Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Goodbye London, Hullo Oxford--City-Hopping with a Song in my Heart

Sunday, September 11, 2016

Goodbye London, Hullo Oxford--City-Hopping with a Song in my Heart

     Once again, I have to say that although overnight coach travel is not my favorite form of transport, at 7 pounds for the journey from Glasgow to London, I would do it again. Besides, I do sleep much more than I expect and end up feeling quite refreshed when I get off. We had one 30 minute rest stop somewhere in the middle of the night—we could use restrooms and get coffee and then we were off again, pulling into London Victoria Coach Station at 7.00 am. I wheeled my backpack to the Tube station at Victoria, boarded the District Line train and was at Stepney Green Tube station at 7. 30. I rushed in for a shower, unpacked and repacked for my two-week stay in Oxford, got myself some breakfast—leftover pizza reheated in the microwave!—attended to some urgent email I had received overnight and rushed out of the house by 9. 30 am. Yes, I pulled off a small miracle!

Mass at St. Paul’s Church, Kensington:

     My goal was to get to the home of my friends, Michael and Cynthia, in Chelsea by 10. 15 to join them for 10.00 am Mass at St. Paul’s, Kensington. On the Tube to Sloane Square, I arrived there just as they were about to leave. I stashed my backpack with them and off we went through Chelsea on a restful Sunday morning to arrive at the church.

     There happened to be a Baptism on that morning—a Brazilian child named Luca would have the privilege of being baptized by a Bishop, my friend Michael. Cynthia, his wife was much in demand as parishioners wanted to see her “halo”. She had just returned from Rome where she had the privilege of attending the canonization services for Mother Teresa! Many years ago, when she worked for Air-India, Cynthia (being a Christian) had been chosen to drive Mother Teresa on two separate occasions during her visits around London! It is not often that someone you have actually known in life becomes a saint! And Cynthia felt deeply honored to have had the chance to attend the canonization. Naturally, we had much to talk about after Mass as we walked back to their place. They had invited me to join them for lunch before I boarded my 3.00 pm coach to Oxford from Victoria and I had gladly accepted.

     Mass was of the High quality! There was amazing singing from a brilliant choir, a humorous (if slightly too lengthy) sermon from the Dean of the Church, the presence of incense wafting around the rafters and the cries of a little baby boy as water was poured on his head. Indeed it was a beautiful Mass and, as in all Anglican churches in England (which is why I attend them) rather theatrical!

Lunch in a Chelsea Home:

     Lunch was a very informal affair as Cynthia put on a smorgasbord of things for us to graze on—from pizza to hummus, to salads fresh from her sister-in-law’s Susan’s Oxford allotment and fruit salad (with mango, pineapple and grapes) for dessert. It was the perfect light afternoon meal. Cynthia then saw me downstairs and to the bus stop so that I could take the C1 to Victoria Coach Station. The bus took a while to come and left us nerve-wracked and I was just about to hail a cab when it arrived. To my utter delight, it did not go through the King’s Road (which is always traffic-ridden) but sailed down a back street and along Elizabeth Street so that I got to Victoria in exactly five minutes with plenty of time to spare to board my coach to Oxford.

     My super-cheap Megabus ticket (only 5 pounds to Oxford when bought online) was actually for the Oxford Tube (they must have a tie-up) and on the top deck, front and center, I never fail to recall the very first time (almost 30 years ago) when I had made a similar journey with my friend Firdaus as we embarked on a summer course and graduate study at Exeter College. Once we passed Brent Cross and the Westfield Shopping Mall that has sprouted there, we went by fields filled with sheep, cows and horses (thankfully some things do not change). I love these coach rides and always manage to nod off for a bit—20 minutes’ shut-eye can do wonders for one’s energy. Long live Power Naps!

Arrival in Oxford:

    In what seemed like no time at all, we were in Oxford and sailing down “The High” (High Street). Since the friends whose home I will be occupying for the next two weeks live in Grandpont, they suggested I get off at Christ Church College at St. Aldate’s. This cut down my walk to their home. Susan, my friend, met me half way down the ten minute walk to her place. It was a fabulous reunion for she is a very warm and loving person and it is always a huge joy to see her and spend time with her.      

Settling into Grandpont:

     I have stayed with Susan and her partner Tony before so I knew, more or less, what to expect of their cozy home and its surroundings. I have to say that my spirits soared as soon as the coach turned down The High and when my feet touched the ground as I alighted, I felt a spring in my step and a song on my lips. I was absolutely delighted to be in Oxford again and thrilled to be in a domestic space where I knew my psyche would be more satisfied and safer. The sun was shining, the streets were still full of tourists (especially around Christ Church—one of the most visited of the colleges) and the air was filled with possibility. I wanted to make the most of every second in this hallowed environment.

Getting to Grips with my New Home:

     On arrival at the home on Marlborough Road, I had a reunion with Tony, Susan’s partner, who was equally warm and welcoming. It was a lovely way to arrive in a new place—they were so kind and so hospitable. We sat down and had a cup of tea together with some of the walnut cake I had carried from my home as I had a few half-eaten groceries that I did not want to waste—I could make use of them here in Oxford so I had carried them along.

     Sue and Tony then put me through the paces. They often do House Swaps (as they travel so much) and are accustomed to having strangers live in their home while they are away. They had my bed and room all ready for me and showed me the heating, lights, garbage disposal, kitchen appliances, shower and bathroom fitments, TV and remote (how thrilled I was to have one and how did I ever think I would survive months on end in London without a TV set?). They wanted me to know all aspects of housekeeping that I would need to use during my stay as they were leaving for Crete, the next day. The house would be mine alone for two weeks during which time they wanted to make sure I could fend well for myself. I was sure I would. Already being in a cozy, lived-in home made me feel so much better.

       When we were done with the house, Susan took me for a little walk—right outside their home is Hinckley Park complete with huge duck pond, dog-walkers, a running and jogging path and two steps away is a swimming pool that I could use if I chose to—I had been told to bring along my swimsuit which I did. I seriously could not have had a better place in which to spend the next two weeks and my heart rejoiced. I felt so deeply blessed to have such generous friends who, time and time again, have opened their homes to me in different parts of London and treated me like an honored guest. I often have to pinch myself to believe that such riches are laid at my feet. Feeling deeply happy, we returned to Susan’s place and as I unpacked and made myself at home, she and Tony organized dinner.

     For the next hour, we chatted about all the places I could go to and the things I could do in the next two weeks. Tony had made superb lasagna, Susan had a number of salads (all grown on the allotment which is such a passion for the two of them) with homemade brownies and vanilla ice-cream for dessert—what a lovely meal! Just as they were excited about their trip to Crete, I was excited about all the things I had to do: getting a Reader’s Card for the Bodleian Library will be  my first priority, getting a bus pass to enable me to use the city bus service as well as to explore the surrounding Oxfordshire villages and the Cotswolds, getting maps of the area from the Tourist Information Center on “The Broad” (Broad Street), etc. I was determined to pass at least 50% of my time in Oxford in the library since I had the opportunity to do so. It would be so easy to simply stay in vacation mode (what with all the tourists milling around) but I knew there was research to be done.

    I fell asleep, about 10.00 pm., while somehow still full of beans. However, I have to admit that the moment my head hit my pillow, I was out like a light.

     Until tomorrow, cheerio…   

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