Oxford and Wallingford
Research in the Bodleian Library and a Bus Ride to Woodstock
I am truly enjoying the sensation of waking up in this Oxford home. The silence is soothing to the soul and the only occasional sound I hear is the squarking of a passing duck from the nearby duck pond! How delightful is that? Not a car horn, no sirens, nothing. Little wonder I slept like a baby and awoke fully refreshed at 6.30 to do some blogging.
It has become routine here to wake up, blog a bit, get my breakfast organized and to eat it while watching BBC Breakfast—another huge thrill for me! In so many ways, here in my Oxford home, I feel as if I am home in Southport, Connecticut. This is exactly what I do at home. If Llew is not around, I eat my meals while watching TV and being without one in London left me feeling bereft—how did I think I could pass months on end without the sound of another human voice in my home? I was crazy! Anyway, here I am, loving the presence of a TV screen that I can flick on without having to go through my laptop.
I had my muesli with coffee and then got my clothes together for a shower. It is still unusually warm for September here in the UK and with rain still staying out of sight, I feel as if the weather too is trying to remind me fully of being home in the US.
Spending the morning at the Bodleian Library:
Having my bus pass now and knowing where the bus stop is on Abingdon Road, I hopped into one just as soon as it arrived, a quick minute later. Having a Library Reader’s Card, I stepped into the Radcliffe Camera to start my research exactly at 9.00am and got a coveted window seat overlooking Brasenose College and the terrace of my own beloved Exeter College. Not many readers had arrived by that hour and for a while, I almost felt as if I had the library to myself. I sat in the round dome area (not underground as I did yesterday). Even the act of walking up the pathway to the door made me feel privileged as the Camera is out of bounds to the public and only card-posssessing readers may enter.
For the next five hours, I stayed glued to my desk in the library and managed to get through one really important book of source material. The other material I had called for had arrived but I will start with it tomorrow. It was only hunger pangs that drove me out of the library at 2.00 pm. I felt thoroughly satisfied with the progress I had made and leaving my seat, I set off for the next item on my agenda—a Visit to Wallingford.
Susan and Tony had told me that Wallingford was a nice place to visit if I had the time and I took them at their word. Finding the X39 bus from outside Christ Church College, I hopped into it and was off and away. It was a long ride which I used to eat my sandwiches. I picked up a Belgian Chocolate and Honeycomb frappe from McDonalds’s and sipped that on the bus—for it was a very hot afternoon. Tourists were thicker than flies along Carfax and Oxford’s other popular arteries, so it felt good to get away from the crowds for a while.
I reached Wallingford almost an hour later—I did not realize it was that far away—but driving through the Oxfordshire countryside is such a joy as we pass through very neat villages, open fields now lying fallow and hedges thick with blackberries (now ripe for the picking) as well as apple trees simply laden with ruby red fruit. I am thinking so much of Keats’ “Ode to Autumn” as I take these autumnal country rides—“Season of mist and mellow fruitfulness/Close bosom friend of the maturing sun…” Ah Keats! The English countryside truly puts me in the mood for Keats.
Exploring the Village of Wallingford:
As is my custom, I stepped off the bus at Wallingford and looked for the Visitors’ Center. I found one immediately inside the Market Square’s stucco canopy tucked away almost in secret. The lady inside gave me a map for a Walking Tour which she said most visitors use to acquaint themselves with the town. It was a very good resource indeed and it allowed me to see most of the sights in about two hours—which is the time I had given myself for the visit.
Wallingford was put on the global map by the TV series Midsomer Murders, some episodes of which were shot here. The Corn Exchange Building, for instance, dating from the early 1800s which houses a modern-day cinema, was used as Causton Theater. In fact, Wallingford was used as the original Causton of the series on several occasions. It is charming, picturesque and countrified and makes the perfect setting for unexpected murder.
I walked into the Church of St. Mary Le More—a beautiful stone and flint affair that was largely rebuilt in the 1850s. Still, inside it is enchanting with its store of marble memorial wall plaques and timbered ceiling. I skirted around it and behind it to take in the small village shops and the thrift stores (from where I bought a set of soaps from Jane Austen’s home in Chawton) then walked towards the main road to see the Wallingford Museum. I had a quick browse through it and took in the Kineform, a large grassy area which holds the original Saxon town walls—you can see them vaguely—and then passed the Coach and Horses Inn. On the other side of the village, I got seduced by an multi-dealer antiques store and since I have always been a sucker for browsing in them—although I barely purchased anything anymore as my home is so full of clutter—I spent the next hour looking at everything from kitsch to vintage jewelry to really beautiful porcelain candlesticks.
About an hour later, it was almost 5.00 pm when I took a quick turn into Waitrose and then boarded my bus back to Oxford.
Evensong at Christ Church Cathedral:
At 5.50 pm, I awoke with a start when we arrived at Oxford for I had fallen asleep on the bus and enjoyed a most refreshing nap. Waking up instantly, I hurried into Tom Quad at Christ Church College to attend Evensong as I had a very special intention for which to give Thanksgiving.
Evensong was amazing. There were more than 150 people gathered in song and prayer and led by a superb adult choir (the little boy choristers have not yet appeared), I gave myself up to my ancient surroundings, the delicate stone carvings on the walls, the soaring heights of the nave and the pomp and pageantry that only the Anglican Church can present, thanks to their insistence on custom and tradition. I loved the service which was prayerful and soothing and a perfect end to my day. After the service, I met Martin, one of the pastors, who told me how happy he was to see me in church again. The next day, he said, the choristers would also be present, but I am not sure I will be free tomorrow evening at this time as I have a visitor to entertain.
Off to the Oxford Playhouse to see “Relatively Speaking”:
It was a good job I had fixed myself two sets of cheese and pickle sandwiches today because soon after Evensong which finished at exactly 7.00 pm, I strode off to the Oxford Playhouse. In the morning, I had stopped there to buy myself a ticket to see Alan Ackyborn’s Relatively Speaking—a rollicking comedy in his unmistakable vein. Where would British comedy be without its Ackyborns and Bennets and Cowards, I always wonder.
Anyway, for 15 quid, I was amazed at how good my seat was, how beautifully the interior of the Playhouse has been done up with its bright new velvet seats in jeweled colors, its spiffy new lobby with wine bar and its lovely stage. I made myself comfortable and then gave myself up to the laughter and the fun for it was a really hilarious show based on a series of misunderstandings between a younger couple and an older couple. I could not have spent a more relaxing evening and I enjoyed every second of the play. During the intermission, I ate my sandwiches so that I did not have to worry about dinner when I got home after 10.00 pm.
On the Bus and Home to Bed:
I caught a bus from St. Aldate’s that sailed down the Abindgon Road and two stops later, I hopped off. Although there was only a stray passer-by or a person on a bike at that time of night, a little after 10.00 pm, I did not feel the slightest bit of trepidation as I made my way down two side streets to my doorstep. It has to do with the general prosperity of the neighborhood. Where you have poverty and seediness, you have crime and in this wealthy part of Oxford, I did not have to worry about my personal safety at all as I had been doing in London. This too was a novel feeling after more than a month of worry.
I was home in five minutes and after brushing and flossing my teeth, I went straight to bed after what had been another perfect day of work and leisure.
Until tomorrow, cheerio…