The Old Bookworm was in the grip of yet another of his wearying fits of nostalgia. I can always tell. The condition is usually accompanied by a misty – even teary – eyed stare into the middle distance, which he clearly considers to bestow upon him a certain romance, but in fact has the effect of imbuing his dear, silly face with a look more moronic than Byronic. He had, he confessed, this time capitulated entirely to his episodic melancholy reminiscences, as he clutched his teddy bear tighter, channelling the spirit of Sebastian Flyte but alighting more successfully at Boy Mulcaster.
‘My dear, I MUST go back to the old place without delay,’ he opined.
Reader, delay I did not, for I knew what it would mean for me should he be deprived of the dreaming spires a minute longer than necessary; interminable monologues on student rags, drunken revels and torments inflicted weekly upon unworldly, unsuspecting and under-the-thumb dons would undoubtedly – and insufferably – fill my ears until this longing was sated.
A whistle-stop tour of some former iniquitous haunts, a wistful sniff around his old college, and several renditions of already too familiar stories later and the Old Bookworm was – at last – revitalised and restored enough for me to venture the next part of the plan: that rather than tarry about the dreaming spires, we were to spend the night amidst the honeyed stone and chichi antique shops of Woodstock.
And so, with a noble sniff, a grand show of stiff upper lip and just one glance back upon this repository of golden (read: hazy) memories, the Old Bookworm and I were – merci mon dieu – bound for the very civilised and sumptuous Feathers Hotel in the heart of the Cotswolds town, a delightful cross between an upmarket boutique and a country house hotel, accordingly equipped with wonderfully comfortable beds, lavish bathrooms, and charming staff.
Reader, I am bound to tell you that no sooner had we stepped into reception, basked in the delicious warmth from the open fire and been whisked upstairs to our elegant high street-facing boudoir than the fantasy of mature fortitude was roundly shattered. For The Old Bookworm, having spied the jar of jelly beans that each of The Feathers’ rooms is thoughtfully stocked with, was quite simply unable to contain his enthusiasm, barely resisting the urge to gulp them all down his gullet before guarding them jealously and counting them out in little colour-coded piles. No cautionary reminders of the dinner we were about to have held any sway as he wolfed them down like a demented sugar-crazed child at a birthday tea party.
Still, I need not have worried for, come the evening, The Old Bookworm was in full glutton mode, keenly devouring first a sublimely delicate starter of organic salmon, Cox’s apple, cucumber and Hendricks gin, before practically inhaling a main course of Longhorn beef with horseradish and shallots, which, between gulps of pleasure, he pronounced a triumph. I meanwhile tucked into some divinely plump scallops with maple syrup, chestnut and quince, before a perfectly cooked line-caught sea bass with exactly the right amount of kick from the accompanying ginger and star anise. The Old Bookworm started making noises about the Valrhona chocolate tasting, but feeling that he’d had quite enough sugar for one day (and fearing the crash tomorrow) I steered him towards sharing a plate of excellent British cheeses.
The next day, walking in the grounds of Blenheim Palace – extraordinary backdrop to this picture perfect town – The Bookworm expressed a tentative contrition about his nostalgic demands of the previous day and vowed, in the shadow of the birthplace of Winston Churchill, to be more stoic in future. A daft old cove he may be at times, but he is a dear; after all, I do not fool myself that it will take anything more than a (repetitive) reading aloud of an old essay, the sight of a coquettishly tilted traffic cone or a viewing of Withnail for the wistfulness to claim him once more. Still, we’ll always have The Feathers…