Friday, September 16, 2016Oxford
Having Company in Oxford--Research at the Bodleian and a Walking Tour
It is odd waking up with someone else in the house. Carol is also an early riser and I could hear her moving about upstairs and using the bathroom. When it was free, I moved in to use it. It was also nice to sit at a table and eat breakfast properly with someone else to talk to. About six weeks after being on my own, I am appreciating the joys of companionship. We had toast with peanut butter and Tony’s homemade gooseberry jam (with gooseberries from his allotment) for brekkie with tea for her and decaff coffee for me, showered, dressed and left the house, as decided at 8. 45 am.
We took the bus together to Oxford City Center down Abingdon Road and parted company at St. Aldate’s. Carol, a gardener and amateur botanist, headed to the gardens at Christ Church College for we found the gates wide open, and I waited for the bus to turn into the High Street, got off at Queen’s College and walked to the Bodleian. It was our plan to meet on the steps of the Ashmolean Museum between 12. 45 and 1.00 pm, for Carol would have time to pick up our friend Rose who was arriving from London on the train at 11.00 and spend an hour or so at the Ashmolean before I joined them for a lateish lunch.
Research at the Bodleian:
I am loving these mornings spent quietly in uninterrupted reading at the Bodleian’s Radcliffe Camera building. I have been very fortunate to find seats rights by the window but this morning, things were slightly different. There was a bustle at the entrance to Brasenose College which is right on Radcliffe Square—students were standing around with big bunches of balloons and there was a massive banner announcing the name of the college on the door. Was this the day the new freshmen moved in, I wondered. Wasn't it a tad too early for that?
It did not take me long, from all the noise and commotion outside, to discover that it was Open Day at Oxford University. This was brilliant. It was the day Rose had chosen to arrive at Oxford and I was supposed to give my new friends, a walking tour of the town and gown portions of it. Wow! This meant that we’d be able to get to the more inaccessible colleges (such as Christ Church) for free! Yess!! Well, I concentrated on the chapters I wished to finish, continued making my notes and then at 12. 45, I left my carrel and moseyed up to the Ashmolean. Although I was right in the middle of one of the most interesting bits in my research, I had to drag myself away as I did not want to keep my friends waiting. Time permitting, I would return later in the day to continue working.
Oxford’s crowds had trebled—prospective students and their parents were everywhere. As they competed with the regular late-summer tourist hordes, it jammed the entire city. Thankfully, autumn has sneaked in finally and under blue skies (although it had drizzled in the morning), the cool temperatures did much to help us keep our cool despite the crowds.
I waited for about 20 minutes before my friends (who were deep in the heart of the Ashmolean) joined me on the steps, as planned. Right away, I began my walking tour with them showing them the following items that I think every first-time visitor to Oxford needs to see—plus many more colleges thrown in as well as they were happy to welcome us in.
1. The Ashmolean Museum (founded in the 1600s and named for Elias Ashmole who started the collection by bequeathing his own).
2. The Randolphe Hotel (famed setting of so many episodes of Inspector Morse that there is a bar in there now named ‘The Morse Bar’ and a ‘Morse Suite’ on the third floor. Great place to have Afternoon Tea to which I was once treated as a grad student by wealthy American friends).
3. The Martyrs Memorial (to remember Cardinals Latimer, Cranmer and Ridley who were burned at the stake by Bloody Mary Tudor during the counter-Reformation).
4. We detoured to enter St. John’s College but its famed Canterbury Quad was made ugly by the erection of huge white marquees.
5. A look at St. Giles, location of the Eagle and Child pub where the Inklings (Tolkien, C.S. Lewis and their friends) met once a week while studying at Exeter College to talk about their work.
6. Also at St. Giles, the War Memorial that divides the road into Woodstock Road (because it leads there) and Banbury Road (ditto) and to look at the other pub on the other side, The Lamb and Flag.
7. Broad Street to see the actual spot at which the martyrs were burned. Marked by a cross of white and black stones.
8. Also on Broad Street, Balliol College—one of the best-known. Just because it was open.
9. While on The Broad, the exterior of Exeter College’s Margery Quad to spot the new sculpture by Anthony Gormley that happens to be poised just above my former room at the college.
10. The White Horse Tavern (Morse and Lewis often drank here).
11. Blackwell and Co. Bookstore and specially the Norrington Room that goes underground several levels and then settles under one of the colleges.
12. The new spiffy glass and chrome lobby of the newly-named Weston Library.
13. The former Indian Institute to see the Indian motifs on the wall—cow, lion, elephant, tiger—opposite the King’s Arms Pub.
14. Down the hidden alleyway leading to The Turf Tavern where Morse drank and Bill Clinton in his student days did not inhale. I ate Beef and Ale Pie with Mash and Veg and half a pint of Guinness. My friends ate giant Hamburgers with chips. We sat in the Conservatory—most un-pub-like—but there wasn’t much room in the more traditional parts of the ancient public house. A very nice meal indeed with huge portions.
15. Outside, the pub, we looked at the blue plaque that pointed out the former residence of Jane Burden who was the favorite model of the Pre-Raphaelites until William Morris married her and she had a torrid affair with his best friend Dante Gabriel Rossetti.
16. We emerged under the Bridge of Sighs and walked into the courtyard of the Sheldonian Theater—Christopher Wren’s only Oxford Building. On the right is the Clarendon Building, designed by his best-known pupil, Nicholas Hawksmoor. Carol chose to detour at this point to go into Blackwell’s Art store. The agreement was that we would reconnect either at Exeter College or at the art store.
17. On to Turl Street and into Exeter College—to which I have a special connection as I did grad work there, many moons ago. We saw the lovely Quadrangle, the Dining Hall (whose steps were adorned with potted geraniums) with its lovely High Table, oil-painted portraits on the wall and wooden paneling throughout. I have eaten many a happy meal in the company of wonderful friends in this beloved space where a lot of bonding has taken place—those bonds still remain. We walked through the Junior Common Room to the Fellows’ Garden where we peeped into the College Library, then climbed the steps to the ramparts of the walls that enclose the college and overlook lovely Radcliffe Square.
18. On the ramparts of Exeter College, I pointed out the many buildings that give Radcliffe Square its unique character—exterior of the Bodleian Library, Radcliffe Camera, Brasenose College, The Church of St. Mary The Virgin, All Souls College (the only one that was not open as All Souls College is exclusively for grad students and Oxford Fellows).
19. Back in Exeter College, we went to the Chapel, designed by George Gilbert Scott who also designed the Library of the University of Bombay where I have also done research—I love my Scott connections! Rose loved the tapestry portraying The Adoration of the Magi as she is a huge Pre-Raphaelite fan. This one was designed by Edward Burne-Jones and created by Morris and Co (of William Morris fame). Morris, Burne-Jones and Rosetti (all Exeter alums) had met in the college, founded the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood and stayed fast friends for the rest of their lives—despite their complicated romantic entanglements. In the Margery Quad (which was under construction—yes, yet again!) I pointed out my room to Rose. Carol was not around at the main door of the college by the time we finished, so assuming she was still in the store, we soldiered on.
20. Past Brasenose Lane, we entered Radcliffe Square and tried to get into the Church of St. Mary the Virgin. There was a memorial service going on inside, and so we could not enter. Not wanting to waste time waiting, we left the Square and emerged on High Street (The High) which we crossed to enter University College (where Bill Clinton did not inhale).
21. On to the Shelley Memorial which is tucked-away in a corner of the college—its tribute to a passionate alum and one of the country’s greatest poets, as a way of making up for “sending him down” unjustly on baseless charges.
22. One to Oriel Square past Magpie Lane where I took Carol into The Bear, Oxford’s oldest pub and the one in which you could, in past centuries, pay for a drink and a meal with a student tie. The Pub collected hundreds of ties that are showcased on the walls and on the ceiling and give it a very unique look indeed. We tried to get into Christ Church Quad but it had closed at 4. 30 pm. So, in the end, we did not get into the one college that asks tourists for payment to enter.
23. It was then almost 5.00 and Rose had a train to catch from Oxford Station at 5. 30. We made our way back to Exeter—no sign of Carol there. We entered Blackwell Art Shop—she had probably left a long time ago. I checked my phone to see if she had called me—she is not reachable by me as she has a US number and no local UK number. Rose and I were worried. Where was she? It does not bode well when parties separate and there is no phone contact. Rose and I decided that she would go to the Station—they were sure to meet there as they were on the same train back to London.
Rose and I said goodbye and parted—I will, no doubt, see her again in London in October. I had thoroughly enjoyed my day out with my friends in Oxford and although I could have given them at least another two hours’ worth of viewing (for we did not get a chance to see Christ Church College or The Meadows or Magdalen College or the Botanical Gardens or Carfax), one must always leave something out for “next time”. Rose thoroughly enjoyed the tour and her visit.
Back to the Bodleian:
Since it was only 5.00 pm, I returned to my seat at the Radcliffe Camera—it had almost emptied with most readers having left by this time. I got back to my work and stayed there until 7.00 pm. Then I called Ela who lives in Painswick in the Cotswolds as the plan was that I spend the next day, Saturday, with her and her family. However, after walking to the railroad station and finding that there was a major disruption to the service and that many commuters headed to Heathrow felt deeply concerned about making their flights, I nixed my own plans for Painswick. It was a far more complicated, time-consuming and expensive journey than I had imagined.
Returning Home for Dinner:
The evening had turned chilly—how can it be 82 degrees one day and 62 degrees the next? The UK seems to have gone from summer directly to winter and I was rather cold. It is time to add another layer to my outfits, for sure. I took the bus from St. Aldate’s back home to Grandpont and got myself comfortable in front of the TV to watch and eat my dinner (leftover pasta from the previous day)—which is my favorite place in the world to eat when I am alone. In so many small ways, this house makes me feel thoroughly “at home’—in a way I was never able to feel in my house in Bethnal Green. The difference to my psyche as a result of my new space is simply indescribable in words. I made the right decision, I am convinced now. It was inconvenient to move out of a home in which I had expected to stay for 5 months—but I was not going to be unhappy for 5 months either. I am sure that in my new London space to which I will move in October, my heart will feel lighter again.
I have also discovered that I can re-watch Inspector Morse on ITV on my computer. What a joy to watch Oxford on screen while living in Oxford! I did just that as I fell asleep.
It had been an unusual day—the joy of having friends to share and enjoy one of my favorite places in the world, was simply priceless.
Until tomorrow, cheerio…