We went to Oxford this weekend to see an exhibition in the Ashmolean of Japanese embroideries, and to visit our friends, Elizabeth and Jonathan.   It was immensely enjoyable in many ways.

The visit had been delayed twice because of the weather, but on the day there was no  difficulty.   We know Oxford well, of course, and it was as lovely as always.   We parked in a Disabled bay right opposite the museum, and since parking is the big bugbear of Oxford, we knew the Fates were smiling upon us.

The Ashmolean has always been a rich and interesting collection, but was a rather old fashioned building, so we were amazed and delighted to see its transformation into an exciting modern exhibition space, with innovative displays and large panels of glass offering enticing glimpses of other collections to pull you further in.   We had coffee and shortly afterwards our friends arrived, looking well, and we fell into conversation with them, as you do with good and old friends, as if we had just seen them yesterday.

The exhibition, which was busy but not unpleasantly so, was a delight.   The embroideries were mostly of birds and animals, and were of such a high standard of technical excellence as to be slightly depressing!   There was a dramatic and vivid depiction of storks and wisteria.   There were peacocks; tigers; monkeys; ducks…   These works were of a standard as might have been hung in a national parliament building, or presented to a visiting Head of State.

My personal favourites however included a study in blacks and whites of an eagle on a snow covered branch, a pale monochrome picture of ducks on dark water, and a series of preparatory drawings on a folding screen, which included a full moon glimpsed through a bed of reeds.   We bought – at VAST expense – the exhibition catalogue.   I looked for postcards but as ever no favourite of mine was anywhere to be had for sale.   After this we had lunch, and then the men went to examine paintings, and we looked at textiles and ceramics, where as usual the elegant simplicity of the Japanese ware made everything else look clumsy or over-decorated.

We then drove the short distance to the village where our friends live.   Their house is the most interesting contrast of ancient cottage with all its quirky charm, and the modern wing that they have added, though the two merge attractively.   Our hosts had most kindly lent us their own bedroom and this was a great delight.   On our last visit John had offered a little assistance on a section of the work which really called for two pairs of hands, so he was especially pleased to see the delightful  room which had eventually resulted.   We lay in their bed in the morning and feasted our eyes on this generous room, its ancient and exposed beam, their lovely furniture of different periods but melding charmingly together, how spacious and comfortable and unusual it was, and considered ourselves very privileged.

And our conversations were rewarding.   Elizabeth and I have always been intimate.   She’s one of the few people who have the power to repeatedly surprise me with the insight and originality of her observations.   We come from entirely different backgrounds.   We both had childhoods which, in very different ways, were difficult but rewarding.    Whereas you might liken my thinking process to an arrow in flight, fast, targeted and penetrative, hers is apparently unfocussed and ambulatory, almost circular, she idles round a subject, you can’t see where she’s headed, and then suddenly and invariably, she hits the bullseye faster than your eye can follow.   I love talking with her.

The food was good!

We returned from our short visit feeling as if we’d had a long holiday, refreshed and encouraged, with many lovely things to remember and much to turn over in our minds and discuss.

So here’s to old friends, fine buildings, arts and crafts, the beautiful Oxford, and the elegance of the Japanese.