13 June 2012

UKDay8: Zadok the Scone

[For a little music while you read, scroll to the bottom of this post and play the video.]

As we awoke to rainy looking skies on day 8, it seemed appropriate to leave behind our sheep-filled rural idyll for the teeming metropolis of Oxford. By chance, our chosen driving route passed right by Blenheim Palace. I had been there once before on a lovely summer day in 1992, but John had never been. While I knew the grounds were beautiful, I also knew that the gardens were a bit on the formal side to be terribly ingteresting to John. But then I remembered the long library in the palace. Not only is it a magnificent library full of books and comfy furniture, but it also has a pipe organ. Like a dream for me. So, we turned in and had a look.
Books and a pipe organ. Sigh.

Despite its enormous size, this is actually a very cozy library.
I hadn't realized that John had had a childhood fascination for Winston Churchill so the visit turned out to be quite interesting for him. And the library, although it contains lots of very fancy looking volumes had a few modern books here and there that gave one the impression that people actually use this library--that it isn't just an historic artifact to look at. A comforting feeling for bibliophiles.

We arrived in Oxford just after 1:00 pm. After a fairly annoying parking situation which put my OCD into overdrive (would the car have a clamp on it the next morning when we needed to get to the airport?!), we walked around dodging tourists and townies for about an hour before I went back to the hotel to meet up with the inimitable Simon. Thankfully one of the concierges on duty was able to put my mind at ease about the car before I went into The Drawing Room at the Randolph Hotel for tea.

Before I say anything about meeting up with Simon, let me just say a word about the tea itself. The Drawing Room was a pleasant space with comfy chairs that weren't too close together so we never felt jostled by people at other tables. This might have been the best thing about the tea because (in my humble opinion) the scones sure weren't up to snuff. Although I had a piece of Victoria Sponge earlier that day at Blenheim, which might have put a damper on my hunger, I had also consumed seven scones at four different places in the preceding seven days, so I had good scone data for comparison for making a comparison, and the Randolph did not fare very well. If you want a comfy, elegant setting for tea while you are in Oxford, go to the Randolph. It you want a good scone, go somewhere else.

He will correct me if I am wrong, but I believe this is the way Simon assembles his scones. No, wait, I take that back
I think he does one side jam first and one side clotted cream first. I, on the other had tend to do
clotted cream first and then jam. Although I didn't do much of either at the Randolph.
But in the end I didn't mind the dry scone because that was secondary to the engaging conversation with Simon. We had met once before in 2010 at a much better tea at the British Museum in London, but on that occasion the scones were good, but being in a large group I didn't have much opportunity to talk much with Simon.

Originally, this meet up in Oxford was to include voracious reader, librarian, swimmer, and soon-to-be Olympic torch bearer Verity. Unfortunately, she had a relative who was not well and made the right choice to spend time with her family. She was there in absentia in the form of a lovely gift that she and Simon gave to me. This wonderful book about the Bodleian Library. I am not sure how they knew I would love it.

And what to say about Simon? I could say a lot, but chatting with people in real life, unless expressly on the record, is an off the record kind of thing. As Simon has noted in his account of the afternoon, we didn't talk all that much about books. Which is true. Although if we were typical of the population at large, it probably would have been enough book talk for a year. In some ways not talking about books was much more fun because we discussed things that wouldn't necessarily come up on either of our blogs, and also because it proves that our shared love of books is not the only thing there is to talk about. I might have put my foot in it once or twice. It is always hard for me to tell in the UK. If I did, Simon must have forgiven me by now. For those who haven't met him, Simon is as funny and charming (and quirky) as his blog.

We certainly could have talked longer than the mere 2.5 hours we were together. But I had to take off to meet John so we could go to Evensong at New College Chapel. Since I hate feeling like a tourist, and I love going to a good choral Evensong, I thought it would be a good opportunity to experience one of Oxford's colleges without just being a gawker. I also knew that they were doing Zadok the Priest that day, no doubt in honor of the impending Jubilee. Zadok was written by Handel and has been performed at every British coronation since it was written.  For those of you who know it, I don't have to say much, but for those who don't have a gander at the YouTube clip. It is a very different setting than New College (the wedding of a Danish prince in 2004) but it is a pretty darn good performance of the piece. Plus, it is with full orchestra which makes the opening so much more dramatic--starting out quite softly and building to a lovely great crescendo as the choir makes its entrance. The organ-only version that they did at New College lacked subtly in the organ intro, but the opening line of the choir left with a smile on my face and watery eyes.

And so ends our UK trip.  We had a rainy drive to Heathrow on day 9 and were very happy to get home to our darling pup Lucy.

Rather than quench our thirst for British travel, it has only re-whetted our appetite. No doubt there will be many future trips.


  1. So lovely - only agree with you about the Randolph and their tea. Frankly found Oxford crap for food. Expensive and not that good - must have gone to the wrong places. Still more to enjoy than eating in Oxford and sounds like you had such a lovely time. Only too happy you're thinking of visiting again!

  2. Hope you come back soon. Simon really is a delight to meet (as were you) and you still have Scotland to see - it has some great Gardens too...

  3. Also, so sorry to hear about that disappointing final scone - as you know, a subject dear to my heart!

  4. I have enjoyed your account of your visit to Britain, and all the wonderful photographs. I'm sure you've seen more of England than I have, and I live here!

  5. Pity about the Randolph's scones - I have better memories of the hotel's food, but Simon is a lovely soul and it's always fun to get together with him.

  6. PS Thankyou for the video. Although I know Zadok the Priest very well, I hadn't seen any film of that wedding before!

  7. Well, now I'm blushing - from your lovely comments, and from Hayley & Karen's! It was such a true delight to meet you again, properly this time, and I think we could have talked 'til the cows came home.

    But of course you did not put your foot in it! I was momentarily terrified when you said you had questions you wanted to ask me, but they all turned out to be innocuous. ;)

  8. Thanks so much for sharing your beautiful photos and trip details, Thomas! You do realize that all this talk of scones means the mixing bowls will have to come out.

    Simon is pretty terrific, isn't he? Despite being infinitely smarter than I am not only did he tolerate my company once...but twice!


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