Summer Travels

My Cambodian daughter and her husband have just got married again. Wedding One was a Buddhist affair in our drawing room, complete with monks, temple dancer, gold umbrellas, brass gongs, three changes of costume and a lot of delicious Cambodian food. That was family only, so this time she had the works: the full meringue, 200 guests, village church (she sees no conflict between Buddhism and Christianity) marquee, fireworks.

Time was when wedding guests were the parents’ chums and the bride and groom went off as soon as the cake was cut and the bouquet thrown, old shoes and tin cans clattering behind the car. Now the parents’ friends don’t get a look in. Not on Day Two either when the happy couple’s friends return for the hangover party. So on Day Three we had Local Oldies day. Unable to face any more posh catering, we hired a mobile hog roast, a gourmet burger van, an ice cream truck and a coffee van. HUGE success. I have a lot of foodie friends but Mr Whippy, complete with e-number sprinkles of lurid hue, had the longest queues.

This spring we drove slowly from Charleston to Philadelphia. My, oh my, those Southerners sure know how to turn a puddle into a Visitor Attraction. Every second house was a museum, usually, and, in view of where we were, unsurprisingly, of the Slave Trade; the British Colonials, the Civil War; the War of Independence.

In Savannah everyone was wearing green. We’d hit the biggest St Patrick Day Parade outside New York. So what had Savannah to do with the Irish?  Nothing, it turned out. But they like beer. And getting dressed up.  Most wore tee-shirts saying “Irish for the Day, Georgian for Life”.

We whizzed through the crowds on Segways. Why are we the only country in Europe to ban Segways on public roads? They are green as the shamrock, and much safer, slower, easier to use, smaller and a lot more fun than bikes.  

I’ve spent the summer on mini-jaunts closer to home. I went to a pig-and-beer dinner in Chipping Campden. The local craft beers, five of them, all very different and chosen to go with the various pork courses, were served in wine glasses. A revelation to this life-time wine drinker. And no thick head in the morning.

Spent a weekend, or what was left of it after a five-hour traffic jam on the AI, at Malton in Yorkshire, where the Naylor-Leylands behave as land-owning toffs should behave. They use their money and influence to boost the town, restoring and running the hotel, opening a cookery school, providing subsidized incubator space for start-up food businesses, backing weekly food markets and the annual festival, resisting the temptation to take high rents from multiples and big supermarkets.  They’d rather have an empty shop than a tenant who won’t buy into their plan to make Malton the Food Capital of Yorkshire, if not the country. Tom Naylor-Leyland, scion and heir, is the driving force. You’d never believe it to look at him. He’s slight, polite, un-pushy and nice. But he pops up everywhere: my last glimpse of him was after midnight, pulling pints for the punters.  

Thence to Ireland. I have never heard anyone, ever, say a bad thing about Ballymaloe, the place, the hotel, the cookery school, anything. It’s 25 years since I was last there and the atmosphere and the quality are undimmed. The glasshouse and the veg garden are gob-smacking, the school is professional and fun, the hotel homely yet smart, and the Allen family, now swelled by children and grandchildren to dozens, is still in charge. We stayed at nearby Ballycotton where our host still picks clams from the beach, where the fisherman still bring in lobsters and crabs and where the pub still throbs to Irish jigging, and sometimes, I’m afraid to say, to IRA songs.

Every small town in Ireland seems to boast an Earl, presumably the remnants of the English ascendency, whose Earldoms were dished out by the British along with the land. Lots of grand houses got torched in the troubles, and I can’t help thinking they might be the lucky ones, relieved of trying to keep the ancestral pile watertight and upright. But you have to admire heirs who refrain from flogging the Lely’s and Gainsborough, while sitting under umbrellas on account of the leaks.

We searched Garden Up came a jewel, complete with river garden, wild flower meadow, lily pond and walled garden. The clincher was “the only garden mentioned in Arthur Young’sTour of Ireland published in 1766. A “wild romantic garden” he called it.   Who could resist?

So we drove for miles. The gates were open, but with a notice: “Closed due to winter damage.”  The weatherworn notice, abandoned lodge and stuck-fast  gates suggested Anne’s Grove had been closed for years.

We decided to boldly go and bang on the big house door to beg admittance. We did bang, but the house, like the garden, appeared uninhabited. So maybe we could just explore a little? We did, and Arthur Young was right. 

We walked like enchanted children in a secret garden. Until we met the mistress of the house.  She was not pleased. Indeed she was very cross indeed.

“Didn’t you see the notice?”

“Yes, I know. I’m really sorry, but we’d driven miles and the website said you are open…

“But we are not open.”

“We did try to check, we left messages last night on your ansaphone and we knocked on your door but there was no one in…”

“Of course there’s no one in. We are all out in the garden trying to repair the damage.”

Four large O.A.P’s getting a deserved dressing down from a small irate landowner in a bosky glade. It would have made a great painting.