Tuesday, Oct 2
Our first and only morning in Oxford: nother day, waking slightly past when Christine has wandered off to her morning-conference and I slept for a bit, worked in the room until check-out, when I aimed to leave bags and walk a bit, at least, exploring the city.
Heading off from the hotel, I asked the young hotel man for assistance, given my gout-y-ness. He inquired as to how I was doing (Christine had inquired the night prior about medical things, given my gout-y pills I left at home are only available via prescription), and I told him I was pretending I was feeling better. Foolish, perhaps. He commented that I was stoic (Very stoic, sir, he said.) and quoted Kipling. Well, sir, he said, as Rudyard Kipling, I think it was, said… And then he proceeded with a lovely and hefty quote that left me quite stunned, for reasons including a) a young lad who quotes Kipling, let alone anything? He seems far too well-educated to be carrying my bags. 2) Who the hell quotes Kipling, nowadays?
I felt as though my stunned silence left him with the impression that I might have been, well, simple.
Hobbling away from the hotel, I found stamps and postcards, and even discovered a wee bookstore that held a couple of items I picked up, including a new edition of Al Purdy's Poems for All the Annettes (I was curious about the Steven Heighton introduction). Amused, as well, that such a thing would be sitting in a bookstore in Oxford, of all places.
Hobbling further south on my gout-y foot, I discovered Oxford University's Ashmolean Museum, known as "the world's first university museum." Not knowing anything about any of that, I wandered inside, appreciating that the museum was free, and started searching around, immediately stunned at not only the wealth of artifacts held in the space (the density of materials was incredible), but the fact that so many artifacts that in other venues might have been held under or behind glass, were simply not. I could have (but didn't) simply reached out to touch items that were thousands of years old. My god.
Step into one room, and its feudal Japan; another, Victorian England; a further, ancient Greece or ancient Egypt. The space was incredible and I completely want to get back there.
After an hour or so, I made my way to the gift shop, collecting some postcards and books for the children. Did you know the museum makes its own gin? How many museums make their own gin? Madness. I saw something about King Harold's cache of coins, so post-lunch I wandered into a further room upstairs to see coins from the largest cache of ancient coins discovered in England.
As well as some tools for book-making, which I thought Christine might appreciate.
I slowly made my way back to the hotel, where I figured I would work for a bit, wandering through the church grounds next door.
Once at the lobby, by the roaring fire, with laptop and tea, I amused myself by writing silly postcards to people. At least two got the entire letter to King Haakon from Monty Python’s “Biggles Dictates a Letter” sketch. Especially exciting once I realized I had two postcards left over from the Isle of Skye, where we saw at least one business named after this infamous King Haakon (right by the ruins of the McKinnon clan castle). How was I to know at seventeen that knowing more history would enrich my appreciation of Monty Python? (Well, it probably wouldn’t have been that hard to figure out, had I bothered.)
Eventually, Christine returned from her conference, having enjoyed her two days hearing most of the lectures on paper, books, conservation thing-whats, and we made our way back to the train into London.
Upon landing in London, we made our way (I hobbled) back to a different hotel at King’s Cross, one that ended up including no elevator up three flights and no workable internet (as well as a shared bathroom), so we turned straight around after leaving bags. Christine beelined for the British Library for an hour’s research, and I found a pub with WiFi. Well, eventually. One that required a cellphone, so waitress #1 offering her horror that I didn’t have a cellphone (unhelpful), whereas waitress #2 eventually came over and offered her cellphone so I could sign in (helpful), which meant I wasn’t trapped there, awaiting Christine without any opportunity to work and even inform her. Bah and bah. BAH. I checked email, worked for a bit, strolled through some of our reading. Christine returned, and we ate food. We tipped waitress #2 quite well.
And, once back to our closet-room (nearly as small, by the by, as the sleeper on that train down from Inverness), there wasn't even an episode of Top Gear anywhere. Bah.
Wednesday, Oct 3
Feeling as though she needed to get a bit more work done at the British Library before we left town, Christine wanted to first-thing get a couple of further hours of research, which meant a first-thing breakfast, and hobbling our bags down into the lobby before heading out. I walked her to the library, and made for a couple of used bookstores, before we aimed to meet up again around 11:30am.
We sat outside for a few minutes, awaiting the 9:30am opening of the British Library. We sipped our Americanos and watched the fluttering of birds and people, throughout the courtyard. We wondered: what might our children be doing? Five hours ahead: most likely father-in-law and his wife entertaining Aoife, as they waited for Rose to finish her day of school (we were getting quite eager to get home at this point).No: five hours behind. It's so easy to lose track of the whole thing.
As I wandered, seeing this sign at the gate of the Library, which seemed entirely appropriate for Christine's research.
And then this glorious little tidbit, on a wall close by. I see you, haiku_bombs.
Given I was aiming for two close-by bookstores opening at 10:30am and 11:00am, the fact that I got lost for a while wasn't necessarily the worst thing, and I saw some local things that were pretty cool (but I was pleased to finally figure out where I was going). Once discovering both bookstores, I sat some forty minutes with coffee and notebook, flipping through poetry titles (MC Hyland, for example) and sketching out lines here and there. And coffee, made by a German student who came for schooling and stayed, who asked how long have I been here? (As though I had moved to London, perhaps).
The bookstores were curious, and interesting, but I left with little. I had really been hoping for some poetry titles by Salt publishing and/or Salmon publishing and/or Shearsman Books but not a single one, which surprised me, honestly. There was plenty of faber and faber, a couple of Eyewear, some Penguin, etcetera, but nothing that really jumped out at me. Some Karen Solie and Ken Babstock titles I already had. I picked up an issue of Granta, which is always worthwhile, for the sake of a Miranda July entry (discovering it was an excerpt of her novel, The First Bad Man, which I still haven't read).
Upon reconnecting, Christine and I collected our mound of luggage, and made for the train station, for the sake of a night in Amberley, West Sussex, to stay with her friend Ruth (who we visited in the British Library during our honeymoon) and her husband John. We were worn down, so our plans to visit West Dean, where Christine schooled for her conservation work, didn't quite pan out. Ruth, who schooled with Christine, had been a conservator at the British Library for a number of years, before going into private practice, so she worked while Christine and I didn't really move for a while, which was quite good. Eventually, we sat quietly with gin and tonics, and watched the sheep wander the hills behind Ruth and John's wee house in the village.
And the evening, then, where we had a fine meal at the pub.
Thursday, Oct 4
Woke from an email from Westjet, informing us that our plane was two hours delayed. Given we were up at 7am for such, I went right back to bed. The fog was in, holding our plane, it would seem, on the ground. At the airport, finally, further delays. Delays. Once on the plane, an hour or so on the tarmac, making five hours in total of delay. So much for catching our connecting flight from Halifax, we thought. Nothing worked, our machines were dying, both of us needing new cords for our de-charged laptops. Bah bah and BAH.
Did you know you can purchase ice cream from machines in the airport at Gatwick? That was nice, at least. We were amused, in part given we actually visited the original factory for Ben &Jerry's in Vermont a couple of years back [remember?]. Attempting to get rid of a pocketful of change from machines that refused it, eventually forced to use further credit card action instead. Bah and BAH.
At least I got some work done on the plane. Attempting to return to whatever it was I was working on before we had left. Editing through my manuscript of short fiction, scribbling and scribbling and scribbling. At Halifax, they gave us vouchers we had no time for, immediately having to run to collect bags (mine had been lost by then) and return through customs and security to get right back on the same airplane, a plane which was four hours delayed as well. When we landed in Ottawa, Christine's bag had also disappeared (it was returned two days later, but mine, as of Tuesday, still hasn't been discovered, which means losing not only clothes, laundry, shaving crap and lots of books, but the three books I purchased for the children, including the two from the museum in Oxford; BAH AND BAH).
We were home around 8pm, some four-plus hours later than scheduled. Aoife was out, but Rose ran laps like a hummingbird, excitedly telling us all the things she had done and said and heard and done and made and EVERYTHING (they had even made 'welcome home' banners they'd put on our front window [photo taken the following morning]).
THANK YOU SO MUCH to mother-in-law Karin McNair, and father-in-law Steve McNair and Teri McNair, without whom we could not have done any of this trip at all. The wee girls were very happy to see us. We are all still a bit tired, though.