We recently returned from the annual Historical Novel Society conference in Oxford, England. After the conference, we spend several days in London – our ninth trip to that bustling, vibrant city, but our first in 20 years. First things first: The conference was packed with high quality speakers, including script writers ho’ve written for Downton Abbey, Upstairs, Downstairs, and many other PBS specials. Our meetings were held at the Math Institute on the Oxford University campus, the very building where an explosion took place on a recent episode of Masterpiece Theater’s “Inspector Lewis.” We sold several copies of “Three Lives of Peter Novak in Oxford and several more in London. Book sales continue to be robust.
We stayed at a boutique hotel, Bocardo, that was convenient to both the conference and downtown Oxford. WARNING: “convenient to” in Oxford means a one-mile or so walk. Those walks helped burn off the calories we enjoyed at celebrity chef Jamie Oliver’s restaurant, as well as the many other gastronomical opportunities provided by the diverse population of Oxford.
The grand finale of the conference was a gala dinner at the St. Anne’s College dining hall. I could only imagine the thousands of students who ate in that very dining hall over the centuries. Several writers dressed in period costumes of the times in which they had written. Wine flowed to complement the excellent repast.
When the conference concluded we departed Oxford for a 90-minute ride to London and our hotel, the Draycott, located several hundred steps from Sloane Square Station of the famed London Underground. To say the hotel was grande and from a more peaceful era would be a gross understatement. Located amongst what appeared to be upscale flats or perhaps even embassy, the hotel took us back to the ambiance of the eighteenth century, but with a modern bathroom (heated towels, of course) and accommodations for modern technology. A healthy walk took us past the embassies of Iceland and Denmark, to Harrod’s department store, a landmark for more than 100 years. Evenings in the hotel drawing room found us enjoying tea at 4:00, champagne at 6:00 and hot cocoa at 9:30.
One observation made both in Oxford and London, was that not a single employee, be it waitress, maid, food server, taxi driver, or any other person with whom we came in contact, was native British. They came from Latvia, Bulgaria, Wales, the old Soviet bloc countries, and even Columbia. If all the immigrants were to suddenly leave, Britain would collapse.
Aside from the 11-hour flight in each direction, and the jet lag that we had to overcome, it was a wonderful trip and we hope Peter’s story spreads throughout the United Kingdom.