Tuesday, 10 June 2008

Three Blind Mice

A bit over a week ago we had our first visitor since arriving here in the UK. Julie Boyd, who had worked with Wayne at Southbank TAFE and who also, with her husband Jeff, used to have brunch with Wayne and Meg on the occasional Sunday mornings. For those of you who don’t know Julie, she is originally from Northern Ireland and works as a mortician, which means that conversations with her are regularly interesting and held in a wonderful accent. Even though she was born in Northern Ireland she lives in Queensland, so this left open lots of options for jokes about the Irish person who came to visit us in England via Australia.

Julie’s visit came at the end of an interesting week, particularly in relation to our car. On Wednesday evening, after Meg and Wayne had been up to Hertford, they were travelling back down the A10 toward home when they noticed a car stopped on the Motorway. This was an issue because it came to a halt in the middle of the lane we were travelling in and, because there was another car between them and us, we saw it quite late. There was lots of traffic in the other lane, so Wayne applied the brakes quite firmly and we went off the road into the gravel, leaving some tire marks behind us and narrowly missing some of the rabbits which regularly eat grass beside the road in the afternoon. At this point the car that had stopped decided to move the extra 20 metres or so into the slip road. We still don’t know what they were thinking but were very thankful that our brakes had worked.

On the Friday we journeyed down to Radlett in order to pick Julie up from the friend’s house where she had been staying. Because Kylie is only little, both the boys stayed at home in order to wait for the goods we had shipped over when we first left Australia back in January. Neither Meg nor Wayne had ever been to Radlett before so it was interesting to see yet another new place. There has been a settlement known as Radlett since at least as far back as 1453. However modern Radlett has been created almost entirely since the end of the 19th century and nowadays it exists in the middle of the Metropolitan Green Belt. As we drove around we were very impressed by the size and architecture of some of the beautiful houses in the area. It is not surprising then, given that it is also very close to London, that so many notable people live or have lived in Radlett. Some of these include; Brian Bennett and Hank Marvin from the musical group, The Shadows; George Michael, formerly of the 80’s group Wham!; Dennis Wise, Vinny Jones, Kolo Taure, Lauren, and Thierry Henry (all football players); former England cricket captain Douglas Jardine; and actresses, Pam St Clement and Lacey Turner (who played Pat Evans and Stacey Branning on Eastenders).

Sadly for Claire (Julie’s friend), it is not in one of these enormous houses that she lives, but we were able to find the place easily enough. Because there was still a little time before she needed to go to work, Claire suggested we go down to one of the local pubs for lunch. Because neither Wayne nor Meg had eaten a meal in a pub as yet, we readily accepted and went back down into the village to the Red Lion. Inside was just as we had expected from an old English pub, a man with a northern European accent behind the bar, lots and lots of different brews of beer, a few old gentlemen sitting at the bar, and some really lovely food. We sat and discussed a whole range of things, including some of the interesting things the net brings up about Radlett. These include that; on the 24th of May 1943, a missile from Germany hit Radlett killing seventeen people. In 1823 Radlett was the site of an infamous murder. Claire also mentioned that one of the more infamous ‘swingers clubs’ operates at Radlett once a month.

When we got home we found that our possessions had arrived while we were out, so the next few hours were spent opening boxes and trying to find places to store the things that we had been making do without since January. Because the brakes had been making a squeaking noise, Wayne ducked up to the garage to have them checked but we were told we would have to wait until Monday. What was good to find was our photos and photo frames; wedding photos of them standing next to Julie helped to convince the boys that they had, in fact, met her before. Indeed, we all got on like a house on fire, telling jokes, looking at photos of Julie’s children and grandchildren, and making decisions about where we might travel on the following day.

After a late night we all managed to wake fairly early in order to start the car and head off for the ‘other’ university town, Oxford. Not long after we arrived we borrowed a book from the library called The Top 50 Crap Towns in Britain, published by a magazine called ‘the Idler’, and Oxford was one of the places featured within. It is about 70 miles from home and Julie had never been there either. While it was a bit cramped in the back of Kylie, we had a great time singing, telling stories and looking at the amazingly green countryside as we travelled through Hertfordshire, Buckinghamshire and finally into Oxfordshire. Having learned our lesson from the earlier visit to Cambridge, this time we parked outside the city at the Park and Ride carpark and boarded a big red double decker bus heading for the centre of Oxford.

Oxford has been described in many way. George Santayana called it ‘the paradise of dead philosophies’ while Anthony Trollope said that it was ‘the most dangerous place to which a young man can be sent. What we found, much as with Cambridge, was a beautiful city centre, filled with amazing old buildings dating back hundreds of years. At the very centre of the town is Carfax tower. The Tower is all that remains of the 13th century St Martin's Church and is now owned by the Oxford City Council. It is 23 m (74 ft) tall and still contains a ring of six bells, recast from the original five by Richard Keene of Woodstock in 1676. On the outside, under the clock, is a pair of bellringers who move back and forward on the quarter hour, apparently chiming the bells. There are 99 stairs to the top of the tower and apparently a wonderful view of the spires of Oxford, but cost (as well as the objection of some to climbing stairs) kept us at ground level.

From there we headed off down Cornmarket Street, which is available only to pedestrians and runs from the centre of the city to the North. There were an amazing variety of shops housed in some buildings which also showcased a variety of ages and architectural styles. In particular, next door to Burger King, was a lovely old Tudor style wooden building which, over time, has gradually begun to lean. These days it houses a Pret A Manger (sandwiches) store and a Starbucks, which provides an interesting contrast. Next door is the tower of St Martin at the Northgate, so called because, when the town was walled, this was the site of the gate to the North. This building dates back to 1040 and is the oldest in Oxford. Like Carfax Tower you can actually climb to the top of this old Saxon building to look over the rest of the city but again we chose not to do this.

What Oxford is most famous for, however, is the University and as we turned up Ship Street we walked past the first of the Colleges that we had come across, Jesus College. Jesus was the only College founded during the reign of Elizabeth I, having been granted its charter on the 25th of June 1571. Graduates of Jesus include an enormous number of politicians, writers and bishops. However some of the most famous include; Pixley Ka Izaka Seme (1881- 1951) Founder of the African National Congress; (James) Harold Wilson, Baron Wilson of Rievaulx (1916 - 1995) MP and Prime Minister; and T.E. Lawrence also known as Lawrence of Arabia (1888 - 1935) Academic, historian and British liaison officer during WWI. What we were amazed by was the amazing architecture and, especially for the boys, the gargoyles and statues which we were to find was a feature of Oxford.

From the end of Ship we crossed Turl Street, glimpsing Exeter College as we passed and found ourselves on Broad Street outside the Museum of the History of Science. While the exhibitions and the museum itself looked fascinating, this was to become one of a multitude of places we would pass during the day which we will have to go back to see. Quite honestly, Oxford could easily fill a long weekend with the number of things there are to see and do, and that is without attending the theatre (of which there are several). Across the road from the Museum is Trinity College, founded during the reign of Elizabeth’s sister Mary, and hence much more steeped in Roman Catholicism. Famous students who attended here include John Henry Newman (1801-1890) Anglican Minister, Cardinal of the Roman Catholic Church and Founder of what was to be called the Oxford (or Tractarian) Movement; and William Pitt the Elder (1708-1778) MP and Prime Minister (featuring in an episode of the Simpsons where Barney Gumble and Wade Boggs argue about the best British Prime Ministers of all time). Also worth checking out is a former student who was expelled (or sent down) from Trinity, Richard Burton (not the actor).

Some of the most beautiful architecture in Oxford is to be found next to the Museum of the History of Science in the Bodleian Library. This is the main research library of the University of Oxford, and is one of the oldest libraries in Europe let alone England. It is one of only 6 legal deposit libraries in Britain, which means that any book published in Britain or Ireland must present a copy to the library. Because of this, it is the second largest library in the country, behind only the British Library at Westminster in London. Meg renewed her love affair with doors, as there were so many old, beautiful doors leading into different sections of the library. This is one of the reasons that the library features in ‘The Madness of King George’, ‘Brideshead Revisited’, ‘Another Country’ and the first two Harry Potter Movies (as the hospital ward and the library). It also features the Radcliffe Camera which is actually a round building (the word ‘camera’ coming from the Latin for ‘chamber’) that featured in the Inspector Morse television show, as well as the movies ‘Young Sherlock Holmes’ and ‘The Saint’. J.R.R. Tolkien (who was a Professor at Oxford) described Sauron’s temple to Morgoth on Numenor, in ‘The Lord of the Rings’, as being architecturally like Radcliffe Camera.

Once you pass through the Bodleian library you reach the church of St Mary the Virgin. This is the building where the University of Oxford was established, lectures used to be held in the church itself. There has been a church on this site, at the centre of the old walled city, since Anglo Saxon times. Congregation met there from at least 1252, and by the early 13th century it was the seat of university government and was used for lectures and the award of degrees. During the Marian repression of the Reformation in England it saw the trial of Archbishop Thomas Cranmer (one of Wayne’s heros), Bishop Hugh Latimer and Bishop Nicholas Ridley, for their teachings and their support of Lady Jane Grey, before they were burned at the stake outside Balliol College on Broad Street. It is said that the nursery rhyme ‘Three Blind Mice’ originally referred to these events. Sermons by William Laud, John Wesley, John Henry Newman, John Keble and Rowan Williams (the current Archbishop of Canterbury) have all been preached here. We have seen many impressive churches so far in our journeys, but this would be right up there with them.

By now it was the early afternoon, so we walked past Lincoln College, Brasenose College, All Souls College, and Hertford College as we walked back up to Cornmarket to look for somewhere to have lunch. Although McDonalds, Burger King and KFC all had their attractions but we ended up at The Crown Inn in the Clarendon Centre for a pub lunch. The food was fabulous, and reasonably priced, so both Brock and Quinn want to go back there for another meal. Indeed, Brock was even talking about going back to The Crown for his birthday dinner (70 miles might be a bit of a distance to travel however). While on Cornmarket Street, Meg also took the opportunity to buy a birthday present or two and we discovered that there was an entire store devoted to things related to Alice in Wonderland (the author, Charles Lutwidge Dodgson also known as ‘Lewis Carroll’).

As we walked down St. Aldate’s Street to Alice’s Shop we passed the Oxford Museum, Pembroke College, Christ Church College and Christ Church Cathedral. After Meg and Julie (in particular) had had an opportunity to make purchases we looked at the beautiful Christ Church parklands across the road. As with Cambridge, the university town of Oxford sees lots of people on bicycles or walking and the city centre is beautifully set out for this. Having said this, we had a little trouble trying to find the exact place to catch the bus back to the Stop and Ride, but we had had such a wonderful time that no one seemed to mind too much.

On the way home we took a slight detour via Hemel Hempstead so that Julie could experience the joy that is the Magic Roundabout (see our blog from April 22nd, ‘Dougal, Zebedee, Ermintrude, Dylan and Brian’). This time we got to travel in both directions, including doing a complete loop around one of the smaller roundabouts (much to Meg’s dismay but everybody else’s delight). The trip back saw both boys fall asleep to the accompaniment of Julie, Wayne and Meg singing along to Meatloaf’s ‘Bat Out of Hell’ album. We can highly recommend Oxford, indeed Meg describes it as being close to her favourite place because it had a lovely atmosphere. The fact that we were also able to travel there with a friend accentuated the experience, it made a nice change to see something new with a different pair of eyes alongside us. Sadly, Julie headed off to Northern Ireland the next morning, but we have an invitation to head across there ourselves in July/August, which we are very much looking to.

Hope you are all well and happy. We look forward to hearing from you.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

We do keep an eye on your travels. Glad all is going well and that you missed that car. M&R