Sunday, 17 October 2010

The Big Four-Zero

Up to Oxfordshire this past weekend, to a small town called Burford (not to be confused with Burwash), for Dr. M's 40th birthday party. On my own this time though as, unfortunately, C had to stay home for this one to nurse an ailing cat (though Pushkin appears to be making a recovery).

We were staying in a place called Wysdom Hall, an extremely quaint 16th century guest house which doubled up as our canteen for the weekend. It was a truly strange concoction of a building in which every bedroom was different in proportion and layout from the last, that had a plethora of interconnected lounges, and which felt like it had been grown rather than built. So an excellently sprawling venue for a typically sprawling event, and attended by frequently sprawled guests. Though it was a little too late in the year to be making full use of it, the hall also sat in some great "cottage garden" grounds that afforded, needless to say, many Kodak-moments.


The order of ceremony was: arrive → late dinner → drinks → crash → unruly breakfast → moderately long but easy walk → extended dinner preparation → extended dinner → drinks and games → crash → kitchen cleanup → unruly breakfast → gradual sloping off of attendees. As ever, alcohol was freely flowing, language was the traditional mix of in-jokes and profanity, dinner was served at length in extremely generous portions, and it was all topped off with a hard-fought tournament of the Name Game[*].


The walk was an enjoyable 10.1 km jaunt through the countryside around Burford. While it did occasionally take in terrain that wasn't entirely appropriate for the in-buggy 11 month old who accompanied us, on the whole the going was pretty straightforward. And it was long enough for each of us to gradually chat our way through the whole walking party which, given that I've not seen many of the crew for quite some time, was very enjoyable. There have been a few changes in jobs and locations since last time, but generally things remain fairly similar. In a couple of cases, there was a lot to report (e.g. Chris' various travels), but it's still a little surprising, and comforting, at how things also stay the same.


As ever, I came away feeling rather privileged at being included in the event. My connection to the group is more peripheral than the bond between the core, but I'm always made welcome, and I always enjoy the chance to shoot the breeze with such a diverse group of friends. This time particularly, since Dr. M's brother and sister were able to join us, and they're always excellent value.

Anyway, as usual, more photos over at Flickr.

[*] The Name Game: Assemble two equal-sized teams; distribute paper and pens; tear paper into small, equal-sized pieces; write the name of a famous (either generally, or specific to the group playing) personage on each piece of paper; fold the papers and place them in a holding vessel; round 1: allow 30-60 seconds for a member of each team to draw paper from the vessel and attempt to describe the person with naming them; round 2: as round 1, but players can only use a single word to describe the person; round 3: as round 1, but players can only use the medium of mime; round 4+: typically unsuccessful (and drunken) rounds that involve successively restrictive modes of communication, e.g. hands-only, staring. "Famous" names typically include: figures currently in the news (e.g. Ed/David Miliband); semi-celebrities with comedy names (e.g. Christopher Lillicrap); sportsmen or women known only to the person who wrote them down (e.g. David Gower); friends not present at the party (e.g. Martin West); celebrities with dubious (but describable in a single word) sexual history (e.g. Gillian Taylforth); and occasional wild-cards (e.g. this weekend's was Goat Peter, immortalised in an adaptation of Heidi most of us remembered from our school years). Repeat playings of the game with the same group of people invariably leads to the selection of "favourites" who recur every time, and by the inclusion of former players as subjects whose faults (or otherwise) can be discussed at length in round 1 (e.g. Alistair Cockwank). These features can make it difficult to introduce new players to the game, and should be guarded against.

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