This weekend, I escaped to the countryside for a welcome orientation for all Rotary scholars studying in Great Britain (for a refresher, that’s England, Scotland, and Wales) and Ireland. The conference itself took place in Exeter, about a 2.5-hour train ride southeast of London, home to a gorgeous cathedral, J.K. Rowling’s inspiration for Diagon Alley, and purportedly the narrowest street in the world … literally (Parliament St., 25 inches). I met lots of scholars studying all sorts of things in London — film, social entrepreneurship, public health — and may actually have made my first friends here!
The host family fairies worked their magic once again: I stayed with Charles, an Exeter native and loyal Rotarian, and his Welsh wife Ann — introduced in December of ‘57, engaged in January of ‘58, and married in May of ‘58 — in Topsham, outside Exeter. Topsham is a small town of 5,000 “on a good day,” as Charles said, and is stacked on a river that spills into the English Channel. The pair was incredibly generous, incredibly hilarious, and incredibly in love.
Before meeting at the manor of another Rotarian for dinner Friday night, I chit-chatted with my parents-for-the-weekend over tea and, get this, scones with CLOTTED CREAM. I was warned about this stuff before I got here. It’s just as thick, but surprisingly more pleasant, than it sounds.
Dinner was fish n chips (what we would consider French fries), ironically from a restaurant called Little China, and strawberries n cream (clotted as well) and about 1.5x as many wine bottles as people.
On Saturday night, the festivities multiplied. I got to hold an Olympic torch that one Rotarian ran from somewhere to somewhere nearby; had my first pork sandwich from a real pig roast; and danced Irish jigs ‘til late with Rotary scholars and Rotarians alike.
I loved this weekend. LOVED it — for the new friends, for the warmth I felt from the Rotarians who welcomed me and housed me, for the chance to see a small part of this beautiful country, for the reminder of how blessed I am to be here. Charles and Ann are expecting me back in the seaside village of Topsham, and said I could use them as home base if I want to get away from the noise and grime of the city. I think I’ll take them up on that offer, maybe more than once. Toodaloo!