We took tea on the rear veranda, overlooking the symmetrical formal garden. Teaspoons clinked. Then I felt something biting my right arm, and slapped it. Then my neck. Then my leg. Soon I was thwacking every exposed inch of skin. Everyone else was perfectly calm. Was I batty?
One of the British ladies in the group took pity. "Thunderbugs," she told me. Similar to no-see-ums, these tiny bugs live in corn plants and are drawn by the crop's scent.
I learned three things today. One: I could be very happy in an English country house. Two: There are tiny bugs that could drive me mad. Three: I emit the aroma of a silo.
Miniature portraits were the topic of our final class. Members of Queen Elizabeth's court, we learned, often carried small likenesses of the Virgin Queen to demonstrate their loyalty—brownnosing, 16th-century-style. "Elizabeth chose not to spend much on art. She was miserly," Rosemary said. How cheap was she?"The story is that she told her soldiers to collect launched cannonballs so they could be used again."
For the final dinner our class shared a table. The conversation leaped across time and national borders, hopping from American presidential politics to the peccadilloes of Elizabeth I.
Before our last class we all signed a card. "We want to thank you for the sense of family you've created," Stanley told Rosemary. "So we present this card with messages in Japanese, German, Dutch, and"—my part—"New York-ese."
Oh, that reminds me: Did I mention to you that I studied at Oxford?
Oxford has but one rival in the upper spheres of British education: its upstart sister, Cambridge (which, founded in the 13th century, is younger by nearly 100 years). Summer students can pursue some 60 subjects at Cambridge in two- to six-week residential courses. Prices range from $1,416 to $3,728, with room and board included. For information, contact the International Division, University of Cambridge, Madingley Hall, Cambridge; 011-44-1954/210-636.
THE OXFORD EXPERIENCE: For more information, contact the Course Secretary, Oxford University Department for Continuing Education, 1 Wellington Square, Oxford OXl 2JA, U.K.; 011-44-1865/270381. The tuition of $688 covers room, board, and class fees. Five weeklong sessions take place in July and early August. Students choose a course of study from more than 20 offerings that range from British garden history to creative writing.
SUSAN ROY is health editor at Self.