Garden Party

Our visit to the Cotswolds last weekend happily coincided with Miles’ annual-ish summer garden party. It was a perfect Sunday afternoon for that kind of thing: blue skies and sun bright enough to warm but not wilt the men in attendance, most of whom would deem it unseemly to remove their linen blazers no matter how high the mercury soared.

Summer scene in Cotswoldia

Miles always makes it clear in his invitation that the party’s occurrence depends on the whims of English summer weather, issuing a go or no-go in an email sent out the day before. His excuse is that is his cottage is too small to host the party in the event of rain, but I’m not so sure. As anyone who’s ever hosted a party in their first shoe-box-sized grown-up apartment knows, it doesn’t take a lot of space. I think it’s more that a garden in English summer requires only a bit of bunting to look festive while hosting indoors would require Miles to actually clean his house.

To be clear, I’m incredibly fond of the disheveled interior of Miles’ home. The route to the bathroom—the only reason you’re allowed to enter during the course of the festivities—includes a walk past a small kitchen where the tap is broken and, as a result, constantly running. It’s been this way since at least 2011 when I was last at his house for one of these soirées. In drought-riddled California he would be locked up for this offense, but I suppose it’s less of an issue in this perpetually sodden part of the world.

Next you go up dust bunny-strewn stairs with pairs of his shoes laid out neatly every few steps, each pair pointing in the downstairs direction as if to make it easier to dress on-the-run as he exits the house. A presumably dysfunctional shotgun rests in the corner at the top of the stairs, it’s barrel half hidden behind a white curtain billowing in the breeze. In the current climate of mass shootings in America its presence would be threatening; in England it’s merely decorative, as is the salon-style hanging of photographs and prints and paintings in the interior of the loo. If I wasn’t sure he would like it so much, I would be tempted to call Miles a bohemian.

Who needs a glass?

At first it seemed that Miles’ laissez faire attitude towards housekeeping extended to the selection of hors d’oeuvres, which were strictly limited to squares of plain buttered brown bread with smoked salmon or egg salad. (At one point I did spy something mayonnaisey-looking—prawn?—resting in a fluted edible cup. It seemed out-of-keeping and I demurred on that basis.) On reflection, though, I can see that the choice of food and the timing of its appearance served a very specific purpose, which was solely to absorb the copious amounts of rosé and white wine in constant circulation. One type each of rosé and white were the only options and why not? The whole affair was a lesson in the elegance of minimalism for any hostess who’s ever struggled with being the most-est.

Of course the success of any party depends not just on free-flowing chilled wine and fine weather, but on the congregants. It was as if the characters of Americashire had reassembled unwittingly on my behalf. Amongst the usual suspects of Cotswoldia was a farmer who wore a pith hat without irony. He also wore a rose in the buttonhole of his canvas blazer, and when I complimented him on it, he expounded at length about his daily selection process from his garden and his exasperation with his gender for failing to realize that a flower is exactly what a buttonhole is for. Other topics of conversation included an obligatory WWII story—this one about attempting to blow up Hitler’s bunker, a long ago road trip to a game fair in the Loire, and whether or not the pattern of lips on my dress was indicative of the fact that I would like the gentleman inquiring to place a kiss in every spot where the lips appeared. Charming and creepy is a blurry line, but he meant no harm. There was also a puppy, whose antics provided a useful escape route from at least one conversation.

Escape route to the side garden

Calling on the old adage that it’s best to leave while you’re still having fun, Rupert, Ralph, and I eventually managed to persuade husband it was time to go. As Rupert, our designated driver, chauffeured us back home in his convertible through the nearly harvest-ready countryside, there may have been several wine-soaked exclamations of delight: “Now THIS is summer in England!”

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