Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Reunion - Cliveden

Cliveden as we arrive. My room was in the two-story section on the right.

Cliveden from the rear towards the Thames.
Linda and I are in England for a 43rd anniversary reunion of my Stanford in Britain overseas campus group. Eighty of us spent six months travelling and studying here from January to June in 1969. We spent nine weeks at Harlaxton, then three weeks touring the continent followed by nine more weeks at Cliveden.  The reunion began with a night in London. We met for dinner at the Only Running Footman, a British pub with a noisy main floor and a nice restaurant upstairs recommended by one of our classmates who now lives in London. Unfortunately, he did not make it for the evening or any of the following events. The next morning we got on a bus to our hotel, The Compleat Angler, in Marley on the Thames. After checking in we spent the rest of the day at Cliveden.
We look a little different 43 years later.

Cliveden is a huge mansion built in the 18th century eventually owned by the Astor family. They say that every Prime Minister and King and Queen during the last two centuries stayed there at least once. Including Winston Churchill whose relationship with Lady Astor was so acrimonious it led to this exchange. Lady Astor: Winston, if you were my husband I would give you poison in your drink. Winston: Lady Astor, if I were your husband I would drink it.
The tower looks the same, but the gold leaf has been added.

By the time we arrived it was already part of the National Trust, a private organization that cares for historic sites in Britain. We were a bit of an anomaly and became part of the Wednesday tours. Some of the Trust staff never did come to appreciate the fact that we were there, but we tried to be on good behavior most of the time and especially when the tourists came through.
We had to stay out of this area when the tourists came through.

The Christine Keeler Memorial Couch is gone. It was big enough to serve as a double bed.
We did have a bit of trouble with the pool and the couch we designated “The Christine Keeler Memorial Couch.” Earlier in the 60s, the British government had been rocked by a scandal when John Profumo was discovered to have been having an affair with Christine and Mandy Rice Davies probably including nude bathing in the pool. An affair with young ‘professional women’ might have been ok, but it turned out that Keeler and Davies had also been ‘professional’ with Soviet spies. Profumo’s post as Defense Minister made this a major problem for the government.
The infamous pool. Rumor has it that some of us had a memorial skinny dip late one evening.

One of about twelve formal gardens that surround the estate on its 500+ acres. In the spring the rhodies added plenty of color.
Today, Cliveden is a 5-star hotel and still a part of the National Trust. We opted to save over $500 by staying at the Compleat Angler in nearby Marley. The estate has been spruced up a bit with things like gold leaf on the clock tower, but it felt very much the same as when we lived there. Those in the group who did spend the night said it seemed a bit run down considering the cost of the rooms. We did have fun trying to figure out where we had our classes and meals and where the bar and snooker room had been and most importantly, where we had slept. That was the easiest for me as I walked right in the correct door and it was very familiar.

My rooom was right around the corner.
Our big event at Cliveden this visit was the formal dinner. We had an excellent salmon fillet along with salad and dessert. The good wine flowed freely all night. We learned later that the wine had not been part of the pre-arranged price and were presented with a bill for 3500 pounds. Wow – 26 of us drank over $6000 worth of wine with one dinner. I wish I had known the wine was that good when we were drinking it. This is, however, the home of the $1000 sandwich (three different caviars help drive up the price). Fortunately, when the final bill was presented, Cliveden decided that it was part of the price and the charge was dropped. It was good wine, but …
The view out the back with the Thames barely in view. We did not play rugby on this field.

We did learn how to play snooker and billiards.

The best part of the dinner was sharing our memories. We all talked in some way about the broadening experience of spending that time of our lives overseas. We are all still traveling the world and at least three children are now living overseas. One is taking care of New York University students studying in Florence like we did.
Mute swan on the Thames. I just had to add one bird picture.

No comments:

Post a Comment