2018.07.27 Some random observations about life in and around Oxford.
- Water drama. I reported previously that the boiler serving my stairwell and the one next door goes out regularly, cutting off hot water until it is re-lit. Turns out the boiler is seriously broken, and repairs will take 7-10 days. So the housing office notified all affected students (about 20 of us) that we had been relocated to rooms with hot water. When I picked up the key to my new and improved room, I was directed to a building across and down the street from the Exeter campus. The building itself is nondescript and not attached to Exeter or any other campus. The room itself can only be accessed by four flights of stairs and is reminiscent of the Best Westerns my family stayed in on our annual summer road trips from Texas to Colorado in the 60’s. So I did something that ONE MUST NOT DO in England. I complained! Sort of. As politely as I know how. Pretty please, could I just keep my pretty room with crown moldings, 12-foot ceilings, served by just one flight of stairs, located less than 60 seconds from the dining hall, chapel and all of my classes, and with 8-foot curved windows that open to let in the breeze? Please? The porter insisted that it was necessary that I have hot water I insisted that it was not. He said he felt obliged to give me the hot shower that I had paid for. I assured him (oh so nicely) that I would prefer the room that looks like Oxford that I had paid for. So it’s settled. Cold water it is. Brrrrrrr!
- Souvenir shops. There may not be as many along Broad and Cornmarket Streets as there are along International Drive, but they are equally annoying. The merchandise is of similarly poor quality and most of it has nothing to do with Oxford. It’s all about Hogwarts.
- Being on Time. Around here, if class is scheduled to begin at 9:00, it may well begin at 8:58. Or 8:55. But not 9:01. If you wander in at 9:02 you are considered rude. It you show up at 9:05 the door will be locked. Most of my international classmates are accustomed to arriving at least ten minutes prior to class. Out of respect for the tutor. I am appalled at how careless many of us in the States are about being on time (mea culpa!) and am determined to better.
- Notebook. Everyone has one. And it bears no resemblance to the spiral versions we and our children carried to class. They are much smaller, and most are inexpensive and bound in cardboard. That’s important because they tend to fill up very quickly. I’ve seen a few bound in exquisite leather. Like the one used by the Duke. More about him later. I happened to grab one of just the right size from an assortment of “journals I promise to write in someday” in a last minute packing frenzy. The felt cover features a bird embroidered in red. I’m sure it is a cardinal. (Cathy Jones Murray and Aunt Ruth, are you getting this?) Totally uncool by Oxford standards but highly significant to me because the cardinal has been a symbol of hope during the last ten hellish months. It goes with me everywhere and I write in it constantly. I will miss it when it’s full – which will be very soon.
- Food. Our tuition includes a full meal plan which is good news and bad news because the food is bi-polar. We have had a few meals that were surprisingly good. I enjoy the European-style breakfast which features, among other things, cold cuts and an assortment of fresh crusty breads. And, the best part, mounds of lovely berries. Which are actually served at every meal. Every day. Lunches and dinners are less reliable. We were served lamb one evening and although I was skeptical, it was very tasty. Chicken has been on the menu several times and been consistently delicious. The most unfortunate menu offering so far was “beef enchiladas.” Think unappetizing looking beef stew accompanied by a cross between naan and a tortilla. And grey “guacamole.” I didn’t go near it. Good thing there was lettuce, some vinegar and lots of those lovely berries.
- The Duke. He’s not actually a duke but he is, in fact, in line (distantly) to become one, and his third great grandfather was an earl. I’m speaking about the tutor of my second seminar class. During our first session, I was intrigued by his very refined speech and mannerisms and his vague resemblance to Lord Dashwood, in the teenybopper movie, “What a Girl Wants,” which my girls (and I) watched repeatedly. So I googled him. Nobility credentials aside, he’s an accomplished novelist, book reviewer scholar, and librarian. His class on writing fiction seems to be more theoretical than practical and he speaks just above a whisper. We all lean forward in our seats during class as if we are hanging on every word when, in fact, we can’t hear the words well enough to know whether we want to hang on them or not! So whoever draws the black bean before class tomorrow has to tell the Duke to speak up.
Time for Scottish folk dancing lessons! Should be interesting . . .