Above: a flag in the ground playing tricks with the light at the Cotswold Sculpture Park ... more of the exhibition in the picture-story below.
We decided to up our game for the latter bit of 2023 and start getting out a bit ... you know the kind of thing: theatre, eating out and walking: it was "Summer" after all.
Off to London for the theatre
First off, an outing to drool over Mark Rylance in Dr Semmelweis was the main attraction. Serious stuff with a prince of theatre and film. But being in London for leisure also meant we had to walk different routes and eat imaginatively to get the best out of the day.
However, before we could do that, we had to get there despite Chiltern Railways (CR) and the National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers (RMT). Normally we would get the bus to Oxford and jump on the train and be in London before we knew it. We booked and paid for the journey when CR already knew that there would be no trains between Oxford and Oxford Parkway. Only they didn't tell us and we found out by accident. So it would either be two buses (with the attendant risks) or take the car. We gave ourselves a lot of time. Back in the day when I worked in London I'd have left home half an hour later.
Getting to Oxford Parkway was a breeze but working out the arcane rules for parking one's car for the day without incurring large penalty charges was less so.
Above (l-r): Every parking area in the UK seems to have a subtly different system to pay for parking; this wasn't helped by the cryptic message we were confronted with when we came to redeem our tickets
Fortunately we happened to find the most obliging staff member on duty that morning and all was resolved. The others during that day were not quite as obliging, so huge thanks to our lovely friend at Oxford Parkway.
As it turns out, we got to Marylebone Station with oodles of time to spare and we elected to walk the 2.2 miles taking a largely unfamiliar route via Marylebone (which is not really that close to the eponymous station).
Above: We ambled down Upper Regent St and one of us was able to photobomb BBC HQ.
Below: Still way ahead of schedule we were able investigate the comprehensive Japan Centre where one can find all sorts of Japanese delicacies
Above: there was a cafe there and also a Japanese Restaurant with those characteristic half length curtains that I don't really understand ...
Below (left): Instead we opted for a Korean restaurant with groovy Grape juice with whole grapes floating within. It was called Haitai BongBong.
Above (middle and right): As neither of us had had much Korean food we both opted for a delicious tasting tray that was sort of like an oriental version of pintxos. The people at the next table, who were Korean (as were 90% of the diners), cooked their own on the built-in hotplate.
Having travelled from Faringdon to Oxford Parkway, got there early, got the train to Marylebone, walked to Haymarket via the scenic route, sniffed around a Japanese supermarket for a while and eaten a sumptuous Korean Meal, we still had time to kill before our matinée at the Harold Pinter Theatre across the road. So we spent a little time walking off our lunch and happened upon the sumptuous Dover Street Market. There was a friendly, welcoming security chap on the door who encouraged us to go in and have a look, which we did. Shan loved the clothes in there but referred to them as works of art rather than wearable outfits, which was lucky because there weren't many garments in there for less than £1,000, and many were orders of magnitude above that, but we did enjoy the quirky props.
Above: Quirky shop-dressing made one feel as if this was a museum rather than a series of shops (a.k.a. designer stalls).
We spent a fair amount of time in the "market" and then scurried off to our matinée. The security guard recognised us on the way out and was equally pleasant in his exhortations to us to visit again soon.
I shan't go into Dr Semmelweis in detail. It deserves a full on critique beyond my experience, of which there are many. But it was MARK RYLANCE. We has £35 tickets in the stalls. Knowing what I know now, I would go for the £190 tickets for anything to get this man's full impact. Seen him in movies and he is riveting. Would love to see him close up on stage.
Above: this pic makes the the theatre appear smaller than it is - we had a good view and the pillars were't much of a problem but there was a short part of the play in which there was a play-within-a-play and Mr Rylance was sitting in the box at the front on the right and obscured by the circle above the stalls.
So, this guy is undoubtedly right at the forefront of his craft and, if anything, getting better. But he is subtle, so just bite the bullet and get the best seats.
And then we walked back to Marylebone via another scenic route.
Above: A "Fiat" wine cooler amid some favourite haunts en route from Haymarket to Marylebone via another scenic meander.
Shan HOBnobbing in connected counties
Hampshire, Oxfordshire, Berkshire and the electric VW beckoned, including a big trip out to reconnect with Jann Tilbury, whom she hadn't seen for 40 years. They had been school buddies and now Jann was living darn sarf near So'ton. So off she went for a wonderfully smiley (by all accounts and photographic evidence as Jann's husband and I stood back for the reunion) solo foray into Hampshire.
Above (l-r): There's nothing like a Parson Jack Russell Terrier - in the absence of Georgie, Shan had to use Arfur as a surrogate for a quick excursion to Woolstone, Oxon; all pictorial evidence suggests that the Janshan reunion was a happy one ... hopefully to be repeated before another 40 elapsed years; on her return from Winchester, Shan had to come back down to earth with a stop off to see Georgie ... in truth this grubby pic was taken earlier in the month but who's to tamper with a babe and her granddog.
A bit of a hike with lunch
Walking has become an essential plank in keeping healthy as the years advance ... we sallied forth with Sian and Roger for a 7-mile yomp, the only rules being that propulsion was restricted to ambling purposefully through rural Oxfordshire with public transport delivering us forth and back. Coffee, lunch and a couple of pubs were options that were enthusiastically embraced.
Above (clockwise from top left): Charney Bassett cottage gardens were a riot of colour; jumbled signs and a defibrillator; purple suede shoes on Charney's own Basil Fawlty; old walls and new topiary; a Hitchcock moment in the middle of nowhere; a stately house in the middle of nowhere.
A meander and a yomp with the DJs
Both of these required lunch although the meander was pretty gentle and less of an excuse for victuals.
Below, meander: (top row) as one does in the Oxfordshire countryside, a landscape and a church from and in Childrey; (second row); a capped wall and a turret; Cantorist Farm for lunch.
Above, yomp: (3rd row) early on in the 10-mile yomp (actually DJ went further) - the path points to Stanford in the Vale - bit of vapour from the Didcot power station making a funny low-lying cloud in the background; (bottom) between Stanford and Buckland straw towers and wonky clouds.
Cotswold Sculpture Park with Tim and Joanna
We do this every couple of years. A few hours roaming around the exhibits near Somerford Keynes, followed by fish and chips for lunch at the Bakers Arms.
Above: all of these items are outdoors in a substantial woodland park and range in price from a couple of hundred pounds to £31,000. Well worth a visit.
Toodle Pip ...
... we're off to an al fresco house warming lunch in the rain ... and great fun it was, too.
Above: Tim, Me and Neil in one of our host's fabled selfies - although why he has a spoon in his mouth is anyone's guess ... perhaps so he can hold his phone while taking the pic.
And then the rain stopped and it was warm again.