Friday, August 22, 2014

An English Summer: Days Four and Five: Oxford

Took the train from Devon to London last night and returned to the George Hotel. Was to have dinner with a Facebook friend but he couldn't make it - pity, as I could have seen other people; however, I was really far too tired for a social evening anyway. Yet didn't sleep very well, as it was a rather warm night. Up about 6 but having eaten Indian late I actually skipped the English breakfast (!!!) so as to be sure not to be late for the train today. In addition to losing the Devon-to-London train ticket, I'd also left my small toiletries bag back in Devon, so had to stop at a Boots to buy replacement hairbrush, toothbrush, eye shadow, etc. Took train to Paddington (so glad I packed light, oh the stairs, lugging things up and down in the heat - one feels incompetent and creaky, it's the stressful down side of traveling) only to be faced by 50 people ahead of me on ticket line! Hung in there, it did move fast and I got ticket at 9:10 for 9:24 train. Even got a Caffe Nero cappuccino and felt gleeful - until boarding. It was such a horridly full train, I had to STAND with my suitcase and cappuccino, packed in like melted sardines, all the way to Stroud, about half an hour, very exhausting and irritating I must say. After that I did get a seat, and was able to relax and enjoy sunny English views and my coffee.
Radcliffe Observatory

"Friend, you stand on sacred ground. This is a BOOKSHOP!"
At Oxford, my friends Jean and Lizzy met me and we drove to Lizzy's flat in Jericho. Such a pretty place, looking out on a sunny terrace. We chatted, mostly about publishing, then Jean walked me to Oxford University Press for lunch with Simon ("Stuck-in-a-Book"), who's working there now. Great fun. I ate the sausages and beans I missed earlier, and we chatted like billy-oh, as they say, in his lunch hour, he in the dawn of his career, me in the evening of mine. Then Jean picked me up and we agreed I no longer had the need to tour Oxford so we went to lovely cafe on top of the Ashmolean and had cream tea. Gorgeous fresh summery raspberry jam and clotted cream. When they closed we popped in a Waterstones and then to Browns where I had a big iced tea with white peach froth - refreshing in the warm weather. Then it was time to go watch Lizzy's bell ringing class at St Giles Church. I climbed up the ladder and pulled a bell with the donnish ringers, but the bells were muffled for practice and you couldn't hear them.
Roof of the Ashmolean
Cream tea at the Ashmolean
At the Ashmolean

Then we went to meet Jean's husband Tony at the Bookbinder pub in Jericho, lovely place with Frenchy food; I had an excellent ham cheese mushroom crepe with salad, and lemon tart. Taxi back to Jean's house on Cumnor Hill, and am now going to bed, super tired!
Oxford hosts in the garden

Oh what a lovely day in Oxford! Slept solidly soundly 9 hours. Jean fed me toasted crumpets for breakfast with Yeo (Devon) country butter and the most marvelous blackcurrant jam made by her friend who has a farm. Then Tony showed me round the garden, which he, now semi retired, has enthusiastic plans about, growing lettuces, planning a new conservatory and a pond. This area, a ten minute bus ride from central Oxford, is on a hill on the edge of the Downs, and it's truly another  earthly paradise: you'd never guess such countryside would be so close to the packed crowds of summer Oxford.
View toward the Downs

We went for a walk on the Downs. Jean turned back but Tony took me up to a magical wood looking out at the Downs, and we admired the sunny long views through the deep trees, ate early blackberries, climbed styles, talked about the history of the place - how a gulf in the wood was dug out in the 1840s for the brickworks, and the clay was carried up to the village, but the factory closed in 1930. The factory head was the first owner of their house, and the dug out woods have grown tall again. Nice to be able to picture something of the area's recent past, and to enjoy the woods: altogether a wonderful English afternoon.
Blackberry bushes
Stuck in a Style

Then Jean escorted me to the Oxford-to-Cambridge bus where I now sit on my three and a half hour ride. Very comfortable, leather seats, few passengers, and internet with my iPad. While Tony and I walked, Jean packed me the most marvelous lunch, Parma ham, lettuce and sweet baby tomatoes from their garden, scones with the blackberry jam, oatcakes and burstingly delicious English cherries. Washed down with cloudy Devonshire Apple juice.

Now as I approach Cambridge there is a downpour and internet is down. Shall mail this later.

Later - Am in Cambridge with more beloved friends, given such a warm welcome. The rain stopped and we're eating spaghetti, very happy evening.  Feel very fortunate, and as if it's worth even a 10 hour flight to see the brave (old) world, that has such people in it.

Edge of the Downs, outside Oxford.  Where I'd spend my life, if only I could.



Anonymous said...

How lovely, Diana. Such a great name - The Bookbinder Pub in Jericho. You certainly made up for the missed breakfast that day. Glad the sun mostly shone, but I know you also like our rather dull days too. Nothing dull about your company though. Barbara

Diana Birchall said...

Thank you for your kind comment, Barbara. Who could be dull in England? Johnson's quote about being tired of London is an old chestnut, but like many old chestnuts, true!

Jay Fahey said...

How lucky you are! I've always wanted to spend time in Oxford and Cambridge; I've seen both on a drive-by. Oh, and to have friends there! I am particularly thinking of that blackberry jam. What a wonderful trip you're having. I hope to replicate (some of) it next month.....

Diana Birchall said...

I hope you'll get to spend some time in Oxford or Cambridge, Jay. They're so lovely...