Saturday, 3 May 2008

Supper # 12 - Sherbourne, Warwickshire

I prised myself from the flouncy lushness of my bed and rendezvoused in the kitchen for an early morning hike. By God they live in a stunning place. It was like jumping into the property pages of Harpers & Queen and taking a long, dreamy look around. And this, despite the hot, dark head of horrors leering up against the backs of my eyes. I managed an hour of sheep fields, bridle paths and bright/shadowed hills before returning to the ranch and my still warm bed.

What a nightmare – an Australian plonk-stained nightmare that then had to be carted around with me until I reached the next venue and the dubious sanctity of another drink. First I had to swing by an industrial park in Marlow to sell some ice cream. This wasn’t the success it might have been had I not been melting into the freezer myself but I soldiered on...

I bolted for Sherbourne, just off Junction 15 on the M40. I hurtled along roads that cut through thick spread, buttery fields. Whacking great flamboyant clouds posed low in the sky and the green fields seemed electric. My favourite Petra of all lives here with her husband Paddy and their four dogs. We revel in all the Brummie builders’ confusion when Petra introduces me and then head for a bracing dip in her brother’s pool.

THE SET UP: As far as I can gather her whole family owns and occupies the entire village. There’s her big brother in the massive Queen Anne mansion with his Jilly Cooper-perfect tiny blonde girlfriend, Petra and Paddy in the rollicking, womb-like farmhouse, her sister and Rasta husband down the road in a cottage, her other sister up the road with the local tycoon…I need a map with pictures…

The sisters come round for drinks before dinner, minus Rasta but plus tycoon. The tycoon and I hit it off immediately and I’m soon showing him round the inner portals of a neon-tinted Jimmy. As it turns out he’s involved with chocolate. In a big way. In fact the way in which we’re both involved with chocolate causes some light bulb popping for both of us.

WHO CAME: Paddy, Petra, Paddy's mum Valerie and me.

WHAT WE ATE: Supper is simple - some beautifully retro starters of smoked salmon, avocado and brown buttered bread, all arranged in curlicues. Very Marie Rose. Then Toad-in-the-Hole which had been hanging out in the Aga waiting for everyone else to leave and gotten a little crispy. No bother - lashings of onion gravy juiced it up and my rum & Coke prevented any dryness in the mouth.

(Rum & Coke: what is it about a nice, iced Cuba Libre with a squeeze of lime? The clinking of dense cubes spark a glint in the eye and a flash in the mind. When Petra lead me off to the drinks lobby and started pouring Mount Gay into sturdy tumblers I knew we'd have a fun night. Then she showed me her collection of sloe gin, vodka and rum...)

THE PUD: Pudding was truffles; Willie's Wonky ones. Sadly these power balls did nothing for Paddy and his mum and I watched as more than a couple were tossed into the slobbering chops of a lurking hound. This isn't a cool way to treat the truffs but I let it slide on account of the gripping nature of the dinner table banter.

DINNER TABLE TOPICS: Fox hunting. These two are into it and I have to keep asking what they mean. There is a whole lingo that means nothing to me - all about who you follow over the fence and knowing your neighbour and trust and country codes. I grew up in the heart of the country and yet I felt like some twatty urbanite. I used to send them in the wrong direction when the hunt would come thundering through our garden ("Red bushy tail? Oh yeah - saw it bobbing off towards John Gleed's field".) and have never got involved. But it's so riveting hearing about it and so important to consider it properly - and how fundamental it is to the culture of the country .

We stayed up gassing til 3am after Paddy spent a long time trying to persuade me to ride his enormous horse and marvelling at the thought of their friend in Paris who has a pig living in her appartment with her.

MY BED FOR THE NIGHT: Every inch of my bedroom is covered in an autumnal, swirling paisley fabric to give a kind of padded feel. The walls, ceiling, shelves and cupboards are covered in the stuff and then finished with pearly roping. I've never seen anything like it.

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