Family & Education

Happy days of scones and roses

Claire Calman has escaped London for the Cotswolds. Could it be a permanent move?


A Picturesque English country cottage with rose garden, located in an English Village.

We are away. I tell you that not to gloat, though did I mention that we are away, as in not in London, not within the confines of the North Circular, not in a postcode that begins NW…? It would be a waste not to milk it just a little. I like the area where we live, but when you start recognising individual blades of grass on your walk, you know it’s time to go further afield.

For a week beforehand, my excitement grows. I force myself to delay packing until the day before we go but our son packs a full four days in advance, something that has never happened. Ever. Usually, he likes to throw things into a backpack while the taxi is revving outside to take us to the airport.

Husband Larry has managed to rent the last available self-catering cottage in the UK and he has had the foresight to book lunches in pub gardens every single day, having rightly discerned that if I have to eat one more meal cooked by my own fair hands, then my own fair hand may stab someone with a fork.

We are in the Cotswolds, which is so quintessentially, ridiculously English, it feels as though we are visiting an enormous film set. I imagine, sitting off to one side, the director: “Props — can you add some more honeysuckle to that cottage!” “Costumes — we need a couple more posh ladies wearing padded gilets. We’ve only got half a dozen of them on the High Street — come on!”

The is the England that surely everyone must love? So charming, so picturesque. Gorgeous antique shops! Dinky tearooms — though of course, Covid rules say we can only eat outside, so we scoff our scones wearing base layers and padded jackets as if about to zip down the slopes at Gstaad, sweetie. (No, of course we don’t ski, we’re Jewish. Our idea of sporting activity is getting up to fetch more strawberries while watching Wimbledon.)

And yet, beautiful though it is, there is something about it that is too English. After London, it strikes me as oddly homogenous and it makes me slightly nervous. How, I wonder, do they feel about Jews? I imagine a posh, gilet-clad lady turning to another with a tight smile, talking about the newcomers to the village: “I hear they are…” (she mouths the word silently) ‘…Jews. You know — he wears a funny hat, goes to church on Saturdays.” And before you mock my wild imagination, I once overheard two posh Englishmen use those exact words to describe someone Jewish.

As ever, when we are away, I start to nurture my fantasies of living in a perfect rose-bedecked cottage. I peer into the windows of estate agents. I’m not lusting after a grand manor house (think of the maintenance costs on the roof alone!), just a four-bed cottage with a garden.

“And parking!” the husband adds, annoyingly practical. Yes, yes, and parking. Stop messing with my fantasies.

I wonder aloud where we might go to shul even though a) I am an atheist (but sssh — just in case He’s listening), and b) it’s only a fantasy.

This prompts Larry to recall the time we came to Tetbury for a wedding 20 years ago. Tetbury is a beautiful small town full of antiques shops and, we decide, worth another visit. When we came for the wedding, Larry hadn’t had time to have a haircut beforehand so before the reception, he nipped to the high street hairdresser.

Afterwards, locks trimmed and tidied, he reappeared and said he’d had a nice chat with the hairdresser about Pesach and the impossibility of buying matzah etc locally. We agreed that she must be “the only Jew in the village”.

But, in the intervening two decades, clearly something has changed. Exhibit No. 1 — we spot a menorah in a cottage window. Could it be the hairdresser’s, still there 20 years later? Then, Exhibits 2 and 3, on the main street: Cohen’s Chemist and two doors down, the local GP surgery, also Cohen.

And then, the pièce de resistance. While looking in the window of a cheese shop, and wondering if we can justify the acquisition of yet more cheese when we already got carried away at the farmers’ market in Stroud in the morning, I spy a whole shelf of Rakusen’s Matzo Crackers. Did the hairdresser switch careers and open her own cheese shop? Or did she talk the cheese-monger into getting in matzah for her? Do the Jewish chemist and GP (we decide they must be a couple) have some influence over the cheese-monger? Or are they all mishpocha?

Meanwhile, the shul question remains. I google ‘synagogue near me’ and it offers me Cheltenham! City of horse-racing and elegant architecture. Goyim Central surely? It has a shul? And not just any old shul either, but a decidedly beautiful shul consecrated in 1839.

“Brilliant,” I say, showing Larry the shul website, ‘If we moved here, we’d have a shul to not go to.’

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