Saturday, 9 May 2015

Wonderful Woodstock

Having spent the last two months charging up and down motorways taking my daughter to various drama schools and universities for entry into higher education this autumn, one of our recent treks was to The Oxford School of Drama.  I left my daughter there and, as I had eight hours to kill, went off to explore nearby Woodstock. What a wonderful place!
          British weather in springtime can be a bit iffy, and at nine in the morning the sun hadn’t quite decided what it was doing.  Discovering a rare parking space, I locked up and set off on foot to find a post office – not because Woodstock’s post office is a tourist hot spot, simply because I had a parcel to post.  However, what Woodstock’s post office is extremely good for is a spot of eavesdropping.  Now if you’re anything like me, you’ll love a bit of gossip.  It doesn’t matter if it’s gossip with your best mate, gossip with your neighbour, gossip with your sister, or gossip with a total stranger.  It’s all eighteen-carat-gold gossip.  And Woodstock Post Office was abuzz.
          I ducked through the low door and went inside.  There was a sizeable queue of blue-rinsed ladies jostling for space while two women behind counters struggled to cope with Pension Day.  I say struggle, but it was nothing to do with irate old folk.  No, it was because the lady behind Counter One was having a bad day.  She’d caught her husband out.  He was having an affair.  And she didn’t care who knew it.  The lady’s woes were being relayed, top volume, to the lady behind Counter Two.  Naturally it is difficult to concentrate on counting out pension money when telling your colleague what you’d like to do to (a) your husband’s mistress and (b) your husband’s private parts.  Likewise it’s difficult to concentrate on counting out pension money when listening to your colleague telling you about (a) her husband’s mistress and (b) her husband’s private parts.
          In front of me were two old dears gossiping to each other about the gossip going on behind Counter One and Counter Two.
          ‘Poor Jenny. Looks like her Bernard’s been at it again.’
          ‘Oh dear.  But you have to admit, her Bernard is a bit of all right.’
          ‘Do you think?’
          ‘Aye.  Reminds me of Poldark.’
          ‘Oooh, Poldark.  He’s smashing, he is.  What’s his name?’
          ‘No, I meant his real name.’
          ‘It’s…um…it’ll come to me in a minute…it’s…Captain Poldark.’
          ‘That’s it.’
          ‘I’ll let you into a secret, Phyllis,’ said the first pensioner, sucking on her dentures and looking furtively from left to right. ‘Captain Poldark can come and mow my lawn anytime he likes.’
          So there you have it.  Female pensioners in Woodstock are desperate for gardeners with brooding good looks and a big lawnmower.
          When I finally made it out of there, I moved on to exploring the shops.  Now this is Woodstock, not London, so the main street consisted of one ‘designer’ boutique with dresses that weren’t so much avant garde as ’aven’t-a-clue.  For there, in the window, in all its brazen glory, was a brown linen pinafore dress that looked like something I’d made from the sewing lessons of my schooldays. It was only the price tag that begged to differ.  Further on were several antique shops (the pinafore dress might have been more at home in them), four charity shops and a pub that looked like it had upped and come.  I started with the charity shops.  There is something about browsing tat and the possibility of picking up a bargain that is quite addictive.  My bargain on this occasion was Miranda Hart’s book, Is It Just Me?  As somebody who has many Miranda Hart moments in real life, I adore the woman.
          It was at that precise moment the weather changed.  Grey clouds gathered and the heavens opened.  So I set off to the pub with Miranda.  We had a pot of tea and a piece of cake together and, an hour later, decided to have an early lunch.  It was at this point I once again found myself listening to Woodstock gossip.
          Sitting on the table next to mine were two women having a ‘working lunch’.  Within seconds it became apparent the first woman, a heavily made-up blonde, was getting married for the fourth time, and the second woman, a satisfied looking brunette, was a wedding dress designer.  Demand after demand was being made from the blonde.
          ‘It has to be pretty,’ she insisted, ‘but also classic.  And you’ve absolutely got to come up with a design that flattens my tummy.’
          ‘No problem.  Now have you given some thought to accessories?’
          ‘Yes, leave that bit to me.  I’m going to pop over to New York for a darling little handbag I’ve seen.’
          Now anybody who can sit in Woodstock and talk about popping over to New York as if it were just down the road, is clearly not your average bride.  My ears went into full wiggle-mode.
          ‘And how is Steve dealing with the news of your marriage?’
          ‘Oh, Steve,’ the bride-to-be rolled her eyes and made a tutting sound. ‘Like all exes, he’s beyond jealous.’
          ‘Is he coming to the wedding?’
          I nearly choked on a carrot.  What bride invites the ex to her nuptials?
          ‘No, he’s declined.  Apparently he has a long-standing appointment with a chiropodist to get a verruca removed.’
          I stared at a potato with a black root sticking out, and decided to skip that bit of my dinner.
          ‘And has your husband-to-be decided what he’s wearing?’
          I’ll decide what he’s wearing,’ said the blonde firmly.  ‘I want his wedding shirt to have a pearl insignia around the collar.’
          ‘Very nice,’ murmured the designer.
          If I’d insisted upon my husband wearing a shirt covered in pearls he’d have walked in the opposite direction.
          ‘I think when all is said and done, it will be a beautiful day,’ said the blonde.  ‘After all, not many brides have a pagan wedding in Iceland.’
          I presumed she wasn’t talking about the British chain of frozen food stores.  It was at this point that I noticed the sun had come out.  It was time to take my leave.  So Miranda and I set off, ducked down cobbled streets, skipped past twee historical houses, and quite by accident came across Blenheim Palace.  Home to the twelfth Duke and Duchess of Marlborough and birthplace of Sir Winston Churchill, a wonderful afternoon was had exploring this monumental country house.  And as for the gossip in their tea room…well let’s just say I gathered some superb future novel fodder.  Which reminds me.
          A lot of ladies used to sit together every evening in their local park and talk non-stop.  One day they were sitting together very, very quietly.  A gentleman – who walked past the noisy group every day – was surprised to see them sitting so quietly.  He enquired about this, to which one lady replied, ‘Well today we’re all present.  So we don’t know who to gossip about…’  


  1. I don’t repeat gossip. So listen carefully…

  2. Love that story, Debbie. A bit of gossip is worth its weight in gold to writers (as long as it's not about oneself!).
    Francesca Capaldi Burgess