Marigold Says...

Random thoughts on travelling and life in general.

That’s not us, but the resemblance is striking.

A Short Trip Back to the Cotswolds, Treading in the Footsteps of Royalty.

Marigold Says...

Well, whatever next. Just been on the news that they are marshalling at our local petrol station and there is shouting and gesticulating going on. People must be nuts and greedy and it is always me, me, me. 

I sent G out at 5.30 am, no queue then and went back to bed.

Mind you, before that we only had half a cup of petrol left in the tank. We’re all sorted until 2023 now. I have filled the bath to the brim but forgot to remind G so he now smells of petrol. It’s unleaded though so he should be okay. I also looked out our old hot water bottles and filled them up as well. Wish I had more Tupperware.

I remember when we did our eve of pandemic panic shop. We still have in the cupboard all sorts of nasty things in a tin or jar, in case we were marooned in a bunker and could only eat safe food that hadn’t been contaminated. We have got 6 tins of sprouts. I think I would rather eat the insoles out of my wellingtons. G must have bought them and even he doesn’t even want sprouts at every meal.

Some of the tins have got Polish writing on. Maybe he imagined we could trade our food for theirs in our underground bunker. There were a lot of Polish pickers around at the time. When we walked our borrowed dog we saw the same ones year after year. They picked the daffs, cabbages and potatoes. We really liked them. One could speak pigeon English and used to say “how are you today”. We used to reply in a sort of strange language which thinking back might have sounded like “velly well tank yoo”. He probably thought we had a speech impediment and wondered why he spoke much better English than we did.

Now this is nuts. G said at start of Pandemic, ‘I bought this at the junk shop.’ It was a gas mask. I said, ‘why only one?’ He said, ‘we can share it!’

G Says...

It’s rather odd how the Cotswolds doesn’t ever really feel like ‘home’ whenever we visit, even though we lived there for quite a few years. It’s just so ‘touristy.’ Of course, when we did actually live there, we were rarely conscious of tourism impinging on our normal way of life. Back again, this time as outsiders with no claims to residency, first impressions are no surprise. The Cotswolds, that great swathe of rolling (mainly Gloucestershire) countryside, is ridiculously ‘pretty.’ No other descriptive term will suffice.

We’ve often commented on the manner in which visitors from abroad, especially those from the USA, head for London and, if time allows, take in the sights of Edinburgh. That’s Britain done. Tick the box and move onto Paris. Or Rome. What they should do is come here. The Cotswolds is England at its finest.

We’re intending to revisit a specific area, since Covid arrived we aren’t especially keen on gallivanting.*

*Love that word.

No, we’ve based ourselves in one hotel for a few nights with the intention of having short excursions in the day. I’ll just concentrate on a couple of days out or this blog post will resemble a novel by Dostoevsky in length. That’s Fyodor Mikhailovich Dostoevsky, the famous Russian writer, not the bloke who plays at centre back for Wisla Krakow in the Polish Estraklasa.

The hotel was just as we’d been promised, lots of character, comfortable lounge area and a big garden for sunny days. There were four women in the bar area as we were booking in, very much of the ‘ladies who lunch’ persuasion. They seemed rather ‘relaxed’ considering it was still (very) early lunchtime and the reasons were clarified when one of them announced in ringing tones, ‘Just keep the dry white wine coming my way; I’ve had so much champagne over the weekend I’m awash with it.’

‘Just be quiet, Agnes,’ one of her friends advised, ‘you’re becoming irksome.’

‘Irksome,’ I muttered to Marigold. Archaic or rarely used words and phrases always fill me with joy. I made a mental note to use ‘irksome’ more often.

Marigold was focussing on the name. ‘Agnes,’ she repeated, ‘I love that, but not Aggie. Bet nobody ever called that one Aggie.’ I nodded. It certainly seemed unlikely.

I used to work with an ‘Agnes.’ She wasn’t fond of her given name, a state of affairs I can relate to, and circumvented it in an interesting fashion: she inverted the letters and was henceforth known as ‘Senga.’ I trained her and in fairness it wasn’t an easy task. Segna was indifferent to any concept, any conversation, that didn’t engage her intellectually. ‘Small talk?’ Expect to be ignored to a degree far beyond any normal perception of rudeness.

We had occasional group meetings where agents/officers - the terminology changed with bewildering frequency - of each region of the country got together to discuss ongoing trends and resolve problems. There were twelve of us, one to each region of the U.K, but only eleven ever fully participated. These meetings could be long winded and tedious, so Senga’s predilection for wandering off to look out of the window or even on one occasion taking out a newspaper and reading it in the middle of an intensely important discussion made me deeply envious. Her distinctly idiosyncratic behaviour was usually tolerated by our alleged superiors simply because she produced results.

As for the Hotel, it did almost exactly as it said on the tin. Just one caveat: our bedroom was number 19. Out of a total of 19. Approached by a narrow staircase with the steepest slope I have encountered since we last visited the Eiger. Marigold wasn’t impressed. After puffing our way up the rickety stairs the first floor corridor seemed endless. Number 19 must have been in the next postcode.

‘It’s only for four nights,’ I said, as brightly as I could manage while desperately sucking air into my lungs. Somehow this didn’t raise spirits to any discernible extent. We dropped off our ‘stuff’ - minimal clothing, even less personal grooming items – yes, of course I’m only speaking about myself here – and descended the almost vertical staircase for the first time.

Less tiring than on the way up, but possibly even more stressful. Marigold isn’t a big fan of ‘going downhill,’ it’s that fine line between a relaxed descent and a headlong sprint that she finds difficult to judge.

Back in the Lounge the couple who had booked in just before us had apprehended a waitress, still laden down with plates and cutlery after clearing a table, and were evidently in great distress. The female guest, tweed trouser suit and stiletto heels, snapped, ‘there’s only a tiny little barth in our room. Don’t you have anything larger?’

Her partner, a big, lumbering, distinctly ursine man yet wearing very tight red trousers and a psychedelic patterned waistcoat over a dress shirt unbuttoned almost to his ( ample) waist, remained mute. Understandably as I had difficulty imagining a ‘barth’ large enough to contain even a small section of his torso, so surely the bathing issue was a moot point in his circumstances.

‘Not sure the waitress is the best person to ask,’ Marigold whispered to me as we walked by. We never found out whether a more commodious ‘barth’ had been sourced in time to prevent an escalation of a serious situation to Def. Con. 5.

We set off for a late lunch in Cirencester. It’s one of those places that’s midway between a town and a city, steeped in history and we always enjoy visiting here. We started to panic after spending far too much time in a ‘craft fair’ where just about every stall holder was ‘a bit odd’ – I’m being kind here – as we love eccentricity and fairly galloped into Pretty and Pip in Castle Street about thirty seconds before they stopped taking lunch orders.

We’re easy to please and the waitresses were charming so we found seats in the lovely courtyard around the back. We’ve been here before, yet never established who Pretty and Pip are. A plethora of choice for ‘Pretty,’ rather less options for ‘Pip.’

Just as our baguettes arrived, cheese and ham and salt beef respectively, both with lots of trimmings the man on the next table called out, ‘try the salt beef, it’s as good here as in my local deli.’

I didn’t actually say, ‘give me a chance, mate, it only arrived ten seconds ago’, but I wanted to. Marigold did say, ‘I’m guessing your local deli isn’t near here’ as he had a rich Bronx accent.

‘No, ma’am, I’m from Noo York City. Just visiting my friend here who’s a Purfessor at your Oxford University.’ We supposed he said ‘your Oxford University’ in case we imagined he meant the one in Oxford, Mississippi, commonly known as Old Miss. We didn’t.

It’s not easy, eating enormous baguettes while trying to carry on a conversation with an overtly friendly American visitor. His female companion – the Oxford Prof was too busy eating to talk – interjected occasionally, but only to argue with remarks he made. She didn’t object to every word he uttered, but it was pretty close.

Two nations divided by a common language. It’s a quote attributed to George Bernard Shaw, Oscar Wilde and Winston Churchill. May as well add Shakespeare to that list of Usual Suspects and you’ll have the full set. Shaw gets my vote, but the expression makes sense no matter the era. On our last visit to the United States we were baffled by a man from Texas who may as well have been an alien being. Virtually every sentence he uttered engendered a furrowed brow and air of utter incomprehension, even though the actual words were ‘allegedly’ English, just not the English language we had been blithely using for so many years.

In between snatched bites of baguette we were treated to a Noo Yorker’s unique version of English history.

‘The Ancient Greeks established a settlement, maybe on this very spot.’

Really? What ignoramuses we were, convinced that Cirencester in Roman times, back then known as ‘Corinium Dobunnorum’, was second only to London in size and importance. Neither Marigold or myself had ever heard of a Greek invasion, despite us living just up the road from here for many years.

I did know Corinium was recaptured by resurgent Saxons in the 6th century and renamed ‘Coryn Ceasre’. If you’re local, you just call it Ciren, pronounced Zoiren by just about everyone we met in our Cotswolds dwelling era. We didn’t argue. Even the lady companion didn’t pick up on the Ancient Greek reference, even though she took issue with just about everything else. As for the Oxford Professor, he was still chomping away. I just hope he wasn’t a History Don.

The relentless monologue switched, seamlessly, from History to Matrimony. ’44 years married and never a cross word,’ confided the verbose American visitor, smiling at the woman we’d by now assumed to be his wife. Her expression suggested she disputed the accuracy of his claim.

‘Lightweights,’ I thought. Marigold and I got married way back in the 1960s, plus another six months living together in a tent in Cornwall, but we weren’t in the mood to top his story. Call it self defence.

While remaining mute, I was reminded of a similar expression, not quoted quite so often, I read recently, while researching* the history of the Blundell family, prominent on Merseyside since the Middle Ages. Nicholas Blundell, while still officially a child, was married off to Margery, the daughter of another prominent landowner, Henry Scarisbrick. Medieval texts report they lived happily together for sixty years and 'never noder cold find fote noder with oder.’# Sixty years, that’s the next milestone for me and Marigold to aim for. Sounds much easier than 'never noder cold find fote noder with oder’ even though that’s certainly the case on my side. My many faults are perhaps more obvious.

*Researching people long since dead and buried? Don’t ask, it’s just one of my foibles. Keeps the brain ticking over.

# yes, of course I looked up the ancient spelling. Plodding through Chaucer’s prodigious output in the Sixth Form still didn’t help me to become fluent in ‘Olde English.’

Our hotel. Note to self: old buildings, full of character are usually accompanied by steep, narrow staircases.

Chatty American Tourists.

Back in the hotel we broke out our essential supplies. We already knew we wouldn’t fancy a big sit down evening meal in the restaurant. We hardly ever do, no matter how tempting the aromas from the kitchen. We’d been to Waitrose in Cirencester and stocked up with ‘nibbles.’ I won’t say what was involved, except to add reassurance that most major food groups were involved in a richly varied selection incorporating many of the most beneficial vitamins and minerals, but in rarely seen combinations.

Next morning we had breakfast. Long gone are the joys of a buffet, those side tables groaning under the weight of the many diverse elements that make up typical hotel breakfast fare, catering for miriad tastes. For the more hoggish clientele, yes, I include myself, the temptations on offer are a big part of overnight stays. No more buffets though, Covid strikes again, so we had to ask our waitress to do all the hard work.

She asked what we wanted, chosen from the printed menu, and looked askance at our selection.

‘Don’t you want bacon or sausage?’

‘No thanks.’

‘Black pudding, beans, hash thingies?’

‘No thank you.’

‘So, just egg on toast and cereal then?’

‘Yes.’ She pursed her lips in apparent disapproval and toddled off. The couple at the next table, full English breakfasts in front of them, seemed much amused.

‘Same with her makeup,’ the man said, ‘obviously a stranger to the expression less is more.’ He did have a point about the waitresses’ attempts at appearing glamorous: I can’t ever remember seeing eyelashes of that length.

‘My husband’s a retired architect,’ the woman said, ‘hence the less is more reference.’ You can just tell sometimes when a lengthy exposition is on the way and I exchanged a quick glance with Marigold.

‘Yes, of course,’ I said, ‘Mies van der Rohe.’ Our fellow diner nodded and set about his breakfast with renewed vigour. Denied the opportunity to provide chapter and verse on the legendary German architect, we were no longer of any interest. Which suited us very much.

Marigold detests ‘chat’ at breakfast. Not a problem at any other time of the day, but breakfast is sacrosanct. The mere sight of a communal table, packed with people we don’t know, fills her with dread. We talk, very often, to complete strangers, but ideally not first thing in the morning.

Over-attentive hosts in a bed and breakfast asking every two minutes if everything is satisfactory, imagining we want to answer a flurry of questions about where we are going next or offering up their life story, that’s Marigold’s worst nightmare. We just want to eat that first meal of the day in peace.

Eyelashes flapping like a cormorant in flight our waitress brought our meal. I really wanted to say something like ‘a perfectly cromulent repast’ for the the retired architect’s benefit, but wisely resisted the temptation. In fact, it was all very good, despite the mild derision our order had occasioned.

Afterwards, a dilemma. What to do, where to go? Too many choices. Corinium Museum is brilliant, but it’s indoors and the sun was shining. What about an amphitheatre? A Roman Villa? Something less cultured, perhaps? We ended up at the Cotswold Sculpture Park which was inspirational. Especially on such a nice day. Where else can you see 176 sculptures in a woodland setting?

We didn’t count them; they give you a list of the exhibits, including their prices if we were inspired to want to take one home. Number 75, a bronze figure, ‘Releasing’ by Jonathon Hateley, caught my eye at only £21,950, but Marigold preferred number 62, Stanley’s Shoes at a mere £19,200. Ah, decisions… we didn’t buy either. Like parrots, they look much better in the wild.

Prices aside, it was a lovely morning’s excursion. We could have voted for our choice of best sculpture, 2021, but we didn’t. Art is far too subjective for league tables. We went off into Tetbury instead for a coffee stop. Too much artistic appreciation brings about a caffeine deficiency. Even amongst those like me who prefer my coffee caffeine free. Apparently.

Blue Zuccini was our first choice. We have spent many hours here, either outside, watching the world go by or ensconced in the decidedly eclectic interior. Today, it was full and we only just managed to grab a table in the courtyard. One glance at the menu was sufficient to remove the Blue Zucchini from our lunchtime potential options list.

‘How did we ever afford to eat here?’ I hissed. Marigold’s response was equally dubious and significantly more important.

‘This chair’s sticking in my bum,’ she said. It just wasn’t going to work, so we stood up and went elsewhere. High prices is one thing, but the unlikely prospect of enjoying food at any cost while seated at vastly uncomfortable metal bistro chairs in the far corner of a courtyard sealed the decision.

We’ve had several overnight stays in The Snooty Fox, nowadays a hotel, but previously an Elizabethan Manor House, built ‘before 1594’ it proclaims, somewhat imprecisely but we get the point: it’s an old building!

The last time we stayed at the Snooty Fox there was a wedding reception taking place. Just about every male was wearing a kilt and towards the end of the evening every single one of them demonstrated that a true Scot wears nothing under his kilt. As there were no kilted Scotsmen knocking about today Marigold wasn’t interested.

We were hoping to go to Quayles Cornerhouse at the top of Long Street, but the doors were firmly closed. We attended the opening of Quayles back in 2006 when it started life as a distinctly upmarket delicatessen. They’re delightful people with a vast knowledge of food, wine and the good things of life. Quayles has developed into an elegant and relaxing Café, Bar and Bistro, but not an option today.

Marco Pierre White certainly likes Quayles. "The best, the very best food in and around Tetbury. Trust me!" he said. That’s quite a claim in a very ‘foodie’ town, but fully justified in our view.

The Head Office of the Sculpture Park

A Snip at £10,681. Very precise amount.

Do you know, I've never even tried that.

I'm easily led, that's my excuse

The most expensive one we could find.

Our favourite

Finally, the Royal Bit...

The Highgrove Shop is only just over the road and, as with Quayle’s, we were there in 2008 on the day that place opened as well. It was on the day after Marigold’s birthday and we had stayed overnight at The Close Hotel in Long Street. The Snooty Fox won’t be offended by me saying The Close is a few steps up the ladder, but Marigold’s birthday was obviously considered a good enough reason to splash out on accommodation.

Prince Charles lives just out of town and on the morning leading up to his shop opening we saw a woman outside the premises who looked ever so slightly familiar. Marigold insisted it was Camilla and so it proved. From what we saw in passing, and we happened to pass by rather a lot during the day, the Duchess of Cornwall is a real grafter. She certainly earned her ciggie breaks. Protocol and our vast reservoir of good manners precluded any prospect of taking photographs, either of the cigarette break or the actual shop opening on the following morning.

Our failure to bring a camera along may also have been a contributory factor!

Today we walked around the shop, gasped at the ‘inflated for tourists’ prices and left without buying anything. Maybe we’re just out of synch with prices in Tetbury; it’s resoundingly posh and always has been so perhaps the fault lies in a hitherto undiscovered dormant meanness.

Even so, Tetbury has over 1300 years of recorded history behind it and it shows; we visit as often as we can. It’s the second largest town in the Cotswolds and steeped in heritage and tradition. As at least one of us is now considered old and feeble – not a view we share, but the machinations of Covid has awarded me honorary membership in the ‘decrepit’ category – we forswore our traditional sprint up and down the medieval Chipping Steps.

(Ha!)

We didn’t even jog up and down the 1 in 4 slope of Gumstool Hill. We’ve been up the steepest road in the world - that’s Baldwin Street in Dunedin, New Zealand – and that’s a gradient of 1 in 2.87. That’s just ridiculous. Obviously, we drove up Baldwin Street, not jogged up, and Marigold flatly refused to drive back down again. In fairness, the brakes on our camper van squealed like banshees but did very little to arrest forward motion. The noise alone usually persuaded pedestrians to move to a place of safety.

 Gumstool Hill is just a gentle slope in comparison, then? Well, it always managed to make us puff and blow when we braved the ascent. The annual Woolsack Race takes place here every May Bank Holiday. Tetbury and the wool trade have been interlinked since the Middle Ages and this tradition shows no sign of disappearing. We’ve been twice, never as participants. It’s basically a relay race where competitors run down the hill, the easy bit, and collect a woolsack weighing 60 pounds (35 pounds for women, which a couple of sturdy female team members last time we were spectators told us was blatant sexist discrimination) and carry it back up the hill.

The individual race winners that follow the team events, they ‘just’ do an uphill leg, now have the glory of getting into the Guinness Book of World Records. There’s a plaque outside the Crown Inn, unveiled by Prince Charles, denoting the finish line. Local rugby clubs and the Armed Forces usually fight it out at Elite Competitor level, but anyone can have a go.

Today, without the crowds lining the pavements, it looked even steeper than we remembered. I looked up the current records. Pete Roberts set a mark of just under 46 seconds back in 2007. 46 seconds? That’s ridiculous. As for the women, it’s Zoe Dixon who takes the honours, 1 minute, 6 and a bit seconds in 2009. Anyone breaks those records deserves a huge cheer

We went for a stroll around St Mary of the Virgin Church. Its church spire is 186 feet in height, making it the fourth largest church spire in England. This place of worship was founded in the 7th century by King Ethelred of Mercia who ordered a monastery called ‘Tette’s monastery’ to be built there. Although none of the original monastery survives, its replacement, a medieval church on the same site, was added in the 12th century. The dark oak interior hints at its vast age and we were delighted to find the ancient ‘meeter and greeter’ volunteer who had shown us around last time we were here was still doing yeoman service. He told us ‘Diana and the boys used to sit in this pew’ last time we visited and this time his patter was exactly the same.

I was relatively unimpressed by the effigy of William de Braose, once a powerful baron responsible for building many local buildings, but as the man died in the reign of King John its decidedly decrepit appearance is no surprise. Elizabethan nobility and a fair few prominent wool merchants earned a last resting place in the church and our Volunteer Guide knew all there was to know about all of them.

A delightful old man and very fit for his age. At one point he asked me if I wanted to rest for a moment. I assured him I was fine and merely wished to sit down to remove a pebble from my shoe. Oh, the shame of being looked after by a man over a decade older than myself. Marigold said I would have to get used to it.

We looked around many of the antique shops, Tetbury, once a wool town is now very much an antiques town, including Lorfords, the biggest dealer in Europe, but didn’t buy anything. Many years ago, we were in the trade and Marigold had an antique shop. Browsing for high quality relics of a bygone age has not entirely lost its appeal lately, but our tastes have most definitely changed.

We watched a delivery van draw up outside the Highgrove Shop and a man displaying many tattoos began to unload what appeared to be foodstuffs that we certainly didn’t associate with the organic farming regime espoused by Prince Charles. Phew, what a relief, he was only delivering to the Co-op on the other side of the road.

We couldn’t wait any longer for coffee and a sit down, so we fairly sprinted, (this being a relatively generous interpretation) into the welcoming and rather posh interior of the Close Hotel where there were plenty of comfortable armchairs and the immaculately dressed staff aren’t unduly perturbed by people like me who take no more than a minute ‘getting ready’ to go out. Perfect coffee, restful seating, perfection.

One of our fellow lounge residents was telling his companion, who I was convinced had been asleep for at least five minutes, ‘Diana and the boys used to come here.’ He’d perhaps done a recent tour of the church.

We wandered through the hotel, sadly the provision of newspapers for customers is no more; yet another victim of the Covid pandemic. The garden at the rear is splendid. We’ve often taken visitors there on sunny days for drinks in the garden and imagine it would be hard to find anywhere more quintessentially ‘English’ than a sunny afternoon in the garden of The Close.

It was drizzling with rain as we left Tetbury. The owner of one of those shops that sell ‘everything,’ think of Arkwright’s in Open All Hours, was frantically moving vulnerable items of stock out of the rain. Every morning he sets out the exterior of his shop with temptation and takes it all back in again at night, plus the occasional downpours. Sisyphean tasks such as this must get irksome at times. ##

## it didn’t take long to find the perfect opportunity for ‘irksome’ to become the most credible descriptive choice. Hurrah!

Tetbury

The Back Garden of The Close. Idyllic

Outside the Blue Zuccini. Taken on a previous visit, all tables crammed today

Inside Blue Zuccini. Now you see why we like it

Marco Pierre White is a big fan of 'Quayle's' - we are too, but we were there on opening day, didn't see Marco ...

Opening Day. NOT my photo though, but we were there.

We now know where 'Diana and the boys' used to sit.

The Chipping Steps. We didn't bother to walk up and down on this occasion. Ridiculously pretty though

Driving around the town to view the Steps from below is cheating, but didn't want to miss out on this photo.

At the top of Gumstool Hill. That Guinness World Record is safe for now. Must get into training