Dear summer

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When you came, you seemed so full of promise. I welcomed you with open arms and a joyful spirit. I really didn’t see it coming.

You’ve been a difficult one. You’ve left me reeling. But I’m picking myself up. I can’t wait for autumn. I’m sorry, but I think she’s replaced you in my affections. She’s offering me new beginnings and creature comforts, crunching leaves and soft woollen blankets and intoxicating aromas. There’s something regenerative in her embrace, something full of hope, that life will return after winter’s barrenness.

I can just see you still, your gossamer dress billowing behind you as you disappear round the corner. The sight is bittersweet; I’m sad for all that’s gone, for losing you, but I’m already turning away, turning to greet the new season. I won’t forget you. I couldn’t if I tried. I promise you’ll be in my thoughts until next year. But I’m letting you go now. Who knows what will happen before you come round again.

Midsummer merriment

it may have been 3 weeks ago now, but Midsummer weekend this year was unexpectedly good fun. We had meant to make the pilgrimage to Stonehenge with some friends, but everyone forgot about it until a couple of days beforehand, by which point we’d made other plans and it just wasn’t viable any more. I had really been looking forward to it and was sad we weren’t able to go, but at the last minute we discovered a couple of events were on: the Wolvercote & Wytham Midsummer Festival (in Wolvercote itself) on the Saturday, and the Hayfield Road Midsummer Street Party (in Jericho) on the Sunday, both of which turned out to be lovely and made the weekend feel special.

IMG_6024The previous day (Friday 20th, Midsummer’s Eve) had been pretty exhausting, so we had a very leisurely Saturday morning. We decided to walk up along the canal to Wolvercote – previously we’ve always walked up through Port Meadow, but Ed had been on a couple of recce runs along the canal, so we thought we’d try something new.

IMG_6026IMG_6033IMG_6035The canal is lined with brightly decorated canal boats, many of which have lots of plants and ornaments on the roof.

IMG_6038IMG_6036After an hour or so we reached Wolvercote! The fair was held on the village green, and as we arrived some people started making giant bubbles, which of course drove all the kids present crazy. It was hilarious to watch them crashing around chasing after bubbles.

IMG_6109 copyIMG_6042 - CopyIMG_6045 copyIn ultimate nostalgia mode, we got ourselves a couple of 99s and sat down on the grass just as the maypole was being set up. I’ve never seen a maypole in action before, so, coupled with the ice cream and the sun, you can imagine my levels of excitement. There were also games, races, and a dog show.

IMG_6054IMG_6062IMG_6056IMG_6065And of course plenty more bubbles!

IMG_6081 copyIMG_6091 copyIMG_6096 copyIMG_6108IMG_6097We headed home the familiar route, down through Port Meadow, and arrived home feeling the effects of the sun – drowsy, and a little bit pink.

IMG_6114IMG_6121That evening we had a lovely rest at home, curled up on the sofa watching films, and after another lazy morning on Sunday, we wandered up into Jericho in the afternoon to seek out the Hayfield Road summer street party.

IMG_6133IMG_6134 - CopyIMG_6135When we turned up, the Harcourt Collective were on stage, playing one of my favourite songs – they were so good, I need to keep an eye out for them! (You can find some recordings of theirs here.) There was bric-a-brac, face painting, a bake-off, and food and drink. It was a lovely, relaxed event, with lots of families and people hanging around chatting. It was so nice to see a community come together.

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We sat there for an hour or so, enjoying being outdoors with warm weather and good music. It was the perfect way to end the weekend. This summer so far has proved to be idyllic, and I’m almost sad to be leaving next week for 3 weeks in Greece! I feel like I’ve really, finally experienced the quintessential English summer that you read about in Enid Blyton novels. I hope it stays like this for August and September – I have many plans (most of which involve blackberry-picking)…

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Punting to Islip, part 2

(You can find the first half of this trip here.)

In the last 24 hours the weather has turned, and from the balmy summer days we have been enjoying, it’s now grey, overcast, and very, very wet out there. Which makes me savour the memory of this trip even more. Four friends, one punt, sunshine, lots of Pimm’s and beer and the perfect mini sausage rolls!

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(I’ve been working on perfecting these, and was so glad they came out well. Super quick & easy to make. Chop a couple of red onions, throw them in a frying pan with some butter, a tablespoon of brown sugar, some balsamic vinegar, & some chopped rosemary, and leave to sweat over a moderate heat. Roll out some puff pastry, and divide lengthways into 3 or 4 strips. Spread onions down the middle, then top with a row of cocktail sausages, and cut the pastry after each sausage. Brush one side of the pastry with beaten egg, fold the other side over and press onto the eggy side. Brush the top with egg, stick in the oven for 20-25 mins at 180°C or until golden, and Bob’s your uncle!)

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After a few hours battling the current and, in places, the debris, we finally reached Islip. It’s a beautiful, peaceful little village, full of gorgeous houses that I dream of one day owning. We didn’t want to hang around too long, so we stopped for a quick pub lunch, during which I had to fight off the wave of mid-afternoon drowsiness that hit me out of the blue. (This explains why I managed to not take any photos of the pub itself.)

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I used to think I would hate to live in the countryside, but the more time I spend in its “half-forgotten nooks”, the more I am seduced by it. I know it’s not particularly realistic in terms of jobs, but there’s no harm in dreaming.

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And then it was time to head back downstream.

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By the time we were almost back at the Boathouse, the light was dimming and the evening coming on. We quietly trudged home through North Oxford, tired but content. A couple of friends are coming to stay with us in August, and if the weather’s good, the plan is to repeat the trip then. Fingers crossed!

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Punting to Islip, part 1

“There is nothing — absolutely nothing — half so much worth doing as simply messing about in boats. In or out of ‘em, it doesn’t matter. Nothing seems really to matter, that’s the charm of it. Whether you get away, or whether you don’t; whether you arrive at your destination or whether you reach somewhere else, or whether you never get anywhere at all, you’re always busy, and you never do anything in particular; and when you’ve done it there’s always something else to do.” (Kenneth Grahame, ‘The Wind in the Willows’)

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There’s something about punting that is so quintessentially Oxford-in-the-summer. It’s the epitome of the idyllic British countryside immortalised by Kenneth Grahame in ‘The Wind in the Willows’. Punting up the River Cherwell into the wilds of Oxfordshire, away from the hustle and bustle of the city, has always felt so luxurious. To take time away from the everyday is so necessary, particularly as a graduate, when your to-do list can seem never-ending. No internet, no emails to deal with or screens to squint at, just friends, food, and glorious weather (at least some of the time!). 

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For the last few years, we have made an annual pilgrimage. An all-day trip up to the village of Islip, a few miles north of Oxford. We pack food and drink, and leave in the morning, to return by the early evening. It’s by no means an easy journey: there are several places where the river is almost completely blocked (especially if the weather has been bad), which involves some interesting feats of engineering, and there have been times when it looked like we would have to turn back. But somehow we’ve always managed to get there and back again.

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We’ve done the trip with various combinations of people (a punt can hold up to 6), but this year, when we went a week or so ago, there were only four of us. And it was the most fun it’s been.

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ImageThe riverside fascinates me, perhaps because it’s not something there is much of in Greece – growing up, I had very little experience of idling the time away on rivers. I’ve always loved boats, and relished the opportunity to take boat trips to go to islands such as Poros, Hydra, Aegina, and Spetses, which are very close to the mainland. Punting is different, though – it’s tranquil, slow and steady, calming and restoring.

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ImageThere’s something incredibly nostalgic about it all. Forgive me if I have come across as sentimental or romanticizing; it’s very hard to capture in words how wonderful the day was, and how it provided a much-needed break from everything, a chance to reenergise and regroup. Coming up in part 2: Islip itself, and the journey home.