Thursday, December 29, 2005–London. This was our last full day in London, and turned out to be a very full day socially–seeing all of the people that we hadn’t yet seen during the trip. After breakfast, we took the Tube to Paddington Station and caught the train to Oxford. We were met by George’s friend (from a previous holiday vacation in France in 2000) Michael, who has with his partner Douglas, a home in the Cotswolds. He drove us around Oxford a little bit (since neither George nor I had been there before), and then we headed to their house in Ascot-under-Wychwood, in the Oxfordshire countryside. We passed through Woodstock and past Blenheim Palace (where, among other things, Winston Churchill was born) on the way. It is countryside such as one sees in the movies, and in many respects reminded me of the farm territory where I grew up in Iowa (minus the British hedgerows).
Douglas and Michael, who are documentary TV producers and writers, were gracious hosts (It was the first time I’d met either of them), and prepared a lovely lunch–roast beef, mash, braised cabbage, still-crisp carrots and green beans. Certainly a bit more lavish than George and I would have had if on our own, but beautifully prepared and presented and very tasty.
After lunch Douglas and Michael drove us to a nearby town, Burford, where we explored the local church and its churchyard cemetary. We also drove a bit more out in the countryside–beautiful. They dropped us back at the Oxford train station and we headed back to London at 5:00.
We had a 6:30 drinks date with our friends Paul and Daniel (to meet at the Covent Garden Tube stop). We were a bit late, but Paul was waiting for us, and Daniel was holding a table down for us until we arrived. It was good to see them, even briefly. Of all of the U.K. “connections” they are the ones I know the best, and I always enjoy spending time with them. (They had been out of town and incommunicado during the holidays, so we thought we might not see them on this trip, so I’m glad it worked out.)
We did have to rush off to a dinner engagement at 8:30 with two more friends, Michael (also one of the Christmas Day King’s guests) and his partner Sam, friends of Derek and Rory’s whom George had met at a party in Washington last year. They chose the restaurant–a very extraordinary place called Archipelago, which specializes in game and other more bizarre world dishes. (There was indeed a chocolate covered scorpion on the dessert menu.) Michael is a lawyer and Sam (a very handsome Indian man) is a singer (former choral scholar at St. John’s College, Cambridge) as well as a fundraiser. I had a chance to pick his brain about the music scene in London, and hear a little gossip about it as well. Quite entertaining for me. I’m not sure that George and Michael found it to be so. After such a large lunch, and not much activity, I confess that I wasn’t up to a large dinner, but I did my best. I had a kind of Ethiopian “sloppy joe” dish–very spicy ground lamb served with flatbread. It was delicious, but rich. We passed up the chocolate covered scorpions. We stayed until after the restaurant closed–finally leaving about 10:30–then walked back to the hotel, where I still had to pack up all my stuff so that we could take off first thing in the morning. It was 12:45 by the time I turned out the light.