Monday, 6 July 2009

Magic carpets

Back in the Cotswolds this weekend. In 'A Cotswold Village' (a book I praised a few weeks ago), J. Arthur Gibbs bemoaned the impoverished and gradually depopulating villages of the area, the product of decades of agricultural stagnation (this was in 1899). He wondered whether Londoners might ever be persuaded to make their homes so far from the city and hoped perhaps the railway might persuade them to do so.

Well, this hope has been quite lavishly fulfilled, as anyone taking an occasional look at the weekend papers' property supplements would know. But refugees from the smoke are not the only people contributing to the buzz. Tourism, of course, is the other factor that's made these villages little humming hives of life, at least in the summer months.

Bibury today provides the most extreme example of this. We went down to while away a couple of hours at the trout farm (a bit of diversification that I'm sure would have pleased Gibbs). It's a beautiful spot, which usefully contains a playground. But the real thrill for the children is that they get to feed by hand the swarming, flapping shoals of fish. This also happens to be a great bit of economics for the owner: you pay for the food to feed his fish. So happiness all round.

It is, along with the village as a whole, a tourist honeypot. William Morris did his bit for Bibury's public relations (I think he would be less happy to see how things had turned out) describing it as 'the most beautiful village in England'. Undoubtedly, this is a claim that could be made by dozens of English villages, but receiving the imprimateur of Morris takes some beating. Or at least, it takes some beating if you want to attract the Japanese, who evidently love the English arts and crafts thing.

You will therefore see dozens and dozens of Japanese in Bibury in the summer months. It must be an essential part of the guided itineraries of Japanese package tours to Britain and has even given birth to a fishing kit-inspired Japanese fashion brand, 'Bibury Court'.

It was the first time, though, I'd seen them buying up trout fillets at the farm shop, slicing them into sashimi to eat, chopsticked, with what I took for soy sauce. Looked delicious but I don't suppose I'd trust myself to make my own sashimi: for me, it would just be raw fish if it hadn't received the sanction of a sushi chef.

What was also new to me were the groups of Turkish families, of every generation, making the fullest use of the trout farm's barbecue facilities. There are three or four built-in brick barbecues at the back of the farm, again in a lovely setting, and today they were really being made to work. The Turks, originally a nomadic people, appear to have retained a talent for al fresco dining: surrounded by brightly patterned oriental rugs, hubble-bubble pipes, exotic salads, marinades, bunches of herbs, tea pots being warmed on embers, and, naturally, lots and lots of fish being filleted, stuffed, skewered, broiled, and, of course, barbecued. By the look of their shopping bags, they were on a day trip from Harrow or thereabouts.

It was a grand sight. They were buzzing with excitement, unselfconsciously enjoying the food, weather and company. And I couldn't help wonder: J Arthur Gibbs, what on earth would you make of it all?


Gadjo Dilo said...

Delightful. Wow, Turkish tourists from Harrow travelling to the Cotswolds. You'll be getting the Tartars next - hope they bring that sauce with them.

worm said...

like the idea of the japs being into the A&C movement - a bit of a coincidence as there is a programme on radio 4 tonight about William Morris' big muslim following...

and thats a funny image of the picnic-ing turkish family you conjoured up - it made me chuckle as when I used to live in Australia we always were amazed when the turkish and lebanese families would turn up in the city parks with what seemed like the entire contents of their sitting rooms!

and always with a least one totally immobile granny sitting frowning like a gnome, swathed in black even in the 40 degree heat- in fact exactly the same as the granny in the old Giles cartoons!