Tuesday, September 13, 2016Oxford:
Research in the Bodleian Library and a Bus Ride to Woodstock
Awaking on my own in my new home in Oxford was another novel experience. I love the silence of this home—there are absolutely no street sounds, no crazy traffic, no music blaring from passing vehicles, to wake me up here. I adore the sights of a green meadow outside my bathroom window—what a joy to have a bathroom that actually has a window! In every respect, this home here in Oxford reminds me so much of my own home in Southport, Connecticut. This is what I am accustomed to: a home in the country surrounded by greenery, cozily furnished, lived-in. I am rejoicing in it and making the most of every second I spend here.
Getting a Reader’s Card for the Bodleian Library:
I brewed myself some coffee and got breakfast of muesli with honey yogurt organized. I also had a shower and got myself ready for the day. My first priority was getting to the new Weston Library to get my Reader’s Card and I was there a little after 9. 30 am. Producing two pieces of ID and my NYU ID card, I was easily able to obtain my card, after filling out a brief application form. The lovely young man who helped me out put me through the paces and told me where to go to obtain material based on my Bibliography.
I made my way up to what used to be the Indian Institute Library (now called the David Reading Room), where another lovely assistant showed me how to go to the first floor to use the computers to find the call numbers for the books I sought. My card would not work for at least an hour and my passage through the varied security gates depended on a small slip of paper that cleared me through. As a Reference Library, rules at the Weston Library are very similar to those at the British Library in London: pencils only, all material to be carried inside in clear plastic bags, phones turned on silent. Armed with Call Numbers, I went back to the David Reading Room where an even sweeter assistant called for the material I needed from Closed Stacks. Some of this material is stored in Swindon, a little way outside Oxford, and will arrive only tomorrow. I asked for it to be sent to the Radcliffe Camera as most of the material I need is there and because I rather fancy sitting in some of the world’s most extraordinary and oldest libraries to do my research!
Off to Begin Research:
And so off I went to the Radcliffe Camera, past Japanese tourists clicking pictures of the incredible Radcliffe Square, and inside I disappeared. I was directed three floors down into the basement where I found the two important books I was looking for—I took these to the quiet, air-conditioned space of the lower level basement reading area. The air-conditioning is such a relief as the UK is having its hottest September in 20 years. I am not complaining as the days are warm and sunny and perfect for exploration. In fact, it seems rather a shame to have to sit underground in a basement, albeit a cool one, instead of being outside enjoying the last of the summer wine.
Bu that was exactly what I did—and from 11.00 am when I began my research till 2.00 pm when I stopped because I was hungry, I knuckled down to some serious reading. It was such a delight to learn the process of finding call numbers for books and going down into the stacks to seek them out (in the good old days, you called for the books and never got to the stacks yourself—you waited for them to be sent up and then picked them up from the desk). I was amazed how quickly I made research progress, thanks to the quiet and studiousness of the atmosphere. Colleges have not reopened for classes yet—so, for the moment, independent scholars have the run of the libraries and are savoring every moment.
Re-visiting the Covered Market:
Leaving the Bodleian Library, I walked to Broad Street to the Tourist Information Center to pick up a host of brochures and flyers for places of local interest that I can explore in the late afternoon. I then sat on a bench overlooking Exeter College and Anthony Gormley’s sculpture on the rooftop just above the room I once occupied in the college and ate my cheese sandwiches. That done, I walked towards the Covered Market to use the loos and to explore a place from which, thirty years ago, I had bought very expensive cheese for a party at Exeter College. The cheese shop is still there together with a number of pricey butchers’ establishments, bakeries, pie shops, shoe shops and the like. I am happy to see that although some Asian dealers have set up shops, the traditional British salespeople are still dominating—not like Shepherd’s Bush Market in London which made me feel as if I was in a bazaar in Bombay!
Off on the Bus to Woodstock:
I found the bus stop on George Street that enabled me to board the S3 bus to Woodstock. It was a half hour journey to the little village that sits at the entrance to the Cotswolds and shares many of the typical characteristics of these areas: honey-toney stone buildings, charming cottages, wool churches, a village hall, a high street filled with tea rooms and taverns.
Woodstock has all these elements plus is the place you go to see Blenheim Palace, built by a former Duke of Marlborough and birthplace of Winston Churchill who descended through this illustrious aristocratic family. Most recently, it has been the site of a number of shootings of Hollywood films including James Bond’s Skyfall! Having been to Blenheim twice before, I did not venture towards it, but focused on lesser-known Woodstock streets. I could not find the showroom of Lady Henrietta Spencer-Churchill, an interior designer of repute who lives in Blenheim Palace, which used to be on the High Street—it is possible that her business has moved.
However, I did find the Museum of Oxfordshire, which happens to be free to enter. I thoroughly enjoyed looking at the little exhibits that make up this place especially a showcase filled with local taxidermied animals and birds that represent the area. There was also a lovely film about rural Oxfordshire in 1944 and the manner in which life has changed in this region. In particular, it is amazing how the influx of ethnic people from around the way is changing the face not only of British cities but smaller towns and villages as well!
The Receptionist at the Museum who entered into conversation with me was delighted to discover that I was from Connecticut, only 10 minutes away from where his daughter lives—in Norwalk, having married an American. He knows and loves our area well and could barely let me take my leave—so much did he want to chat about America.
Back to Oxford:
It had been my intention to attend Evensong again at Christ Church Cathedral—this time with the full choir. But the bus disappointed us very badly, not showing up on time at all and making me very late for the 6.00 pm service. I, therefore, decided to skip it and took the bus home. Once I got to my doorstep, I left my heavy bag with its tourist material behind and taking some of it to browse through, I walked one minute away to the park and the duck pond where I did some leafing through. I enjoyed every second of the lovely late summer’s evening with the sunset still in the distance and dogs prancing around off leash—so delighted to be in the park themselves. Ducks quacked occasionally and added to the countrified experience that I am so relishing.
Home for Dinner:
Back home, I switched on the TV and got my dinner organized. I was thrilled to eat the last bits of Shepherd’s Pie and Susan’s Apple and Fennel Salad with Beetroot and feta cheese and to eat brownies and vanilla ice-cream for dinner—what a treat to have such a smashing dinner and not to have cooked it myself! Once again, I feel overwhelmed by the extent of the blessings that are being poured on me.
After a little bit more TV, I got ready for bed as I gave thanks for another very productive research day in Oxford.
Until tomorrow, cheerio…