My Cambodian daughter and her husband have just got married again. Wedding One was a Buddhist affair in our drawing room, complete with monks, temple dancer, gold umbrellas, brass gongs, three changes of costume and a lot of delicious Cambodian food. That was family only, so this time she had the works: the full meringue, 200 guests, village church (she sees no conflict between Buddhism and Christianity), marquee, fireworks. Time was when wedding guests were the parents’ chums and the bride and groom went off as soon as the cake was cut and the bouquet thrown. Now the parents’ friends don’t get a look in. Not on day two either, when the couple’s friends return for the hangover party. So on day three we had local oldies’ day. We hired a hog roast, a gourmet burger van, an ice-cream truck and a coffee van. Huge success. I have a lot of foodie friends but Mr Whippy, complete with e-number sprinkles, had the longest queues.
This spring we drove slowly from Charleston to Philadelphia. My, those Southerners know how to turn a puddle into a visitor attraction. Every second house was a museum. In Savannah, we whizzed through the crowds on Segways. Why are we the only country in Europe to ban Segways on public roads? They are eco-friendly, and safer, slower and more fun than bikes.
I’ve spent the summer on mini-jaunts closer to home. I went to a pig-and-beer dinner in Chipping Campden. The five local craft beers, all very different and chosen to go with the various pork courses, were served in wine glasses. A revelation to this lifetime wine drinker. And no thick head in the morning.
I spent a weekend, or what was left of it after a five-hour jam on the A1, at Malton in Yorkshire, where the Naylor-Leylands behave as land-owning toffs should behave. They use their money and influence to boost the town, restoring and running the hotel, opening a cookery school, providing incubator space for start-up food businesses, backing weekly food markets and an annual festival, resisting the temptation to take high rents from supermarkets. They’d rather have an empty shop than a tenant who won’t buy into their plan to make Malton the food capital of Yorkshire, if not the country.
After Malton, Ireland. I have never heard anyone say a bad thing about Ballymaloe: the place, the hotel, the cookery school, anything. It’s 25 years since I was last there and the atmosphere and the quality are undimmed. The glasshouse and the veg garden are gob-smacking, the school is professional and fun, the hotel homely yet smart, and the Allen family, now swelled by children and grandchildren to dozens, is still in charge. We stayed at Ballycotton where our host still picks clams from the beach, the fisherman still bring in lobsters and crabs, and the pub still throbs to Irish jigging and sometimes, I’m afraid, to IRA songs.
Every small town in Ireland seems to boast an earl, presumably the remnants of the English ascendency, whose earldoms were dished out by the British along with the land. Lots of grand houses got torched in the Troubles, and I can’t help thinking they might be the lucky ones, relieved of trying to keep the ancestral pile watertight. But you have to admire heirs who refrain from flogging the Lelys and Gainsboroughs, while sitting under umbrellas on account of the leaks. We searched GardenVisits.com. Up came a jewel, complete with river garden, wildflower meadow, lily pond and walled garden. The clincher was ‘the only garden mentioned in Arthur Young’s Tour of Ireland published in 1766’. A ‘wild romantic garden’, he called it. Who could resist? So we drove for miles. The gates were open, but with a notice: ‘Closed due to winter damage.’ The weatherworn notice, abandoned lodge and stuck-fast gates suggested Annes Grove had been closed for years.
We decided to boldly go and bang on the big house door. We did bang, but the house appeared uninhabited. So maybe we could explore a little? We did, and Arthur Young was right. We walked like enchanted children in a secret garden. Until we met the mistress of the house. She was very cross indeed. ‘Didn’t you see the notice?’
‘Yes, I’m sorry, but we’d driven miles and the website said you were open…’
‘But we are not open.’
‘We did try to check, we left messages last night on your anwerphone and we knocked on your door…’
‘Of course there was no one in. We are all out in the garden trying to repair the damage.’
Four large OAPs getting a deserved dressing down from a small irate landowner in a bosky glade. It would have made a great painting.