Food & Drink · Travel

Ro’s Recipes: Bristol’s Last Class Gasp

My beautiful London ex-flatmate, Mary, though coming from a modest northern English home, had the benefit of a socially proactive mother who impressed upon her the importance of improving her accent, her friendships and herself to step into the upper middle class circles of English society. Mary, after eschewing an inadequately connected fellow who adored her, managed to marry rather well: to an upper class, old English, Oxford educated, society connected, young banker. Mike was perfect.

With Mike’s connections, they married very quietly at the British Embassy in Paris with no guests and then had a celebratory cocktail party at their home in London for their friends as well as a smaller gathering in Manchester for Mary’s mother’s modest side of the family. That brilliantly solved the class difference awkwardness that would have arisen.

I was invited for a weekend at their beautiful Regency style row house in Bristol, where Mike had recently been promoted. Bristol is an ancient Iron Age and Roman seafaring port on the mid-south-west coast of England. As one of the nearest English ports to the New World, Venetian John Cabot in 1497 and English William Weston in 1499 sailed in exploration to North America.

Bristol sparkles with intellectual and artistic life — the universities, museums, art galleries, BBC West headquarters, and the Bristol Old Vic Theatre. Its beautiful Georgian to Regency style original architecture was spared Nazi bombing during WWII. The ’60s and ’70s threatened to demolish the grace of the city with motorways. The ’80s retrenched and the ancient treasures of the city and its surroundings have been preserved for the walking, exploring, living public to enjoy as a legacy of history.

Newly-married Mary was eager to perform match-maker duties. Dinner parties are the favored and delightful way of introducing people to each other.  Mary was a good cook and host and I was one of ten guests enjoying intriguing, fun conversation evolving from current events, laced with well-read, wide-minded, informed but flexible opinion.

There were girlfriends of Mary’s as well as old Oxford University buddies of Mike’s, one of whom, William, a successful young, handsome lawyer for a sports franchise expressed an interest in theater, one of my passions.

We returned together to London on the same train to Paddington Station. We chatted amiably without any reference to family or background. If you’re a Downton Abbey fan you will know that this topic was considered too intimate and gauche, but he dressed well and spoke with a typically clipped upper class accent on topics redolent of education and classical experience. On request, I gave William my phone number.

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