An Extraordinary Last Day in Oxford
I had another extraordinary day in Oxford—and since this one was my last, I had to make the most of every second. My friend Bash was supposed to drive in to London today with his partner Vanita and I was supposed to give them a tour of the city. But yesterday I received word that their trip was cancelled as Bash had a funeral to attend. Oh well....it would simply enable me do all the things I had left unfinished, so I was not the slightest bit disappointed.
Despite waking up at 6.00 am, time flew as I caught up on email, checked Twitter, posted a few pictures to accompany my tweets, and blogged for an hour, At 8.00 am, I took a shower and began the last bits of my packing. It is amazing how much time it takes to transfer all the paper I tend to accumulate everywhere I go! Then I sat down to write out a Thank You for my lovely generous hosts and to leave them the gifts I have bought them. When that was done, I set about tidying and cleaning every room to make sure they would return to a spotless home on Monday. My packing seemed to take forever, but finally it was done and at 10. 15 am, I left the house to walk to Oxford City Center to have brunch as I was still on an empty stomach!
Brunch at The Mitre Hotel:
I was amazed when I entered the restaurant at The Mitre Hotel that there were men already nursing beers at that hour of the day! The Mitre Hotel dates from 1220—can you believe it? In fact, one of my friends and a former Rhodes Scholar, Desmond, who is now a techie tycoon in California, told me that when he was studying in Oxford, he used to moonlight on the guitar at this hotel to make a few bucks! How cool was that?
I ordered the Full English Breakfast with coffee and gave myself up to the sheer pleasure of eating a meal while ravenous! Needless to say, I relished every morsel and when I left after using the restroom, I headed straight to the next item on my agenda.
So here roughly is how I spent my last day in Oxford:
1. Visit to Duke Humphrey’s Library (medieval part of the Bodleian Library). This time I stashed my bag in the locker below and went upstairs to a part of the library that was built in 1610 just after the Age of Elizabeth. This explains why King James I is on the main façade of Bodleian Square—for it was in his reign that the main library was set up. The interior is gorgeous with ceilings completely covered in crests, oil painted portraits lining the walls—I recognized a few of the most notorious Tudors—separate alcoves and carrels for individual readers—all in dark heavy wood and glorious paneling. Stained glass windows cover one end of it where I sat for a little while and did quiet reading. There were only two other people in the library and one of them got into conversation with me. I climbed the stairs and entered the balcony where I got bird’s eye views of the tables below. I was amazed to see that despite having retained the antiquity of its spaces, the individual carrels are wired and have sockets for laptops and other devices. Needless to say, there is wifi in every one of the Bodleian libraries for the use of registered readers. You have to be a registered reader to enter or use the library and none of them are lending libraries. You can only read items from their collection on the premises. However, you have a vast choice of libraries in which to do your research and I used three of them in the past two weeks. Pretty darn cool!
2. Off to the new Weston Library to see their specific exhibit entitled 24 Pairs. In the back of the main floor, they will keep changing their exhibitions, it appears. This one takes a very well-known historical document and pairs it with a lesser-known one to which it is connected. For instance, there was the original manuscript of Wilfrid Owen’s famous war poem ‘Dulce et Decorum Est’ and sitting beside it is a massive tome of botanical illustrations open to the page that depicts a poppy—the poppy being the flower that was chosen to denote the war-time trail of death in France. Remember the line: “In Flanders’ fields, the poppies blew…”
3. I crossed Broad Street and using Turl Street as a thoroughfare, I arrived at The High Street. I then took Oriel Street that brought me to Oriel Square where I entered Christ Church College from the back entrance. I walked straight to the Christ Church Picture Gallery where I spent the next hour. It has a fantastic collection of Old Master paintings from the 1400s to the 1750s that were donated to the college by John Guise. This bequest made Christ Church a major institution for the study of Art History as it was no longer necessary for students to go to Italy to study them. Now well-housed in a specially-built gallery in the garden in which the real Alice (of Wonderland fame) used to play, there is a 5 pound entry fee. It is worth seeing work by such Renaissance names as Fra Fillipo Lippi and Annibal Carraci—so I do think it is worth a visit (and a place that a regular reader of this blog, Hilary Melton-Butcher, suggested I see). Hilary will be pleased to know that I did get there—yet again. I had seen the gallery about ten years ago and had spent more time then.
4. Tour of Christ Church College. I finally did tour the entire college and not just the Cathedral that I have been frequenting for evensong. Which was just as well as the Cathedral was closed for a wedding today. I met a delightful French couple at this spot and we spent about ten minutes chatting before parting company. I went up to the magnificent Dining Hall which is the famed setting of Hogwarts Dining Hall in Harry Potter films, before taking pictures of the spectacular fan vaulting of this ceiling in this part of the college. Outside, I passed through the cloisters of the Cathedral before leaving the college.
5. Stroll down Dead Man’s Wall and The Meadows to get to the banks of the Thames. It was a reconstruction of a walk and a sit-down I had taken years ago. River craft were in full spate: there were kayakers, crew members in their boats, punters. I took so many pictures in this serene spot and I took a 15 minute rest as I had been on my feet forever.
6. Long Walk around the Meadows along the banks of the Thames to the Botanical Garden. This walk seemed to go on forever but I got a lot of pictures of Oxford’s Dreaming Spires from across the Meadows in which cattle lowed and grazed.
7. Visit to the Botanical Garden which now that it is wearing its fall colors, is quite lovely. There is an entry fee of 5 pounds here too which I paid as I went first to the banks of the Thames to take pictures of the punts as I had first done thirty years ago! Truly, some things simply do not change! Double deckers buses still ply along Magdalen Bridge and folks in the punts still laugh and shriek with delight as they try to get the hang of the technique involved in moving forward. I walked around the flower beds and found another Morse location at a little pond besides a bench where I sat down for a rest and entered into another conversation with a gentleman. Everyone wants to know where I am from and then they all want to talk about Trump whom I have heard described as “that obnoxious man”, “that dreadful man”, “that horror of a politician”. In all fairness, I have heard Hilary Clinton described by Brits as “a crook”, “a cheat”, “slippery as an eel”, “too clever for her own good”, etc. But they all seem to think that despite all her flaws (and there are many), she is preferable to her opponent! As the man on the bench told me, “Well, of course everyone here would want to talk to you about your coming election. America is such an important country—its influence reaches out across the world.” He also told me that Chelsea Clinton is as awful as her mother. Apparently, when she was a student at Oxford, she walked into a pub rather late--after the kitchen had been closed and the chefs had gone for the night. When the management told her and her friends that they were unable to serve her, she told them that she was Chelsea Clinton and that if she wasn't served, she had the power to close the establishment down! The man swore that this incident was related to him by an American eye-witness who happened to be a Democrat herself!
8. I took more pictures and left to get home because it was past 4.00 pm by this time. On the way I stopped on Magdalen Bridge to look below at the punters—because one simply cannot leave Oxford without peering down at the Thames from Magdalen Bridge! Old traditions die hard!
9. Quick walk home but another unexpected detour. I discovered that there was a Vintage Fair at the Town Hall—and so, guess what? The Town Hall was open to the public! Now, as I had mentioned a few days ago, it is usually only open by special guided tour a few times a month. Well, today I was able to get in and let me tell you, it is spectacular. The main Hall is thickly covered with sculpture made with plaster. There is exuberant ornamentation inside and it is superbly well-preserved. I took a bunch of pictures and walked freely from one hall to the next feeling absolutely thrilled that I was able to see this venue as well before leaving the city.
10. Back home in ten minutes to finish the last of my packing, straighten up the entire house and leave.
I took a bus from Abingdon Road as I was weighted down by my belongings and from the High Street, I jumped into the Oxford Tube after buying my ticket on the coach. I boarded it at 5. 45 pm and was at Victoria t 7. 45 pm. Then I hopped into the District Line at Victoria and was home at exactly 8. 20 pm.
I merely changed for the night and as I had eaten the second half of my chicken and bacon baguette on the coach, I did not need to worry about dinner. I blogged and ate an apple I had plucked from a tree in the Botanical Garden, watched some TV and went straight to bed.
Until tomorrow (which will be my last day in this home in Bethnal Green)…cheerio.