Do you often find that you are so busy you don’t have time to speak let alone see some of your best girlfriends? I sometimes have to add them to my ‘To Do’ list in order to just send them a message but who rightly said that a day spent with (girl)friends is a day well spent. Apparently the essential formula for friendships of all kinds is spark plus proximity plus time.
So it has been for Ellie and I – we have spark, proximity but no time. Friends for forty years, memories galore, godmother to each other’s children, shared holidays but more recently no time to meet up. When we did find time to speak and to try to arrange a meet up it was so far in the future we were worried the world might have met a sticky end by then, though we would probably still be in Europe.
We decided this was crazy so we threw caution to the wind, informed our husbands that we were going away for one night to see a girlfriend, found a hotel that was equidistance from each of us and clicked on ‘Make a Booking’. We abandoned our children, dogs, and telephones (no mobile signal where we were going).
This week was the time for the big meet-up at The Artist Residence in South Leigh, Oxfordshire. The Artist Residence is a small, privately owned group of boutique hotels that are quite unique in their concept.
The Story: when co-founder Justin dropped out of uni to help out with the family B&B on Brighton seafront, he unexpectedly caught the hospitality bug, and set out to improve the business with very little budget. Inspired by the Brighton art scene, he sent out an ad for artists to decorate rooms in return for board. Hundreds of artists soon descended on the place decorating the walls, floors & ceilings with unique murals…and so, Artist Residence was born. Joined by then girlfriend (now wife) Charlie, the pair set about making the concept and hotel a successful business. Three years later, the duo set their sights on their next project, a manor house in the seaside town of Penzance in West Cornwall…and after 4 years, a lot of hard work & lessons learnt, they were able to take on an old pub in Pimlico, London. Here, Justin & Charlie perfected their design aesthetic, adding to the art concept with a unique & eclectic style, and put a big focus on food and beverage in their places, adding a restaurant and bar to each location to appeal to locals and guests alike. In 2017, the pair ventured out to the countryside to open their 4th place in Oxfordshire, and in 2018 they will be expanding to an old boot factory in Bristol…and then who knows?
South Leigh is a little haven in West Oxfordshire with no more than a Norman church, a village hall, a few houses and cottages and now the Artist Residence. The church is well worth a visit if only for the wall art which is remarkably well preserved. However keep your eye out for an organist wandering the village with no shoes – no this is not a ghost story but our surmise having found a pair of abandoned shoes under the church organ.
On wandering back past the village hall we found a planning application pinned to a pole hidden in a hedgerow. It was for Barnard Gate Garden Village, a new proposed settlement which will provide a range of new homes (3000!!), community facilities, primary schools, shops, science park / business park, a new country park and finally a cemetery. The designers have thought of everything except perhaps whether South Leigh is the right venue.
We were completely gobsmacked as apart from the fact that this idyllic village is a backwater, it can only be accessed by a single track road. We both imagined the lorries thundering up these lanes every morning if this ‘new town’ were to be built and then of course the extra 6000 cars of the residents of Barnard Gate once they all moved in.
We returned to the peace of the Artists Residence and with the help of Google checked out the planning application. We discovered a battle royale going on firstly between the residents of South Leigh and the planning officers and also between South Leigh and Eynsham, the next village which is the other option for this development. It would appear no-one wants it and the letters from each and every resident make JK Rowling’s book, The Casual Vacancy, look like a vicarage tea party.
Phrases like ‘money-grabbing, blood sucking murderers’, ‘with blood on their hands’ and ‘I care not a jot’ were sprinkled liberally throughout these letters. Before long we realised this could be the setting for the next Midsomer Murders but this time for real.
In the meantime we holed up in our gorgeous bedroom at The Artist Residence which apart from being so comfortable it was filled with refreshments such as Salted Caramel popcorn, Jelly Babies, chocolate covered honeycomb, Joe’s teabags (individually wrapped) and a Nespresso machine. We indulged in it all before heading for the bar and a Hendrick’s gin and tonic. This was followed by an incredible dinner, the food was so innovative, extremely tasty and beautifully presented. We could not believe that we were in a quiet little village in West Oxfordshire enjoying a meal that could have graced the tables of the best restaurants in London.
We retired to bed having caught up with the family news of both families. We then, as old friends will, started to reminisce about holidays shared and romances witnessed, often both at the same time. We ‘online stalked’ old boyfriends (all long before our husbands) to see if they were as handsome as we remembered only to find they had beer bellies, less hair and sedate careers. What happened to those wild young men who ran a bar on a remote island in Greece or a windsurfing school in Thailand? They like us had grown-up or maybe life had caught up with them and made them settle down to a more sensible lifestyle.
We remembered the time that we ran a nightclub just off Kensington High St. which was often frequented by the local firemen and police who stayed for lock-in. We always had a drag act at midnight performed by a close friend. There were theme nights like the Rocky Horror show though I don’t remember why we had to spray our current, hot boyfriend with gold paint – was that a character in the Rocky Horror show? Then at about 5 a.m. we would stagger home on a bus, for a quick change and then off to our day jobs. How we did it can only be imagined but I guess age was on our side. We did agree that, whilst we despaired at the antics of our own children, our youth was misspent to a much worse degree. Drinking and driving was often combined but with no speed cameras, CCTV, or mobiles, our wayward living was rarely, if ever, reported to the authorities or published somewhere where everyone could see and judge.
Our friendship continues and soon we will be celebrating my 60th birthday – that may be my age but we both agreed that deep down we were still those free spirits aged about 25 years!
For more information on The Artist Residence click HERE.
More blogs from Annabel click HERE.