25 years ago last week, we told the estate agent who was showing us round an apartment on the Kenilworth Road that we would take it.
"When can we have the keys?" we asked.
"Saturday" he said.
So that Saturday, we moved in. With some books, some pictures, some vinyl and some wine. That evening, we strolled into town in search of something to eat.
Every restaurant was full. Of couples. Eating Lamb Casanova and pink blancmange. Drinking Cava. In our ignorance, we had tried to insert ourselves into the very heart of a British Valentine's Day.
But the 14th of February remains our anniversary. (Or one of them: we subsequently got married on the 5th day of May, so we celebrate that day as well, together with Bob Dylan and Isis herself!)
But, importantly, this last 14th of February was our 25th, our silver anniversary.
We marked the day with lunch at The Nut Tree, in north Oxfordshire, a Michelin-starred pub which had been recommended to us by Lara and Adam. They were doing a special 7 course meal in honour of St Valentine and there was nothing involving dairy or cheese on the e-mailed menu, so I gave them my credit card details for the non-refundable £35 per person deposit, and we schlepped down the M40 and across Otmoor, through assorted Ministry of Defence encampments, and arrived in Murcott just before 1pm.
The car park was packed, but we managed to squeeze the car into a space adjacent to the pigsty. Two encouraging signs in one: a full car park and a full pigsty. Except that the full car park was the result of a wedding party.
No problem. As we also, accidentally, celebrate our anniversary on the 14th, we cannot criticise another couple for choosing to do so. And as the happy couple and their friends were relegated (restricted? confined?) to a modern extension, it mattered not, so long as we managed to schedule our order in such a way that our courses slotted neatly in the spaces between theirs. Which we did.
The Nut Tree is a proper pub, and neither the needs of the chef-patron and his wife nor the demands of Michelin star status have changed it at all. The tables are a little cramped; there are very few of them and I guess that the extension is usually required, because the dining room also includes the village bar. The wood-burning stove looks great but throws out very little heat. The whole look and feel is village pub circa 1930. It would cost a fortune to create such a room from scratch.
The food is good. Crab ravioli needed a tad more seasoning, but the foie gras with rhubarb was spot on. The sea bream was tender and tasty, but we didn't need quite so much of the coconut and lemon grass sauce. (In my case, I would happily have settled for none at all.) The venison was the highlight for me: absolutely sublime, perfectly cooked with a smoky Bourgogne sauce and puréed celeriac. Puddings were good, the clever conceit of boiled egg and soldiers was fun (although chef friends to whom I described it told me it was stolen from someone) and the cardoman ice cream which accompanied the chocolate fondant is my new favourite thing.
The wine? Well, it's a good list with several by the glass, which was our priority. We were guided through it by a ridiculously erudite 20 year old sommelier, who was handsome, forthright, and almost as good as he thought he was.
It was an excellent day out. Business is causing us some sleepless nights at the moment, so it was great to get away from Leamington for a few hours, to eat well, and spend some time together with barely a mention of business.
But of course, business will always ‘uprear its head, black and huge’.
And it subsequently did …
Today’s listening: The fourth Dylan Theme Time Radio Hour, featuring baseball. As spring training starts officially, with Bobby Valentine setting the pace, listening to Bob sing “Take me out to the ballgame” just makes me smile.