A quorum of us have a hasty game of Perudo before people melt away to their beds under canvas, leaving Nick and I the luxury of a real bed and some of the others squeezed into bunk beds in the cottage.
Sunday brings a lovely surprise when, just as we are about to eat our brunch cooked on the open fire, whose embers were successfully rekindled by Joel, Barney’s schoolfriend Andy Doran arrives with Paul Cutler. Andy is over from Berkeley for the purposes of a conference but has used the opportunity to tarry a while in Europe. Andy holds a special place in Nick’s and my affections: he masterminded and helped to execute the Hanging Gardens of Peperharow Road back in the 90s. For which we will be ever grateful. After our hearty brunch comes riverside time, kayaks are retrieved from the barn and transported to the bank of the Thames by Shillingford Bridge. There the young paddle up and down a stretch of water, and Nick has his first shot at paddling his own canoe for real. Back at the cottage there is another round of feasting before we come to a parting of the ways……… until the next time.
As a nice little goody bag, Lukie hands me a plastic carrier full of their homegrown spinach and coriander. I make a delicious pesto with the latter the following day: to the cups of coriander I add garlic, walnuts, olive oil and a little salt. Over successive days we eat it with steamed carrots, tomato and courgette tart, fish pie. It is a delicious alternative to the more conventional basil pesto and the little jars of it will be great to pull out of the freezer from time to time. I must try and grow my own coriander next year.