Tag Archive | Oxford

The Dreaming Spires of Oxford

Friday, June 30, 2017:

Off to Check out Oxford’s Dreaming Spires:

            In a past life, well over thirty years ago, Shahnaz used to be a stewardess with Air-India. Her travels have taken her around the world many times and Oxford had been on her agenda—in the hoary past. Not remembering anything of the city, she was delighted to have me for a guide in one of my favorite cities in the whole world—my sometime home, the seat of much of my intellectual activity.

We had booked tickets by Megabus from London and, awaking again at the crack of dawn, we boarded one at 7. 30 am from London Victoria to arrive on The High at about 9.00 am. From this time on, our exploration would begin. We resolved to stop for a rest every one hour—and often we did (but not necessarily after each hour).

Here is the walking tour route through which I took her:

  1. From High Street into Queens Lane, passing by St. Edmund Hall College and New College. This affords the first glimpses of what Mathew Arnold so memorably called “the dreaming spires” of Oxford.
  2. Detour into Turf Tavern Alleyway to see the home of Jane Burden, Muse to the Pre-Raphaelites and wife of artist William Morris.
  3. A peep into the Turf Tavern, well associated with the fictional Inspector Morse, a creation of the novelist Colin Dexter, and Bill Clinton (both of whom downed countless pints here).
  4. Under the Bridge of Sighs that joins two parts of Hereford College to bring us out on Catte Street.
  5. A glimpse of the Indian Institute with its Indian motifs on the walls—cows, lions, an elephant.
  6. Walk down Holywell Lane to see Holywell House where music recitals are often held. Also the site of the pilot episode in the TV series Lewis which was a spin off from Inspector Morse.
  7. A return to Catte Street and a walk down Parks Road to get to Rhodes House to see the base of all Rhodes Scholars in Oxford in a building with a spectacular rotunda designed by Herbert Baker (who, together with Edwin Lutyens), designed the city of New Delhi.
  8. A visit to the Natural History Museum to see Charles Ludwig Dodgson (Lewis Carol) memorabilia in the special vitrine dedicated to the extinct Dodo bird. We also saw the dinosaur skeletons and wonderful stone sculpted scientists like Darwin and Linneaus.
  9. A visit to the Pitt Rivers Collection in the back of the Museum to see thousands of items collected by Oxford naturalist Pitt Rivers—the Shrunken Heads are the biggest attraction and we saw them (they also feature in an episode of Lewis). We also saw the New Zealand knife that featured in an episode of Inspector Morse (“The Daughters of Cain”). On the advice of a guide, we actually took the elevator to the second floor (a first time for me) for wonderful views of the collection from on high. This enabled us to admire the brilliant architecture of Victorian designers—a feature with which we are familiar as Crawford Market in Bombay looks very similar to this building (as does Empress Market in Karachi). Upstairs, we took in the endless collection of just one man that includes everything you could possibly imagine from terracotta pots of native American Indians to Canadian totem poles, from pointed spears and arrowheads to shell-studded dolls and other toys. It is truly a stupendous collection.
  10. Crossing the street, we entered Keble College—sadly it was not open to visitors at this hour, but we did get a peep into its sunken Quad and had the opportunity to admire its red brick façade which is different from the Gothic exterior of other Oxbridge colleges.
  11. Brisk walk brought us back to The Broad (Broad Street) where we took a much-needed rest in the cafeteria of the new Weston Library. I had a milky Americano and Shanaz had a cappuccino as we rested our feet and took in the grand interiors of Oxford’s newest library and main administrative building. When we felt more relaxed, we nipped into the gallery next door to see a special exhibition called ‘Which Jane Austen?’–a special show to commemorate the author’s second death centenary which falls this year. We saw first editions of her books, much of her correspondence with family members and friends, her portable writing desk and a lot of other wonderful memorabilia. In the adjoining theater, we watched a short film entitled “Jane Austen and the BBC” which showed us clips from many of the BBC versions of Austen’s novels from the 1950s onwards.
  12. Back on The Broad, we entered Blackwell’s, Oxford’s famed bookstore, to see the underground Norrington Rooms—the only underground bookstore in the world.
  13. Quick entry into The White Horse Tavern—also a frequent drinking hole of Inspector Morse and Lewis.
  14. Across The Broad, we entered the Museum of Science to see its biggest attraction—the blackboard used by Albert Einstein when he gave an invited lecture at Oxford. The theory he presented there is still on the board in his own handwriting!
  15. Stroll through Clarendon Court to arrive at the Sheldonian Theater, Christopher Wren’s cupola-ed masterpiece in Oxford. Its horse-shoe shaped amphitheater is used for graduation ceremonies and concert recitals.
  16. Entry into Bodleian Square to see the main building of the Bodleian Library. We went through the main entrance but did not pay the fee to see the Divinity School whose carved pendant stone ceiling and fan vaulting are two of Oxford’s highlights. Instead we nipped into the library’s shop to buy a few souvenirs. We took in the tall main wall of the quadrangle with its classical columns that rise in tiers to present a sculpture of James I in whose time the library was built (with inherited money from his wife by Thomas Bodley—which we had learned on our walking tour of Totnes!).
  17. Through to Radcliff Square where we took in the splendor of one of Oxford’s most sensational buildings—the Radcliff Camera (or Rad Cam as it is known colloquially). Built by James Gibbs in the mid 1700s in neo-classical style, I have had the immense privilege of carrying out research in his member-only reading rooms with their magnificent interior ornamentation. We also took in the twin spires of lovely All Souls College—the scholar’s college–for it only admits scholars who already have a doctorate!
  18. Visit to the Parish Church of St. Mary the Virgin which fronts the High Street. Took in the beautiful choir area with its painting of Madonna and Child by Simon Vouet and its chancel sculptures. Saw the pillar at which three of Oxford’s martyrs, Cranmer, Latimer and Ridley, were tried as heathens.
  19. As it was almost 1.00 pm and we had a lunch appointment with my friends Susan and Tony, we hurried off to meet them. We crossed The Broad and arrived at the spot where the three martyrs were actually burned at the stake in the reign of Bloody Mary Tudor, first-born daughter of Henry VIII. Also saw the Martyrs Memorial at St. Giles and then crossed the street towards The Randolf Hotel to hurry towards the Eagle and Child pub (once a haunt of the Inklings—C.S. Lewis of Narnia fame and J.R.R. Tolkien of Hobbit fame). The place was much too tiny and too crowded for us to enjoy lunch there. After a lovely reunion with my friends (in whose home in Grandpont I have often stayed), we walked towards Little Clarendon Street to Carlucci’s—for a taste of authentic Italian cuisine.
  20. Lunch at Carlucci’s gave us a chance to catch up with my friends and to rest our weary feet. I had the two-course set lunch which came with liver pate, onion marmalade and toast points and the linguine with beef ragu for my second course. Other members of our party had risotto verde, spinach and goat cheese ravioli and spaghetti vongole with cappuccinos to follow. It made for a very nice mid-exploration rest as we chatted nineteen to the dozen. What a great thing it is to be able to see my friends at each of these venues and to be able to spend quality time with them even when my schedule is so tight.
  21. After lunch, I escorted Shahnaz to the Ashmolean Museum (one of the world’s greatest museums) to take its self-guided highlights tour—entitled 10 Highlights in an Hour. As I had visited the Ashmolean only six months ago, I thought I could make better use of my time, but I did not want Shahnaz to miss its brilliant offerings. We decided to meet 90 minutes later at a café on The Broad by the very spot of the martyr’s execution. Shahnaz loved the tour, saw most of the highlights and then some, while I raced off to the Oxfam shop to look for vintage treasures and then to the shoe section in Marks and Spencer on George Street as we had left almost no time for any kind of shopping in our crowded itinerary and I needed to find a pair of wide-toed black shoes (which I always buy from Marks). Sadly, I did not find anything I liked.
  22. Ninety minutes later at the appointed spot, Shahnaz and I reunited. It was time to take her into one of the colleges which opens to visitors between 2 and 5 pm daily. Into Turl Street we went as I took her, naturally, into Exeter College that I know best from my own student and teaching days there. We entered through the Porter’s Lodge and saw the lovely Quad as we made our way into the chapel that was designed by George Gilbert Scott (who also designed the Library at the University of Bombay that I have also used). The library connection I share in both India and Oxford with this architect is a very special matter of interest to me. We took in the gorgeous Byzantine altar with its gold mosaics, the tapestry by Edward Burne-Jones, one of the college’s Pre-Raphaelite alumni, entitled The Adoration of the Magi for which Jane Burden (whose home we had seen in Turf Tavern passage) had posed. We also took in the beautifully painted organ and the Irish Celtic floor tiles around the altar. The stained glass windows, however, are a highlight of the chapel for they are based on the royaume style of Sainte-Chapelle in Paris and feature tiny pieces of glass held together by lead through which the sun shines with jeweled colors. In fact, the outside of the chapel also features the distinctive spire that is also inspired by Paris’ Sainte-Chapelle.
  23. Off to the Margary Quadrangle we went so that I could point out to Shahnaz the room I had occupied in Oxford We also took in the underground lecture rooms in which, in recent years, I have taught at the college’s summer school (which I had once attended as a student myself). We also nipped into the Junior Common Room which led to the Fellows’ Garden at the back. Crossing the Fellows’ Garden (on what appeared to be Open House Day), we climbed steps leading to the ramparts and walls of the college. Perched up here, one receives some of the best views of Radcliffe Square from a height. We rested again, took a few pictures, and then continued with our tour as there was still so much to see. Poor Shahnaz would have begun to feel seriously fatigued by this point but she wished to press on to take everything in.
  24. We returned to Turl Street and made a detour into the Covered Market so that she could see the stalls and shops, some of which date from a few hundred years. There are butchers, bakers and candle-stick makers in these precincts and it is always a pleasure to get a glimpse into the vendors’ wares.
  25. Back on The High, we walked towards Carfax to see the confluence of the four main crossroads that have stood on this site from ancient times: Cornmarket Street (its name says everything), High Street, George Street and St. Aldgate’s.
  26. Walking down St. Aldgates, we nipped into Oxford’s Town Hall where Shahnaz learned a bit about the Town Versus Gown controversy that has long persisted in these parts. Although it is normally closed to visitors and can be seen only on an official conducted tour that occurs just once a month, the guard permitted us to climb the steps and enter the spectacular Main Assembly Room with its incredibly detailed and very lavish interior decoration that consists of rich plaster work on ceiling and walls with the added attraction of embossed cherubs that jut out in the most appealing way.
  27. Leaving the Town Hall, we walked down St. Aldgates and made a detour down Bear Lane so that I could take Shahnaz to a pub called The Bear which has a distinctive collections of thousands of ties in glass cases on its ceiling and walls. There was a time when the publican would take a tie from patrons in lieu of money for a drink. Thus, he amassed a vast collection, each of which is lovingly labelled and dated! Needless to say, it is no longer possible to pay for a drink in that fashion! Probably the fact that there is no more room anywhere to display the ties accounts for the discontinuation of the practice!
  28. We then entered the precincts of Christ Church College which was built by Cardinal Wolsey and then taken over by Henry VIII—it boasts the largest Quad in Oxford and unfinished cloisters. Since Evensong would begin in half an hour, we decided to attend it. So off we walked to Christ Church’s Perennial Gardens which offers a lovey backdrop for clicking pictures. We had no time or energy to walk across the Meadows towards the river, but we did cross the street to inspect Alice’s Shop (which was closed) as Lewis Carol was a mathematics don at Christ Church and his novel Alice in Wonderland was motivated by a cruise down the river Thames to which he had treated 10-year old Alice Liddel, daughter of the Dean of Christ Church.
  29. We re-entered Christ Church and made our way towards its Cathedral to attend Evensong which began at 6.00 pm. It was the second Evensong service we would attend on this trip (having attended also at Exeter Cathedral). This one was far better as it included child choristers who brought a decidedly angelic sound to the singing. We left at 6.30 as we had a coach back to London at 7. 15 and did not want to be late.
  30. We nipped into M&S to pick up some food that we could eat on the coach back to London. We arrived at our bus stop on The High at 7.05 and were actually able to catch the earlier coach to arrive in London at about 8.45 pm.

Of course, it was a whirlwind tour. But I have to say that Shahnaz loved every second of it—for so she told me! There was simply no way she could have squeezed so much into her day had it not been for her willing spirit. By the time we arrived at Marble Arch, we had rested a great deal. We had also spied en route the darkened skeleton of the Grenfell Tower building that had succumbed to a very tragic fire only a couple of weeks ago.

From Marble Arch, we jumped into a bus that took us directly to Battersea where we dressed for bed and gratefully sank down to sleep.

Until tomorrow, Cheerio.

Afloat in Abingdon in Oxfordshire

Monday, January 23, 2017

Oxford and Abingdon

I am awake early, I do some reading in bed on my smart phone and then I fall asleep again. When I awake, it is about 7. 30 and my friends have already eaten breakfast. I wash and shower and settle down to a coffee and two slices of toast with Tony’s excellent homemade orange marmalade and some Lurpak butter. I finish off with grapes. It is amazing to me how everyone in the Western world eats fruit with breakfast. My family members in India have only recently caught up with the practice, but I have still to adopt it fully.

The cleaning lady, Leonardo, comes in to do. I meet her briefly, then get dressed and leave for the City Center. I take the Thames Path that I so love and upon which I had done a lot of wild blackberry plucking and eating in the late summer. Now the canes, while still green and leafy, are stripped off their berries. It is freezing and there is more than just a touch of frost everywhere I turn. I am layered more thickly than a Vidalia onion with a long-sleeved cotton T-shirt, a cashmere cardigan, a fleece hoodie, a long down coat. Plus I have hat, gloves, pantyhose and socks and scarf. I am cozy as I stride along towards Carfax. I do pop into Marks to take a look at shoes—I find a pair that I’d like to buy…perhaps in Essex, as I do not wish to lug it around. In L’Occitaine, I find one of my favorite perfumes in the world, Pivoine Flora (Peony) in eau de parfum format on sale! Buying it is a no-brainer as I have looked for this fragrance on sale for the longest time and never found it! With a bottle in a smart bag, I leave.

I then walk briskly along the Banbury Road towards the Museum of Natural History which opens at 10.00 am. My aim is to potter around at the back in the Pitt Rivers Museum—but, wouldn’t you just know it? On Mondays, it opens at 12.00! I am disappointed but spend time at the glass cases that talk about Charles Ludwig Dodgson (Lewis Carol) who pulled the Alice in Wonderland stories out of his mind while boating on the Cherwell with Alice Liddell, daughter of the Dean of Christ Church College, where he taught Math(s). Next door, is a case with information about the Dodo that became extinct in the late 19th century from being over-hunted. Lewis Carol loved the bird because a stammer caused him to say his own last name as Do-Do-Dodgson! Hence, he included it into his stories! How charming to be able to laugh at yourself!

There is a lot to fascinate in the Museum of Natural History—from the stone carved sculpture of famous naturalists (Linneaus, Darwin, etc.) to cases filled with birds and animals and, of course, the towering dinosaur skeletons. The place was heaving with school kids out on field trips with their teachers. A famous early episode of Lewis that involved screaming school kids was shot in this space and I recalled it vividly as I surveyed the towering glass and iron ceiling. I adore these British Victorian museum buildings—the outside of them remind me of Crawford Market in Bombay while the inside is just stunning. Sadly, after I swallowed my disappointment at not being able to get into the Pitt Rivers Collection, I left to brave the cold once again.

Meeting Prof/Rev Judith Brown at Brasenose College:

I had an 11. 45 am meeting with Prof. Judith Brown, formerly of Balliol College, who, after her retirement as an Oxford don has taken the part-time position of College Chaplain at Brasenose (Brays-Nose) College as she is also an ordained Anglican minister! Thirty years ago, while still a newbie in the USA, I had reviewed her book Gandhi: Prisoner of Hope for India Abroad. Since then, she has gone on to publish extensively on South Asian History and her latest work actually looks at the South Asian Diaspora in Britain. Luckily for me, her study did not include Britain’s Anglo-Indians—which is the lacuna that my coming book will fill. Unfortunately, a work commitment does not permit her to attend my talk tomorrow at St. Antony’s College but she was eager to discuss my findings with me.

I pass through the Clarendon Building, into the quadrangle of the Bodleian Library and arrive at Radcliff Square where I greet the Radcliff Camera in which I had spent ecstatic hours researching in the late summer, as if it were an old friend. Brasenose College adjoins Exeter, my own college, and I find its entrance easily. We were supposed to meet at the Porter’s Lodge and she is there right on the dot. In a few minutes, after we have met, she leads me through two quadrangles and up a flight of antiquated stairs to her room—again, the setting is reminiscent for me of the Morse and Lewis series!!! I am such a fan, aren’t it?

It is a lovely freewheeling chat as we discuss her work, my work, her findings and mine. I discover that she was born in India (in Meerut) and lived there till the age of two and a half as her missionary father worked there. This explains for me, both her academic interest in the Indian sub-continent and her ecclesiastical calling. She is warm, funny, unassuming, everything an iconic Oxford academic is usually not! I am charmed. Her room is huge, filled with cozy sofas, books on bookshelves and the inevitable tea and coffee paraphernalia. But our chatter goes on longer than I expected and before I know it, it is 12. 45. I was supposed to meet Sue for lunch at 12. 30 at Pizza Express in the Covered Market. I must dash.

Pizza Lunch with Sue:

We say hasty goodbyes and I run along The High, for Judith opens a wooden door for me that leads me directly to the entrance to the Covered Market. I find the entrance to Pizza Express in a medieval courtyard dating from the 12th century at the back of the market and when I get there, I find Sue seated at a table. We order our pizzas—a Veneziana for her, a Pianta for me—mine is topped with baby rocket (arugula) which I adore. They are large and very hearty and we eat well and when we are done, Sue takes me to the back to show me the Painted Room (part of what used to be The Crown Tavern) which consists of medieval wall frescoes that were discovered quite by chance during renovations. Care has been taken now to preserve them behind flexiglass panels—they present mythological creatures, fruit and flowers and vines, all remarkably distinct despite the passage of centuries.

Off to Abingdon:          

Ever since her official retirement, a few years ago, my friend Sue has worked with a social service organization in Abingdon called St. Ethelwold’s House. She is keen to introduce me to it and I am keen to discover it and her special calling. We get on the bus to Abingdon at St. Aldates and in 20 minutes, along a lovely wintry and somewhat foggy highway, we arrive at the pretty town. Once we alight from the bus, we pass the medieval County Hall (which now houses a museum that is closed on Mondays and from where buns are thrown to the waiting public downstairs on days of national significance such as the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee in a long and inexplicable Oxfordshire tradition). We head on to a charming, curved street that the architect Sir Nicholas Pevsner called one of the most beautiful streets in England. And I could see why. There are low, row cottages on both sides of a cobbled street with a charming church at the end. The vista is strikingly rural England and I am delighted.

Discovering St. Ethelwold’s House:

On a bank of the River Thames that offers pretty views of Abingdon Bridge sits a delightful property that was acquired by a philanthropist called Dorothea Pickering who bequeathed it for the spiritual well-being of the community. And so it was that we explored a Tudor house with exposed timbered sides, low roof, thick white stucco walls and tiny glass windows to discover what is today a B and B run mainly by volunteers to keep the establishment going and to enable part of it to be used for the greater good of humanity. Today, the place houses two Syrian refugees and attempts to rehabilitate them by offering lessons in English, training for the job market, etc. There are community rooms and Sanctuary spaces for meditation, yoga classes offered all week round, counsellors available on call and retired attorneys who provide pro bono services. The atmosphere is quiet and serene and tucked around a lovely garden that winds it way down to the river bank where two cottages are available for hire, for reflection and meditation and for a spot of quiet knitting. Birds whistled plaintively in the bare trees when I was there and as Sue gave me the grand tour, I was enchanted by it all. I met one of the Syrian residents briefly as well as his counsellor in the midst of a session. It was all very old-fashioned and very uplifting and I was so glad Sue took me along to show me the place in which she spends several days a week doing all sorts of work that keeps places like these running in these days of dreadfully high heating and other bills.

More Exploration of Abingdon:

By the end of the quick hour during which Sue whizzed me through a guided tour, we saw 12th century Alms Houses with a most unique wooden cloister attached to an old Cotswold stone church. Outside, a river walk offered views of Abingdon Bridge and the tow path across where a dog walker was exercising her pooch. Ducks flew quackingly overhead and others left trails in the river. We walked towards the ruins of an abbey in which Aethelwold was the abbot in the 9th century. Here too the gardens, despite wearing winter gloom, had sprouted the first primroses of the year in a soft lemony hue. The arch that connects the church with the pastoral houses next door reminded me of Winchester Cathedral. Along another side street, we found thrift shops from where I bought yet another DVD—In the Café starring Kelly McDonald and Bill Nighy. And then at Oxfam, where I could have spent the next two hours because there was simply tons to be seen, I found an amazing vintage English tea set by Foley (part of the Shelley Pottery Factory that closed down in the 1960s). Highly collectible today, I felt sorely tempted to pick it up. Only the fact of becoming overweight and wondering how I could transport something so delicate stopped me from buying it right away. Finally, it was Sue who dragged me away with the plea that we had to leave as she had dinner to organize.

Back on the bus to Oxford, we hopped off at Grandpont, walked through Hincksey Park and reached home. A quick cup of tea later, I was pleading jetlag and the need for a nap which my hosts agreed would be a good idea as we had guests expected for a sit-down dinner later in the evening. I retreated to my room, checked email and then fell off to sleep, to awake refreshed and ready to face new friends.

Sit-Down Dinner With Friends:

Sue and Tony had invited their friends Steve and Rae to have dinner with us. The two of them will be attending my talk at St. Antony’s College tomorrow and they thought it would be a good idea to meet informally before the lecture. They arrived exactly at 7.00 pm and over a glass of red wine and Sue’s starter of avocados and olives on buttered toast, we then adjourned to the dining table. Since one of them is vegan, Sue had a menu planned along vegetarian lines: we had Aubergine Parmesan made from scratch with homemade tomato sauce and aubergines grown on their allotment. It was delicious. There was garlic baguette also to go around. The dish was very tasty and very hearty indeed—made fragrant by the liberal use of crumbled basil. For dessert, Sue made a Chocolate Almond Torte (gluten-free) served with home grown stewed blackcurrants and vanilla ice-cream—which was simply lovely. We did not have a moment’s silence for at least two hours as we discovered so much about Steve’s own Anglo-Indian background, Rae’s experiences in Belfast from which she had just returned and, of course, the dire possibilities of the Truummphhhff administration got a lot of air time! We were bristling with anger, indignation and wonder—who could possibly vote for such a man??? they wondered.

It was about 9.00 pm when the party broke up as Steve and Rae had to go out into the freezing night to find their car and get home. Sue and Tony had worked hard together to put forth a meal that was memorable in company that was compatible and stimulating. I left them to clear and wash up as they know the drill in their own kitchen better than I do. Not long afterwards, I was snug in bed, ready to call it a night.

I have a stressful day ahead—what with my talk at St. Antony’s…in many ways, the culmination of a host of dreams and a fitting end to what has been an incredible Sabbatical period for me. So I fell asleep with a prayer on my lips.

Until tomorrow…cheerio.

An Extraordinary Last Day in Oxford

Saturday, September 24, 2016


I had another extraordinary day in Oxford—and since this one was my last, I had to make the most of every second. My friend Bash was supposed to drive in to London today with his partner Vanita and I was supposed to give them a tour of the city. But yesterday I received word that their trip was cancelled as Bash had a funeral to attend. Oh well….it would simply enable me do all the things I had left unfinished, so I was not the slightest bit disappointed.

Despite waking up at 6.00 am, time flew as I caught up on email, checked Twitter, posted a few pictures to accompany my tweets, and blogged for an hour, At 8.00 am,  I took a shower and began the last bits of my packing. It is amazing how much time it takes to transfer all the paper I tend to accumulate everywhere I go! Then I sat down to write out a Thank You for my lovely generous hosts and to leave them the gifts I have bought them. When that was done, I set about tidying and cleaning every room to make sure they would return to a spotless home on Monday. My packing seemed to take forever, but finally it was done and at 10. 15 am, I left the house to walk to Oxford City Center to have brunch as I was still on an empty stomach

Brunch at The Mitre Hotel:

I was amazed when I entered the restaurant at The Mitre Hotel that there were men already nursing beers at that hour of the day! The Mitre Hotel dates from 1220—can you believe it? In fact, one of my friends and a former Rhodes Scholar, Desmond, who is now a techie tycoon in California, told me that when he was studying in Oxford, he used to moonlight on the guitar at this hotel to make a few bucks! How cool was that?

I ordered the Full English Breakfast with coffee and gave myself up to the sheer pleasure of eating a meal while ravenous! Needless to say, I relished every morsel and when I left after using the restroom, I headed straight to the next item on my agenda.

So here roughly is how I spent my last day in Oxford

  1. Visit to Duke Humphrey’s Library (medieval part of the Bodleian Library). This time I stashed my bag in the locker below and went upstairs to a part of the library that was built in 1610 just after the Age of Elizabeth. This explains why King James I is on the main façade of Bodleian Square—for it was in his reign that the main library was set up. The interior is gorgeous with ceilings completely covered in crests, oil painted portraits lining the walls—I recognized a few of the most notorious Tudors—separate alcoves and carrels for individual readers—all in dark heavy wood and glorious paneling. Stained glass windows cover one end of it where I sat for a little while and did quiet reading. There were only two other people in the library and one of them got into conversation with me. I climbed the stairs and entered the balcony where I got bird’s eye views of the tables below. I was amazed to see that despite having retained the antiquity of its spaces, the individual carrels are wired and have sockets for laptops and other devices. Needless to say, there is wifi in every one of the Bodleian libraries for the use of registered readers. You have to be a registered reader to enter or use the library and none of them are lending libraries. You can only read items from their collection on the premises. However, you have a vast choice of libraries in which to do your research and I used three of them in the past two weeks. Pretty darn cool!
  2. Off to the new Weston Library to see their specific exhibit entitled 24 Pairs. In the back of the main floor, they will keep changing their exhibitions, it appears. This one takes a very well-known historical document and pairs it with a lesser-known one to which it is connected. For instance, there was the original manuscript of Wilfrid Owen’s famous war poem ‘Dulce et Decorum Est’ and sitting beside it is a massive tome of botanical illustrations open to the page that depicts a poppy—the poppy being the flower that was chosen to denote the war-time trail of death in France. Remember the line: “In Flanders’ fields, the poppies blew…”
  3. I crossed Broad Street and using Turl Street as a thoroughfare, I arrived at The High Street. I then took Oriel Street that brought me to Oriel Square where I entered Christ Church College from the back entrance. I walked straight to the Christ Church Picture Gallery where I spent the next hour. It has a fantastic collection of Old Master paintings from the 1400s to the 1750s that were donated to the college by John Guise. This bequest made Christ Church a major institution for the study of Art History as it was no longer necessary for students to go to Italy to study them. Now well-housed in a specially-built gallery in the garden in which the real Alice (of Wonderland fame) used to play, there is a 5 pound entry fee. It is worth seeing work by such Renaissance names as Fra Fillipo Lippi and Annibal Carraci—so I do think it is worth a visit (and a place that a regular reader of this blog, Hilary Melton-Butcher, suggested I see). Hilary will be pleased to know that I did get there—yet again. I had seen the gallery about ten years ago and had spent more time then.
  4. Tour of Christ Church College. I finally did tour the entire college and not just the Cathedral that I have been frequenting for evensong. Which was just as well as the Cathedral was closed for a wedding today. I met a delightful French couple at this spot and we spent about ten minutes chatting before parting company. I went up to the magnificent Dining Hall which is the famed setting of Hogwarts Dining Hall in Harry Potter films, before taking pictures of the spectacular fan vaulting of this ceiling in this part of the college. Outside, I passed through the cloisters of the Cathedral before leaving the college.
  5. Stroll down Dead Man’s Wall and The Meadows to get to the banks of the Thames. It was a reconstruction of a walk and a sit-down I had taken years ago. River craft were in full spate: there were kayakers, crew members in their boats, punters. I took so many pictures in this serene spot and I took a 15 minute rest as I had been on my feet forever.
  6. Long Walk around the Meadows along the banks of the Thames to the Botanical Garden. This walk seemed to go on forever but I got a lot of pictures of Oxford’s Dreaming Spires from across the Meadows in which cattle lowed and grazed.
  7. Visit to the Botanical Garden which now that it is wearing its fall colors, is quite lovely. There is an entry fee of 5 pounds here too which I paid as I went first to the banks of the Thames to take pictures of the punts as I had first done thirty years ago! Truly, some things simply do not change! Double deckers buses still ply along Magdalen Bridge and folks in the punts still laugh and shriek with delight as they try to get the hang of the technique involved in moving forward. I walked around the flower beds and found another Morse location at a little pond besides a bench where I sat down for a rest and entered into another conversation with a gentleman. Everyone wants to know where I am from and then they all want to talk about Trump whom I have heard described as “that obnoxious man”, “that dreadful man”, “that horror of a politician”. In all fairness, I have heard Hilary Clinton described by Brits as “a crook”, “a cheat”, “slippery as an eel”, “too clever for her own good”, etc. But they all seem to think that despite all her flaws (and there are many), she is preferable to her opponent! As the man on the bench told me, “Well, of course everyone here would want to talk to you about your coming election. America is such an important country—its influence reaches out across the world.”
  8. I took more pictures and left to get home because it was past 4.00 pm by this time. On the way I stopped on Magdalen Bridge to look below at the punters—because one simply cannot leave Oxford without peering down at the Thames from Magdalen Bridge! Old traditions die hard!
  9. Quick walk home but another unexpected detour. I discovered that there was a Vintage Fair at the Town Hall—and so, guess what? The Town Hall was open to the public! Now, as I had mentioned a few days ago, it is usually only open by special guided tour a few times a month. Well, today I was able to get in and let me tell you, it is spectacular. The main Hall is thickly covered with sculpture made with plaster. There is exuberant ornamentation inside and it is superbly well-preserved. I took a bunch of pictures and walked freely from one hall to the next feeling absolutely thrilled that I was able to see this venue as well before leaving the city.
  10. Back home in ten minutes to finish the last of my packing, straighten up the entire house and leave.

I took a bus from Abingdon Road as I was weighted down by my belongings and from the High Street, I jumped into the Oxford Tube after buying my ticket on the coach. I boarded it at 5. 45 pm and was at Victoria t 7. 45 pm. Then I hopped into the District Line at Victoria and was home at exactly 8. 20 pm.

I merely changed for the night and as I had eaten the second half of my chicken and bacon baguette on the coach, I did not need to worry about dinner. I blogged and ate an apple I had plucked from a tree in the Botanical Garden, watched some TV and went straight to bed.

Until tomorrow (which will be my last day in this home in Bethnal Green)…cheerio.

Bits and Bobs: An Amazingly Varied Second Last Day in Oxford

Friday, September 23, 2016


I had the best day in Oxford today! Seriously! Each day seems to have been better than the former, but today somehow, seemed exceptional.

Morning Chores and Rituals:

I awoke at 6.00 am, as usual, which is wonderful because it is amazing how much I manage to accomplish even before the sun is up and while everyone else is having a lie-in. I washed and started on my chores for I had a heap to do in preparation for my departure—alas, all good things have to come to an end.

So first off, I did laundry and while the machine was running, I blogged. When that was done, I sent off the scholarly essay to the academic journal—the one on which I have been working for the past few days. Next, I caught up on email—work-related and family-related. Next, I chatted with my Dad and my brother Russel in Bombay and got all their news.

When the machine stopped running, I organized my breakfast—the last two pieces of bread went into the toaster and I ate them with jam and coffee: once again I am trying to finish up things in my fridge. Simple but satisfying. When that was done, I got out the drying rack and laid out my laundry for drying. Most of it was quite dry already but I decided to wait an hour before I ironed out the heavier ones,.

Next, I had a very important call to make to Virgin Media regarding my UK phone. I was worried as I had an issue to resolve with them and I have to say that I had the most splendid service from their attendants who patiently helped me out with my problem in the most courteous way. By the end of a 20 minute call—and they offered to and did call me back so that my phone charges were not accumulating—they resolved my problem to my fullest satisfaction and brought me the peace of mind that had been alluding me for the past couple of days. A million thanks, Virgin Media and Mr. Branson: you will have my undying gratitude forever.

More planning for the day ahead was accomplished before I returned to the kitchen to take charge of the ironing board and do a spot of ironing. Most of my lighter tops were all ready for the next phase of my journey to London and thence forth. The heavier leggings and my windcheater I laid out for some more sunning. Because yes! The sun was out! After three days of overcast skies, I greeted it like an old friend…and all the more because I did want my clothes to dry. One of the things I have discovered about the UK (that we take for granted in the US) is that few people have a dryer in their homes. They have washers but they place their damp washing out on lines to dry in their gardens or they use drying racks indoors to get the job done. I don’t recall how long it is since I have dried my clothes in this way. When I had lived in London, a few years ago, I had a combo washer-dryer in my kitchen, so I never needed to use a rack. Next door, there is a major renovation project going on as my hosts’ immediate neighbor recently passed away and her children, who had inherited the home, have decided to flip it before putting it on the market.

Oxford Real Estate:

I am astonished by the price of real estate here in Oxford—prices have gone up so much that these houses in modest Grandpont (a 10 ten minute walk south from Christ Church College along the Abingdon Road) which were once considered working-class housing for staff of the Oxford colleges, are now the most coveted bits of real estate by yuppies who are flocking to live in the chic university town. Their recent wealth acquisition has caused prices here to skyrocket so much so that this little terraced house (row house) that has three small rooms downstairs (a spare bedroom that I occupy, a living room and an eat-in kitchen) and two small bedrooms and a bathroom upstairs are now on the market for 575,000 pounds. That is pounds, people! So it is the equivalent price of homes that in Southport, Connecticut, would include a family room and a separate dining room, a large eat-in kitchen, a study, another full bathroom and a half-bathroom (or powder room) and a deck with at least a quarter acre of property. Hard to believe!

The street on which I am staying—as I said, modest working class housing in the Victorian Age when it was built—houses the renowned novelist Margaret Drabble just a few doors down, and then two doors down from her, lives the mother of Cheri Blair, former First Lady of the UK! So there you have it: I am on a street in which celebs live!!! Wow! I have absolutely loved my time here and despite the knocking and hammering that has gone on next door as the refurbishment continues (since I am out before the workmen arrive and do not return home before their departure, but for one day when I worked at home in the morning), they have not bothered me at all. What’s more, there is a meadow at the back of the house in which dogs and their walkers start their day and which the sun’s rising rays gild warmly each dawn. Just gazing across that meadow from the upstairs bathroom window makes me feel spiritual. And not a few feet away, is lovely Hincksey Park with its duck pond, prancing dogs (some off leash) and the delighted shrieks that emanate from the outdoor swimming pool. Truly, this is my idea of England and I have reveled fully in it!

After a shower, just a little later, I left my house. Today, I did not make or carry my own sandwiches because I thought I would eat a Full Ebnglish Breakfast as advertised in the restaurant of The Mitre Hotel that is at the end of Turl Street and the High Street—that would be my brunch. So, off I went, along the Thames Path (that I am also delighted to have discovered) picking and eating blackberries and pausing to take pictures of Folly Bridge and other vistas that greeted me. It is little things like this that fully lift my spirits when I am in England and make me feel as if I could stay here forever.

Coursing Through Oxford:

I bought the postcard from the shop I have been promising myself I will visit and then here, roughly, is how I spent my second- last day in the university city:

  1. Stepped into Alice’s Shop that has sprouted for Lewis Caroll fans who make a pilgrimage to it in the same way that I go to Morse and Lewis locations. Caroll was a mathematics don and his stories grew when he went boating on the Thames with Alice Liddell, daughter of the Dean of Christ Church College which is right across the road.
  2. Into the restaurant of The Mitre Hotel on Turl Street for breakfast. Alas, it was 11.45 and they stop serving the Full English at 11.00! Well, then, I would return on the morrow…
  3. Attempt to get into the Bodleian Library’s Duke Humphrey’s Library. Highjacked as there was a massive Hollywood shooting crew at the venue and Radcliffe Square was closed to through traffic. Lots of people milled around with cameras trying to catch a glimpse of Mark Walberg who was shooting a sequence for Transformers—the next edition! I am unfamiliar with the action-packed film series as it is not really my cup of tea.
  4. Walk around the Square to get to the Bodleian. On the second floor, where Duke Humphrey’s Library is located, I discovered that I am not allowed inside unless I check my bag into one of the lockers below. It is a magnificent medieval space. While the Radcliffe Camera where I have been doing my research for the past two weeks was built in the 18th century’s High Baroque vein, this is Elizabethan—and to proclaim that fact there is a bust of Thomas Sackville of Knole House in Kent, favored courtier and adviser of Elizabeth I. I decided I would get back again tomorrow after I have left my bag behind. This is the most filmed space among the Oxford libraries and has stood in for the library at Hogwarts in all the Harry Potter films and in one episode of Morse and one episode of Lewis. No photography is allowed, however, so a trip to the Bodleian Library Shop was next.
  5. Visit to Bodleian Library Shop to buy postcards of Duke Humphrey’s Library and the Radcliffe Camera. Came out with a Thank-you card for my hosts and a Welcome to the UK card for Chriselle (who had arrived safely in Scotland and was enjoying a whirl around Edinburgh).
  6. Visit to The Museum of Science. This museum is free and I have been promising myself I will go in here. Today I did. It is a small museum: a basement, and two floors, but the building is of great significance as it was the original Ashmolean Museum—before the grand Neo-Classical edifice was built. Inside, the biggest attraction is Einstein’s blackboard which still carries an equation in his own handwriting based on a lecture he was invited to deliver at Oxford in 1931. There are also dozens of astronomical items, astrolabes and the like and, for science geeks, this would be Paradise. I took in a few of the more interesting items and left.
  7. Hunger pangs were beckoning by that point—it was almost 2.00 pm. So in I went to Sainsbury and bought myself a baguette with chicken and bacon. It was huge—I ate half of it while sitting on the steps of the Martyrs Memorial overlooking the Ashmolean and the Randolph Hotel (something I have also been promising myself I will do).
  8. Went into Marks and Spencer on Queens Street to buy a dessert for my former landlords, the Longriggs who had invited me for drinks to their place at 5.00 pm. I picked up M&S’s new Chocolate Fondant and Williams’ Pear Tart which my friend Rose had served us for dessert at her home, a couple of weeks ago.
  9. Into the Covered Market to try to find some fresco paintings that my hostess Susan had told me about. Alas, I could not find them and, when I inquired, none of the salespeople around seemed to know anything about them. So that one mission remained unaccomplished!
  10. Into the Radcliffe Camera for two hours of reading at my favorite carrel in the Upper Gallery. Thankfully, the film crew was just wrapping up. I got pictures of some of the props they used—very fancy cars, for instance. Then, into the library I went and there I stayed as a means to carry on with my notes and reading and to give my feet some much-needed rest (because I had been pounding the pavement since 11.30 am). It is truly the best refuge for inside you find silence and studiousness. I can’t help looking around at my fellow-scholars and thinking: One of these might be a future Nobel Prize winner!
  11. At 4. 15 pm, I left the library and walked down Parks Road to get to Rhodes House. This mission put me in search of another William Morris Tapestry that supposedly hangs inside the venerable building. Five minutes later, I was there. It happened to be the day on which the new Rhodes Scholars of 2016 were moving into Oxford and getting orientation tours. The sweet porter not only allowed me in but led me personally to the tapestry. It is called ‘The Romance of the Rose’ and while the cartoon was created by Edward Burne-Jones, its woven interpretation is by his friend and fellow-Pre-Raphaelite William Morris by his company called Morris and Co. It was just lovely. Although sunshine bounced off the glass which made it difficult to take pictures, I did the best I could. I also realized that the Tapestry was presented to Rhodes House by Herbert Baker, architect of the building. Now Herbert Baker has an Indian connection: together with Sir Edwin Lutyens, he is the architect of New Delhi! I was delighted to make the discovery that Baker is the architect of the unusual Rhodes House with its rotunda and its spacious galleries and its lovely garden behind, Meanwhile, being inside Rhodes House, I had a chance to poke around: I saw the grand Dining Hall with its curved High Table and its oil painted portraits of Cecil Rhodes and his colleagues who instituted the international Rhodes Scholarships.
  12. I walked on, past University Parks and Keble College to arrive in North Oxford which is so well-punctuated by massive Victorian Gothic houses, most in sold red brick, multi-storied and accentuated by turrets and stairs and other charming architectural embellishments. I loved every second of that walk especially along Norham Gardens which was the setting for a wonderful novel I had chanced to come across at home in Connecticut, called The House in Norham Gardens by Penelope Lively. Because I had lived on Norham Road myself with the Longriggs, I had snapped up the book and then given myself up completely to the thrill of reading it. Set in a similar home to the one owned by the Longriggs, the story unfolds when young Clare comes to live with her ageing blue-stocking aunts in a rambling three-storey Victorian house whose attic is filled with relics from the past that help her unravel the mystery of their lives. For that reason, it was a thrill to walk down Norham Gardens and arrive at Norham Road where the sunroom I had once occupied during an earlier research stint at Oxford is located.
  13. Lovely visit with the Longriggs. They are a delightful couple, now facing old age stoically but with the kind of dignity that comes from a lifetime devoted to scholarship. She was a don at St. Hilda’s College, he was an English and History teacher at the Dragon School which is right behind their home on Dragon Lane. It is one of the best-known and regarded public schools in England, difficult to enter and hard to pay for—annual fees run to 30,000 pounds a year! Mr. Longrigg taught both Hugh Laurie and Emma Watson among a host of other luminaries that have made a mark for themselves in the world, such as the novelist Val McDarmid who wrote the series of detective novels, Wire in the Blood (the TV series of which I have enjoyed very much with Llew). The Longriggs always make me feel very much at home. They lay out drinks (pink rose wine that was simply deliciously light) and nibbles that were all fish-focused as she is a staunch Catholic (he is C of E). I discovered also that the Catholic Church in the UK has brought back the No Meat on Friday rule with which I grew up in India (the US has not revived it yet). Hence, there was taramasalata, potted shrimps, whole peeled shrimp, shelled “cockles” (what we call clams in the US) and guacamole with crackers and chips (truly a feast for the seafood lover). We had so much to chat about, so much to catch up on. My beloved landlords have become dear friends and I never leave Oxford without making the time to see them. It is links like these that bond me to such locales and make me feel the sense of ‘coming home’ each time I visit. Of course, we took pictures (as I always do with them) and I toured my former haunts (my former room was locked as it is occupied by some other lodger today), the vast dining room in which I had breakfasted each morning with other scholars (as the Longriggs only take in academic lodgers), the garden where I had spent many a happy summer’s afternoon. It was just the most charming visit and I had a thoroughly grand time as we caught up on all the happenings of the past few years as it has been three years since I last saw them (but about 10 years since I had lived in their home). Incidentally, they informed me that homes such as theirs in North Oxford now go for three million pounds and are being bought up by Chinese tycoons. They have a sixteen room house–four floors with four rooms on each floor! Go Figure!
  14. A Visit to St. Antony’s College was next. I have been elected to the position of Senior Associate Member at this college (about 10 years ago) but the secretary whom I know well has been on vacation for the past two weeks. Hence, I did not stop in to say Hello to her earlier. However, as I will be returning here in January to give an invited lecture myself during their graduate seminar, I took a tour of the lovely premises and many pictures. St. Antony’s, being one of the more recent colleges to be built, has a mixture of architectural styles—from the older Victorian stone structure that comprises the chapel to the very modern auditorium and buttery. It has fountains and gardens and lovely lawns (as all the colleges do) but being secluded on Bevington Road, it also has its own ambience. It specializes in South Asian Studies which is why my forthcoming book shall be featured in a graduate seminar here in January.
  15. Dusk was falling rapidly when I left St. Antony’s to walk along the Woodstock Road. I had a couple more stops to make en route.
  16. Visit to the former Radcliffe Infirmary. I stopped here to review this space in which my beloved Inspector Morse breathes his last. In fact, Morse’s death episode is one with which I can identify on many levels: he pontificates at the Victoria Arms pub (in Old Marston) where I had once taken my current hosts Susan and Tony for dinner; he collapses outside the chapel at Exeter College where I have frequently attended services; he is declared dead in what used to be the Radcliffe Infirmary and County Hospital. A few years ago, the area was closed down for refurbishment and I am very pleased to say that it is very attractive in its new avatar. The Chapel of St. Luke is now exposed as is the Radcliffe Observatory (another episode of Morse was set here). The lovely stone fountain of Neptune in the main courtyard has been retained although the vast parking lot has gone, its place taken by a new glass wing. The entire place is now occupied by the Humanities Department but I am thrilled that the original façade of the Radcliffe still stands as a testimony to the past. Oxford now has a new hospital–the John Radcliffe Hospital.
  17. A visit to the Eagle and Child Pub. Next door, past many Oxford churches (the First Church of Christ Scientist, Blackfriars Church, the Oxford Oratory where I heard Mass on Sunday) is the pub that was made famous by the Inklings—C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien and their friends who nicknamed it the Bird and Baby. They held weekly meetings at this pub that still commemorates their presence with various blackboards that remind us where they sat and what they discussed.
  18. Back home along the Abingdon Road as night swiftly fell. It was dark by the time I reached home at 7. 45 pm but I had gone through one of the most varied and fulfilling days I have had since I came here.

I ended the day with dinner—I was tired and hungry and intended to finish my food in the fridge. I ate the last of my Lamb Jalfrezi with a slice of toast and devoured another chocolate éclair (I am becoming dangerously addicted to these!) as I watched New Tricks on TV. Then, I folded up my laundry, started on a bit of packing of my back pack and when much of it was done, I got into bed and went to sleep at about 9.30 pm.

I looked forward to my last day in Oxford tomorrow when I shall try to cover those bits I have not yet done.

Until tomorrow, cheerio…

Discovering the Glory of the Radcliffe Camera and An Afternoon with Visiting Friends

Thursday, September 22, 2016


Today was going to be a break from routine as I had my dear friend Raquel arriving in Oxford with her mother Renee who was visiting the UK from New York. They intended to take advantage of my stay in Oxford to come and visit and get an insider’s view of the town, as it were.

Morning Chores and Departure for Bodleian Library:

I, therefore, hurried through my morning routine—blogging, breakfast, shower, a review of the article I wish to submit for publication to a scholarly journal—and then I was off. It was about 10.00 am when I left the house to walk along the Thames Path, which is just gorgeous at this time of year, to get to the Bodleian Library. I paused to take pictures of swans, ducks and other mallard life and I frequently stained my finger and mouth with the ripest blackberries that are growing wild all over the place right now. They are sweet and delicious and although very tiny, they are just lovely.

At the Bodleian, I finished the book I was ploughing through and then because the next book I wanted to look at was in the Upper Gallery of the Radcliffe Camera, I wound my way up a glorious staircase with its wrought iron banister and its ornamental ceiling to get to the upper portion into which I had not ventured yet.

Discovering the Glory of the Radcliffe Camera:

And what a joy and delight awaited me at the top! The Radcliffe Camera, named after John Radcliffe, whose oil portrait greets readers at the entrance and whose sculpture finds a place on a niche high on the walls of the rotunda, is a simply magnificent space. It is ornamental in the extreme, in high Baroque style with Neo-Classical pillars topped by Corinthian details, a burst of pale blue painted highlights on the plasterwork of the grand ceiling that is reminiscent of the dome of St. Paul’s Cathedral, heavy balustrades, more ornate winding spiral staircases that lead to an even higher floor where the History books are stored (and where the particular book I wanted was to be found). At the heavy dark wood furniture (tables, desks, chairs) scholars sat silently at work, either reading or typing on their laptops.

I was completely entranced with it all and simply could not stop taking pictures of the interior and the outside. In fact, since it was so far up in the building, I had some stirring views of the neighboring Gothic structures from angles that I had never seen before. It was with difficulty that I was able to focus on my reading and I could not stop congratulating myself that I had found this space. During the past two weeks, I have stayed in the Lower Gallery of the Radcliffe Camera and been quite delighted with that ancient space—so you can quite imagine how thrilled I was to be in these confines and how privileged I felt to have a Reader’s Card that allowed me entry into these as-yet-undiscovered parts of the university.

Meeting Raquel and Renee:

I was upstairs in the library for three hours when I received a text message from Raquel informing me that they would be arriving in Oxford in a few minutes. I left my seat with the intention of getting back to the library in the evening after their departure.

Ten minutes later, we had a lovely hearty reunion on the High Street and I met Renee for the first time. She turned out to be an absolutely delightful 83-year old lady with a thirst for all the things about which I am passionate—Gothic architecture, antiques, art, museums, libraries. Although they were hungry and it was close to 1.00 pm, we started our walking tour on our way to the Café at the new Weston Library, part of the Bodleian Library.

A Walking Tour of Oxford:

So through Radcliffee Square we went. We thought initially we would have lunch at the Vaults and Garden café in the base of the Church of St. Mary the Virgin. But, on surveying the place, they decided to go for something lighter. I, therefore, suggested the Café at the Weston.

Meanwhile, we detoured into The Church of St. Mary where we admired the beautifully carved chancel with its panoply of marble saints, the altarpiece of Madonna and Child by the French artist Simon Vouet, the Pillar at which Archbishop Cranmer was tried during the counter-Reformation and the lovely West Window in superb stained glass. Renee exclaimed over everything she saw as she was struck by the city as soon as she arrived in it.

From the Church, we entered the main courtyard of the Bodleian Library where I pointed out the sculpture of Sir Thomas Bodley after whom it is named and the various disciplines that were added to the curriculum as the centuries passed. We crossed into Clarendon Square to see the Clarendon Building by Nicholas Hawksmoor and the Sheldonian Theater by his guru Christopher Wren. We also admired the lovely Bridge of Sighs that connects the two parts of Hereford College.

Once we reached Broad Street, we made straight for the café where we had a lovely lunch of Singaporean Laksa Soup with hunks of buttered bread and sandwiches with salad—all of which we shared—at the Café of the Weston Library. The food was delicious and in the catering provided by Benugo, I have to say we were very satisfied. Raquel and Renee were very pleased to be seated inside as they were cold—London, it appears, was much warmer than Oxford when they left in the morning.

Back on Broad Street, we stepped into Blackwell and Co. bookstore so that they could see the underground Norrington Room before we crossed the street to go into Oxfam—it turns out that Renee also shares my love for thrift stores! She was as happy as a kid in a candy store as she looked through the racks, but pretty soon, we entered Exeter College where I gave them a very detailed tour of a typical Oxford College—from the Porter’s Lodge, to the dorm rooms, from the Chapel by Sir George Gilbert Scott (which they adored) to the Margery Quadrangle, from the Junior Common Room that leads into the Fellows’ Garden to the library tucked away at the back. We climbed up the steps that led to the ramparts of the college from where we had fantastic views of Radcliffe Square and where we took a few pictures.

As we made our way downstairs, we left Exeter College and walked deeper into Turl Street so that Renee could poke her head into some of the antique jewelry stores that she also loves. From there, we walked across Broad Street to take a look at Balliol College and to see the spot at which the martyrs were burned at the stake before we actually got to the Martyrs Memorial at St. Giles. This afforded us nice views of S. John’s College as well as the War Memorial on the far side.

Our tour of Oxford ended with our entry into the Ashmolean Museum as Renee also has a passion for museums. We took a look at some of the highlights as that was all for which we had the time. They saw Rembrandt’s interpretations of the senses or ‘Sensations’ which I had seen a few days ago with Rose and Carol and the two most famous paintings in its collection—The Hunt by Paolo Uccello and The Forest Fire by Pietro de Cosimo before I led them to the Alfred Jewel. Renee wanted to wander freely into every room as she was absolutely taken by the period paintings but Raquel had her eye on the time.

Close to 5.00 pm, we left the museum, passed the Randolphe Hotel and arrived at George Street where we stepped into Debenhams as Raquel needed to buy something. Just a few minutes later, I was bidding them goodbye after what had been a really terrific afternoon and they were on their way. They decided to take the train back to London as that would probably be faster.

Back to the Upper Gallery of the Radcliffe Camera Library:

It had been grand to spend time with my friends and I enjoyed every moment; but it was time for me to get back to work at the library and since it stayed open till 7.00 pm, that was where I spent the next two hours. I am sorry that my time in the Oxford libraries is coming to an end, but at the same time, I know that I will find these books at the libraries in London as well—where I will continue with my research. For the moment, I savored the thrill of sitting and reading in the Radcliffe Camera—a memory that will stay with me forever, I am sure.

Errands and Dinner and Bed:

I bought a couple of things I needed-chocolate eclairs for dessert, for instance, from Marks and Spencer—before I walked back home. Twilight was falling swiftly over the city and at Folly Bridge, I saw the salmon pink and navy blue streaks that sunset left in the Western sky. It was so beautiful.

Ten minutes later, I was back home, having a very early dinner—my Lamb Jalfrezi with bread, eclairs and ice-cream for dessert. As I munched, I watched Jamie Oliver on the Food Network on TV and suddenly felt as if I were home again in Southport.

My entire stay in Oxford has been so fabulous because it has made me feel fully at home, deeply cozy and cossetted and entirely pleased at the time that has been placed at my disposal and the great use I have made of it.

I fell into bed early (by 9.00 pm) after brushing and flossing my teeth. With just another two days left ahead of me in Oxford, I have a lot of chores to do (laundry, cleaning, tidying, repacking) before I leave this lovely university city, I have a couple of people to see as well. The next two days will be quite busy—so I have made another To-Do List to make sure I leave nothing out.

Until tomorrow…cheerio.

Reading, Writing and Editing in Oxford

Wednesday, September 21, 2019


A Rather Unusual Morning:

Despite the fact that I am still waking by 6.00 am, I have no idea where the morning flies once I switch my laptop on. This morning was a particular case in point. By the time I checked email and responded to it, I realized that I was facing a tight deadline for the submission of a scholarly essay to a journal. Some frantic attempts at trying to find my draft began. And after I read it and realized it needed much editing, I arose from bed, washed, prepared my breakfast (muesli with honey yoghurt and coffee) and watched a bit of the BBC Breakfast show as I ate it. It was then time to return to work to revise the essay, add annotations and references in the correct format according to the publication guidelines as well as send out official forms to Italy for a lecture I will be giving there in November as well as finalize a date for a lecture I will be giving at the University of Leeds.

So although I had intended to get to the Bodleian Library by 10.00 am at the latest, in fact, it was only the afternoon that I spent there. But, of course, in-between, I was hard at work for I did not stir from my computer. When I was satisfied with the way the essay had turned out, I decided to put it away and look at it again tomorrow for more re-drafting and revising.

In-between I took a shower and had a shampoo and while my hair dried naturally, I continued working. I also darned a sweater that I intend to launder tomorrow. It is only my To-Do List that is allowing me to remain organized as I juggle the vast amount of items I try to accomplish on any given day. By 1.00 pm, I went into the kitchen to get myself lunch and was delighted to find half a quiche which I quickly warmed up in the oven and ate as I watched some more TV

Off to the Bodleian Library Along the Thames Path:

Hence, it was only at 1.45 pm that I left for the library and since I no longer have the bus pass, I am walking the 15 minute walk to it. This means that I try each day to take a different path to reach Carfax and today, I followed my gut which led me right to the Thames Path—how exciting! I passed by ducks and rowers and kayakers and the lovely river-front yuppie flats that have sprung up all over the UK’s waterways and then I was on Folly Bridge at the pub called The Head of the River before I made my way into the perennial gardens at Christ Church College to take what is known as The Broad pathway. This could either lead one to the Thames or (as I preferred to do today) to Merton Lane and Magpie Lane which leads one directly to The High. I love these little winding Oxford lanes with their cobbled streets (very hard on my feet and legs for sure) and the honey-toned sides of their Cotswold stone buildings. Often I pause to take a picture of yet another beloved Oxford vista—a steeple here, a spire there. What beauty they bring to the skyline even when those skies are grey!

An Afternoon of Reading at the Bodleian:

I stayed in the Bodleian for the rest of the afternoon as I tried hard to finish a 500 page tome I am currently reading. Meanwhile, I received the news that Chriselle’s flight had landed but when she called me in the library, I could not talk to her. I told her I would call back later.

The time flew. People in the library came and went. It is interesting to see that so many of them seem deeply engrossed in their research—they even have their headphones on–on their computers when, in fact, what they are looking at is online clothes shopping websites and Facebook! What I love about this antiquated space (apart from the superb rotunda that is part of its architecture) is the absolute quiet. No one says a word here. The only occasional word exchanged is in a whisper. Outside sometimes, tourist crowds can get noisy as they invariably stand at the Radcliffe Camera where their guides deliver commentary during walking tours. I sit at different windows each day, depending on where I can find a seat, and each day the view outside my window is different and more heartening. One day it is the twin spires of All Souls College that greets me, on another day it is the steeple of the University Church of St. Mary The Virgin. One day it is the entrance of Brasenose College that I see and on another, the ramparts of Exeter College outside the thick wrought-iron ornamental grill that frames each window. Despite the antiquity of the building, inside it is amazingly modernized. For instance, there are plug points and USB sockets at each seat so that you can keep your devices charged. I have truly enjoyed every second of quiet reading time in this space and I know that when I go back to the British Library and continue my research there in London, I will miss these stirring views that never fail to inspire me.

At 5. 30 pm, I left the Bodleian having completed a substantial amount of reading and after taking copious notes. I stepped quickly into Tesco to buy myself some honey yogurt and bread for sandwiches for the next couple of days, then walked back to Carfax and to the Thames Path to take the lovely return route to the City Center that I have discovered. On the way, I chatted on the phone with Chriselle who had very little sleep on her red eye flight, spent some time on her own around St. Paul’s Cathedral before hooking up with her friend with whom she shall spent two nights before leaving for Scotland. She was excited to be back in London and although she was tired and sleepy, I could hear the excitement in her voice as she talked about her first impression of the city—the red buses, she said, made her feel very happy!

A Relaxing Evening at Home:

In fifteen minutes I was home, had the kettle on for a hot cup of tea that I sipped by the TV with a lovely chocolate éclair from Marks and soon I moved on to my laptop again to catch up with more work that had accumulated during the day. Night moves in swiftly these days and the temperature drops rapidly so that the warmth of the afternoon disappears in a flash as the evening closes in. I felt the need to go to bed early and so made myself a plate of dinner—leftover pasta from a past recent evening with Roz was jazzed up with a bit of cream and red wine to make a sloppier sauce and as I sat eating it while watching TV, I could not help but think how happy I have been here at Oxford, how much less homesick, how much better suited this warm and cozy space is to my psyche and how sad I will be to leave when the time comes to go away.

When I received the news that I would be spending the Fall semester in the UK, little did I dream that two full weeks of it would be in Oxford. How fortunate was I to receive this opportunity? And how generous were my friends to leave their home for my use while they were on vacation? Truly, circumstances coalesced so beautifully to allow me to do such concentrated reading, writing and editing in Oxford that I know I will always cherish these weeks and remember this city with the same affection with which I have always regarded it.

It was 9.00 pm, when I went to bed as I simply could not keep my eyes open—but I have rarely had a more productive day than the one I had today. I am truly living here the academic life of a dedicated scholar—and I truly could not be happier.

Until tomorrow…cheerio.

Ride a Cock Horse to Banbury Cross–and Strolling around Port Meadow & Oxford Canal

Sunday, September 18, 2016

Banbury and Oxford

Autumn is here, that’s for sure. It is nippy in the mornings when I awake and difficult to surface from under the covers. I was awake by 6. 30, had a quick shower and left the house without breakfast to make early morning (8.00 am) Mass at the Catholic Oxford Oratory where Cardinal Newman had once preached.

Mass at the Oxford Oratory:

I have been to the Oratory before, so I remembered it well.  It is at St. Giles to which I took a bus and then walked for part of the way. It is an old-fashioned church with an old-fashioned liturgy usually in Latin. The priest faces the altar, not the congregation, as in pre-Vatican II days. People are traditional mass-goers, the ladies wear gossamer veils, men carry heavy black Missals. It always takes me back to the 1960s and Masses in India that I used to attend with my parents. After Mass and Communion, I went to the Parish Center where coffee, biscuits and flapjacks were served and some members of the congregation strolled in. Unlike in the Anglican churches, they made no attempt to reach out to a stranger or a new member of the congregation, so no one came up to welcome me or chat with me. I ate my flapjack and sipped my coffee in solitary confinement almost. We Catholics have a lot to learn from the Anglicans about fellowship.

On the Bus to Banbury:

It was my intention to spend the day out of Oxford and a long bus ride in the Oxfordshire Cotswolds seemed like just the right thing to do. I found out that the bus left at 9.40 from Magdalen Street. This gave me time to get into Sainsburys for almond croissants and into Costa for a takeaway Americano. On the bus, I munched my breakfast and watched the countryside pass me by. Horses in the fields and lots of them—all lying fallow, waiting a new ploughing, were evident. In about 90 minutes, we arrived in Banbury.

Exploring Banbury:

Almost everyone has heard of the nursery rhymne, “Ride a cock horse to Banbury Cross/To see a fine lady ride on a white horse/With rings on her fingers and bells on her toes/ She shall have music wherever she goes.” Well, I had learned it too, as a little girl, when my mother used to read these rhymes to me from out of a big Mother Goose Book.  So I was familiar with Banbury but had no idea where it was then.

Even as the bus arrived in the town, I saw both the Banbury Cross and the huge bronze sculpture of the lady on the horse. They are the center pieces of the Town Center which is small and very compact. When the bus put me down at the Coach Station, I walked through the High Street only to discover that Banbury was commemorating the Battle of Britain with a lovely parade featuring the Mayor, mace carrier, troops of war veterans, soldiers, boy scouts and a few lay people. They were all lined up with a band at the front of them. Passers-by took pictures and as I took my place, I watched them march past to the booming of the drum. It was lovely! Such a wonderful, all-British, introduction to an ancient city.

But it was still early and it was a Sunday—so most of the businesses were shuttered and shops closed. So many parts of the UK still keep Holy the Sabbath Day—that’s obvious. They have not succumbed to chasing money bags as we in American have done with our Almighty dollar! I made my way to the Town Center and took the pictures I wanted of the Banbury Cross—it is a nice white stone sculpture in the center with the figures of Victoria, her son Edward and her daughter Louise—whose wedding was commemorated by the Cross in the mid-1800s. The equestrian lady on the horse is equally striking. It is beautifully done with all details in place including the rings on her fingers and bells on her toes, She is supposed to be the Queen of May, so she wears a wreath of flowers. At the Whately Hall Hotel, opposite the Church of St. Mary The Virgin, more crowds had assembled. There was a fly past too and a Spitfire from the war did a few rounds in the skies, much to the cheers of the folks gathered below. I took it all in, the pageantry, the pride, the patriotism. It was all fun to watch.

Then, I entered the church where a special service was being held at 12.00 noon. Since I had already heard Mass, I took in the striking mosaic altar backdrop and the ceiling and the freshly painted pillars. I then took some pictures of the unusual exterior of it. I used the loo in the Whately and then made my way back down the High Street.

I had a couple of purchases I needed to make—dental floss and, most importantly, a new charger cable for my phone as it had stopped working. When I found shops that sold both, I was happy that my mission had been accomplished and I went into Marks and Spencer in the Castle Quay mall which had opened by that time to buy myself some lunch. I settled on a Mushroom, Bacon and Leek Quiche and strolled back to the bus station for my 2.00 pm bus back to Oxford. I would have liked to take another bus to Chipping Norton but on Sundays the buses are few and far between and I had little choice but to take the bus back to Oxford.

Exploring Port Meadow:

I got off a little after Summertown and then took a really long and rambling walk through North Oxford. I headed towards the River Thames (which is called the Isis in these parts) and to the Oxford Canal—both of which converge in this area around a vast field called Port Meadow. I am quite familiar with this area as I have, over the years, walked from Oxford to Wolvercote along the banks of the Isis across Port Meadow and it was one of my objectives to visit this area again.

Today, all I did was walk to the river and the Canal which was quite thickly studded with swimmers, strollers, dog walkers and joggers for it had turned into a beautiful evening. On my way back, I walked along the Canal Tow Path until I reached Canal Road from where I took the roads along St. Barnabus Church and Old Bookbinders Pub (also used in Morse episodes) in Jericho. I popped my head inside and was amazed to see how tiny and yet how cozy it was.

Then, fairly falling with fatigue, I got on a bus and came back home to a very nice dinner. I ate up the last of the shepherds pie, the beetroot and feta cheese and salad and had a brownie and ice-cream for dessert.

It had been a long and very interesting day but I was really really tired and ready to hit the sack after watching another episode of Inspector Morse—which is great fun to do while I am still in Oxford.

Until tomorrow, cheerio…

Relaxing Saturday in Oxford’s Museums and Visiting Bicester Village

Saturday, September 17, 2016


I am waking up at 6.30 am now and thinking it is still 4.00 am. The days are closing in on us and it is much darker at 6.30 than it used to be. The weekend, I decided, would be devoted to seeing those bits of Oxford I have not yet had the time to see. Saturday was also for taking things easy—no reason to tear out at the crack of dawn. Subsequently, I watched an episode of Inspector Morse in-between having my breakfast (honey yogurt with muesli and decaff coffee) with the telly on and felt generally relaxed. I love lazing on the couch here with a knitted throw to keep me toasty—this is so much like being at home in Southport, Connecticut. I am truly loving it here.

Finally, after a long chat with my Dad in Bombay and some catching up on my blog (all of which took so much time), I went in for a shower and dressed. By the time I left the house it was 11.00 am. I had a rough idea of where I wanted to go and what I wanted to do…but I was also going to let the whim take me where it would.

The Museum of Oxford at the Town Hall:

So, when I got off the bus at St. Aldate’s and saw a poster outside the Town Hall of Oxford advertising the Museum of Oxford, I decided to pop in there. It was the first time I had ever been there. The Town Hall itself is quite magnificent inside—it has a highly ornamental ceiling with very intricate plasterwork. However, visitors are not allowed to go up there except on a guided tour which is offered just twice a month. Instead, I looked at the two galleries that comprise the museum. It shows how the city has grown since 1066 through maps and has a lot of other memorabilia that puts one in mind of the contribution of this city to the world: the Morris Minor, for instance, was made in Oxford, as was Frank Cooper’s Oxford Orange Marmalade which is still being manufactured. I took a really quick look around and walked out about 20 minutes later.

Down Cornmarket Street and into the Church of St. Michael at North Gate:

Cornmarket was already buzzing by the time I got there and it was all I could do to fight crowds to allow me to enter the Church of St. Michael at North Gate. It is almost a thousand years old and despite many visits to Oxford in the past, I had never been in there. This day was devoted to looking at things I had never seen before. Hence, the detour into this church. Visitors pay a fee to climb the tower and get some nice views of Oxford from the top. I did not feel tempted to do so. Instead, I walked briskly towards the Ashmolean Museum and gave myself up the pleasure of perusing its marvelous collection.

Visiting the Ashmolean Museum:

Arriving at the Ashmolean, I was delighted to find a special exhibit on Rembrandt entitled “Sensations”. It is a series of small and very early oil paintings that depict the five human senses. Many artists, apparently, tried their hands at this theme and because Rembrandt was so unknown when he attempted them, they were dispersed and are only now surfacing to be recognized as part of the series. Only last year, one more turned up. It was found somewhere in the US. The last one, Taste is still missing and might be lost forever—who knows? But in the exhibition were Sight (A Peddlar Selling Eye Glasses), Sound (Three Musicians Singing), Smell (Attempts to Recover a Man who has become unconscious with smelling salts) and Touch (A man’s wars being cleaned and probed by a Quack who causes him deep pain). They are really very evocative of these sensations and I actually felt my knees grow weak at the last one.

Following this viewing, I went in search of the two highlights of the museum—The Hunt by Paolo Uccello that focusses on the vanishing point in art (figures getting smaller as they recede into the distance—one episode of Inspector Lewis has reference to this work) and The Forest Fire by Pietro di Cosimo which presents animals and birds running away in terror from a fire in a forest. They are powerful works most remarkable for their wealth of detail.

Next I wandered through a number of galleries with no focused aim. I spent a lot of time with the china collection for this museum has loads of it. I also returned to its biggest highlight—The Alfred Jewel—which is considered the most important archeological find in the UK. It is a lovely little item in gold and rock crystal that probably adorned the end of a pointer that was used to read medieval manuscripts. It was found purely by chance as peat was being dug out and collected. In the Textile section, I was most taken by a gigantic tapestry that represents Southern England with Oxford and its surroundings in the center and London at the bottom. It is also remarkably accurate, given its age. The Ashmolean is also proud of its ownership of Pocahontas’ cloak and of the tin lantern that Guy Fawkes is said to have carried on the night he hatched the Gunpowder Plot—but as I had seen these items before, I did not go looking for them again.

When I had spent more than an hour at the Ashmolean, I decided to get out and do something else. But then, as I was going on a whim, I saw a bus (S1) at Magdalen Road with a sign saying that it was going to Bicester (pronounced Bister)—so I boarded it and off I went.

Inspecting Bicester Village Outlet Center:

Imagine…when I left my home this morning, I had absolutely no intention of going to see designer outlets. And yet, there I was! It took about half an hour to get to Bicester on the bus that was filled with young Asian kids with extra deep pockets. As I had never been to an outlet center in the UK, it was a good experience. I wondered how they would differ from the ones we are accustomed to in the US. Well, I was about to find out…

There were all the usual British suspects lined up in a row—Burberry (it actually had a line waiting outside to get in), Smythson, Vivienne Westwood, Paul Smith…but also names from the rest of the world’s galaxy of stars: Prada, Kate Spade, Saint Laurent, you name it…I, of course, had no intentions of buying anything, but it was fun to look. What was not fun were the price tags. I had massive sticker shock. Outlets in the US offer far lower prices. There is simply no comparison.

An hour later, I was on the bus again, returning to Oxford. I had some more museums to see before they closed for the day…

Visiting the Parks’ Museums–Natural History and the Pitt Rivers Museum:

The northern part of Oxford is renowned for three things: gorgeous Victorian Gothic mansions (in one of which I had stayed a few years ago as a lodger), the Natural History Museum and the Pitt Rivers Museum. For old times’ sake, I got off the bus at Bevington Road, just past St. Antony’s College, where I cut across to Norham Gardens to see my former home. I have such happy memories of this place that was run by a Mrs. Longrigg with whom I am still in touch after all these years. I intend to meet her again before I leave, but for the moment, all I did was take a picture of the sunroom above the garage in which I had once stayed.

Then, I walked to the University Park and noticed that the trees have leaves whose foliage is rapidly changing color—I now see rusts and yellows. The temperature is also distinctly autumnal now and I was grateful for my jacket. At the end of the Park near Keble College, there was an emergency situation. It seems that a young woman on a bicycle suddenly had an epileptic fit and fell to the ground, much to the consternation of her young male companion. He laid her on the ground as some passers-by called for the ambulance. I waited for a while until she seemed more stable and had stopped thrashing and dribbling. The ambulance had not yet arrived when I walked away as I found the entire situation deeply disturbing and there was not much I could do to help.

By the time I got to the Natural History Museum, just a few meters away, I realized I had not eaten anything since breakfast—so I went straight to the café and ate a vegetable samosa and a latte. They were both delicious—but maybe I was just starving by then (about 4.00 pm)! Across the Museum I went and descended the stairs to see the Shrunken Heads at the Pitt Rivers Museum (which is one of the plots of an Inspector Lewis episode) and the antiquated knife—which Colin Dexter had woven into one of his Inspector Morse plots. You can see that with not much time left, I made sure I asked specifically for these items and was delighted when I found them. The Pitt Rivers Museum is so fascinating to me that I would love to return to it to spend some more time inside. But at 4.30 pm, they shooed us all out.

Heading to the St. Cross Building:

Part of my plan for today was traversing parts of Oxford on foot that I had not done for a very long time. Walking along South Parks Road, I turned into St. Cross Road where I had once attended lectures in the English Faculty Building. Alas, they are renovating it and it was out of bounds to visitors. I took a picture of the steps and the facade and then continued along the road to arrive at Holywell Road from where I walked to Queens Road to Marks and Spencer to pick up some groceries. Armed with my milk, canned tongue, bread and cream, I arrived at the Porter’s Lodge of Christ Church College ready to attend Evensong at 6.00 pm.

Evensong at Christ Church College:

And so there I was at 6.05 pm when Evensong began (Oxford follows some peculiar tradition which dictates that it begin everything 5 minutes after Greenwich Mean Time—don’t even ask!). This time, the entire choir was in attendance including the little choristers. I realize increasingly how multi-cultural and multi-racial the UK has become when I see black and brown faces among the choir—one never ever saw this sort of mixture thirty years ago! It certainly bodes well for diversity.

The service was lovely, the setting spiritual, the attendees deeply involved. But by 7.00 pm, when it ended, I was tired and kept thinking of going home to a nice hot meal and some relaxing telly—for that’s my favorite way to unwind.

On the bus, I arrived home, 15 minutes later, served myself some of the Lamb Jalfrezi that I had cooked two days ago and ate it with toasted bread with brownies and ice-cream for dessert. I felt like a million dollars at the end of a most enlightening day.

Until tomorrow, cheerio…

Having Company in Oxford–Research at the Bodleian and a Walking Tour

Friday, September 16, 2016


It is odd waking up with someone else in the house. Carol is also an early riser and I could hear her moving about upstairs and using the bathroom. When I was free, I moved in to use it. It was also nice to sit at a table and eat breakfast properly with someone else to talk to. About six weeks after being on my own, I am appreciating the joys of companionship. We had toast with peanut butter and Tony’s homemade gooseberry jam (with gooseberries from his allotment) for brekkie with tea for her and decaff coffee for me, showered, dressed and left the house, as decided at 8. 45 am.

We took the bus together to Oxford City Center down Abingdon Road and parted company at St. Aldate’s. Carol, a gardener and amateur botanist, headed to the gardens at Christ Church College for we found the gates wide open, and I waited for the bus to turn into the High Street, got off at Queen’s College and walked to the Bodleian. It was our plan to meet on the steps of the Ashmolean between 12. 45 and 1.00 pm, for Carol would have time to pick up our friend Rose who was arriving from London on the train at 11.00 and spend an hour or so at the Ashmolean before I joined them for a lateish lunch.

Research at the Bodleian:

I am loving these mornings spent quietly in uninterrupted reading at the Bodleian’s Radcliffe Camera building. I have been very fortunate to find seats rights by the window but this morning, things were slightly different. There was a bustle at the entrance to Brasenose College which is right on Radcliffe Square—students were standing around with big bunches of balloons and there was a massive banner announcing the name of the college on the door. Was this the day the new freshmen moved in, I wondered. Wasnt it a tad too early for that?

It did not take me long, from all the noise and commotion outside, to discover that it was Open Day at Oxford University. This was brilliant. It was the day Rose had chosen to arrive at Oxford and I was supposed to give my new friends, a walking tour of the town and gown portions of it. Wow! This meant that we’d be able to get to the more inaccessible colleges (such as Christ Church) for free! Yess!! Well, I concentrated on the chapters I wished to finish, continued making my notes and then at 12. 45, I left my carrel and moseyed up to the Ashmolean. Although I was right in the middle of one of the most interesting bits in my research, I had to drag myself away as I did not want to keep my friends waiting. Time permitting, I would return later in the day to continue working.

Oxford’s crowds had trebled—prospective students and their parents were everywhere. As they competed with the regular late-summer tourist hordes, it jammed the entire city. Thankfully, autumn has sneaked in finally and under blue skies (although it had drizzled in the morning), the cool temperatures did much to help us keep our cool despite the crowds.

I waited for about 20 minutes before my friends (who were deep in the heart of the Ashmolean) joined me on the steps, as planned. Right away, I began my walking tour with them showing them the following items that I think every first-time visitor to Oxford needs to see—plus many more colleges thrown in as well as they were happy to welcome us in.

  1. The Ashmolean Museum (founded in the 1600s and named for Elias Ashmole who started the collection by bequeathing his own).
  2. The Randolphe Hotel (famed setting of so many episodes of Inspector Morse that there is a bar in there now named ‘The Morse Bar’ and a ‘Morse Suite’ on the third floor. Great place to have Afternoon Tea to which I was once treated as a grad student by wealthy American friends).
  3. The Martyrs Memorial (to remember Cardinals Latimer, Cranmer and Ridley who were burned at the stake by Bloody Mary Tudor during the counter-Reformation).
  4. We detoured to enter St. John’s College but its famed Canterbury Quad was made ugly by the erection of huge white marquees.
  5. A look at St. Giles, location of the Eagle and Child pub where the Inklings (Tolkien, C.S. Lewis and their friends) met once a week while studying at Exeter College to talk about their work.
  6. Also on St. Giles, the War Memorial that divides the road into Woodstock Road (because it leads there) and Banbury Road (ditto) and to look at the other pub on the other side, The Lamb and Flag.
  7. Broad Street to see the actual spot at which the martyrs were burned. Marked by a cross of white and black stones.
  8. Also on Broad Street, Balliol College—one of the best-known. Just because it was open.
  9. While on The Broad, the exterior of Exeter College’s Margery Quad to spot the new sculpture by Anthony Gormley that happens to be poised just above my former room at the college.
  10. The White Horse Tavern (Morse and Lewis often drank here).
  11. Blackwell and Co. Bookstore and specially the Norrington Room that goes underground several levels and then settles under one of the colleges.
  12. The new spiffy glass and chrome lobby of the newly-named Weston Library.
  13. The former Indian Institute to see the Indian motifs on the wall—cow, lion, elephant, tiger—opposite the King’s Arms Pub.
  14. Down the hidden alleyway leading to The Turf Tavern where Morse drank and Bill Clinton in his student days did not inhale. I ate Beef and Ale Pie with Mash and Veg and half a pint of Guinness. My friends ate giant Hamburgers with chips. We sat in the Conservatory—most un-pub-like—but there wasn’t much room in the more traditional parts of the ancient public house. A very nice meal indeed with huge portions.
  15. Outside, the pub, we looked at the blue plaque that pointed out the former residence of Jane Burden who was the favorite model of the Pre-Raphaelites until William Morris married her and she had a torrid affair with his best friend Dante Gabriel Rossetti.
  16. We emerged under the Bridge of Sighs and walked into the courtyard of the Sheldonian Theater—Christopher Wren’s only Oxford Building. On the right is the Clarendon Building, designed by his best-known pupil, Nicholas Hawksmoor. Carol chose to detour at this point to go into Blackwell’s Art store. The agreement was that we would reconnect either at Exeter College or at the art store.
  17. On to Turl Street and into Exeter College—to which I have a special connection as I did grad work there, many moons ago. We saw the lovely Quadrangle, the Dining Hall (whose steps were adorned with potted geraniums) with its lovely High Table, oil-painted portraits on the wall and wooden paneling throughout. I have eaten many a happy meal in the company of wonderful friends in this beloved space where a lot of bonding has taken place—those bonds still remain. We walked through the Junior Common Room to the Fellows’ Garden where we peeped into the College Library, then climbed the steps to the ramparts of the walls that enclose the college and overlook lovely Radcliffe Square.
  18. On the ramparts of Exeter College, I pointed out the many buildings that give the Radcliffe Square its unique character—exterior of the Bodleian Library, Radcliffe Camera, Brasenose College, The Church of St. Mary The Virgin, All Souls College (the only one that was not open as All Souls College is exclusively for grad students and Oxford Fellows).
  19. Back in Exeter College, we went to the Chapel, designed by George Gilbert Scott who also designed the Library of the University of Bombay where I have also done research—I love my Scott connections! Rose loved the tapestry portraying The Adoration of the Magi as she is a huge Pre-Raphaelite fan. This one was designed by Edward Burne-Jones and created by Morris and Co (of William Morris fame). Morris, Burne-Jones and Rosetti (all Exeter alums) had met in the college, founded the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood and stayed fast friends for the rest of their lives—despite their complicated romantic entanglements. In the Margery Quad (which was under construction—yes, yet again!) I pointed out my room to Rose. Carol was not around at the main door of the college by the time we finished, so assuming she was still in the store, we soldiered on.
  20. Past Brasenose Lane, we entered Radcliffe Square and tried to get into the Church of St. Mary the Virgin. There was a memorial service going on inside, and so we could not enter. Not wanting to waste time waiting, we left the Square and emerged on High Street (The High) which we crossed to enter University College (where Bill Clinton did not inhale).
  21. On to the Shelley Memorial which is tucked-away in a corner of the college—its tribute to a passionate alum and one of the country’s greatest poets, as a way of making up for “sending him down” unjustly on baseless charges.
  22. One to Oriel Square past Magpie Lane where I took Carol into The Bear, Oxford’s oldest pub and the one in which you could, in past centuries, pay for a drink and a meal with a student tie. The Pub collected hundreds of ties that are showcased on the walls and on the ceiling and give it a very unique look indeed. We tried to get into Christ Church Quad but it had closed at 4. 30 pm. So, in the end, we did not get into the one college that asks tourists for payment to enter.
  23. It was then almost 5.00 and Rose had a train to catch from Oxford Station at 5. 30. We made our way back to Exeter—no sign of Carol there. We entered Blackwell Art Shop—she had probably left a long time ago. I checked my phone to see if she had called me—she is not reachable by me as she has a US number and no local UK number. Rose and I were worried. Where was she? It does not bode well when parties separate and there is no phone contact. Rose and I decided that she would go to the Station—they were sure to meet there as they were on the same train back to London.

Rose and I said goodbye and parted—I will, no doubt, see her again in London in October. I had thoroughly enjoyed my day out with my friends in Oxford and although I could have given then at least another two hours’ worth of viewing (for we did not get a chance to see Christ Church College or The Meadows or Magdalen College or the Botanical Gardens or Carfax), one must always leave something out for “next time”. Rose thoroughly enjoyed the tour and her visit.

Back to the Bodleian:    

Since it was only 5.00 pm, I returned to my seat at the Radcliffe Camera—it had almost emptied with most readers having left by this time. I got back to my work and stayed there until 7.00 pm. Then I called Ela who lives in Painswick in the Cotswolds as the plan was that I spend the next day, Saturday, with her and her family. However, after walking to the railroad station and finding that there was a major disruption to the service and that many commuters headed to Heathrow felt deeply concerned about making their flights, I nixed my own plans for Painswick. It was a far more complicated, time-consuming and expensive journey than I had imagined.

Returning Home for Dinner:

The evening had turned chilly—how can it be 82 degrees one day and 62 degrees the next? The UK seems to have gone from summer directly to winter and I was rather cold. It was time to add another layer to my outfit, for sure. I took the bus from St. Aldate’s back home to Grandpont and got myself comfortable in front of the TV to watch and eat my dinner (leftover pasta from the previous day)—which is my favorite place in the world to eat when I am alone. In so many small ways, this house makes me feel thoroughly “at home’—in a way I was never able to feel in my house in Bethnal Green. The difference to my psyche as a result of my new space is simply indescribable in words. I made the right decision, I am convinced now. It was inconvenient to move out of a home in which I had expected to stay for 5 months—but I was not going to be unhappy for 5 months either. I am sure that in my new London space to which I will move in October, my heart will feel lighter again.

I have also discovered that I can re-watch Inspector Morse on ITV on my computer. What a joy to watch Oxford on screen while living in Oxford! I did just that as I fell asleep.

It had been an unusual day—the joy of having friends to share and enjoy one of my favorite places in the world, was simply priceless.

Until tomorrow, cheerio…

Still More Research at the Bodleian and Visiting Cogges Manor Farm

Thursday, September 15, 2016


Still trying to catch up on this blog, I usually wake up in the morning and spend about an hour on it. It is as much as I can afford in my hurry to get breakfast and a shower and get out of the house to reach the Bodleian Library. I have found some wonderful source material there for my research topic of interest and can’t wait to devour it.

Meanwhile, I was delighted to receive news from my publisher (Lexington Books) that my manuscript for my book on Britain’s Anglo-Indians that was reviewed by an anonymous expert in the field has passed approval with flying colors—and with no revision necessary! Needless to say, the news is a huge relief to me as I really did not want to spend my time in Oxford or London revising it while I could be spending it working on research material for a new project. So this is very uplifting indeed. Now onward towards publication.

Morning at the Bodleian:

Not wanting to waste any time, I had a muesli and yogurt breakfast with coffee, made my sandwiches and jumped into a bus on the Abingdon Road and was at the Radcliffe Camera by 9.00 am ready to spend an entire morning on research. Once again, I was almost the first one there and got a coveted seat at the window overlooking Brasenose Lane and the ramparts of Exeter College. How can you beat such a view? It never fails to inspire me to hunker down and focus on my reading.

More readers came and went as the morning flew, but I stayed at my post until 2.00 pm. And yes, once again it was hunger pangs that drove me out as, in the end, one has to eat to live! I am thrilled by the material I am getting a chance to peruse and the speed with which it is brought into my hands and with which I am reviewing it.   Through it all, I am learning wonderful new things about the area I have chosen to pursue and gleaning detailed information about which previously I had only a very hazy idea. It is proving to be a fabulous use of my time here and I am deeply grateful for the opportunity.

Off on the Bus to Cogges:

Just by chance, based on the tourist literature I had picked up at the Tourist Information Center at Oxford, I discovered that Cogges Manor Farm, not too far from Oxford, in-between the village of Eynsham and the town of Witney was the location for the shooting of scenes in Downton Abbey that were based on Yew Tree Farm—the place where Lady Edith leaves her daughter Mariegold to be raised by the Drews. Now having visited Highclere Castle (which was the setting of the grand home of the Granthams) and the village of Bampton (which was the setting for Downton Village and the home of the Crawleys), I figured it would make sense to get to Cogges to see the Museum and Manor Farm where a large part of the shooting was carried out for the series.

I also discovered that it is really easy to get on the bus from Oxford to Cogges. But for the fact that you need to know exactly where to get off (ask the driver), it is simplicity itself. I, therefore, hopped into a the bus S1 at George Street heading towards Oxford Station and in about 40 minutes I was there. I had a really lovely chat with a lawyer seated next to me who also happened to be a big fan of Downton and who gave me better directions for where to get off—although he did not know that Cogges Manor Farm was the location for Yew Tree Farm in the series.

En route to Cogges, we passed through the village of Eynsham that might have meant nothing to me expect for the fact that one of my oldest and dearest Oxford friends, Stan Fuller, once Hall Stewart of Exeter College when I had done grad work there, lived in the village until he passed away, two years ago. We had stayed in touch through almost thirty years and it was with a heavy heart that I saw him for the last time at the care home into which he had been moved by his family towards the end of his life. It is sad for me to come to Oxford and not be able to see him as I have done so through all my visits over the years. What thrilled me, as I looked out the window, was that we actually passed right by his lane (Spare Acre Lane) as we drove on to Cogges. Now what are the odds of that? In fact, as I sat there at the window looking at Eynsham pass by, the thought had occurred to me: I wonder if we will pass by Stan’s lane…And then, about five minutes later, there it was! It was simply too uncanny for words. I have since then thought of calling his home but I no longer have his number and other ways of trying to reach his wife Kay and son Austin have led nowhere.

Once I got off the bus, I had to walk for about ten minutes to get to the venue past hedges filled with blackberries, redcurrants and other berries that are in their prime at the moment. What’s more, they are really sweet right now—the wild ones are best, I realize. Not as large as the farmed ones, but they are delicious.

Visiting Cogges Manor Farm:

The beauty of Cogges Manor Farm is that it has been in existence for at least 300 years! Yes, can you believe it? It has stayed a farm for all that time—much modified, of course, as the centuries have gone by, in terms of the amount of land that is still farmed (today about 20 acres) and the kind of buildings that comprise it. However, the bulk of the buildings date from the mid-1800s to the early 1900s—they are stone structures decorated with timber details.

You pay a fee of 5 pounds to enter and wander around at will. It is full of farm animals today but most of them are for show. It is not really a working farm anymore. The receptionist, who turned out to be very knowledgeable about the history and the use of the place for filming, volunteered to take me on a private guided tour himself—I was really grateful for that. I told him that my interest was mainly in the use of the place for Downton and he said that about 20% of the visitors come for that reason. The majority are local residents who bring their kids in to pet the animals, use the play area and the like.

The first part of the farm to which he led me as the Manor House—although it is the original manor house of the farm and would have housed the squire and his family who owned the surrounding lands on which they tenanted farmers would have earned a living, it was considered too grand for the Duke family in Downton and was, therefore, never shown in the series. However, the kitchen (dating from the late-Victorian Age) was used (with prop modifications) as the home of the Drews, the place where Lady Edith visits often to see her daughter, where Lady Mary and Branson come to see if they ought to keep their tenants instead of turning the farm into developments, etc. So, many minor plot lines revolve around this farm and they are all easily recognized if one knows the series well. I took a few pictures of the areas that I recognized from the show and then set about wandering on my own.

Before he left, the receptionist put on a film for me that talked about why and how Cogges Manor Fam came to be chosen as the setting for Yew Tree Farm—it was because it was old, authentically antiquated and would require very little expense to modify for the exact needs of the show. The man also told me that the manor house was used at the setting of the kitchen for the TV show Arthur and George (which I had also watched on PBS in the US) and which starred Martin Clunes, Charles Edwards and Art Malik. It is a true story written by Arthur Conan Doyle on his involvement with the sad fate of a Parsi clergyman named Shapurji Edulji who lost a court case in the late Victorian Age because the jury was prejudiced. Edulji’s son George, a lawyer,  brings Doyle into the fray and upon his involvement, the entire case is re-examined. The man told me that all the cast members were really nice to work with, that they are always courteous and polite and that they loved spending all the time they did at Cogges.

I spent most of the rest of the afternoon enjoying the gardens, the orchards, the stables, the dairy, etc. at Cogges. The vines were full of the sweetest grapes, the espaliered apple and pear trees are strung full of fruit (October 5 is Apple Picking Day and the neighborhood is invited to help), the perennial beds are filled with autumnal dahlias and cosmos. It was truly a pleasure to walk through the country farms and fields and take it all in. I saw goats, pigs, cows and other barnyard animals and lots of chickens and ducks. Little did I think that I would come to Oxford to do research and end up on a farm!  However, it was one of the most unexpectedly lovely afternoons I spent on my own.

Back on the Bus to Oxford to Meet a Friend:

I was back in Oxford in about an hour by 6.00 pm, just in time to meet a friend, Carol, on the steps of the Ashmolean Museum. She had arrived in the morning from Oxford to do some research herself before meeting me for dinner.  Together we strolled about parts of Oxford I had not yet seen on this visit—Jericho, for instance, but then we made our way towards George Street as Carol sweetly offered to treat me to dinner. She was grateful that I had told her she could spend the night at my home in Grandpont (I had taken permission from my hosts, of course).

Dinner with Carol at ASK:

Italian being my favorite cuisine and George Street being filled with restaurants from where we could take out pick, we decided to get to ASK, a Italian eatery where we ordered white wine and then pasta—hers was filled with chicken and mushrooms, mine was filled with prawns and lobster. For dessert, we had a pistachio and olive oil cake which sounded much better than it tasted. I found the texture too heavy and the pistachios too finely ground up. Not a good dessert choice, but my pasta was delicious and it went perfectly well with a rather dry Chardonnay. Over our meal, Carol and I bonded as we have only very recently gotten to know each other (through our mutual friend Rose who will arrive in Oxford tomorrow).

By 9.30, we left the restaurant, hopped into a bus going down the Abingdon Road and by 10.00 pm, really tired after a rather long but very fulfilling day, we said goodnight as she retired upstairs in the master bedroom and I took my place in the spare room downstairs.

Until tomorrow, cheerio…