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England

The Boylestone Milestone

The Boylestone Annual Show has been a constant in my life since moving to England, so I suppose it’s only natural that this year’s, my fifth, felt like a milestone in my Great British adventure and put me in a reflective mood. Boylestone is, after all, where the seed for the Cotswold chapter germinated. It started as a rural escape from that annual summer calamity, the Notting Hill Carnival, that invaded our London neighborhood. In those Derbyshire hills husband and I developed our taste for the kind of deep sleep only possible between cold sheets in a lone farmhouse under silent starry skies, daytime vistas of green speckled with white sheep, and country pubs filled with eccentrics from British central casting. No wonder we felt at home when we first stumbled upon our local wine bar, a Cotswold incarnation of Boylestone’s Rose and Crown, way back when we used to rent a cottage in G.P. for the weekends.

It went unspoken, but when we first bought our Cotswold cottage husband and I both thought we were somehow buying our way into a less complicated, healthier, more certain way of life. Isn’t that what the rural dream is all about? (We should have just asked a farmer who surely would have warned us about the whims of Mother Nature.) Never mind we were both still working in London, merely sampling the country life on weekends. On the surface at least some things changed. Tweed and waterproof clothing took on an increased significance in our wardrobes. Vocabularies expanded to include a language of dogs and foxes and horses and guns and tweed clothing for doing things with dogs and foxes and horses and guns, a language that was once as impenetrable to me as my high school Latin book.

But even when I left my London job and started living here more or less full-time, rural life refused to play by the rural dream rules. The most notable example of this lack of karmic cooperation was when my nervous system decided to attack itself back in March, starting the flirtation with a diagnosis of multiple sclerosis. Even in the diagnosis stage, MS is a mysterious disease offering little in the way of explanation of its origin or prognosis. The process has been like engaging with a Zen koan, a medical imperative to embrace the Buddhist principle of living in the present and make friends with not knowing.

But even with a health scare encouraging me, I haven’t managed to embrace the slower way of life that was part of the rural promise. This became obvious to me a few weeks ago when, sitting in my boss’s boss’s boss’s office in a suburb of Boston I found myself telling him that I was “in a good place in my life” to take on more work. My awkward confessional was in response to a series of roundabout questions he had posed, a white American male’s politically correct way of asking a woman in her middling thirties if she had young children or was planning on announcing a pregnancy anytime soon. My response came without hesitation, which also proved to me I’d reached a milestone in my perception about the prospect of developing MS. I would be in denial to believe I was any less at risk having now cleared five months without symptoms, but I am relieved to find that the threat no longer hovers about my psyche exerting undue influence. My boss’s boss’s boss was thinking of kids not chronic disease, and I was clearly thinking of neither. I answered like I never managed to answer a koan, without a second thought.

Life in the country hasn’t done much to simplify husband’s existence either. He is still commuting between London and bliss, and the availability of bliss has only thrown the inhumanity of London life into sharp relief, an opinion which has recently found expression in his formation of a London is a Toilet Facebook group. Alas long walks in the woods may be palliative, but they are no cure for depression. As Horace wrote in Epistles, I, xi (courtesy of Harry Eyre’s Slow Lane column), “Those who cross seas change only the weather, not their state of mind.” (If only I had paid attention in those high school Latin classes…) Having crossed one sea to get here in the first place, husband is starting to suspect he is part of the problem — in his words, “everywhere I go, there I am.”

In Boylestone this year I found that, like my life, things had changed but somehow stayed the same. The show was joyfully familiar—mammoth leeks, tea and cakes in the village hall, Derek’s effective auctioneering techniques (sitting on one knee in front of the bidder and begging, “C’mon ladee, c’mon” to get another pound for that jar of lemon curd). But at the pub I learned that Dick, the father-in-law of the Rose and Crown landlady and enthusiastic domino playing regular who once taught me a joke about a Yorkshire butcher, died earlier this year. The better part of eight hundred people including the local hunt in full regalia turned up for his funeral, filling not just the village church but its lawn too. Of course life has gone on, as I was reminded when Peter, another Rose and Crown regular, told me about the pub’s runner bean contest we had missed the weekend before. Prizes were awarded for the longest and crookedest beans and cheating was gleefully rampant, ranging from grocery store bought entrants to, my favorite, a French import flown in the night before.

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