Monday, January 30, 2017

Being an Oxonian Again!

Sunday, January 22, 2017

            I awake at the unearthly hour of 5.00 am—still jetlagged and still fighting Bombay-time in my London hostel. By 6.00 am, I get out of bed and get on with my day. I gather up my stuff quietly, creep to the adjoining toilet and bathroom. Back in my room, with the aid of a night light attached to my bunk, I finish packing, dressing and dragging my backpack to the lift.

Brekkie at the Youth Hostel:

            I would have liked to catch the 8.00 am Communion service at the Church of All Souls, Langham (referred to at the BBC Church), but it is a longer hike from my hostel than I had thought. Instead, I decide to get downstairs to the dining room and order the Breakfast Buffet—an All You Can Eat Continental spread for 4.99 pounds. I do not realize what great value it is for money until I am presented with a tray with a croissant on it, and asked for my choice of yoghurt—I opt for peach. At the bar, there is juice, tea, coffee, milk (hot and cold), a selection for cereals (I go for the muesli), black and white bread for toast, every possible kind of spread and preserve plus fresh fruit. I eat like a queen and fortify myself up well for the day ahead for I have no idea when my next meal will be. At 9.45 am, I settle my bill, return my key card to Reception and leave. It is probably the last time I will ever stay in a youth hostel and I am feeling a tad sorry about it for I have had wonderful solo adventures in them in cities around the world.

We have decided that I will meet my friend Roz at 10.15am outside Notting Hill Gate Tube station and, to my great good luck, after I lug my backpack to Marylebon Road, a few short blocks away, I discover at the bus stop that instead of taking the Tube from Great Portland Road and changing three trains to get there, I need merely take one bus there directly. Hallelujah!

            The bus arrives within five minutes and I am at my destination in about twenty. Roz is already parked close by and we have a reunion as she stashes my backpack in the trunk of her car and we move on. It is possibly the shortest journey I have ever had to Oxford—partly because, on a Sunday morning, the city is still asleep, traffic is non-existent and we are gabbing away non-stop. Time flies and it is only when we arrive at St. Clements, that I realize how quickly we have reached. It is our intention to eat a Thai lunch at Oli’s Thai which is extolled as one of the finest Thai restaurants in the country, but, of course, it is not open on a Sunday. Perhaps tomorrow, I think…

Parking and a Coffee at the Museum of Modern Art:

            Roz finds parking on the High Street and we stride along to Marks and Spenser because my friend Sue, in whose home in Oxford I shall be staying, recommended that we visit the Museum of Modern Art (that neither one of us has seen) which is down a flight of stairs behind the store. We find it in a jiffy and settle down with coffee and hot chocolate in the adjoining cafe—although I am still stuffed with my bulging breakfast. More chatter, more catching up to do, more things to chinwag about. Then, reluctantly, we push ourselves towards the exhibits.

            There is a special by Lubaina Himid, a Muslim Tanzanian-British, post-Colonial artist whose mixed media work (paintings, collage, sculpture, installation, painted pottery) are a telling commentary on colonial exploitation of Africa. It is an attempt to expose the brutality of slavery and to reclaim the place of the native black African in historical narrative especially around the issue of the world china trade—which I find vastly interesting.

            My contemplation of her work is interrupted by news from my brother Roger in Connecticut that my brother Russel is unwell in Bombay. I make calls to my Dad, get to grips with the situation and decide to call him again in an hour. We are getting out of the art gallery through M and S when whom should we run into but my friend Sue, with whom I shall be spending the next three nights! I make introductions but we soon move on and get back to the car. Roz is ready for some lunch and I suggest one of my favorite places near Oxford, The Trout at Wolvercote. She is game…and we are off.

Lunch at The Trout:

            Roz drives her car expertly out of Oxford’s complex one-way road system and we are on the Woodstock Road headed for Wolvercote. Regular readers of this blog will know that it is a favorite place of mine—a pub that was favored by Morse and Lewis and which has grown from a small country drinking hole to a somewhat posh gastropub with posh food to match. Over the last thirty odd years, I have spent many a happy hour in quiet contemplation by its weir on the stone terrace at the back, overlooking the river Isis—either alone or in company.

            On this Sunday afternoon, it is hopping. We manage to find a table for two, despite having no reservations, and sit down to a lovely luncheon in a super cozy space with exposed black beams, low-slung ceiling and Ingernook fireplaces that make it toasty. Roz goes for a vegetable tart with goat cheese which is absolutely delicious and although I am still stuffed, I go for the Fig and Dolcelatto Nut Roast which is really quite nice. Roz has a glass of red wine, I have the pear cider (my first time, if you can believe it, having it in the UK on this visit), but by the time we get to our last mouthfuls, we are bursting and pass on dessert—more’s the pity because they looked fabulous.

Getting Dropped Off at Grandpont:

                Roz drives me back to Sue and Tony’s, as she has plans to meet her son and his family in Jericho. It is a roundabout journey because the pedestrian plaza of Cornmarket makes a detour necessary. Carfax in Oxford is busy on a Sunday afternoon, but nowhere near as crowded as it is in the summer. Again, a quick Hi and Bye to Sue and Tony and she is on her way by 4.00 pm

Dinner with Dear Friends:

With the evening free to ourselves, I find my room, make myself at home and spend the evening catching up with my friends. There is a distinct sense of deja-vu all over again as I survey the house in which I had spent two absolutely heavenly weeks in September while they were in Crete. They settle me down with a cup of tea and before long, it is time for dinner. Sue and Tony work together to produce delicious, nourishing meals, most of which are created from the produce they grow on their allotment. This evening it is a marvelous Leek, Walnut and Blue Cheese Tart complete with pastry, Tony has made and rolled himself into a deep tart dish. We eat it with peas and new boiled potatoes and there is a Lemon Ricotta Cheesecake from M and S for pudding.

There is so much to talk about—mainly about the new presidency of Truummmphhhh! My friends are naturalists and activists and have joined the rest of the world in protesting against his obnoxious policies. On Saturday (yesterday), during the Womens’ March, they stood with banners on Abingdon Bridge that read, ‘Build Bridges, Not Walls’. They are fearful about what lies ahead, not just for America but the world. 

But, much as I enjoy our chatter, by 9.00 pm, jetlag catches up with me again and I am yawning and losing it. I excuse myself as they clear up and I get ready for bed. It has been another wonderful day spent in the company of fond English friends in one of my favorite cities in the whole wide world. What was not to love?

Until tomorrow, cheerio…


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