Sorry this came a day late, or whatever. I wanted to upload all the Winchester pictures and start on the Oxford ones before putting up an update. (FYI, if you’re a friend of mine on Facebook, you can check the album there for more candid/casual pictures. I’m trying to limit my blogger account to just the nice looking ones.)
Note: This post does have a couple of pictures. But they are all small, so it shouldn’t be too much of a problem.
Day Three – Oxford
October 12, 2008
I walk to the meadow
And stare at the flowers
Better dressed than any girl
On her wedding day
– Your Love Is Strong, Jon Foreman
^Me looking somewhat scary at the Eagle and Child. Oh, and I wore the same red shirt that I’d worn to ROTK all 5-7 (don’t remember exactly) times I saw it in theaters. Because I’m that much of a geek.
We took the quiet coach to Oxford. It was actually by accident–we just sat there because they had a free table (which was very, very handy when I use all the train time for letters and journaling). But it ended up being nice. I like quiet in the morning. Anyway. I had eaten breakfast at the hotel (Rice Krispies) and felt a little nauseous. When we arrived, we got off the train and made our way into town. We were dismayed by the crowds and amount of shops. We had been expecting something much more relaxed, spread out, with steeples and old buildings. We got to the information center, and picked up a guide (“The Oxford of J.R.R. Tolkien & C.S. Lewis”).
I was flipping through it while deciding if we should buy it or not when I found this quote:
-Surprised by Joy, C.S. Lewis
I laughed a little at the description of “mean shops” and other sentiments almost exactly like what Nicole and I had discussed. We bought the guide and set out to hunt down Tolkien’s grave (in Wolvercote Cemetery) first. We went to the bus marked in our guide, but the driver told us it was the wrong bus. We went to another stop and waited fifteen minutes for that bus. I read the guide cover-to-cover, which was very interesting. The bus finally came, and then that driver told us it was the wrong bus. We moved to the stop he told us to go to, and when that bus came up we asked about the cemetery. The driver started to tell us we had the wrong bus, but Nicole was like, “But that guy said that that bus was right, and it wasn’t, but he told us this was the right one.” And some lady in the back was like, “We go right by the cemetery. They can hop out there.” So the driver shrugged and let us on.
We hopped off at the right stop. There were little plaques directing us to the grave. It was all covered in rose bushes and flowers. I was a little reminded of Post Humus, and I thought it was fitting for Tolkien to have roses over his grave.
You’ll notice it says Beren and Luthien on the grave. For those that don’t know, Beren and Luthien is the epic story of a man and an elf maiden. Aragorn sings a song about them in Fellowship of the Ring, and his relationship with Arwen is comparable (to a degree) to Beren and Luthien’s. If you ever get time, read their story. I know it’s in The Silmarillion, and I think it’s in one of the other books too…? It’s a very sweet story, in a sort of tragic way.
There were a few letters, flowers, and stuffed animals laid on the grave. One of the letters was a poem titled A Toast to J.R.R. Tolkien: On the Occasion of his Eleventy-First Birthday. There were also several pens stuck into the ground. I took out my pencil and put it with the group. On the way back, we noticed one of his sons was buried not far away.
We caught the bus back to town and made our way to the Eagle and Child.
(My guide says: “Walking around Oxford, you will probably get the impression that there weren’t many pubs that the Inklings didn’t frequent, and you’d be right!” But the Eagle and Child is the most known, and I’ve wanted to go there forever, so we stuck with that.) It smelled strongly of wine (or beer? I really can’t tell the difference)–sour but not a bad smell. We sat in a cozy corner in the room where the Inklings used to meet. There was a plaque on one wall, and several pictures of Tolkien.
In our little corner, it was peaceful. Though the place was very busy, it was quiet were we sat. This probably sounds weird, but that sort of peace that’s in a church is what I felt. It was a blessing to just sit quietly and think. If I lived in Oxford, I would certainly be found writing in some corner all the time. It’s a wonderful hole-in-the-wall sort of place.
The radio played several songs that I recognized/are my personal favorites. I wished that Katherine, Dad or Laura were there so we could squeal and discuss the different things Tolkien and Lewis wrote.
I got a coke, bread platter, and cheesy garlic bread. Except we found out they hadn’t gotten cheesy garlic bread on the order, so we had to order again. Nicole got fish and chips, diet coke and then a little ale.
Before this, I had been feeling quite let down. Oxford was not what I expected, and I was not going to be able to see all that I’d planned on. After the misadventures of buses to the cemetery, I agreed with Nicole to keep in town and save the rest for when I can go with my family. We decided not to attempt to find Tolkien or Lewis’s house, because they weren’t on the map and it would be difficult/stressful. The antique market wasn’t going on, etc. All these things added up to make me feel a little oppressed. But I found my own quiet pleasure in the Eagle and Child, and I took that with me as we went on.
We walked down to the river and then took a trail through the woods. (Addison’s Walk? I didn’t see a plaque or anything, but I think that’s what it was.) It was very beautiful, and much more like the Oxford I’d imagined. If I attend a college there, I would attend it for the quiet walk more than the city.
We went by the college where C.S. Lewis was teaching when he became a Christian. Then we back tracked to Blackwell’s. (I did not want to go into any colleges because I was in the mood to just wander.) It actually wasn’t that bad when we were off of the main road, walking through back ways and quieter streets. In Blackwell’s, I stopped at the Tolkien section briefly before making my way up to the used books floor. I selected a few books and bought them. Then I went down a floor to the classic section. I picked up Cranford and Mary Barton by Elizabeth Gaskell, because Mary Barton is impossible to get in the U.S. and the Cranford was adorable. I was very excited with my purchases.
We stopped briefly to grab a drink, because the story had been very warm. Then we trekked back to the station. After some wait, we caught a very crowded train back to London. Nicole and I talked about names on the way, which made the time go faster. (It took two hours.) About midway through the ride, a man stood up and gave his testimony. He handed out little green slips with the gospel on it. I could tell he was really, really nervous, so I gave him a smile and thanked him quietly when he handed me mine.
On the way to the rooms, we stopped at a pizza place around the corner. It was very good, and we had fun eating and talking.
When we got home, I showered and then turned on the TV. “Britain’s Got the Pop Factor and Jesus Christ Soapstar Superstar Strictly on Ice” happened to be on. The title alone begged for us to watch the show. There was a cross-dressing man singing. It was really weird. When the announcer was telling the audience to call (to vote for the singer), she said, “Call this number to vote for Geraldine! And remember, 30 pence of your call will be donated to pole dancers who have been crippled in the line of duty. … Voting for these contestants is the most important decision you’ll ever make!” And when the results came in, she narrated as she slowly made her way to the contestants, “I’m making my way to the contestants. I’m walking down the steps. I’m walking, I’m walking. I’m here.” That reminded me a lot Alley from Biggest Loser. Gosh, she can talk your ears off.
Anyway, at first we were horrified. We thought it was the real deal, an actual for real show that Britain loves for some bizarre reason. But after a good night’s sleep (or was it a troubled night?) we decided it was probably a spoof.